Reality and Truth in the Politically Correct Organization:
The Case of the Dan Rather Memo Debacle at CBS News
Howard S. Schwartz
Professor of Organizational Behavior
Rochester, Michigan 48380
The CBS News organization is analyzed with regard to the Dan Rather memo debacle, in which Rather made charges against US President George Bush based on forged memos. It is seen as an outgrowth of political correctness. News organizations can do good journalism even though they have a specific perspective, as long as they operate under the assumption that there is an external world which their reporting can get wrong. Political correctness undermines that assumption, and in fact undermines the whole idea that there is an external world. In the politically correct organization, truth refers to correspondence with a fantasy, rather than correspondence with facts in an external world. This leads to the corruption of journalistic organizations, but it also poses a threat to all complex organizations.
Political correctness, Dan Rather, CBS News, media bias, Mary Mapes, hysteria, psychoanalytic theory
From its beginnings in the university, political correctness has metastasized into every area of social relations. Even within the corporation, it has risen to unquestioned dominance over communication in the matters to which it applies.
If this control were just in the area of speech, it would be a matter of little concern to organizations. However, the merest reflection indicates that it cannot control speech alone, since organizational decisions involve positions that are proposed and defended through speech. Hence control over speech through political correctness must imply control over organizational decision-making, and hence over every aspect of the organization.
The implication of this is that the psychological dynamics that underlie political correctness come to be the underlying dynamics of the organization as a whole. If, as I shall argue, the dynamics of PC are antagonistic toward organization, the threat it poses to organizations can be quite severe.
Schwartz (1993, 1997, 2002, 2003, 2004) has written extensively about the psychological roots of political correctness I will repeat here only the rudiments of his approach.
Schwartz’ Theory of Political Correctness
From the standpoint of psychoanalytic theory, it would be expected that a psychological force as powerful as PC would have to have very deep, primitive roots. So it is. According to Schwartz, the key to the understanding of political correctness is the psychology of sex roles, which are based on primitive images of the mother and the father. In those terms, the mother represents a loving world which has us at its center. This is based on the fusion we had with her, or imagine we had, in infancy, when her love was sufficient to make our lives perfect. The father is seen as an obstacle to our fusion with mother since he has a relationship with her that does not have us at its center.
Now the father is not really the obstacle to that fusion, he is only the form in which it first appears. The obstacle is reality itself, which determines that we are all separate creatures, and not one with mother. Nonetheless, because he is the form in which it first appears, the father has a special relationship with external reality.
In the traditional Western psychology of sex roles, his life gains its meaning by his engagement with the external world. He deals with it as a way of gaining the love of the mother through his achievement, by transforming it so that she can simply be her loving self, offering the possibility of fusion. In order to do this, the father must learn to deal with external reality on its own terms. He must be able to see himself as an actor among other actors, as others see him who are not emotionally connected to him, as an object rather than as a subject. This requires learning a way of seeing himself and the world that Schwartz calls (2003) objective self-consciousness. Through objective self-consciousness we come to appropriate the pattern of shared terms and meanings that Lacan calls the symbolic.
By introjecting him, the children come to acquire objective self-consciousness. This enables him to teach the children what he has learned about the world through this process of transformation. In this way they come to acquire the idea of an external world, which is to say a world that is indifferent to them and operates according to its own terms.
Political correctness means the repudiation of the role of the father and his works. Its unconscious premise is that we could all have fusion with the mother if we could only get him out of the picture. Directly and indirectly, this outlook involves the rejection of objective self-consciousness and, along with that, the idea of objective external reality, which is rooted in it, and the symbolic, through which it is represented.
This is so for a number of reasons. For one thing, as we have seen, the cause of our separation is not really the father, but reality itself. The father only represents reality. So it is really reality that is under attack when the father is repudiated in political correctness. Second, to the extent that the father is the object of attack, as we shall see further on, the repudiation of reality is strategically invaluable. The father needs external reality so that he can engage it and transform it and in that way gain standing with the mother. Get rid of the idea of external reality and the symbolic and you deprive the father of any possibility of gaining standing. The standing he has had then is seen as having been stolen from those who have not had standing. He must be hated for his theft and those who have been deprived by him must be loved as compensation. In this, we see the familiar workings of PC.
