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Media & the Culture War: Everything Old is New Again by Matthew Tyrmand

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Media & the Culture War:
Everything Old is New Again

Budapest is a modern day Rome in the contemporary culture war. Here there is a widespread recognition that the West is worth defending, validated yet again at the ballot box with the recent plebiscite. We conservatives have always recognized that politics is indeed downstream from culture, particularly since the Right’s 1960s counter to the cultural revolution, a revolution born out of the American ivory-tower Left—and not all that dissimilar to the Maoist transformation that happened in Communist China during the same period.

Andrew Breitbart made this theorem famous in the last 20 years, but truth be told, my father, Leopold Tyrmand, an anti-communist Polish dissident and writer who emigrated from communist Poland in 1966 to the United States, was a proponent of this same idea in the 1970s. He was a classical liberal—or a liberal conservative in European parlance—who fell in love with America. Once he arrived, he quickly became an arch ‘Big C’ conservative writer and cultural critic. He founded the Rockford Institute—a think tank dedicated to the culture war and the media’s role therein.

His experience is illustrative. When he arrived to New York in the second half of the 1960s, he was fêted as an interesting character coming from behind the Iron Curtain to the West with lessons to impart. He wrote for many mainstream outlets including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, the Detroit Free Press, and most notably, The New Yorker—the main periodical of social and cultural criticism that graced every bourgeois coffee table among the thinking classes.

As the Hippie-led cultural revolution accelerated, my father received a first-hand lesson in how the Left’s revolt directly impacted the culture writ large. By 1970, he was purged from the ‘polite’ mainstream outlets that in preceding years had extolled his words and ideas. He had written about the inefficiency and indignities of life under communism during these years. Eventually, the editors, who were captured by this diametric move to the Left, told him that he did not understand ‘real’ communism, and he was no longer printed in the leading publications of the day.

It was much like Tom Wolfe described in his great work from the 1970s, “Radical Chic & Mau Mauing the Flak Catchers,” depicting leftist establishment hypocrisy. Cultural elites, such as Leonard Bernstein, uttered rhetoric like “workers of the world unite” and would then turn around and yell at their working class servants. They lost all sense of noblesse oblige and became caviar communists and limousine liberals. The hypocrisy was rife.

My father watched them descend into what he had just escaped from, a new cultural nomenklatura unmoored from the egalitarianism and common sense that Tocqueville had described in an early analysis of America and Americanism in his 1835 tome Democracy in America. In Poland, he had written a book about this cultural nomenklatura during the age of Soviet socialist realism called Zycie Towarzyski Uczoczowe—roughly translated asSocial and Cultural Life—about these cultural tastemakers’ control of the body politic through mass media and entertainment and their hypocritical behavior as communist elite. Of course, this book was censored and not allowed to be published behind the Iron Curtain. Coming from communist oppression and censorship, he saw the Left driving the West toward that which he had just escaped. He used to joke that he came to America “to save America from itself.”

He wrote about his experience with the Soviet Russian style ‘fake news,’ in his book Communist Civilization. Every year Moscow’s Pravda would trumpet throughout the Bloc: “record crop yields.” Yet everyone was starving. So did you believe the purveyors of lies at odds with your own hunger or the physical manifestation of truth: your rumbling belly?

His takeaway from this experience between the USA and Soviet Poland was that the more things change, the more things stay the same. Whether it is Moscow’s lies or Beijing’s—both then and now—or the leftist cultural arbiters in the West that too often made apologia for those liars and coercers of truth. The consistency was in the brazenness of their dishonesty. 

We need not delve too deeply into the archetypal example of The New York Times’ cover up of the Holodomor, Stalin’s mass starvation by design in Ukraine, and the Pulitzer awarded for such fallacious coverage. It is well known but illustrative and worth ruminating on again and again.

