The dire lessons of the Checkpoint Charlie Museum in Berlin.
Reprinted from RageAgainstTheMedia.org.
I’m not sure which exhibit it was at the Checkpoint Charlie Museum in Berlin that brought me up short, but it was during my visit there last November that it dawned on me why I do what I do. Was it the photo montage of Jutta Gallus, the East German mother who was forcibly separated from her two young daughters for several years and who protested at Checkpoint Charlie every single day during that time, finally being reunited when she won their freedom? Or maybe it was the exhibit of the two windsurfing boards mounted back to back atop a car in such a way that a person could lie between them invisibly in order to escape from East Berlin? Maybe it was the photos of Peter Fechter, the 18-year-old man who was shot going over the Wall and died over the next hour, lying there, screaming for those nearby to help, nobody able to do anything as they, too, would be shot.
Or perhaps it was the exhibit honoring Ronald Reagan, whose steadfast pressure on the East and his “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall” speech did, in fact, help to bring that wall down as well as the Evil Empire itself, that nightmare of an experiment in the ultimate “let’s make it all fair” ideology under which millions upon millions of human beings suffered, and to get away from which inspired those heroic efforts documented in the museum.
Perhaps it was the general sense from walking through the museum – and this was my third time there – and realizing that these walls, these tyrannical and inhuman constructs happen slowly over time, and can only happen when people do not speak up. (Would they have dared to erect the wall under a Reagan presidency? I doubt that.)
Whichever exhibit it was, at one point I was thunderstruck. “This is why I do what I do,” I thought. “The way to ensure that tyranny doesn’t take over is by fighting it at every step; we must never stop speaking out, we must never submit, we must do all we can to ensure the liberties that we are guaranteed under the Constitution and not take our freedom for granted.
Of course, Berlin is not only the home of this museum, one of the most complete and poignant memorials to the horrors of the Cold War and Communism and to the heroics of those escaping to freedom. It is, of course, Ground Zero of Hitler’s Nazi regime, a tyranny so horrific that the realities of it are literally impossible to grasp. But even more than the Cold War and the wall, this incomprehensible totalitarianism did not occur overnight. Not in the slightest. Chipping away at freedoms, sometimes with a mallet, sometimes with a pick, can be an all-too-effective way of taming citizens into a regime of fear; in the case of Germany, of course, this applied to all citizens, but infinitely more so in the case of those whom the regime demonized: The Jews most especially, but others as well, to a much smaller degree.
One of the biggest mallets taken to destroy freedom was the seizure of the press. This, combined with the really rather genius propagandizing stifled all alternative views and reporting, while advancing a single narrative towards a single agenda: the Aryanization of as much of the world as possible, the increasing of the power and reach of the Third Reich.
Even before the recent revelations of the mind-bogging overreach of our current administration here in the United States, it has been clear that our mainstream media had an equivalent single-mindedness in their “reporting” and that is the furthering of the liberal/progressive agenda. While indeed, even from the earliest days of our nation various individual news sources have generally had political tendencies towards one side or another, two things were different historically. First, there were news sources that voiced both political sides; and perhaps more importantly, that they even had a bias was understood and a given.
In recent decades, however, and even more so in recent years, there has been a nearly monolithic voice from our dominant media sources. The “Alphabet Stations:” ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN all provide nearly identical perspectives on all the main topics of the day, all choose to cover essentially the same items while ignoring others, and most importantly, all make every effort to give the impression of impartiality. Each of these networks considers itself “unbiased,” offering “The News” in such a way as to give the average American the sense – illusory as it is – that he or she now is informed about the world he or she lives in. It is this illusion of being informed that is, in fact, deeply pernicious. We don’t even realize we are being lied to; at least in Nazi Germany, that much was clear.
And in a way, what we have here with our own press, which operates under the First Amendment guaranteed right to its independence – the First Amendment, the very first one – is a voluntary ceding of this very right, this very independence, in favor of a unanimous advocacy of an agenda. That it is voluntary, in this, the Land of Liberty, is difficult to fathom.
So what do we have? A “free” press that opts, day after day, story after story, to not exercise that freedom and would rather be the mouthpiece of one political agenda, even under the guise of impartiality. A press in the form of all the main media sites – with the single exception of Fox – with their attendant TV stations, websites, Facebook pages, phone apps and so on, creates a sense of the world that is inaccurate, and as we are now learning, dangerously so.