However, the father really has had achievements. Specifically, students of organization will understand that the structural elements of organization are the legacy of the father. The formalized division and coordination of labor, standards of performance, and so on, require the idea that there is something outside oneself which we must learn about. In other words they require the idea of an objective reality and the shared meaning of the symbolic, along with the attendant definitions of truth and knowledge. Repudiating these works would make organization impossible.
This will be a problem that may be most visible in organizations whose primary purpose is itself truth and knowledge, such as the university and the news business. Schwartz (2003) has written about its effect on the university. The purpose of this paper will be to explore its effect on journalism through the analysis of a recent debacle at CBS News.
In that matter, a program designed to present damaging information about President Bush’s career in the Air National Guard was quickly determined to be based on memos that were obvious forgeries, and which would have been known to be forgeries if proper journalistic practices had been employed. Evidently, CBS’ journalistic standards had broken down and its processes had become corrupted.
Of singular importance is the fact that CBS officials, specifically anchorman and managing editor Dan Rather, clearly believed that the story was true, even though the usual journalistic bases upon which truth is established were missing. The question is, what could he have meant by truth? My contention will be that the idea of truth he was using was rooted in hysteria. It thus had a different basis than empirical verification. It was rooted in a subjective feeling of truth. But this feeling has intrapsychic roots, and is not anchored in empirical reality. Truth conceived in this way subordinates objectivity to fantasy. These are the workings of political correctness. Ultimately, they must corrode every aspect of organizational behavior functioning.
I will begin with a brief description of the memo debacle and then proceed to an exploration of the organizational processes that were responsible for it.
Our story begins with a CBS News
Within hours of the broadcast, questions had been raised on the internet about the authenticity of the memos. The first feature that was recognized was that the memos were in a proportionately spaced font, which is common in the word processed documents we have today, but extremely rare on the typewriters in use when the memos were supposed to have been composed. Other anomalies indicating that the documents were produced on a word processor became quickly apparent.
In the next few days, more problems emerged concerning the
violation of standard Air Force and general
As the momentum of this criticism was developing, however Rather and CBS stood by the story. In a statement released on September 10. for example, they said:
This report was not based solely on recovered documents, but rather on a preponderance of evidence, including documents that were provided by unimpeachable sources, interviews with former Texas National Guard officials and individuals who worked closely back in the early 1970s with Colonel Jerry Killian and were well acquainted with his procedures, his character and his thinking.
In addition, the documents are backed up not only by independent handwriting and forensic document experts but by sources familiar with their content. Contrary to some rumors, no internal investigation is underway at CBS News nor is one planned. (Thornburgh and Boccardi 2005),
But over time, these defenses crumbled. The “unimpeachable source” turned out to be a well known crank named William Burkett, who had an obsessive hatred of Bush and a history of mental illness. The sources familiar with Killian claimed that the support they were supposed to have given had been misrepresented, and the independent experts who were supposed to have authenticated the documents, in fact, were found to have doubted their authenticity. The last straw was that Killian’s secretary, who would have had to type the memos since Killian did not type, denied having done so. In the end, Rather and CBS had to admit that the documents were fakes, though Rather continued to maintain that they were still “accurate,” whatever that could mean.
The official verdict, rendered by a commission composed of Richard Thornburgh and Louis D. Boccardi, whom CBS hired to investigate the matter, left no doubt that CBS had erred in airing the story. The passage that follows, as well as all the other documentation in this and the next section are reprinted in the Thornburgh and Boccardi report:
The stated goal of CBS News is to have a reputation for journalism of the highest quality and unimpeachable integrity. To meet this objective, CBS News expects its personnel to adhere to published internal Standards based on two core principles: accuracy and fairness. The Panel finds that both the September 8 Segment itself and the statements and news reports by CBS News that followed the Segment failed to meet either of these core principles.
Although they were not willing to conclude with “absolute certainty” that the documents were forgeries, the expert judgments that they included in their report did not leave much room for doubt. For example, they quote Peter Tytell, indubitably one of the world’s leading authority in these matters, as concluding that “the Killian documents were not produced on a typewriter in the early 1970s and therefore were not authentic.”
