Adam Curry: The Big Lie
Thursday, May 9, 2002 by Dave Winer.
From time to time I run guest essays, written by people who have an experience that relates to the topics we cover. On September 14 last year I ran a piece by Tamim Ansary on Afghanistan. I've run essays by Bill Gates and Esther Dyson. Today, permit me to introduce Adam Curry, who is a personal friend, and was in Amsterdam this week gathering first-hand reports about the assassination of Pim Fortuyn, a political candidate who Adam knew and supported.
The first report I heard about the Fortuyn assassination, on KQED, the National Public Radio outlet in San Francisco, said that Fortuyn was a right-wing extremist, in the mode of France's Le Pen. Having visited the Netherlands four times in the last two years, I was shocked to hear that. The Netherlands is a singularly liberal and peaceful country. It didn't make sense. I put it out of my mind and went on with my day. Then I read on Adam's weblog that this is not correct, that Fortuyn was not even conservative.
As the days passed, Adam's site became central to a discussion that has reached into all corners of the weblog world. The wrong story continued to propogate. What is going on with the media, what kind of information are they distributing, and why?
I asked Adam for permission to run an essay that he wrote on Wednesday, and he graciously gave it. The rest of this piece was written by Adam Curry, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Monday's killing of historian and politician Pim Fortuyn brought an entire nation to its feet. After the initial shockwave that was felt throughout all communities in this tiny trading nation near the North Sea, the public showed its true colors. That of a peaceful, tolerant society.
It was a feeling of disbelief. How could this happen, in the Netherlands of all places? This has never happened in modern Dutch politics. You hear it everywhere: This isn't Holland, Not the Dutch way. Many speak of "American drama on our shores." I'm pretty sure that statement is meant to reflect the shock, anger and sorrow of 9-11.
Everyone agrees that physical harm and violence are not to be tolerated. Like most modern cultures, opinion and speech are protected by the constitution. Ironically it is precisely this freedom of speech that killed Fortuyn.
The tragedy struck outside the studios of Radio 3, which is the Dutch national Contemporary Hit (top 40) Radio station. As part of campaigning for the May 15th elections, ten of the top candidates were invited to be on the afternoon drive show with Ruud de Wild. That is a BNN show, and my Friday night co-host at BNN is also a player on that afternoon show.
Jeroen Kijk in de Vegte called me about 10 minutes after it happened, 15 minutes before ambulances and police arrived at the scene. He was describing facts to me as I was watching TV reporters spew out one mistake after another.
It was a very confusing day, particularly because I was able to get first-hand information and was loyally passing that on to blog space, omitting some details out of respect for my friends caught in the middle of this drama.
But the TV painted a different picture. They were so out of control that the news desks were reporting anything that came in as fact and true. Disclaimed of course from time to time.
And when it's on the news, or in the paper, it's the truth. Right?
I've been in the public eye for more than 18 years, in Europe and the US. I've enjoyed fame and recognition, which comes at a price.
That price isn't privacy, as many would have you believe, the price is the cost of the truth.
I've been interviewed hundreds of times. By broadcasters, publications, newspapers, magazines, school papers. You name it, they's interviewed me.
Not once, ever, has the result been factually correct.
And that's the battle, you feel so violated and wronged when someone or something of authority states an untruth about you. It takes tremendous amount of effort to correct or re-direct the flow of the press.
And the only way you can do that is by doing more interviews to correct the mistakes, which in turn breeds more untruths and mistakes. A never ending vicous circle of fenzy feeding with reporters from all lines of media copying rumours, half truths and heresay without even bothering to check facts and background. Of course there's no time for all of that, we need to make a deadline, presses are rolling, or were about to lose our satellite window and most important of all:
We need to attract and keep the audience. For there is no better drama than real life itself.
The bitter pill was yet to come for the Dutch. As the world's media started to report on the tragedy came more disbelief: Pim Fortuyn was being described by the world press as a "Hard Right Winger", "The Dutch Le Pen", "anti-muslim", "Racist". The only correct description I read or heard was "Populist". That Pim was indeed.
It was stunning to read the New York Times report "Fortuyn's rise mirrored a right-wing resurgence in several European countries, lately highlighted by the anti-immigrant Jean Marie Le Pen's surprise showing in the first round of French presidential elections."
Was the Times talking about the same Pim that the Dutch endeared as he would appear on every talk show, always dressed to the nice with his sharp wit at hand. Was this the same Pim the country had enjoyed for ten years as a writer of many political books and weekly columns always aimed squarely at exposing the underbelly of Dutch politics, which is mostly played out behind closed doors in the Hague. All Dutch know it, but Pim wasn't afraid to say it. .
