Accuracy in Media

Daniel J. Flynn launches into the theme of his book, Intellectual Morons, in the first sentence of his introductory chapter, asserting that “When ideology is your guide, you’re bound to get lost.” As the title suggests, Flynn focuses on “cognitive elites who embarrass themselves by championing idiotic theories, beliefs, and opinions.” Flynn takes up the subject of the ideological rot that has been imposed on history in chapter six, entitled “History Itself as a Political Act.”  He begins the chapter with a rundown of some bizarre, hateful, and downright erroneous statements made by various American protestors during the run-up to the March, 2003 invasion of Iraq, including that the rest of the world “should view us as they view the Germans and the Nazis,” that Bush “currently is becoming a fascist dictator,” that “we support our troops when they shoot their officers,” that “the war crimes that America has done over there [in Afghanistan] are just incomprehensible” and “there’s a big difference in those kinds of deaths” and those who “mostly died instantaneously” on 9/11.

Referring to these and other outlandish and often mistaken claims, Flynn asks, “Where do these Internet-savvy, MTV-generation activists get their ideas?” Hundreds of thousands of activists across the world exhibit a skewed understanding of American and world history, and Flynn establishes a credible, thoroughly-cited case for the heavy influence of Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, and Gore Vidal as the leaders of this alarming distortion of history. Under the politicized versions of history espoused by these figures, conformation to truth, facts, and data, is often too inconvenient to be carried out.

Flynn begins his analysis of popular historian Howard Zinn with Zinn’s own claim that:

Objectivity is impossible, and it is also undesirable? because if you have any kind of social aim, if you think that history should serve society in some way; should serve the progress of the human race should serve justice in some way, then it requires that you make your selection on the basis of what you think will advance the causes of humanity.

From Zinn’s advocacy of history that serves “a social aim,” Flynn moves on to detail the falsehoods that Zinn spreads in A People’s History of the United States. Among other notable aberrations from actual history, “Maoist China, site of history’s bloodiest state-sponsored killings, transforms into ‘the closest thing, in the long history of that ancient country, to a people’s government, independent of outside control.’ Furthermore, “Zinn writes that Castro’s Cuba ‘holds no bloody record of suppression.'”  Flynn notes that “one can only guess” the evidence on which Zinn bases his proclamations: “Despite its scholarly pretensions, A People’s History of the United States contains not a single source citation.” Could this “footnote-free” version of history be intended to serve as a sort of history-lite, which might appeal to a broader population who has little patience for academic-style reading? The blatancy of the delusion, inaccuracy, and politicization of Zinn’s agenda reflects just the opposite, in fact. Zinn evidently seeks to replace his readers’ ignorance with historical fabrications. Consider his interpretation of the Second World War as a conflict initiated and dominated by a greedy United States: “American diplomats and businessmen worked hard to make sure that when the war ended, American economic power would be second to none in the world?the United States intended to push England aside and move in.” Zinn evidently chooses to ignore reality, which shows that the United States’ Marshall Plan rebuilt Western Europe, rather than any American attempt to dominate it.

Flynn extensively cites the interviews, speeches, and documents published by Zinn, Chomsky, and Vidal in his analysis of their politicization of history. These citations reveal startling adherence to theory before facts, blatant disregard for facts, intellectual irresponsibility, and reflexive anti-Americanism. Flynn’s account of “History Itself as a Political Act” is a well-cited, fascinating, and alarming report of how “Ideology deludes, inspires dishonesty, and breeds fanaticism. Facts, experience, and logic are much better at leading you to the truth. Truth, however, is not everyone’s intended destination.”

Near the end of chapter six, Flynn’s citation of yet another protestor crystallizes his point to an alarming degree. In March of 2003, Abraham Megrete, the leader of a group of New York activists claimed that, “We would be for the defeat of the U.S. war?We are for the defense of Iraq. It is in the interest of the working people in the United States that the same government which is trying to intimidate and silence them be defeated in this war.” In the midst of wondering just what part of Iraq it is that Megrete and his cadre of misguided activists wished protection for?for their rhetoric implies their complete ignorance of the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis murdered through Saddam Hussein’s imaginative repertoire of chemical attacks, summary executions, and severe torture?one cannot help but fear the long-term consequences of a such acute misinformation. The United States’ hard-earned democracy entitles activists to hit the streets in protest, and voters to express their dissent in the voting booth. But the exercise of these democratic freedoms becomes worrisome when it is based on the sort of widespread politicization of history that Flynn so damningly illustrates.

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