For the purposes of organizational analysis, however, the important issue was not whether the documents were fake or authentic, but whether CBS had sufficient grounds to assert that they were authentic when they broke this highly prejudicial story in the middle of a presidential election. On that issue, there can be no doubt: all are agreed that they did not. The producer of the segment, Mary Mapes was fired, and four other executives were asked to resign. Rather himself was allowed to retire.
The question for organizational analysis is how CBS could come to violate so deeply its own most important standards -- standards that could easily be said to define the very nature of its work. Answering this question was, of course, part of the task set for the Thornburgh commission, and they did provide some answers. Before turning to our own investigation, we should consider the validity of theirs.
Their claim was that CBS erred as a result of trying to get the story on the air as soon as possible. In making that claim they discounted the possibility that CBS was acting out of a political motivation.
Take the second item first time first. The Commission may not have come to the conclusion that CBS acted out of political bias, but their argument here is very weak, consisting largely in the denial on the part of Rather and Mapes that they had a political agenda. The other arguments were to the effect that the editing process had made the story less incendiary than it otherwise might have been, and that the documents, if they had been authentic, would have provided important information. Neither of these arguments add much support, it seems to me, to their conclusion.
There is, however, much uncontested information in the pubic domain indicating Mapes’ passion for the story, on which she had been working for four years, and her belief that it would have a powerful political effect of a sort that she strongly desired. For example, consider these items:
(1) Mapes was working with a freelance
(2) On July 30, Mapes
sent an email to one of her superiors at CBS in which she said: "...there
is some very interesting Bush stuff shaking out there right now...Re...his
qualification [sic] and refusal of service in
(3) On August 3, she wrote:
"There is a storm brewing in
(4) On August 31, Smith wrote to her to see whether she could arrange a book deal for Burkett, as part of a way to entice him to give them the memos. In the message, Smith maintained that one of the selling points would be that the information they were trying to obtain “could possibly change the momentum of an election.” Her response: "that looks good, hypothetically speaking, of course."
Given such indications of political bias on CBS News’ part, it would seem that the argument for the alternative claim, which was that CBS simply rushed the story into press to gain a competitive advantage, would have to be fairly strong. But it is not. The support for it comes from the fact that other news media were on the story, and might have beaten CBS News to the punch. But if other news organizations were rushing the story into press, that simply opens the way to another question, clearly related to the issue of political bias, which is why was this the story that they were trying to bring out? This possibility was addressed by the Commission, who noted:
The Panel recognizes that some will see this widespread media attention not as evidence that 60 Minutes Wednesday was not motivated by bias but instead proof that all of mainstream media has a liberal bias. That is a perception beyond the Panel’s assignment.
It is easy to see how the Panel could have ruled this matter as being beyond its assignment, but it is difficult to see how, having done so, the Panel could have ruled itself competent to decide the matter of political bias at CBS News. For the charge of political bias has not been made against CBS News exclusively, but against the mainstream news media generally. By reframing the issue at that level, and then ruling themselves incapable of answering it, the Panel effectively denied their competence to resolve the matter at the CBS News level as well.
In fact, political bias in the media has been a frequent
charge. It is often supported by studies that show that those who work for the
media are overwhelmingly liberal (e.g. Lichter,
Rothman and Lichter 1986; Weaver and Wilhoit 1996; Povich 1996) and that their viewpoint is
reflected in the content of the news stories that they publish (Groseclose and Milyo, in press).
Certainly, belief in the
But what does this show? Does it show that, contrary to the Panel’s report, CBS News made its error because of political bias? Not necessarily. To be sure, research data like this are hard to ignore, but journalists claim that their political orientation is unimportant, since they can follow the canons of objectivity no matter what their orientation. I grant their premise.
In fact, the idea of news media not having a political slant may well be an aberration. In many Western countries, it is understood that newspapers have characteristic outlooks and perspectives, and this is not believed to detract from the quality of their journalism. What is important for the quality of their journalism is that they understand a fact to be a fact, independent of themselves, and that they accept their subordination to the facts. What is important is not that a news organization be objective, but that it tries to be objective: that it recognizes that its biases may get in the way of their understanding of independent reality, and that it tries to keep that from happening and to learn from its mistakes when they happen.