Morning news shows clips of foreign coverage. Most shocking was what I saw from the Bigs in the US. Without fail all three major networks, ABC, NBC, CBS labeled Pim Fortuyn as ultra right and/or racist. With phrases such as "running on an anti muslim platform" or "the Dutch Le Pen" .
It isn't hard to trace this back to quotes from Prime Minister Kok, who positioned Fortuyn as "hard right" at the beginning of the campaign.
Furthermore there was the Volkskrant article from several months ago. In that interview Pim was quoted saying that he feels Islam is a "backward culture" for ridiculing homosexuality and proclaiming homosexuals as "lower than pigs". Pim was openly gay.
In fact Pim Fortuyn never called for a ban on immigration or removal of Muslims. Unfortunately the memes were set, and the largest news organizations in the world are copying incorrect information and propagating it shamelessly.
What Pim did do, was start the public debate about immigration and standard of living in the Netherlands, which is the second most densely populated country in the world.
The wave was unstoppable. Where France had marched on the streets in protest against Le Pen, the Dutch had gone a step further and just stopped the problem with bullets.
This is not the truth.
The Dutch were so outraged that something beautiful happened. Accross all ages, race and religion, people joined hands in unison. Thousands waiting hours in front of city halls throughout the country, so they could sign the makeshift condolence registers, tens of thousands more marching in peaceful demonstrations with the mayor of their city at the head of the procession. For that is the real Dutch way, the 'working together' Polder Model.
This country is still in a deep state of shock. That will pass, life will return to normal. It already has in many ways.
The Pim Fortuyn controversey started right here. In a country with three public television stations and ten commercial stations all fighting for severly depressed market share and share of the evaporating advertising funds.
It's a tinderbox. Programming budgets are at an all time low, most programming wouldn't make it on the air without help of non-spot advertising, or product placement. Fact checking is just too expensive and any resources available are in the Middle East.
Catching the wave of the day and getting the right soundbite is more important, because it means ratings, which means more money, means more budget, means.. better reporting?
And it all started with a newspaper interview.
A full day after the tragedy, the Times got back on track. At least one individual reporter did: Marlise Simons in the NY Times revealed the kernel of what sparked the controversey over Pim Fortuyn. I checked her translation against the original article. Spot on: "During the interview he was asked why he was so critical of Muslim immigrants. He said he found it shameful that foreign Islamic clergy here used offensive language against gays in this country, and that Muslim men tried to impose medieval rural customs in the Netherlands. "How can you respect a culture if the woman has to walk several steps behind her man, has to stay in the kitchen and keep her mouth shut," he said.
This has been the tagline of my weblog for years.
Now that the Internet has empowered any man or woman to have a voice, the truth can be found.
I tried screaming at my TV, telling the news anchor he was wrong! I have first hand information! Yelling at the newspapers doesn't help much either. Writing on the Web does.
Pim Fortuyn will never be Prime Minister or take a seat in the Dutch parliament. He was poised to be the leader of the largest political party in this country.
But his work can and must continue. For Pim was all about truth. He wasn't afraid to speak his mind, which was directly connected to his heart. He spoke for many and was respected by even more. Only the misinformed could find fault.
Our task here is to ensure the truth remains openly exposed.
We have the tools to do this. My weblog is already making a dent in the misperceptions of Pim and the political climate in the Netherlands. And that happens through collaboration and information flow.
The Big Lie is all around us. It lives in the sense of security we have about our lives and surroundings.
Just as the US was shaken to the bone over the possibility of attacks on US soil. Now nuclear threats loom.
But the Big Lie also lives at the office and in schools. The news reports we're out of a recesssion, yet thousands lose their jobs. The principal ensures your child is safe in the hallways of school.
The business community found the Big Lie in the Andersen and Enron scandals.
The Catholic church is in the middle of disaster recovery from The Big Lie.
You are safe to walk on the protected grounds of the national state broadcast facilities
Professional wrestling isn't real either
And the sky won't fall on our heads.
We clamor to media as our security blanket. We want to feel safe and secure.
Does the record breaking $43 million opening day of Spiderman not show that we are in desperate search of good feelings about our towns and cities. That Spidey will swoop down and save us from peril when the chips are really down?
I point once again to the Zen TV experiment. if you have not done this, please at least read about it. The four hours you as an average citizen spend in front of the television is what keeps the general popualtion shackled to the teat of the beast. You are not relaxing when you watch, you are being fed.
And the diet is not healthy.
Postscript: Lance Knobel counterpoints Adam.