Barry’s Blog # 54: The Myth of Equivalency, Part Two

The Myth of Equivalency, Part Two

Gatekeepers know what is expected of them, and they know each other very well. Here’s one gatekeeper (New York Times book reviewer Jacob Heilbrunn) praising another gatekeeper, Jonathan Kay:

Inside the World of Conspiracy Theorists (

Among the Truthers” is a remarkable book, not least because its author, Jonathan Kay, appears to have emerged with his sanity intact after immersing himself for several years in the wilder precincts of conspiracy theories…Some of Kay’s most illuminating passages center not on what conspiracy theorists believe — even to dignify it with the word “theory” is probably to grant them more legitimacy than they deserve — but on why they are attracted to such tedious rubbish in the first place. He divides them into different camps, including the “cranks” and the “firebrands.” Cranks are often reacting to male midlife crises — combating conspiracies, Kay says, offers a new sense of mission. Cranks, he adds, are frequently math teachers, computer scientists or investigative journalists…As Kay sees it, the Enlightenment is itself at stake. His verdict could hardly be more categorical: “It is the mark of an intellectually pathologized society that intellectuals and politicians will reject their opponents’ realities.”

That last statement, of course, could not be a more precise description of the gatekeeping process itself. To accuse others of doing what one himself is in fact doing is a perfect example of the psychological process of projection. One might well wonder about the hidden motives of someone (and his editor) who would so blatantly indict himself. But the best of the gatekeepers – imagine the vetting process one must go through to reach the level of NYT book reviewer – are not that dumb. They do this, I’m sure, quite deliberately. “If you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes the truth,” said Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels, and U.S. State Department spokespersons listened closely.

James Tracy, a professor and journalist who himself has been tarred with the “conspiracy theorist” label, writes:

The now-prevalent phenomenon where only the narratives authorized by law enforcement and government authorities are worthy of serious consideration suggests the unmistakable extent to which public discourse has declined…journalists and academics are expected to either fall silent or perform the rearguard action of deflecting criticism from the state…Today’s project of policing the public sphere for unorthodox thoughts is a form of stealth authoritarianism that combines the weight of academic or journalistic expertise with a phony liberalism (or conservatism) to confirm the often unexamined perspectives of a specific political constituency. Such a technique is most readily employed against the apparently irrational ideas, beliefs and practices of a foreign other. In this regard “conspiracy theorists” and “truthers” typically play the “straw man” role. (

The state, in its ongoing effort to shore up broken timbers in the pale of American innocence, has long worked directly with the media. By now, we all know about media collusion around the invasion of Iraq. Long before that, in “Operation Mockingbird,” the CIA infiltrated major news organizations, planted stories, thwarted criticism of the Warren Commission Report and labeled its critics as the original “conspiracy theorists.” Of the hundreds of journalists who have colluded with the CIA, wrote Carl Bernstein in 1977, “By far the most valuable of these associations, according to CIA officials, have been with the New York Times, CBS and Time Inc.” We can certainly assume that this process continues today.

Ultimately, we follow the money, and here is where the idea and myth of equivalency breaks down. Even primary gatekeepers such as the NYT ( and The New Yorker ( have admitted that the Tea Party was created and subsidized (in the tens of millions of dollars) by the Koch brothers and the tobacco industry. The populist uprising so praised by Fox News is nothing without their massive subsidies. It is not a purely grassroots movement that spontaneously developed in 2009. Indeed, it required many years of preparation and well financed educational efforts. Long before the Citizen’s United Supreme Court decision, some $200 million had been channeled to conservative causes and institutions.

At the Koch brothers’ level of influence, they can simply buy or create entire gatekeeping institutions, such as the bogus libertarian “think tank” that recently labeled North Dakota as the “most free” state in the union even as it was making abortion illegal. Similarly, Rupert Murdoch has bought The Wall Street Journal and dozens of other gatekeeper media outlets. There is not and never was any equivalency.

Still, there is little point in blaming the rich for wanting to maintain control. The big mythological question is why so many Americans remain willing to support people and parties that have never served their interests, even when those interests are defined broadly as “values.”

The good news is that, even with so many of us still willing to consume the dominant mythology of innocence, so many others have always opted out. This fact actually forces people like Murdoch and the Kochs to expend fortunes trying to keep enough of us thinking within the pale.

Ironically and unknowingly, these billionaire “libertarians” offer tribute to the opponents that they would destroy. To have their press puppets imply that movements that must have bake sales to raise the money to educate the public about global warming or imperial wars are “equivalent” to their own slick media barrages and fabricated “mass demonstrations” is, in truth, to admit the power of authentic ideas. It is to admit the power of the people whose respect they can only buy but never earn. It is to admit that the myth of American Innocence, though very old, is also very unstable.












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