The critical issue, then, is not whether they are biased, but whether they have made a good faith effort to follow the canons of objectivity. This means, first and foremost, a willingness to recognize facts as facts, even when they get in the way of the vision of the world that our point of view prefers. And that is where, I maintain, CBS News lost its way. Telling the stories it wanted to tell came to be more important than whether or not these stories corresponded with the facts. In order to tell those stores, they had to dispense with the canons of objectivity.
This brings us back to the Thornburgh Panel’s claim that their fault was undue haste in rushing a story to press, rather than political bias. These reflections on the importance of facts enables us to test their theory. If the matter had been one of gaining a competitive advantage, facts that reflected badly on the other side would have also been reported.
But this is not what happened. On the contrary, facts that led to critical views of Kerry, though equally or more important, were largely ignored.
In contrast with the extensive concern with Bush’s record
during the campaign, Kerry’s record was subjected to very little scrutiny,
despite some very serious charges. One important set of accusations concerned
Kerry’s war record, and was laid by a group of
At that point, the news media, generally without mentioning the details of the charges, soon announced that they had been discredited. They had not been discredited. Some of their claims were disputed, but in none of the cases that were in dispute was the evidence against the Swiftboat vets stronger than the evidence they had brought, and in some cases there was no serious dispute of the vets’ charges at all.
I cannot go into all the details here. I will recount only
one such charge, whose truth was essentially acknowledged. It was that Kerry had
made up a story about being in
Kerry made this assertion a number of times, first in a movie review in the Boston Herald:
On more than one occasion, I, like Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now, took my patrol boat
But the most important was in a debate in the Senate on a
bill to provide aid to the contras in
I remember Christmas of 1968 sitting on a gunboat in
These were not Kerry’s only mentions of his travels in
And who is he, really?
A close associate hints: There's a secret compartment in Kerry's briefcase. He carries the black attaché everywhere. Asked about it on several occasions, Kerry brushed it aside. Finally, trapped in an interview, he exhaled and clicked open his case.
"Who told you?" he demanded as he reached inside. "My friends don't know about this."
The hat was a little mildewy. The green camouflage was fading, the seams fraying.
"My good luck
hat," Kerry said, happy to see it. "Given to me by a CIA guy as we
went in for a special mission in
Kerry put on the hat, pulling the brim over his forehead. His blue button-down shirt and tie clashed with the camouflage. He pointed his finger and raised his thumb, creating an imaginary gun. He looked silly, yet suddenly his campaign message was clear: Citizen-soldier. Linking patriotism to public service. It wasn't complex after all; it was Kerry.
He smiled and aimed his finger: "Pow."
Now, as these stories were circulated on the internet,
quite a storm developed. With regard to the matter of Christmas 1968, some
quickly noted that Nixon, who had indeed made a speech asserting that there
were no Americans in
And the idea that he went on a secret mission for the CIA was extremely unlikely. Swift boats never traveled solo, and, being large and noisy, they were ill-suited for clandestine infiltrations. What is more, the idea that the CIA would choose a junior Lieutenant, with no more than three months experience “in country,” instead of someone who was familiar with the waterways, is difficult to believe.
But even stronger doubts were raised about whether he had
ever been in
What’s more, there was documentary evidence from Kerry
himself. This was the last entry Kerry wrote in his
The banks of the [
Not surprisingly in the face of this evidence, but unremarked by the news media, Kerry’s campaign backed off
from this story. First, they said that Kerry had patrolled the watery area
Moreover, if we can
assume that his adventures in
That was during the
campaign. After the campaign, on
MR. RUSSERT: And you have a hat that the CIA agent gave you?
KERRY: I still have the hat that he gave me, and I hope the guy would
come out of the woodwork and say, "I'm the guy who went up with John
Kerry. We delivered weapons to the Khmer Rouge on the coastline of
if he was, as he said, delivering weapons to the Khmer Rouge, that would have
been an important story in its own right. It would have meant that, while
fighting the communists in
Let us take stock of
this. My need here has not been to prove that Kerry lied about being in
CBS News in our time
So what have we got here? It appears to be a demonstration of bias, but as I have said, if we take it that way we have missed the important point. What is important is that the organization had lost its subordination to the facts. Telling the story that it wanted to tell became more important to the news organization than whether or not the story was true. This appears to be where CBS News fell down. Its problem was not that it was biased, but that it had lost the idea that it ought not to be.
