In the early 1900s , Will Rogers quipped: “I only know what I read in the papers.” Although newspapers had agendas in those years, their news reports were largely reliable. Over the years, technical advances improved how news is reported, but the reliability of reports has dissipated. Television transformed newscasters into celebrities and their inflated self-importance encouraged opinion-based reporting with little regard for veracity. This trend has continued, and news reports are not only purposely distorted but frequently dishonest.
Mainstream media maintains that rioting, burning, and looting by Black Lives Matter and Antifa are actually “peaceful protests” against a grossly unfair society. But the public doesn't view American society as grossly unfair. Contrariwise, most think mob violence is destroying the substance and civility of our cities.
Elites hope continual rioting will eventually convince the public that American society must be overturned and replaced. That is the establishment's goal. But the public doesn't agree that society is so flawed that it must be eliminated, nor does the public believe that mob violence is benevolently motivated. So elites must either alter the public's negative opinion of rioting or convince the populace that other problems are more important.
To increase the importance of a social problem, the Left usually claims it is racist; that has been the tried-and-true public manipulator for decades. But most of the specious racism stratagems have been thoroughly exploited. However the bigotry of Confederate monuments still has traction.
Most of us think the destruction of our cities by mobs is a more timely and significant issue than Confederate monument removals. But not CNN. To hype the need to remove Confederate monuments, CNN's Chris Cuomo has resurrected Leftist filmmaker Ken Burns. Cuomo's interview-probe into Confederate monument removals elicited these responses from Burns:
“I think we’re in the middle of an enormous reckoning right now in which the anxieties and the pains and the torments of injustice are bubbling up to the surface. It’s very important for people like me, of my complexion, to it be as quiet as possible and to listen. What I know from my reading of history is that the Confederate monuments have to go.”
“They’re an attempt to rewrite history and to essentially celebrate a false narrative about what happened during the Civil War and to send the wink-winks, the dog whistles, as we are fond of saying today, across the generations about what the Civil War was about. It’s so interesting that we’re even having this argument because the people that we memorialize, the nation's forts that are named after Civil War generals ... these are people responsible for the deaths of loyal American citizens.”
Obviously, this so-called interview was simply a venue for Burns to reiterate the Left's prescribed view of the Confederacy. Ken Burns claims his opinions come from his “reading of history.” Based on his comments, I don't get the impression that Burns has actually read history. But if he has, he obviously has only read selective versions. And if Chris Cuomo had demanded valid historical data that supported his opinions, Burns would be hard pressed to supply it.
Burns further states that Confederate monuments “celebrate a false narrative about what happened during the Civil War.” By “false narrative” he means one that deviates from the establishment's interpretation of that era using today's socio/political standards. It would be hard to find a respected historian who would claim that, in the mid 1800s, people risked their lives on battlefields because of their moral opposition to slave labor. However, there is a general consensus among historians that the War was the outgrowth of years of economic and cultural differences between Northern and Southern regions.
Burns's heyday was during the national television era when programming was dominated by the big three networks and PBS. In that era, there was an absence of dissenting views, and programs rarely featured professional historians. Like most TV programs, Burns's films were designed for the masses - and essentially avoided complex issues.
Hopefully, in this age of the Internet, with countless websites, and divergent ideologies, Burns's opinions won't go unchallenged.
Like most countries, the United States has flaws that need to be addressed. But a determination must be made regarding which flaws are doing the greatest harm and should be the primary focus of remedial efforts. For too long, mainstream media, academia, and the entertainment field have made that determination without consulting the public. And they have been able to convince a skeptical public of the correctness of their decision. One of the reasons they've had success manipulating the public is the phenomenon known as “dumbing down.” This term is not a recent creation, but actually was coined in the early 1930's movie industry. To attract a larger viewing audience, scriptwriters were told to “dumb down” screen plays “to appeal to those of little education or intelligence.”
