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Public Opinion
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Published Saturday, September 28, 2013 @ 10:15 AM EDT
Sep 28 2013

(Written by Walter Lippmann in 1922)

Without some form of censorship, propaganda in the strict sense of the word is impossible. In order to conduct a propaganda there must be some barrier between the public and the event. Access to the real environment must be limited, before anyone can create a pseudo-environment that he thinks wise or desirable. For while people who have direct access can misconceive what they see, no one else can decide how they shall misconceive it, unless he can decide where they shall look, and at what. The military censorship is the simplest form of barrier, but by no means the most important, because it is known to exist, and is therefore in certain measure agreed to and discounted.

At different times and for different subjects some men impose and other men accept a particular standard of secrecy. The frontier between what is concealed because publication is not, as we say, "compatible with the public interest" fades gradually into what is concealed because it is believed to be none of the public's business. The notion of what constitutes a person's private affairs is elastic. Thus the amount of a man's fortune is considered a private affair, and careful provision is made in the income tax law to keep it as private as possible. The sale of a piece of land is not private, but the price may be. Salaries are generally treated as more private than wages, incomes as more private than inheritances. A person's credit rating is given only a limited circulation. The profits of big corporations are more public than those of small firms. Certain kinds of conversation, between man and wife, lawyer and client, doctor and patient, priest and communicant, are privileged. Directors' meetings are generally private. So are many political conferences. Most of what is said at a cabinet meeting, or by an ambassador to the Secretary of State, or at private interviews, or dinner tables, is private. Many people regard the contract between employer and employee as private. There was a time when the affairs of all corporations were held to be as private as a man's theology is today. There was a time before that when his theology was held to be as public a matter as the color of his eyes. But infectious diseases, on the other hand, were once as private as the processes of a man's digestion. The history of the notion of privacy would be an entertaining tale. Sometimes the notions violently conflict, as they did when the bolsheviks published the secret treaties, or when Mr. Hughes investigated the life insurance companies, or when somebody's scandal exudes from the pages of Town Topics to the front pages of Mr. Hearst's newspapers.

Whether the reasons for privacy are good or bad, the barriers exist. Privacy is insisted upon at all kinds of places in the area of what is called public affairs. It is often very illuminating, therefore, to ask yourself how you got at the facts on which you base your opinion. Who actually saw, heard, felt, counted, named the thing, about which you have an opinion? Was it the man who told you, or the man who told him, or someone still further removed? And how much was he permitted to see? When he informs you that France thinks this and that, what part of France did he watch? How was he able to watch it? Where was he when he watched it? What Frenchmen was he permitted to talk to, what newspapers did he read, and where did they learn what they say? You can ask yourself these questions, but you can rarely answer them. They will remind you, however, of the distance which often separates your public opinion from the event with which it deals. And the reminder is itself a protection.

From Public Opinion by Walter Lippmann, published in 1921.


Categories: Walter Lippmann


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Quotes of the day: Peter De Vries
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Published Saturday, September 28, 2013 @ 6:50 AM EDT
Sep 28 2013

Peter De Vries (February 27, 1910 - September 28, 1993) was an American editor and novelist known for his satiric wit. He has been described by the philosopher Daniel Dennett as "probably the funniest writer on religion ever". (Click here for full Wikipedia article)

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A suburban mother's role is to deliver children obstetrically once, and by car forever after.

Anyone informed that the universe is expanding and contracting in pulsations of eighty billion years has a right to ask, What's in it for me?

Before the mind snaps, or the heart breaks, it gather itself like a clock about to strike. It might even be said one pulls himself together to disintegrate.

Confession is good for the soul in the sense that a tweed coat is good for dandruff.

Everybody hates me because I'm so universally liked.

Gluttony is an emotional escape, a sign something is eating us.

Human nature is pretty shabby stuff, as you may know from introspection.

I am not impressed by the Ivy League establishments. Of course they graduate the best- it's all they'll take, leaving to others the problem of educating the country. They will give you an education the way the banks will give you money- provided you can prove to their satisfaction that you don't need it.

I don't understand why people keep saying marriage is doomed. All of mine worked out.

I wanted to be bored to death, as good a way to go as any.

I was thinking that we all learn by experience, but some of us have to go to summer school.

It is the final proof of God's omnipotence that he need not exist in order to save us.

Let us hope, that a kind Providence will put a speedy end to the acts of God under which we have been laboring.

Life is a crowded superhighway with bewildering cloverleaf exits on which a man is liable to find himself speeding back in the direction he came.

Life is a zoo in a jungle.

Marriage is a lottery in which men stake their liberty and women their happiness.

Murals in restaurants are on a par with the food in museums.

My father hated radio and could not wait for television to be invented so he could hate that, too.

Nostalgia isn't what it used to be.

One dreams of the goddess Fame and winds up with the bitch Publicity.

Pain is the question mark turned like a fishhook in the human heart.

The bonds of matrimony are like any other bonds- they mature slowly.

The difficulty with marriage is that we fall in love with a personality, but must live with a character.

The human brain is merely a device to prevent the ears grating on one another.

The idea of a Supreme Being who creates a world in which one creature is designed to eat another in order to subsist, and then pass a law saying, 'Thou shalt not kill,' is so monstrously, immeasurably, bottomlessly absurd that I am at a loss to understand how mankind has entertained or given it house room all this long.

The satirist shoots to kill while the humorist brings his prey back alive, and eventually releases him again for another chance.

The trouble with treating people as equals is that the first thing you know they may be doing the same thing to you.

The universe is like a safe to which there is a combination. But the combination is locked up in the safe.

There are times when parenthood seems nothing but feeding the mouth that bites you.

We are not primarily put on this earth to see through one another, but to see one another through.

We must love one another, yes, yes, that's all true enough, but nothing says we have to like each other. It may be the very recognition of all men as our brothers that accounts for the sibling rivalry, and even enmity, we have toward so many of them.

What baffles me is the comfort people find in the idea that somebody dealt this mess. Blind and meaningless chance seems to me so much more congenial- or at least less horrible. Prove to me that there is a God and I will really begin to despair.

What people believe is a measure of what they suffer.

When I can no longer bear to think of the victims of broken homes, I begin to think of the victims of intact ones.

Who of us is mature enough for offspring before the offspring themselves arrive? The value of marriage is not that adults produce children, but that children produce adults.

Why is the awfulness of families such a popular reason for starting another?

Words fashioned with somewhat over precise diction are like shapes turned out by a cookie cutter.

You can make a sordid thing sound like a brilliant drawing-room comedy. Probably a fear we have of facing up to the real issues. Could you say we were guilty of Noel Cowardice?

You can't be happy with a woman who pronounces both d's in Wednesday.

You can't talk about the serious and the comic separately and still be talking about life, any more than you can independently discuss hydrogen and oxygen and still be talking about water.


Categories: Peter De Vries, Quotes of the day


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