When there is only one exception to this unanimity, and this exception is deliberately, constantly, consistently vilified by the party in power as well as the monolith itself, what we are forced to admit is that our press cannot tolerate diversity of opinion to the exact extent that the party it protects also cannot. The lock-step alignment both in narrative and focus on silencing alternative views is chilling and dangerous. That it is a voluntary alignment is even more so. Journalists who, in the past, saw their charter as informing the public to empower us now seem to have as their primary responsibility the assisting of this president in his too-successful efforts to “transform this nation” and who have learned since grade school that the important thing is to “change the world” regardless of what that change might be. Their lack of knowledge about the past and America’s uniquely beneficial role globally –in fact, their ingrained conviction that America has been a force for evil rather than good, and that we as a nation have more to apologize for than to be proud of – clearly taints their judgment regarding their politics and their role as journalists, and between them and those (equally ignorant) who run our schools, we have a near-perfect feedback-loop of anti-American misinformation and personal missions by young, energetic starry-eyed ignorami to change the world by hand-picking the narrative and denying the validity of any other point of view. That it is those who crow loudest about diversity who are the quickest to shut down other opinions is ironic, yes, but it is also inevitable. Only by silencing dissent can the voices of liberal policies ever win over those who espouse freedom.
In fact, what we have is a press that pretends to support the underdog, yet silences it; that pretends to empower the people, yet only advocates for and protects those in power; that pretends to tell the truth, yet lies, obfuscates, omits and distorts in order to advance a single agenda that has nothing to do with the truth but everything to do with their own personal view of the world. In addition, our news media’s liberal mindset is also evident in how their confidence that they ought to be the arbiters of what we should know rather than assuming that we the people have a right to decide for ourselves. The disdain that liberals have for the individual, for the individuals’ right to choose, is reflected in their policies as well as the press.
Ironically, while the Nazi press (and Pravda, and the press of other totalitarian regimes) worked in concert with the government’s agenda of enhancing the power of the nation and increasing its stance globally, the American press, also in concert with our government’s agenda, is working to diminish our stature globally and to cast, wherever possible, a negative light on America, American achievement, American traditional values and mores. How ironic that one way in which our current regime is different from that of Hitler’s (fully acknowledging the unspeakable horrors of his regime) is that Hitler saw his country as great and in some twisted way wanted to strengthen his country, whereas our president sees nothing about our country as great, and believes that a weaker America is better for us and the world at large. It is astonishing that a Head of State could even consider as a good thing the diminishing the power of the very nation he was elected to lead. It is beyond comprehension that our Commander in Chief actually believes that a weak America is a good thing globally. For a totalitarian leader to consolidate power in order to emasculate the nation he leads defies comprehension. And our press, our popular culture and our schools all have made this possible, and continue to advance this “We are the Evil Empire” anti-patriotic worldview.
So why do I do what I do? Because a press that supports the agenda that aims to weaken the very nation which gives it its lifeblood is a press that must be fought against. A self-governing nation can’t survive without a press that informs the people of the truth, and we are seeing, every day, examples of how we are less and less a self-governing nation. For our constitutionally-protected Fourth Estate to be voluntary propagandists for policies that are suicidal is something that must be fought at every turn.
So why do I do what I do? Why do I spend my days either directly fighting against the lies and false narratives of our dominant media or else devising new ways of engaging in the battle? Why do I do what I can to build an effective “army of citizen activists” to evangelize with the truth against the dishonest, depraved, destructive efforts of the media whose goal is to advance the cause of totalitarianism? Because as long as they are allowed to propagate these lies unchecked, they will win. As long as their monopoly in information is unchallenged, they learn the lesson that they have carte blanche to lie to us as they wish. And until the American people have objective information about the world they live in, tyranny has a foothold that becomes increasingly difficult to cast off.
The lessons from the Checkpoint Charlie Museum and from Berlin generally are these: totalitarianism starts with baby steps, and with a monopoly of the message. We think we are immune; so did they. Only by fighting back will the next steps be prevented. The media should be the inoculant against totalitarianism, not its delivery system.
This is why I do what I do, why so many of us do what we do.
”Not to act is to act,” said Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a resident of Berlin and victim of totalitarianism. Let no one accuse us of not acting.
Dr. Siegemund is the founder and president of “Rage Against the Media,” an activist organization committed to fighting against the corruption of America’s dominant media. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Applied Mathematics, a Master’s Degree in International Relations, and a PhD in Education and American Culture.
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