By Christopher Cudworth
While walking the dog on a Sunday morning before the newspapers were even delivered and a low sun was casting long shadows on the street, I stopped to let the dog have a sniff of something in the neighbor’s yard and found myself standing directly over a manhole cover. I looked down at the circular metal object and read the words, which said: CITY OF SANITARY BATAVIA.
Of course what the manhole cover was supposed to read was CITY OF BATAVIA, SANITARY
Those two short phrases seem to convey exactly the same thing. But in practice and reality, they might not.
Either way you read the words on the manhole cover, it is intended to convey its function as an access point to the sanitary system under the streets of Batavia, a municipality of approximately 30,000 people in northern Illinois.
But let’s imagine that it is no longer 2012, but is instead the year 2812. Language and culture have changed significantly over the last 8 centuries. English is no longer the primary language on Earth, yet translators are being assigned to study the hardiest artifacts of the past. The manhole cover and its confusing words survived the nuclear holocaust that wiped out most of North America’s population and left an entire continent nearly uninhabitable for more than 800 years due to nuclear radiation poisoning and pursuant destruction of habitation and resources. Such a grim scene, and hard to imagine in a way. But really, the present and the possible future all comes down to the quality of our ability to communicate.
The natural tendency of that English language translator in the future is to read the words on the manhole cover in logical order, as it says: CITY OF SANITARY BATAVIA. The translators therefore struggle to understand the meaning of this lost language, and particularly of the meaning of the words on the manhole cover. Was it intended to convey some message about the place called SANITARY or was it designed to communicate some aspect of a function called BATAVIA?
You see, language is a funny thing. It can be used to improve understanding in rationally liberal way, in full context. Or, it can be used to intentionally constrain meaning in a conservative way, and limit the context. Both have their legitimate applications at times. We know that historians have struggled with this challenge for centuries. That is why we have so many translations of the Bible because ultimately not everyone can agree on what the holy texts are meant to say.
Beyond translation there are issues of interpretation. Should we take the Bible literally or figuratively? Did Jesus actually say the things for which he is credited, or were his quotes and activities reconstructed to line up with a constrained view of the Christian faith as written 80-200 years after his death?
We now know the books of the New Testament are not arranged by chronology, so a judgment has already been made to place the Gospels before the writings of Paul, arguably the first Christian author. In some respects, that forces us into a viewpoint about primacy that some people might now consider conflicted by the arrangement of the books in the New Testament. Yet this prioritization can in some ways be viewed as vital to the history and meaning of Christian faith. Liberals might contend that the Bible should be reordered to reflect its true chronology, while conservatives would likely place their trust in the judgment of the ages.
If something so historically relevant as an entire religious tradition can be dependent on liberal and conservative judgements such as these, then we are certainly at the mercy of many other sources of disagreement over what constitutes accuracy and truth.
The liberal vs. conservative debate
Liberals and conservatives argue over the use of language and its meaning on every front. So let us begin by examine what liberal and conservative language really means.
The liberal use of language is defined as follows:
liberal: favoring or permitting freedom of action, especially with respect to matters of personal belief or expression.
Liberalism is therefore the pursuit of all possible meanings with respect to the course of comprehension. The ultimate determination of meaning may therefore require considerable study, even consulting with outside sources before full understanding of a word or phrase in context can be ascertained. This is largely the foundation for all academics, science and other forms of inquiry.
By contrast, a conservative pursuit of meaning in a word or phrase is by definition constrained to existing or traditional understandings as a starting point, with the resultant findings to be measured against prior knowledge. To be conservative is therefore defined as follows:
con·serv·a·tive disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc.,or to restore traditional ones, and to limit change.
The full reach of conservative thought includes the right to limit not only the liberal or contextual understanding of a phrase or idea, but is also known to aggressively limit information deemed likely to change the meaning of and idea, word, phrase or a passage as it has been tested over time. This is judged acceptable in conservative thought because it places its highest values on traditional sources as primary virtues, and established principles as standards or qualifiers against which change must be measured.
This is known as a conservative viewpoint, and in America it bears influence on everything from standards in education to Constitutional interpretation of law by the Supreme Court. Ironically some of the so-called “conservative” interpretations of Constitutional law passed down by a conservatively dominated court have resulted in highly liberal interpretations of issues such as corporate personhood. Such is the confusion of liberalism versus conservatism. This raises the issue of whether our existing understanding of conservative and liberal thought is really accurate at all, a subject we will pursue further in a moment, in context of so-called media bias.
Still, conservatism can be largely defined as a preoccupation with the defense of the original or traditional understanding of an idea while liberalism is in a constant search for multiple or possible meanings.