But how could a news organization lose that idea? Indeed, how could an organization that had lost that idea still be a news organization? And if it was not a news organization, what was it? And how did it make the transition from a news organization to whatever it became? These are the questions toward which I will now turn.
The point that I wish to make is that CBS News had become a fundamentally different type of organization than it had been. It came to be doing something else. Its meaning had changed. It had ceased to operate according to one underlying psychological dynamic and came to be operating according to another. It had become hysterical. These are theoretical points to which I shall return. First it will be necessary to get a more tactile sense of the organization’s processes, especially with regard to the question of how, in the memo scandal, CBS News could have overridden the normal checks a news agency maintains to make sure it does not get things wrong.
In doing an organizational analysis of this sort, it generally makes sense to focus on the central role. In the broadcast news business that would be the producer (Fund 2004), who in this case was a woman named Mary Mapes.
Focusing on Mary Mapes quickly yields dividends. Several times in the accounts of CBS News journalists and executives, the explanation given for the debacle is that a belief in Mapes’ integrity carried the day when there was an issue of verification. Her prestige was said to be so great that when she said, for example, that her source was unimpeachable, it was accepted without further investigation that her source could be trusted. For example:
Mapes’ executive producer, Josh Howard said, ''Mary Mapes told us her source made her completely confident about where they came from, and that they were authentic, and that made me confident..." (Rutenberg 2004)
From a sociological point of view, it is clear enough what we have here. The organization suspended its own faculty of critical judgment, and relied on the judgment of a specific individual. Instead of relying on their procedures to determine what they should do, they relied on her. In psychoanalytic terms, Mary Mapes had been put in the position of the ego ideal. This is coterminous with the classical psychoanalytic view of the leader (Freud, 1921). She was exerting, and they accepted, her leadership. But leadership is something that social science knows about. According to the standard account, leadership generally goes to the individual who best represents the group’s judgment of what a member of the group should be. In accepting Mary Mapes’ leadership then, CBS News was saying something about its own identity. In exploring the mind of Mary Mapes, then, we are also exploring CBS News as an organization.
The Mind of Mary Mapes
Let us begin with an account on the CBS News website that appeared in the wake of the debacle.
Mapes, 48, was described by
colleagues on Tuesday as a dogged and talented journalist who made no secret of
her liberal political beliefs…
"She pursued stories very aggressively always," said Jeff Fager, executive producer of 60 Minutes. "She definitely has an investigative sense.
She was responsible for the bulk of the work on Abu Ghraib.
That was her story." …
She worked at
John Carlson, a former commentator at KIRO-TV who is host of a conservative radio talk show in
Mapes was "quite liberal" and disliked the current President Bush's father, he said.
"She definitely was someone who was motivated by what she cared about and definitely went into journalism to make a difference," Carlson said. "She's not the sort of person who went into journalism to report the news and offer an array of commentary."
(CBS News 2004)
What I think is important to understand about this account on the CBS News website is the apparent recognition that for Mary Mapes, reporting the news was secondary to “making a difference” in terms of what she cared about. This is hardly the profile of a person passionate about getting the facts right, but seems to be a dominant characteristic of the person, as understood by CBS News and, as I have said, a model of what CBS News took itself to be.
This is an important point. CBS News could well have employed Mapes for her virtues: doggedness, intelligence, passion, etc. while avoiding her deficiencies by keeping them under observation and subjecting them to critical appraisal. Knowing that she was devoted to a political cause, they could have compensated for that in the way they evaluated and used her material. However, their adoption of her as a model precluded that, and turned her into her own instrument of validation. This is what was involved in choosing her as a leader. In doing so, they subordinated their own concern for the truth.
This subordination of concern for truth to the drives of political passion is shown again in an account by John Fund (1974) of a remarkable incident in her KIRO period.
