On the sixth anniversary of the death of Gore Vidal, and the final day of our fundraising campaign, we republish Paul Jay’s 2007 interview with Vidal on the state of journalism. Vidal says, “I’ve been around the ruling class all my life, and I’ve been quite aware of their total contempt for the people of the country”
PAUL JAY: The economic structure of television makes what I’m going to ask difficult to accomplish. But do you think television journalists have learned anything from this last four years?
GORE VIDAL: Well, they’ve always been lazy, and they’re not used to getting to the heart of problems, of matters. They’re not used to investigating anything. Socrates tells us that the unexamined life is not worth living, and that is an absolute truth. Those who want to examine life don’t go in for journalism, because they’re not allowed to. So they’ve got to be very careful. They have to think about tenure if they’re at a university. They’ve got to think about, you know, the publisher and advertisers. So it’s a difficult row to hoe, and we have no intellectual tradition of any kind in the United States. I even told Arthur Schlesinger, you know, Arthur, one Schlesinger does not make a spring. He was horrified.
PAUL JAY: What do you think is the significance of what we’re trying to do?
GORE VIDAL: Well, I’m all for it. I wouldn’t be sitting here today if I didn’t like the notion. And it’s apt to catch on. It’s when the news starts to break how two presidential elections, 2000 and 2004, were stolen, and The New York Times would not review the book written about it by Congressman Conyers, nor Washington Post, nor Wall Street Journal. The great instruments of news were silent. Well, they’re saying, we don’t give a goddamn about the United States. Just stew in your own juice. Leave us alone. We have corporate figures to add up now, and we have certain things we want to put in place, and we may have a couple of candidates for you dumdums, but you probably won’t like them.
You know, I’ve been around the ruling class all my life, and I’ve been quite aware of their total contempt for the people of the country. And the Republican machine became so good at transmitting its own feelings about the world to the enemy, to the liberals, once anyone, any of the right wing hear what I just said, he’ll say, oh, the liberals have always hated America. We know that. They despise family values, because they’re only interested in gangbangs and drugs and so forth. This is the way they deal. And whenever they have a real coward for president, like Bush himself, and you have a hero like Kerry, oh, he’s a coward. Didn’t you know that? We’ve got five guys who were in Vietnam with him. What they do is whatever is their transgression, whatever are their faults, they lie and apply it to the other person. That confuses everything. If I were an average voter in the United States I wouldn’t know who was telling the truth, whether Kerry really had run away and didn’t get purple hearts, or whether Junior, you know, had actually learned how to fly a plane.
PAUL JAY: And television news covers the lies like news.
GORE VIDAL: Yes. It has a lock on it.
PAUL JAY: You’ve been touring the country after your new book.
GORE VIDAL: Well, no, I was touring it before the last congressional election to raise money for the Democratic Party. Not that I like the Democratic Party, but we have to have the semblance of a second party to get rid of these others.
PAUL JAY: What do you hear from people?
GORE VIDAL: Well, I’ve never heard cries of rage so loud. It’s when I’m in New Mexico or West Virginia. I’ve covered the whole country by now.
PAUL JAY: Our project’s fundamentally motivated out of our own concern for what the future holds, especially in terms of what democratic rights we do have and the way the media has played such a destructive role. What do you think is the potential for what we’re doing? What do you make of the project?
GORE VIDAL: Well, the potential is enormous. There’s not anyone with an IQ above, you know, lowest room temperature who isn’t interested in something like this. Everybody is on to the con act of our media, that they are obeying bigger, richer interests than informing the public, which is the last thing that corporate America has ever been interested in doing. So I think, you know, the sky’s the limit to the amount of audience you can get.
And one of the secrets is, aside from telling the truth, which most people in America hate because they’ve been brought up on advertising, and they think the truth is just something irrelevant. Irrelevant. You know, everybody lies. You know, I love that line. So it’s alright to steal the election. Well, that isn’t what the world’s about. And I think it’s really come down to we’re going to be blown up one of these days. We have now acquired so many enemies with so much power in the world that, well, they’re going to take a couple of cracks at us. I would rather have Real News here telling us just where it was they struck, where it is, intelligence says they may strike again, and maybe why they’re doing it. We blew up their mosque, we killed their president, or whatever it was that set them off. What our fictional news does now, and this is- all it is is fiction, whether it’s CNN or CBS or NBC, it’s all fiction. The people making this junk know that. The viewers suspect it. But where are they going to turn to? Where are they going to find out? They can’t all go out and get a, you know, subscription to The Nation, which would help straighten them out, at least in print.
So you’re going to be the only alternative, and the word will start to spread. Look at the speed with which, you know, just by telling jokes, John Stewart and company got the attention of everybody. And now they say, well, most of the real news that the people know about they get from the satirizing of it that Stewart does. And very funny he is, too. In other words you build a better mousetrap, and the mouse will come to your door.
PAUL JAY: Thank you.