When I say the public has been dumbed down, I don't mean they're stupid, but are easily manipulated by media. Since the late 1950s, dumbing down and media hype have had too much influence on the public. To sell an unacceptable social change to the populace, the establishment will claim the change is necessary to accomplish a virtuous goal.
The classic justification for an unwelcome societal change is that it combats “racism.” Over the years media has conjured up numerous forms of racism and finally hit the apex with “systemic racism” - racism so deeply embedded in all aspects of our culture that our entire society must be dismantled and restructured.
Can the establishment dismantle society against the public's wishes? The colonies broke with England to escape rule by a monarch. Consequently, for years the Jeffersonian principle of strong local governments and a weak central government prevailed. In the chaos following the War Between the States, the Lincolnian ideology replaced the Jeffersonian model with a strong central government which has gradually gained more control over the populace than King George ever had over his subjects.
The Founders thought three co-equal branches of government and public elections of congress members would prevent the development of a ruling class. But the government structure and the Constitution the Founders created didn't anticipate the circumstances of the War Between the States and its aftermath. Radical Republicans scrapped Presidents Lincoln and Johnson's minimal conditions plan for readmission of seceded states. And, with the defeated South under military rule, they attempted to punish the region and make it Republican while furtively describing their goal as granting rights to freed slaves..
Contrary to Left-wing historians, Reconstruction accomplished very little, did great harm to the Southern region, and barely survived a dozen years. Local citizens, like subjects under King George, were not allowed any voice in the reconstruction of their region. Eventually, Northern liberators lost enthusiasm and began returning to the Northeast, abandoning freed slaves. The callous treatment of the region by Radical Republicans made the recovery from the dismal war-torn conditions in the South even more difficult. Establishment historians are in something of a quandary. They are obligated to claim that Reconstruction was successful, but they also have to insist that “much more needs to be done.”
That has become the standard rationale of the Left regarding so-called reconstruction efforts - what was done was successful but much more needs to be done. And Leftist media, not the public, decides what “needs to be done.” Media tells us that opportunities for minorities are being hindered by lingering vestiges of Southern heritage. So Confederate monuments must be demolished. But tearing down Confederate monuments has gotten so out-of-hand that states had to pass laws protecting these memorials.
To get around these laws, activists use a semantic device described as “contextualizing.” Plaques are placed at the base of statues that “contextualize” them - explain their true meaning.
Consider these excerpts from a proposed contextualizing of a Confederate memorial in Georgia:“… this monument … bolstered white supremacy and faulty history, suggesting that the cause for the Civil War rested on southern Honor and States Rights—instead of its real catalyst—American slavery. This monument and similar ones also were created to intimidate African Americans and limit their full participation in social and political life of their communities. It fostered a culture of segregation…”
We see that contextualizing actually disparages the meaning of the monument – effectively tearing it down verbally.
Legislative and other societal changes during the civil rights movement (Second Reconstruction) were the most widespread and comprehensive societal corrections in our nation's history. But they didn't prevent Leftists from maintaining that individual racist incidents had worsened into systemic racism – racism so all pervasive that a third and more comprehensive version of Reconstruction is needed to correct it.
Third Reconstruction addresses the entire nation, so “White Privilege” has replaced “Southern bigotry” as the root cause of discrimination. Although we are told that minorities are being held back, we see them as surviving fairly well. We even see minorities highly successful and thriving. So we question the need for additional corrective measures - especially measures that would essentially replace the Founder's vision of America with a Marxist-Leninist structure that will level wealth and resources, creating an egalitarian society without class distinctions.
Gail Jarvis is a Georgia-based free-lance writer. He attended the University of Alabama and has a degree from Birmingham Southern College. His writing is influenced by years of witnessing how versions of news and history were distorted for political reasons. Mr. Jarvis is a member of the Society of Independent Southern Historians and his articles have appeared on various websites, magazines, and publications for several organizations. He lives in Coastal Georgia.