By Mark Ellis —
As Americans ponder the implications of Russian involvement in the 2016 election – with charges of “fake news” flying about — one venerable British journalist, Malcolm Muggeridge, accurately predicted the rise of fake news 40 years ago.
Muggeridge was invited to give a series of lectures in 1976 at the behest of the Anglican cleric, John Stott, one of the most influential Evangelical leaders of his time. The talks were known as the London Lectures in Contemporary Christianity.
A journalist since 1930, Muggeridge watched the television camera usurp print journalism with growing dismay. He could see that TV’s enormous influence was “exerted irresponsibly, arbitrarily, and without reference to any moral or intellectual, still less spiritual guidelines whatsoever.”
He felt he was watching the disintegration of Western civilization, with “the media playing a major role in the process of carrying out, albeit for the most part unconsciously, a mighty brainwashing operation, whereby all traditional standards and values are being denigrated to the point of disappearing.”
Muggeridge related an incident in the streets of New York when he happened upon a group of demonstrators with placards in front of a consulate.
“What’s going on?” he asked one protester, as they milled about.
He was told, as if it should have been obvious, that the cameras had not yet turned up. He lingered for a while until the camera crew arrived and started filming.
“Then, ‘Action!’ whereupon, placards were lifted, slogans shouted, fists clenched; a few demonstrators were arrested and pitched into a police van, and a few cops kicked, until, ‘Cut!’”
He watched the “impressive” demonstration later on a TV news program in his hotel room. “I suggest that the cameras are our ego’s eyes, our age’s focus, the repository and emanation of all our fraudulence,” he concluded.
Muggeridge quoted anti-war activist Jerry Rubin, who stated, “Television creates myths bigger than reality. Whereas a demo drags on for hours and hours, TV packs all the action into two minutes – a commercial for the revolution.”
Could it be that the dominant purveyors of news have provided the oxygen that has fueled Black Lives Matter, the Trump protests, and now the Russia imbroglio — commercials for the revolution?
“The media have created, and belong to, a world of fantasy, the more dangerous because it purports to be, and is largely taken as being, the real world,” Muggeridge observed.
“This applies especially to news and so-called documentaries, both of which are regarded as factual, but which, in practice, are processed along with everything else in the media’s fantasy-machine.”
One of the most famous news clips from World War II showed Hitler doing a funny little dance after hearing the news that France had fallen to the Wehrmacht. Muggeridge noted that the video turned out to be a fake, “procured by the simple device of removing a few frames from film of Hitler walking. The Fuhrer’s tread was unremarkable, but in the camera’s version he will dance on through history forever.”
In the award-winning TV program, The Selling of the Pentagon, Muggeridge discovered that “some of the interviews have been shown to be edited in a way that gives a completely false impression of what was actually said.”
When the faking was exposed, none of the awards were withdrawn and the fraudulence did not particularly interest viewers; “in their eyes, it just didn’t matter.”
“The faking possibilities especially in the cutting room are well-nigh illimitable,” he noted.
Muggeridge thought such deceit was especially egregious in “compilation programs” that purport to reconstruct news or historical events from stock footage.
“The first Dark Ages are lost in the mists of antiquity, with virtually no records; the coming Dark Ages will be equally lost in the blaze of studio lighting, with a superabundance of records, almost all falsified.”
Throughout the lectures, Muggeridge contrasted the fantasy of the media with the reality of Christ. While the media reveals a world of shadows, “Christ shows us reality, what life really is.”
“God ensures that whatever we may do in the way of deceiving ourselves, ultimately reality will win out.”