Sunday, August 19, 2012

Updating Orwell's "memory hole"

Graphic from the Memory Hole Radio website

Wikipedia provides an updated definition of Orwell's Memory Hole:

A memory hole is any mechanism for the alteration or disappearance of inconvenient or embarrassing documents, photographs, transcripts, or other records, such as from a web site or other archive, particularly as part of an attempt to give the impression that something never happened. The concept was first popularized by George Orwell's dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Anyone who has a blog and/or links online documents has probably had the experience of not finding an article or document where it originally appeared in a hard copy. Sometimes this is because the online title is different than the one in the hard copy. Just as often it happens when a publication changes its computer system and all the links for the previous system fail to work. I've had that experience with both the so-called mainstream media and the so-called alternative media, the SF Chronicle and the SF Examiner and the SF Bay Guardian.
It's not that they're necessarily trying to suppress "inconvenient" records as per Nineteen Eighty-Four, but perhaps it's technically difficult, if not impossible, to maintain computer systems that work for both their older archives and their present systems.

My latest difficulty with the SF Chronicle and its archives involves the editorial (below in italics) that the Chronicle published way back in 2006, when the Moslem fanatics were rioting over the Danish Muhammed cartoons.
I used to have a functional link to the Chronicle editorial, but it doesn't work anymore. When I did a blog post on the issue at the time, I included a verbatim copy of the short editorial, which, unless you have a hard copy of that day's Chronicle---or can track it down at a library---is apparently going to be the only way you can read it.

The Bay Guardian often poses the same problem. Sometimes, when you find a link to old articles---like this Steve Jones article from 2005---if you get anything at all, you get a minimalist version of the original story that doesn't even have the date of publication.

I sent this inquiry to the Chronicle about the editorial but haven't had a response yet: "Below is the text of a Chronicle editorial in 2006. Why can't I find a link to it?"
There's no obvious reason that the Chronicle would want to put that editorial down the old Memory Hole, though it is pretty lame, which I've pointed out on subsequent posts on the issue. But if the Chronicle starts eliminating all their lame editorials from the past, they would have a lot of work to do. On the other hand, I give the Chronicle credit for at least saying something about the riots, which the city's other media outlets, including the proudly anti-establishment Bay Guardian and BeyondChron, failed to do.

Of course the Chronicle didn't publish any of the cartoons, which you can see here. That would have been a "great lapse in taste and cultural sensitivity." But if you're an editor nothing should be more serious than a direct threat to free speech. Once the cartoons were published, editors, whether of traditional, hard copy or online publications, had a duty to rally in the defense free speech. 

Instead, the Chronicle fatuously declared that Islam is "a religion of peace." To the editorial mind, all religions are presumably about peace. Islam, however, was born in war and combat. Of the major religions, Islam is unique in that Muhammed was both a religious prophet and a great military leader, who led attacks on other tribes and countries both for loot and to forcibly spread his supposedly divine doctrine, which included the idea of Jihad.

To answer the editorial's head: No, nothing is sacred, except free speech itself.

Is Nothing Sacred?
SF Chronicle, Sunday, February 5, 2006

The caricatures of Muhammad that have ignited an international furor are offensive and recklessly off base in portraying the prophet as a terrorist. The cartoons lacked artistic merit or satirical sophistication. We have to wonder: What were the Danish cartoonists and the newspapers that originally decided to publish them thinking?

Still, the global reaction is far more disturbing than the editors' great lapse in taste and cultural sensitivity. The protests by Muslims demanding violent revenge against the cartoonists---or, in some cases, against Denmark generally---are an affront in their own right to [be]a religion of peace. They also guaranteed that many millions of people would quickly go to the Internet to see what the fuss was all about.

Strong editorial cartoons can be outrageous, unfair and, yes, irreverent to the most sacred institutions of society---even to the edge of blasphemy at times. Humor can be a wickedly effective device in making a point, but it also can be a hurtful weapon if used clumsily or with malice toward a segment of humanity.

The question is, who makes that judgment? Censorship, even when unleashed under the well-intentioned guise of sensitivity, has a way of turning into tyranny.

No law, of state or religion, should be allowed to become the ultimate arbiter of freedom of expression.

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