The culture of the West is its birthright. It is rooted in the Enlightenment values of liberty, justice, and equality under the law and espoused by great philosophers of the Western canon: Mill, Hume, Locke, Hobbes, Montesquieu, et al on law and government. Yet it also moored to the common sense and biblically ordained traditionalism espoused by Edmund Burke: the nuclear family, good vs. evil, and right vs. wrong.

During the 1960s, there was a cultural regression towards the idea that might makes right. But the conception of might was now newly derived from contemporary cultural leaders, who utilized technocratic mechanisms—such as the academy, the media, and the government—as a proponent of social justice, all working hand in hand. The definition of social justice would change with the times. Government meant for the securement of rights and natural law as ordained by a higher power, now in its progressive, liberal turn, became a bestower of rights, rather than its guarantor. And with that the floodgates of progressive radicalism were let loose upon western societies.

My father used to say that “liberalism (in the contemporary leftist sense) was a philosophy of conscience” versus “conservatism as a philosophy of reason.” That is to say: what feels good is good, as opposed to reality—for example, that there are clearly two genders or, to paraphrase Hobbes: “life is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

The reality is that life cannot be engineered by radical ideologues. Original sin prevents their most harebrained idealistic schemes, predicated on their feelings, from ever taking flight. Case in point: communism, collectivism, socialism, so often accompanied by the rejoinder “this time is different.” Well it never is. The human condition is as the human condition has always been. This condition is populated by human beings, with all our concomitant venality, self-interest, and numerous flaws inherent in our nature. The biblically codified Judeo-Christian ethos accounts for this whilst modern progressive liberalism has no use for such paradigms.

This reality was wholly rejected by the rising cultural elites of the counter cultural revolution, given that they believed, as they continue to do so, in their technocratic abilities to hijack institutions and systems and engineer society as they envision it. Great writers from Thomas More to H.G. Wells to Dostoevsky all had a better handle on the pitfalls of this hubris than our 20th- and 21st-century Western cultural elites.

Which brings me to dive into the most powerful mechanism that technocratic radicals have had at their disposal for the last four to six generations: the media, the printing press, and the distribution, if not the wholesale control, of that written word.

Let us take a moment to simply break down what the role of the media, the historically labeled fourth estate, is in society. It is to document and inform people about what is going on around them so that, as functioning and productive members of a society, citizens are better equipped to make decisions in their lives. The word ‘news’ sums it up well. Report what is new and important, and whatever qualifies as this conceptually, we literally call NEWS.

There has always been a role for editorial journalism, for opining on the issues of the day. Historically that was segmented in newspapers and television journalism. Even now within digital media, there is fact-finding reportage journalism and opinion journalism. But as the cultural elites further committed themselves to their own opinions on what constitutes social justice and have endeavored to bring about a just society as they perceive it, they have infected news reportage coverage with their opinions in every facet. 

The easiest and most pernicious mechanism that those who buy proverbial ink by the barrel do to effect this injection of opinion, albeit in subtle ways, is by curation of what constitutes a news story. Case in point, in May 2022, a horrific mass murder in Buffalo, New York—no doubt motivated by evil racial animus—was covered everywhere. But last year’s racially motivated mass murder in Waukesha, Wisconsin, did not garner nearly the same coverage. Why? Because the racial demographics of the perpetrators and the victims did not hew to the contemporary Left’s chosen social-justice prerogative of a racially delineated narrative. Choosing what to cover is a key part of the media’s power dynamic in influencing the culture. 

The secondary component of curation, beyond what to cover, is how to cover it. Which facts will become part of the reportage? In Waukesha, the race of the perpetrator and the racial motivations of the attack was purposefully omitted whilst in Buffalo it was the entire focus. When mainstream coverage obscures through curation relevant parts of the fact pattern, the populace becomes subtly brainwashed. This has been a huge political tool of the establishment Left. It goes back to my father’s quote on politically leftist liberalism as a philosophy of conscience. By ginning up these emotional reactions, the body politic is changed culturally and the political purveyors of such activity get an outsized gain at the ballot box.