In this case, which
took place in the winter of 1987, police raided a
The Bascomb shooting angered many people in
Fortunately for the cops, Mr. Fincher wasn't the only one at the scene of the raid that night. A reporter for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Mike Barber, was tagging along with officers. Mr. Barber observed the officers arriving at the house, knocking, announcing themselves and then entering. He was there when the shooting happened and when the ambulances were summoned. At that point, a man "reeking of alcohol" walked out of some nearby bushes and approached him. He wanted to know what had just happened. That was Wardell Fincher. But Mr. Fincher wasn't thoroughly checked out, so all this came out after the story aired. The police were eventually cleared but it took years and an unsuccessful civil-rights lawsuit by the Bascomb family to undo the damage.
By that time, Ms. Mapes had left Seattle, and no one I talked with who worked at KIRO at the time can recall her being disciplined in any way for her mistake. Instead, in 1989 she was fast-tracked to the "CBS Evening News" and later became Mr. Rather's hand-picked producer on "60 Minutes.” (Fund 2004).
From the standpoint of our organizational analysis, this last paragraph is crucial. CBS could not have been ignorant of this incident, in which her ideological zeal led to a serious and consequential lapse in journalistic standards; they simply cannot have thought it was very important. This is consistent with the idea that it was her zeal that was her qualification, and not her adherence to journalistic standards.
But what was that ideological zeal, and how did it interact with her journalism? What kind of stories did Mapes want to tell, and what kind did she not want to tell?
With regard to the first, in going over the two stories that brought Mapes the most fame, Mark Gimein (2005), writing in New York Magazine finds a consistent narrative in Mapes’ productions:
Both the Abu Ghraib story and the story of Bush’s National Guard files started as narratives of the military’s punishing the lower ranks while protecting the privileged and well connected.
But all the people involved with the story at the start—Lawson, Charles, Mapes—believed that this was a story not just of a few American soldiers who abused their position, but of soldiers who were themselves mistreated by the military.
With regard to the stories she did not want told, Washington Post reporter Jennifer Frey (2004) tells this story, again about the KIRO period:
Even in her early years in the business, Mapes was driven, passionate and unafraid of ruffling feathers. [Mapes's close friend Lisa] Cohen remembers her clashing repeatedly with the KIRO news director … bristling at publicity stunts she found journalistically distasteful.
"We had a very portly sportscaster," Cohen remembers, "and the news director thought it would be great publicity if we sent him out in a Santa Claus suit to show up live on people's doorsteps to give them one little bag of groceries. One little bag. Mary was assigned to it. She was horrified. She told him he couldn't do that, that it was unfair to these people, that they were giving them no warning, that it would embarrass them. If he was going to do something, she wanted him to do something meaningful."
To Cohen, that was classic Mapes: principled, unafraid to challenge, always willing to work harder than anyone else.
This story suggests
more about Mapes and how she acted within her role.
What the story says, and of course this is simply an adumbration of the
We are now in a position to form an hypothesis. It is that what Mary Mapes was passionate, principled and hard working about, what she was unafraid to challenge authority about, was political correctness. By accepting the leadership of Mary Mapes, CBS News was affirming the importance of political correctness.
Political correctness and journalism
With this in mind, let us return for the last time to the issue of media bias. As we know, media figures claim that, while they may have a certain political point of view, they can still be good journalists. I have agreed with that. All that is necessary is the recognition that one can be wrong. But if what has been called a bias is really political correctness, then the possibility of being good journalists disappears. The reason is that political correctness involves the repudiation of reality and it is inconsistent with the psychological assumptions that underlie good journalism. You can have bias and good journalism, but you cannot have both good journalism and political correctness.
As I have said, political correctness is always an attempt to destroy the father’s standing with the mother. But what is true of the father’s standing with the mother may be generalized to all status. For the politically correct, differences in status are regarded as illegitimate, and claims that some have earned their status by concrete achievement are dismissed as smokescreens to cover up oppression. If some have more status than others, they must have stolen that status from those who are of lower status.
Within the ambit of political correctness, the meaningful and moral life is a project of reversing the effects of this collective crime. It means transforming the world so that those who have been deprived of status in the past are compensated with love, and those who have had more status are hated for their crime. But transforming the world, in this case, simply means transforming the way people feel. In the absence of an objective world, feelings are all there are. We can easily see the role that information media will play in this project. That will include those media previously given over to the task of journalism, but they will no longer be practicing journalism. Journalism will have died.
