Using Hate to Feed the State: The Case of Trent Lott Illustrates the Establishment Media's Use of a Totalitarian Tactic Described in George Orwell's 1984. (Smear)

Article excerpt

"A lot of people in Washington have been trying to nail me for a long time," commented former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) shortly after his forced resignation from that post. "When you're from Mississippi, when you're conservative and when you're a Christian, there are a lot of people that don't like that. But I fell into their trap and so I have only myself to blame."

Senator Lott provoked a media hurricane with his remarks during a birthday party for retiring South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond last December. Referring to Thurmond's 1948 presidential bid as the nominee of the States' Rights Party (which defended state-imposed segregation of the races), Lott suggested that if Thurmond had won the presidential race, then "we wouldn't have had all these problems over the years."

Although televised live by the C-SPAN television network, Lott's comments initially caused little stir. However, within 72 hours the media had been handed a new script: Lott's off-handed praise for Thurmond was a covert endorsement of racism and enforced segregation. The mainstream media, including TV, radio, and newspapers, tirelessly denounced Lott for supposedly endorsing official racism. Lott's supposed friends and allies in the Republican Party leadership -- including President Bush -- readily lent their voices to the chorus of denunciation. When the president, addressing a black crowd in Philadelphia, condemned Lott for making comments that "do not reflect the spirit of our country," it became a foregone conclusion that Lott would have to step down as majority leader.

Lott's post-resignation comments, though seasoned with self-pity, reflect an important fact: His ouster as majority leader exemplifies a media tactic that can be called the "Two Minutes Hate." As described in Orwell's 1984, the "Two Minutes Hate" was observed daily by the residents of totalitarian Oceania who would cluster around the "telescreen" to participate in a media-abetted orgy of vilification.

An Orwellian Approach

"The program of the Two Minutes Hate varied from day to day, but there was none in which Goldstein was not the principal figure," wrote Orwell. "He was the primal traitor, the earliest defiler of the [ruling] Party's purity. All subsequent crimes against the Party, all treacheries, acts of sabotage, heresies, deviations, sprang directly out of his teaching." Goldstein "was hated and despised by everybody" and condemned "every day ... a thousand times a day, on platforms, on the telescreen, in newspapers [and] in books...."

Thus conditioned to hate, the hapless citizenry performed on cue during each morning's ritual:

The horrible thing about the Two Minutes Hate was not that one was obliged to act a part, but that it was impossible to avoid joining in. Within thirty seconds any pretense was always unnecessary. A hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill, to torture, to smash faces in with a sledge hammer, seemed to flow through the whole group of people like an electric current, turning one even against one's will into a grimacing, screaming lunatic. And yet the rage that one felt was an abstract, undirected emotion which could be switched from one object to another like the flame of a blowlamp.

While the campaign to vilify Lott didn't reach such violent extremes, the media programmed tens of millions of Americans, absolutely unharmed by the Mississippi senator, to see him as the embodiment of hate and organized bigotry. What is most remarkable about the anti-Lott campaign was that it began with, and was largely sustained by, the so-called conservative press.

According to Larry J. Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, "the real spark for [the campaign against Lott] was the fact that conservative organizations and media picked up on this.... Once the conservative media started attacking Lott that's how the man in the street learned about it. …