So what can we do about it? Obviously, as with my father’s experience, we must never yield. If we are censored we must keep pushing our words and ideas through black-market channels. But as much as we complain about the censoriousness of Big Tech—which is just an extension of the same milieu of the media editorial oligarchy from yesteryear—it is this advent of technology, social media, digital media, etc., that has broken down the barriers to entry. And since that break down, born of the internet age of the 1990s when anyone could become a blogger, and with the advent of portable audio/visual/mobile telephony, we are all capable of being journalists. 

There are viable organizations and platforms that 25 years ago would not even have been conceivable. There are social media alternatives: GETTR and Truth Social. There is the rise of digital media via video, like PragerU. There is guerilla journalism and muckraking via the organization on whose board I serve, Project Veritas, which recently exposed the hypocrisy and censoriousness of Twitter once again. We have social media accounts that have become journalist platforms in and of themselves, like Visegrad24 on Twitter with nearly 300k followers that covers Central European politics and events better than any mainstream news desk. 

We have academic-style journals like The European Conservative, on whose editorial board I proudly serve, which is growing massively every quarter and is distributed all over the world both by physical and digital means. Steve Bannon’s “War Room” podcast reaches millions every day. It has also become a political career-making venue for many reactionary upstarts despite the fact that it has been turfed off mainstream distribution channels and that Bannon is public enemy number one as a thought leader to the censorious institutional Left. 

We even have new academies rising up to compete with the ossified and cirrhotic ivory tower that has abrogated its traditional and societally integral role of free inquiry in favor of social justice: Mathias Corvinus Collegium in Budapest, Collegium Intermarium in Warsaw, Marion Marechal’s school in Lyon, and the just-launched University of Austin in Texas.

There is hope. Competition can and will exist because this too is a component of the human condition and a key reason that Marxism in all its variants unflinchingly fails. Just as original sin suggests our fallibility—which is the other key factor in Marxism’s non-viability—the converse is our determination to strive, create, succeed, and be free. This is our culture in the West.

Free-speech rights in free societies, in which the media exists as a mechanism to preserve and protect them, are the absolute quintessence of the natural rights that we are endowed with by our creator. In free societies like Poland and Hungary—where there is actual pluralism in the media despite what the Anne Applebaums and Christianne Ammanpours of the world say—these rights are thriving. Political disputes, which of course exist, are healthy. In contemporary dictatorships those disputes do not exist, but gulags do.

We create the alternative media to the mainstream purveyors of the establishment’s politically motivated and purposeful mis- and dis-information. These platforms are robust, growing, and wholly necessary to preserve real freedom and real justice. Otherwise the radical Left—which is at war with the truth, telling us there are 72 genders and that men can get pregnant—will win and create despotisms where free thought and traditional values will be purged from society. They will become the fascists actualized in despotisms that still exist, rooted in the same thuggish communist mentalities that subjugated parts of Europe and that many fought against, as my father did in Poland. 

As conservative thought leaders of the contemporary era, we certainly do not embrace leftist progressive liberalism, no more than we embrace the Marxist and Soviet styled fascism of modern day China, Russia, Cuba, North Korea, Venezuela, etc. In these countries, free press is dead and lies reign supreme. They tell the citizenry about their record crop yields, yet the citizens are starving; or they claim that Uyghurs are merely being re-educated not genocidally liquidated; or that Ukraine needs to be de-Nazified and a Belarussian vassal state in hock to Soviet-era KGB despots must be re-installed to re-assert a traditional order. Our culture is oriented toward truth, justice, morality, and natural law—which are all connected. And the media that we continue to create will serve the furtherance of this culture with the ultimate goal of expanded peace and prosperity. 

Matthew Tyrmand is an independent investigative and editorial journalist in the U.S. and Europe, a Claremont Institute Lincoln Fellow, a conservative movement activist, and an occasional investment banker. He is a member of this journal’s editorial board.

This essay is adapted from a speech delivered at CPAC Hungary on May 19, 2022.

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