The challenge in this game of defining meaning according to conservatives and liberals is how the scope and scale of meaning is allowed to be either constrained or expanded. That is where ideology or intent enters the picture when it comes to defining the meaning of a thing or an idea.
For example, if the image of the manhole cover were cropped (or constrained) to show only the words CITY OF SANITARY we would be left with an entirely different understanding of the object, as show here:
Now the word BATAVIA is invisible. We have lost the complete context of the manhole cover as an object, and are left with, or presented only, that information that supports the idea that the City of Sanitary is an actual place!
Of course it is not. But the conservative or constrained presentation of information is a real phenomenon. It happens every day in the news. Conservatives blame the general media for a ‘liberal bias’ in presenting only news that favors liberal political policies while liberal blame media outlets such as Fox News for serving up news that is highly constrained to a conservative point of view.
We must further consider the definitions of liberal and conservative news to consider who is telling the truth in this situation, and why.
Liberal Media Bias
If only news stories that favor liberal politics are being shown or discussed on so-called ‘liberal media outlets’ that is very different than pursuing a truly liberal understanding of the news. All news, politics and government is democratic and fair only if it is transparent and provides full context for its constituents. The accusation of a “liberal bias” is most difficult to justify, however, if the problem is simply that the general media is indeed providing full information to support a story.
The selective fact that a conservative viewpoint considers the truth an objectionable deterrence to their cause is not, therefore, a truly liberal bias in the media. It is simply reporting the truth and letting the public decide what to think about what they hear. But the claim that the ‘liberal media’ may be choosing news stories that favor liberal politicians or policies can be determined through analysis, and in some cases this has produced contentions with merit.
It is a very subtle argument, however, because like a so-called liberal media bias, the dividing line between truly “conservative news” and conservative opinion are highly difficult to determine. If a plot to bomb an abortion clinic is reported on the general news but an act of eco-terrorism against a chemical company goes unreported by the general media, then that may indicate a choice based on politically liberal objectives. News editors make decisions every day to determine what news to present and report, and the formats of daily news shows allow such narrow space and time to fully present a story that decisions to cut or keep news stories is made every day.
Beaten at their own conservative game?
But even if liberal media outlets are guilty of biased reporting, that is still a conservative or constraining choice of how to report the news. That is likely what conservatives find so objectionable. For years they have been beaten at their own game.
Which is why news outlets such as Fox News now attempt to level the playing field by appearing to conduct themselves as liberal media outlets, committed to reporting the full truth while in fact they are radically committed to a conservative approach to news reporting, and not by coincidence, favoring a conservative political viewpoint as well.
So there you have it. What appears to be a battle between liberals and conservatives is in fact a protracted fight over an overall conservative approach to reporting and presenting the news. The battle then, is not between liberals and conservatives as is so often presented, but between conservative methods of reporting the news.
Colbert exploits the ruse
That is what makes the comedy of a man like Stephen Colbert so hilarious. Colbert imitates the presentation methods of conservative media outlets while actually espousing and presenting liberal perspectives. The fact that these opinions about the news are force-fed through a faux Fox News filter is what makes the satire so funny. There is nothing Fair or Balanced about Stephen Colbert just as there is nothing Fair and Balanced about Fox News. It’s all just highly charged political information disguised as news.
Fox News, you see, excels at the City of Sanitary method of so-called news reporting. The company as a whole typically receives its marching orders on the choice of appropriate news topics and how to report on them from the very top where Roger Ailes, the chief network executive who built the American outlet for Fox News from the ground up, highly favors political conservatism as the solution to America’s problems.
His “news” staff is cleverly disguised as reporters and anchors when in fact they are positioned with a conservative ideology (and prescribed ‘talking points’) in place to constrain and deliver the information Fox News creates. It controls its messaging on a regular basis by taking a “closeup” look at news stories rather than backing up and providing the whole (and therefore liberal) context of the story. In other words, the difference between what Fox News does is the same as the difference between taking a look at the whole manhole cover that shows City of Batavia Sanitary as opposed to just showing the City of Sanitary image and using that constrained viewpoint as a jumping off point for political commentary.
Sanitized at Fox News
Fox News viewers seldom if ever get to see the entire context of a news story. Instead they are “sanitized” into thinking only about what Fox News presents as truth. It is hard to argue that Fox News is lying, exactly, because that they show on TV often exists as a “fact” just as the manhole cover actually does read City of Sanitary. But this “sanitizing” of the news is a grand deception of sorts, because it disallows context and essentially brainwashes viewers into a clipped understanding of the world and its activities.