The reason why PC is lethal to journalism is rooted in its rejection of the idea of an objective world, an idea that PC absolutely cannot tolerate. If there were an objective world, people could legitimately gain status by achievement, by doing something beneficial in terms of our collective capacity to live in that objective world. Only through denying the possibility of achievement is it possible to reduce the world to the simple morality play of oppressors and oppressed. For this reason, the very idea that there is an objective world becomes an object of scorn and hatred. Obviously, this precludes journalism recognizing the possibility that it has gotten the facts wrong. In the absence of an idea of an objective world, journalism could only mean the furtherance of the politically correct morality play, but that isn’t really journalism at all. What is it? The answer is simple. It is political correctness, which is an end in itself.
We can certainly see all this play out in the coverage of President Bush during the campaign. He represented the father and was seen in this context as the arch oppressor. That was why no good could be ascribed to him, and why any attacks on him, no matter how spurious, ill-founded, or even bizarre were regarded as legitimate. They were legitimate because, for the politically correct, hatred of the father is the very source of legitimacy, the epistemological bedrock, as it were, of legitimacy. This is why the idea of Bush having gotten his positions in life, including his position in the Air National Guard, through illegitimate pressure gained so much traction.
Mary Mapes maintained that the forged documents meshed perfectly with the known facts about George Bush. As the Thornburgh Commission demonstrated, she is wrong about that. However, the documents certainly meshed perfectly with the fantasy she had about George Bush. That fantasy was, for her, the ultimate reality, and so it was for many others. When Dan Rather said that the documents were “fake but accurate”, that is what he had in mind.
The Psychology of Hysteria
To get a fuller sense of the meaning of political correctness, we have to expand our psychology a bit. So far, we have looked at the psychodynamics of the memo debacle as a matter of attacking the father’s role. Presumably a weakening of the father’s role would mean a strengthening of the mother’s role. But what is the mother’s role? In our account so far, we have considered the mother’s role only under her aspect as the object of the father’s desire. Within this dynamic, her role is only a passive one. Doesn’t the maternal role involve doing anything? Doesn’t she have her own desires?
There is a problem here. The problem is that, as Lacan put it, desire arises from lack and she has no lack. Having no desire of her own, she cannot form an agenda, a program of action for fulfilling those desires. She cannot, then, do anything in furtherance of her agenda. What then can she do that makes sense?
The point is that the maternal role, and by extension the female role, always involves doing things within the context of someone else’s active agenda. So it is that we think of her as a care-giver, a nurturer, or for that matter even an organizational participant. This, of course, means dependence on an agenda created by men, and hence a dependence on men. At the same time, though, the male agenda is created around pursuit of fusion with the mother, and hence on women, which is a dependence that is even more profound.
Thus, the male and female roles are complementary to each other (Schwartz, 2003, 2006) each providing an aspect of meaning for the other that they cannot provide for themselves. In her role as representing fusion, the woman is the one for whom things are done. Her role is to offer the possibility of her love, which brings out such activity. The underlying fantasy is that she needs simply to be herself. She is, after all, as the representation of fusion, sufficient exactly as she is.
The mother is perfect, but precisely because of this perfection, her life has no form. She requires the father to form an agenda. He is happy to do so, since action in pursuit of fusion with her, earning a place in her love, gives him the sense that there is something to be sought. This gives the context in which behavior can have a purpose, and activity in pursuit of that purpose may be said to have meaning. The meaning it may be said to have is the structure of life that it is his function to create. In this way, and only in this way, can his behavior have meaning, because, given his inherent limitation, he cannot even have the fantasy of simply being who he is.
So there is complementarity between theses roles. But this complementarity creates a mutual dependency, and with dependency comes tension, each party of the struggle trying to become self-sufficient by dominating the other.
In psychoanalytic terms, the attempt on the part of the paternal role to dominate the maternal is referred to as the obsessive-compulsive character, in which the individual takes his own desire as a source of threat. When the maternal role tries to overcome the paternal, we have what is called hysteria. In hysteria the individual, identifying with the maternal, takes herself as perfect in herself, and rejects subordination to any male agenda, which she always takes to be inferior, in favor of her just being herself (Schwartz, 2006).
