Pravda

Like many others, I scan the New York Times to learn what the Cathedral is thinking and to get heads-up on the most important events, but we know better than to rely on its reporting. It is not often outright false, and not always biased in the sense of using different words for the same actions by opposing players. Its favorite tool is selective reticence. A particularly egregious example is this story (background 1, 2) about a Chinese immigrant to France beaten to death by Muslim MENA immigrants to France, though a naive subject would not learn the latter part from the story. Not all people know enough to google place names and see that these contain the most extreme ZUS, and to understand what sort of Chinese might live there or what sort of “French” kids are likely to have enough time on their hands and enough feeling of impunity to behave in this manner:

“A group of about 10 kids started shooting fireworks at our cars,” she recalled. Residents of the housing complex chased the youths away and called the police. “When the police arrived,” Ms. Huy said, “we told them that this couldn’t go on, and they told us it was nothing.” A few minutes after the police left, the youths emerged from the darkness with pistols. “They were firing in all directions,” Ms. Huy said, still clearly shocked. “Four people were wounded by bullets.”

This sort of selective reticence reminds me of nothing so much as of one of my favorite passages from Solzhenitsyn’s First Circle (vol. I, p. 329 in my edition, my tr.) describing a Soviet diplomat accidentally turned dissident showing his sister-in-law how to read the Pravda:

— Well, let’s begin to learn to read, — Innokentiy spread out the [Pravda*]. — Take this caption: “Women are full of labor enthusiasm and exceed their quotas.” Think: what do they need these quotas for? Aren’t they busy enough at home? This caption means: the husband’s and wife’s combined wages are not enough to support the family. The husband’s wage alone ought to be enough.
— Is it enough in France?
— Everywhere. Then here, look: “In all capitalist countries taken together there aren’t as many kindergartens as in our country”. Is this true? Yes, probably true. But there is a small piece of explanation missing: in all other countries mothers are free to be with their children, they don’t need kindergartens.
[…]
— Now look here, the most trifling news items: “So-and-so, member of French parliament, stated that…” and it goes on about the hatred the French people feels for Americans. Had he stated that? He must have had, we publish truth! But the news item neglects to say which party does the member of parliament belong to. If he weren’t a Communist, this would certainly have been mentioned, because his statement would have been that much more valuable! So he’s a Communist. But it’s not mentioned! And everything is like this, Clara. The paper writes about a record snowfall, thousands of cars buried, a national calamity! And the catch is that there are so many cars that they don’t even build garages for them… All this is freedom from information. Even sports news is affected, here: “the match brought a well-deserved victory” — no need to read on, it’s clear: to our team. “The panel of arbiters surprised the spectators by awarding victory” — again clear: to the foreign team.

Note: the meaning of the Russian word pravda is close to, but not identical, to English “truth” and “right”. A more arrogant name for a newspaper is difficult to imagine. Soviet Pravda was the most important organ of dissemination of official thought to the broadest masses; Izvestiya (“Dispatches”) was for the broad middle-brow audience.

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