Then the Fox News commentators like Sean Hannity further present these constrained, conservative media talking points to generate outrage over issues that have never been fairly presented. This radicalization of the news through constrained reporting and conflagratory discussion is the poison that has undermined true journalism in America.
The goals of sanitized news
Fox News has used its carefully “sanitized” views of patriotism, its jingoistic and flag-waving support for ugly and dangerous wars, its support of torture and covert aggression against nations around the world, and its advocacy for domestic policies and administrations that clearly have failed the nation and risked it very sovereignty in the process.
Insanitization of the news
We must therefore consider whether we should characterize the information presented by conservative news outlets like Fox News as the “insanitization” of news and information. It is literally as if the insane have taken over the media on all fronts. It is no longer possible or profitable for media outlets to engage and invest in liberal news reporting. The news cycle and competition for viewer attention is so tight and self-fulfilling that companies who attempt to present news in its full context are losing out to aggressive competitors like Fox who sound byte everything through the insanitization of the information presented. The American public can no longer even identify or understanding news as it is defined in journalistic terms. The insanitization of news and information has cut attention spans and comprehension among consumers to a bare minimum. Viewers now prefer the City of Sanitary to the City of Batavia Sanitary. “Don’t bother me with the facts,” the public seems to say, “Just tell me what I need to know.”
Screw the fact-checkers = Ignore the truth
In 2012 the Mitt Romney campaign boldly proclaimed that it won’t be constrained by “fact checkers.” This is a precise expression of the insanitization of information. Think about what politicians like Romney claim they are entitled to do: They are running a campaign where the truth literally does not matter. Yet 40% of Americans will support a candidate who makes no claim to represent the truth? That is insanity. But that is exactly the strategy of the conservative brand of thought. Through sanitization of information and turning the truth against itself, people can be convinced to believe that what you are saying is “more real” than the truth.
Think of the manhole cover. Think of think of the City of Sanitary. Is that where you really want to live?
Sanitization: It’s a religious tradition
This is nothing new, of course, under the sun. Religious groups have for years blindered believers with literal interpretations of scripture and controlled their belief systems with law and practices that even Reformation and revolution have not erased. The result is a society where 50% of Americans still believe in a literal Adam and Eve and refuse to comprehend even the slightest truth in the theory of evolution. This is the insanitization of religion just as politics and news have been distorted and contorted. Conservative religion rather precisely limits its believers understanding to the City of Sanitary level. In fact it likely goes a step further, focusing only on the word SANITARY with claims that true believers must sanitize themselves from recognizing equal rights for gays and women, or associating with environmentalists or tolerating other faiths.
Meanwhile the Muslim faith is engaged in the very same sanitization and insantization of its ideology, producing radical terrorists engaged in a fight to impose Muslim law in otherwise democratic societys and engaging in an ideological fight with Christianity that produced the Crusades.
A walled city under a siege of misinformation and fear
The City of Sanitary is a walled city that behaves as if it is in a state of siege. It promotes and feeds the fears of its dwellers. Indeed, fear and constrained thinking is the main and primary focus of its ideology, for fear is the factor that keeps its audience under control.
The City of Sanitary is therefore the most dangerous enemy of America, which fully depends on the liberalism inherent in its Constitution along with freedom of a press and a truly liberal media committed to full reporting– and not sanitization–of the news as a means to protect and defend America’s most precious freedoms, both liberal and conservative.
Anything else deserves to be shoved down the manhole of history.
san·i·tar·y [san-i-ter-ee] adjective
1.of or pertaining to health or the conditions affecting health,especially with reference to cleanliness, precautions againstdisease, etc.
2.favorable to health; free from dirt, bacteria, etc.: a sanitarywashroom.
3.providing healthy cleanliness: a sanitary wrapper on allsandwiches.
san·i·tize [san-i-tahyz] verb (used with object), san·i·tized, san·i·tiz·ing.
1. to free from dirt, germs, etc., as by cleaning or sterilizing.
2.to make less offensive by eliminating anythingunwholesome, objectionable, incriminating, etc.: to sanitize adocument before releasing it to the press.
insan·i·tize [san-i-tahyz] verb (used with object), in·san·i·tized, in·san·i·tiz·ing.
1. to purposely constrain information in a radical way as a means to confuse and obfuscate while claiming to speak the truth
2.to propagandize factual information by limiting its context, thereby avoiding the appearance of lying by being able to point to a portion of the information as demonstrable fact
2.to lie like a sack of shit and deny that you are lying despite all proof to the contrary, as in presenting your corporate brand as Fair and Balanced when it is anything but.