Tags: Slouching | Toward | Censorship

Slouching Toward Censorship

Wednesday, 09 May 2001 12:00 AM

In 1953 the first indication the outside world had that Soviet Interior Minister Lavrenti Beria had been eliminated in Krushchev's first post-Stalin purge was when Beria's name failed to appear on Pravda's Page One roll call of Soviet dignitaries attending the opening of the Bolshoi Ballet.

That was IT. Open and shut. No backtalk, please, from younger journalists who said, "Gee. Maybe it was a mistake."

Sorry, kid. Soviet typesetters don't make mistakes!

It's with appropriate pain that I note our beloved America is being treated to manipulations reminiscent of slave-state media.

An example.

A great, historic, revealing, dictator-depressing, freedom-enhancing picture was born. It was the kind of picture that screamed: "Here I am, at last. Here I am, a truth that shouts forth in all languages. Here I am, ready and able to make a big contribution to the world's understanding of dictatorship."

Alas, the picture underwent infanticide minutes after birth. It underwent infanticide not at the hands of dictators who had no power to kill it. It underwent infanticide at the hands of free journalists who chose not to annoy dictators.

Remember when the American crew of the surveillance plane was leaving Hainan Island? The foreign media were allowed a rare peek at the Hainan airport, just enough to let audiences around the world see newly freed Americans boarding their plane home.

Ah, but one reporter from CNN happened to have the latest, a hand-held video camera that linked directly to a satellite and DID NOT NEED the permission of the communist authorities to cover anything in its path. After what must have been a few minutes of amusing confusion among the communist Chinese enforcers, they got the point: CNN was transmitting AFTER the approved photo op had expired.

A uniformed Chinese goon quickly discovered it was the CNN correspondent and ran over to shut her transmission down.

What happened next could have taken several forms. She could have been jostled, in which case the video images would have been scrambled roller-coaster fashion without revealing clearly the Chinese attempt to repress. She could have been knocked to the ground, cutting the video abruptly without the audience seeing she'd been silenced by a communist policeman. She could even have voluntarily ended her transmission seeing that the cop was headed over to shut her down.

None of the above happened. It all happened in a way so blunt and unambiguous that a romantic freedom-lover might suppose perhaps the communist Chinese policeman were secretly on the side of freedom and wanted to do his bit to contribute some powerful ammunition to the anti-communist arsenal.

He put his hand over the lens in a gesture that said in all languages: "Where do you think you are, lady? In some kind of free country, maybe?"

Hollywood couldn't stage a dictator's thug clamping his hand over a camera lens as well. And if they could, they wouldn't. It just looked too Hollywood.

Consider now the still photos that have made history, changed history and intensified the resolve of those who did.

Does anybody else remember the picture of the bawling Chinese baby sitting on the railroad tracks in Shanghai in 1937 right after a Japanese air raid? Even though that one was later exposed as a fake designed to rally international opinion against the Japanese aggressors, it worked. That one picture was worth tens of thousands of dollars in aid to the embattled Chinese, not to mention American volunteers for the pro-Chinese Flying Tigers and the strengthening of world public opinion against Japan.

How about the picture of the stricken battleship Arizona listing lifelessly in the water after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Or the face shriveled in pain of that anonymous Frenchman caught crying by the side of the avenue as German troops and tanks paraded into Paris in 1940. Powerful.

Powerful, too, was the photo of the Marines raising the American flag over Mount Surabachi on the island of Iwo Jima after one of the bitterest battles of the war.

I can suggest, and you can't disprove, that the pictures of the mushroom clouds and the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki rid the world of world war from 1945 clear up until today. The picture showing Gen. Douglas MacArthur accepting the Japanese surrender on the deck of the battleship Missouri in Tokyo Bay is the Far Eastern companion of the one showing the jubilant American sailor kissing a girl he obviously didn't know on Times Square in New York minutes after Japan's surrender was announced.

While we're collecting – not moving pictures, but still pictures that moved people – let's revisit the young East German soldier hopping across the barbed wire he was supposed to be stringing to keep his countrymen imprisoned - and escaping to West Berlin and freedom himself. And the Freedom Fighters of Hungary chopping down the statue of Stalin in Budapest in October 1956, when their 10 glorious days of freedom broke out.

Let your memory be your photo album and turn now, please, to the communist massacre of their own students in Tienanmen Square in 1989, with emphasis on those shots of the huge replica of the Statue of Liberty the Chinese students made out of papier-mache. And that most courageous of all freedom lovers who stood in front of a whole column of Chinese tanks daring them to roll over him.

After the shot of Boris Yeltsin standing on a tank as communism collapsed in the Soviet Union in the late 1980s, freedom's photo gallery seems to have lost its lease on our walls. In fact, the next major shot that comes to mind has nothing to do with freedom at all – namely, the Clinton-Reno muscular abduction of Elian Gonzalez from the arms of the "fisherman."

Every TV network, every newspaper, every magazine had access to that shot of the Chinese policeman's hand reaching out to obliterate coverage. CNN ran it for that one day, and then, kerplunk! It's as through that picture were dropped into sulphuric acid and sprayed over Death Valley. Nobody else did anything with it.

It was like one of those multimillion-dollar art treasures that wound up being used upside down on top of two wooden saw-horses as a makeshift card table in a trailer park. That shot bothered too many people other than the dictators of communist China.

I understand. Communist China, to the news and picture editors of the major media, is not an old-fashioned dangerous, murderous dictatorship. It's something new called a lucrative market.

Back to 1953 when Soviet Interior Minister Lavrenti Beria was deposed and murdered by Krushchev. An American diplomat traveling by train from Moscow to the West a few days later was asked by the Soviet customs inspector at the Polish border to hand over, please, volume two of the new Soviet Encyclopedia he had in his luggage.

The inspector quickly found the five-page biography of Lavrenti Beria in that volume and razored it out with one practiced stroke.

That wasn't the end. The inspector then reached into a briefcase and withdrew a five-page article on a hydroelectric dam project in Siberia that began with the letters "BER" and INSERTED those pages into the cavity left by the excision of the bio of BERia.

It wasn't, you see, the Soviet Union's intent to deprive the foreign visitor of property purchased in the Soviet Union. They made sure the American left the Soviet Union with exactly the same number of pages he'd originally purchased so he wouldn't feel gypped. They just wanted the five pages of Beria out and five pages of the power station in.

That bad we're not.

But, with the studied ignoring of the Chinese policeman's hand over the lens, that bad we're getting.

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In 1953 the first indication the outside world had that Soviet Interior Minister Lavrenti Beria had been eliminated in Krushchev's first post-Stalin purge was when Beria's name failed to appear on Pravda's Page One roll call of Soviet dignitaries attending the opening of...
Wednesday, 09 May 2001 12:00 AM
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