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A new play, an old problem of media bias

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Roger L. Simon, former Hollywood screenwriter and now CEO of the conservative PJ Media, and his wife, Sheryl Longin, have written a new play with an unlikely subject, the journalist fraud perpetrated by Walter Duranty of the New York Times in concealing Stalin’s starvation and mass murder of Ukranian peasants.

The “Party Line” is, on one hand, a historical piece, one that also looks at Pim Fortuyn, the Dutch politician who focused on the threat of radical jihadist and was assassinated by a radical environmentalist in 2002. The play mixes these historic figures with fictional ones. I talked to Simon and Longin about their play (which, unsurprisingly, the mainstream media have ignored):

Why a play about Walter Duranty?

We were struck by the similarities between what happens in the media now vis a vis world events — for example, the cover-up of Saddam Hussein’s crimes against his people so that reporters could remain in Iraq — the quid pro quo arrangement — and Duranty’s cover-up of Stalin’s genocide against the Ukrainian people.  It seemed to us as though Duranty was a prototype of the modern correspondent and we wanted to explore the origins of that behavior.

How did you come up with the fictional character Sid Brody?

The question we were wrestling with is why some people change and others do not.  We needed a character who, unlike Duranty, did change his views.  Sid Brody is loosely based on a journalist named Eugene Lyons who reported for UPI at the same time Duranty was the NY Times correspondent.  He traveled to Moscow as a true believer but because of what he saw happening, he became disillusioned and was ultimately unable to lie in his coverage.  He reported what he saw, was kicked out of the Soviet Union, wrote a book about it and was blacklisted by the press, intelligentsia.  He became a persona non grata amongst his former friends and colleagues. He was also the inventor of the phrase “Penthouse Bolsheviks,” the forerunner of “radical chic,” etc.

Do you have any ideas for casting?

We do, but in this case, it’s probably wise not to name names.

Have you heard from anyone at the New York Times?

We very much hope to, but let’s just say we’re not holding our breath.

Big business is always portrayed as evil in Hollywood, but mainstream journalism (which is run by big companies) gets glowing portrayals. Why?

That cuts to the very heart of the question of bias.  We start with an assumption that the goal of “big business” is to make money.  And from that in a kind of shorthand, we draw all sorts of negative connotations.  The stated goal of journalism is to tell “the truth.”  That also leads us to make a series of positive assumptions.  There remains a widespread, though diminishing, belief that journalism can be objective, when, by its very nature, it requires a selection of which facts to report and what level of importance to give to these facts.  Journalism is written by human beings.  Human beings are not objective.  We all see the world through a prism.  We could just as “truthfully” draw another set of conclusions about big business and journalism, that the former is the engine of prosperity for humanity and the latter is a form of mind control.  But that too would be a reflection of the prism through which we see the world.

If this is considered a “conservative” play is there a problem with the left’s relationship to the truth?

We never set out to write a “conservative” or “liberal” play.  We wouldn’t even know how to do that.  We were wrestling with questions of human behavior, trying to make sense of our own and others reactions to dramatic world events.  Hopefully this play will make readers and audiences of all political persuasions ask themselves those same questions.

Competition from New Media was supposed to make Old Media better, but they’ve gotten worse. Why?

Yes, they have gotten worse.  The competition with New Media has made Old Media defensive and, ironically, more extreme.  In one sense, this is good though, because it helps explode the myth of impartiality. An unbiased press is virtually impossible because there are no unbiased humans.  We should all admit our biases and move on from there.