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Defenders of the Faith

July 17, 2001

Newsweek recently ran a cover story on the controversy over stem-cell research. Did I say story? It was really a propaganda screed, one of its authors being Eleanor Clift, whom you may remember as Bill Clinton’s adoring Olive Oyl. Its theme was that scientific research shouldn’t be inhibited by religious fanatics (namely, Christians).

The cover featured a color photo of a cluster of human stem cells, hugely magnified. The point was obviously that these things don’t look like what we think of as a human being, so what’s the harm of killing them?

Mind you, Newsweek doesn’t always make use of audio-visual aids in discussing embryonic and fetal human life. In its coverage of late-term abortion, it has never used a color picture of a dismembered human fetus in the ninth month to shape public opinion.

By the ninth month, those little things do look pretty human, after all, and such a picture might, from Newsweek’s point of view, backfire. You don’t have to be a religious fanatic to recoil from seeing a baby torn to pieces.

Scientists in Virginia are already creating human embryos for the sake of “harvesting” their stem cells. The embryos themselves, having served their purpose, are destroyed.

It’s all very mundane, routine lab work. There are no demented men with hunchbacked assistants and lightning flashing overhead. Nobody involved seems to have any qualms about toying with human life. Who says it’s human, anyway? Only religious fanatics.

Should all this proceed with the blessing — and subsidies — of the government? Why not? Having redefined human life some time ago, the U.S. Supreme Court has recently been emboldened to take the sacrilegious step of redefining golf itself.

What puzzles me is why journalism should be so reflexively on the side of the government. During the Watergate era, we heard about the “watchdog press,” the “adversary press,” the press as the “fourth branch of government.” That old skepticism about government, largely illusory then, hardly survives today even as a pose. Today the press seems to see itself as government’s partner, assisting and promoting the expansion of the state. The only politicians it treats with skepticism, verging at times on open hostility, are those who try to put the brakes on government.

You might think that after a century of tyranny, total war, genocide, and mass murder, not to mention organized robbery through taxation, inflation, debauched currencies, and redistribution, all of which have generated moral corruption and social decay — well, a little skepticism toward the modern state itself is long overdue. But the news media still persist in the faith that government is the natural instrument for the betterment of the human condition. If you believe that, you can believe that a tiger can be taught to pull a plow.

In the good old days, the state was limited in its ambitions, if only because its techniques were still primitive. But today’s sophisticated, organized, computerized, atom-splitting state knows a few tricks its crude ancestors had no inkling of. It also enjoys the propaganda services of nominally independent journalists.

[Breaker quote: The free press versus freedom]Producing no wealth itself, the state punishes productive people and encourages dependency on itself. The parasite state wants parasite citizens. It increases the tax burden of producers and the benefits of its own dependents.

In order to do this, it has to invert common morality. It legalizes what were formerly crimes and criminalizes what were formerly freedoms. It has to convince its subjects that when the state commits a wrong — killing or robbing, say — it’s not really wrong. It’s somehow authorized. We are shocked by a “terrorist” bombing that kills dozens. We accept it as legitimate when our government bombs whole cities.

All this requires, as I say, the constant propaganda support of the “free” press. The press doesn’t have to lie very often; it merely has to ignore the obvious, and pretend that the abnormal is normal. It keeps us “informed” by reporting on Washington sex scandals instead of the steady erosion of constitutional government. It alarms us about trifles, while soothing us about enormities.

Faith in the state couldn’t survive without the partnership of state and press. You’d think a free press would favor a free society and the morality that supports it. For some reason, the opposite is true.

Joseph Sobran

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Reprinted with permission
Copyright © 2001 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
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