Political Correctness and Hysteria
If we want to fully understand political correctness, we must see it as an essentially hysterical phenomenon (Schwartz, 2006). Under its sway, identifying with the perfect mother, the politically correct have the sense of being perfect in themselves, rejecting any kind of external constraint or determination or even meaning. Political correctness identifies these as domination by an imperfect and oppressive father. Their object, then, is to reveal the imperfection of this father, implicitly contrasting that imperfection with their own perfection and declaring his agenda as something that they do not have to follow.
For the politically correct, life revolves around a certain question. The question, which isn’t really a question at all, but an assault, is “Who are you to tell me what to do?” The object here is undermining the father with this question, revealing to him and to everyone else that he cannot have a place within the mother’s affections, since he has not and cannot earn a place. Psychoanalysis refers to this project of undermining as castration. It is the meaning of life for the politically correct -- an end in itself.
The problem is that everything we know about reality, embodied in the symbolic, was the product of the father’s attempt to get close to the mother. Rejecting what they see as the father’s agenda means rejecting the idea of reality itself, and therefore all grounds for prudence, for taking conscious purposeful action, and, with regard to journalism, the idea that one’s ideas can be contradicted by the facts.
All that is left is the fantasy of being oppressed by the father, which becomes the self-justifying criterion of truth and the determinant of all meaning. It arises from inside the self, not through interaction with the world outside. It is the product of internal dynamics, which may have nothing to do with what is going on outside. Validation is accomplished, therefore, by reference to feeling, rather than by empirical investigation. For the politically correct, truth is a matter of aesthetics, rather than of correspondence with reality.
This is why
politically correct journalists can make the most outrageous and destructive
statements, for example that the
This is a matter that has very serous consequences. Political correctness is not a project consciously aimed at reaching a desired state. The energy that keeps it going is the self-righteous rage that provides the emotional core of the state of opposition. Hysterics live to castrate the father, because the act of castrating provides them with all the meaning they need and can have.
Interestingly, the self-sufficiency of the castrating process means there has to be a father. Of course, it does not take much to be declared an oppressor. Political correctness has never lacked for villains to attack, even when it has had to conjure them out of whole cloth, as witches were conjured up to give meaning to the witch hunt
But if we refer back to the psychology of sex roles, we can see that this is as much of a dependency as any traditional housewife had on her husband. The difference is that the politically correct are parasites, rather than partners.
As with any parasite, the danger is that they will, even if inadvertently, kill the host. The castrated father will not be able to do his job of protecting the family. In a world as dangerous as this one, such castration is essentially suicidal. The pure internal focus of the politically correct assures that they will not know they are killing themselves until it is too late. This state of permanent, proto-suicidal moral assault is the project upon which CBS News embarked when it gave up journalism.
Looking at the matter this way helps us to understand certain matters in current journalism that might otherwise seem peculiar. For example, it explains why even minor imperfections in George Bush, the United States, the Republicans, all of whom represent the oppressive and constraining father, are blown up to extreme proportions, while nothing is made of the imperfections, even major ones, of those whom the father opposes. For example, at the time the media were filling themselves with images of naked terrorists at Abu Ghreib, the contemporaneous filmed decapitation of a living kidnapped American received almost no mention. The reason is that the only project of political correctness is the castration of the father. There is no world beyond that. A corollary is that any hint that the father needs to fight terrible, common, and very real enemies would give him grounds to assert his claim to importance, and that cannot be allowed.
Conclusion and Generalization
What has been said of journalism applies, mutatis mutandis, to any organizational project that requires the belief that there is an independent reality which we must learn to understand, and about which it is possible to make a mistake. That means all organizational phenomena beyond the equivalent of a lynch mob.
At the very least, an organization is a system by which people are brought to do what needs to be done. This means that any organization makes demands. But any organizational demand can be felt to be an imposition and an element of oppression. For the hysteric, legitimation on the basis of objective considerations is not allowed; hence all such demands can be seen as illegitimate. Standing in opposition to them can be a fully absorbing, and even intensely moralized, project in its own right.
Schwartz (2002) has argued that political correctness leads to a kind of organizational nihilism, in which the organization reorganizes itself around the aim of its own destruction. These reflections provide, and only provide, an additional dimension to that.
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