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C.S. Lewis on Newspapers

The man. The myth.

C.S. Lewis on Newspapers

Postby JDMalament » 04 May 2010, 21:30

FYI: This is my inaugural post.

I've searched a bit through the rest of the boards, but I was interested in igniting a discussion of Lewis's views on newspapers. I've found that I mostly agree with him, however, I don't think they should be completely disregarded, as I believe that it is important to be an informed citizen (at least on the larger political issues – not so much the domestic ones). Historically, newspapers seem to be the best option available, especially considering that almost everything we see and hear in television and other news media can be written off as propaganda. Newspaper stories are generally better developed and at least give us the solid option of analyzing, intellectually, what we have read. The following three quotes provide some of his opinions (at least in the latter part of his life) on newspapers:

(1) "I never read the papers. Why does anyone? They're nearly all lies, and one has to wade thru' such reams of verbiage and "write up" to find out even what they're saying." – From Letters to an American Lady - Letter Dated October 26th, 1955

(2) ". . . Even in peacetime I think those are very wrong who say that schoolboys should be encouraged to read the newspapers. Nearly all that a boy reads there in his teens will be known before he is twenty to have been false in emphasis and interpretation, if not in fact as well, and most of it will have lost all importance. Most of what he remembers he will therefore have to unlearn; and he will probably have acquired an incurable taste for vulgarity and sensationalism and the fatal habit of fluttering from paragraph to paragraph to learn how an actress has been divorced in California, a train derailed in France, and quadruplets born in New Zealand." – From Surprised by Joy (1956), “Fortune’s Smile”

(3) “The most unliterary reader of all sticks to ‘the news’. He reads daily, with unwearied relish, how, in some place he has never seen, under circumstances which never become quite clear, someone he doesn’t know has married, rescued, robbed, raped, or murdered someone else he doesn’t know.” – From An Experiment in Criticism (1961), “The Reading of the Unliterary”

Does anyone else know of any good Lewis quotes about newspapers? Am I wrong in believing that newspapers are helpful in becoming an informed citizen? Why or why not? Thoughts in general would be much appreciated. Thanks!

- Jared
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Re: C.S. Lewis on Newspapers

Postby rusmeister » 05 May 2010, 02:06

I used to believe what you believe.
Read Hilaire Belloc's "The Free Press". While his predictions for the future are off (his weak point), his layout of history is outstanding. It would be difficult to find a person who manages to exactly define and clarify his ideas. It's free online; I forget where I got it. A quick search ought to turn it up. The point is, once you have a clear picture of where and how this thing you call a newspaper came from (and no, saying "Gutenberg" does not suffice), what it was in its inception and what it became and how it became so, you will probably never want to pick up a newspaper again, yourself.

Until then, consider that you cannot be informed (regarding what is true) if the owners of the organs you read are determined to misinform you, or only to inform you of what they want you to know - more exactly, to enter into the worldview they want you to hold. You could also start by identifying the number of ultimate owners of major publications. When you realize that it's really in the single digits, you'll see that there is no such thing as a free press.

Reading GK Chesterton has taught me a lot, too.
"Eh? Two views? There are a dozen views about everything until you know the answer. Then there's never more than one."
Bill "The Blizzard" Hingest - That Hideous Strength
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Re: C.S. Lewis on Newspapers

Postby Hnuff » 05 May 2010, 15:10

I have in mind a quotation from Lewis: "That journalists can be saved is a doctrine, if not contrary to, yet certainly above, reason." I have long forgotten its source.
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Re: C.S. Lewis on Newspapers

Postby JDMalament » 05 May 2010, 21:09

I just remembered another quote from Lewis, in relation to newspapers:

- "A man who has lived in many places is not likely to be deceived by the local errors of his native village; the scholar has lived in many times and is therefore in some degree immune from the great cataract of nonsense that pours from the press and microphone of his own age." – The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses, “Learning in War-Time"

I'll have to check out Belloc's The Free Press. I thought it was interesting when you said:

rusmeister wrote:Until then, consider that you cannot be informed (regarding what is true) if the owners of the organs you read are determined to misinform you, or only to inform you of what they want you to know - more exactly, to enter into the worldview they want you to hold. You could also start by identifying the number of ultimate owners of major publications. When you realize that it's really in the single digits, you'll see that there is no such thing as a free press.


I'm certainly aware of what you mean when you talk about corporate media. I actively try to access news media that fall outside of this realm, but over the years it has become harder. However, I believe that this same line of reasoning can be applied to book publishers as well (and sometimes they are part of the same media conglomerates!). I certainly do not wish to stop reading, although admittedly, much of what I read is at least fifty years old.

- Jared
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Re: C.S. Lewis on Newspapers

Postby Nerd42 » 06 May 2010, 21:10

Let's not forget the beginning of Screwtape Letter #1:
Screwtape wrote:"I note what you say about guiding our patient's reading and taking care that he sees a good deal of his materialist friend. But are you not being a trifle naive? It sounds as if you supposed that argument was the way to keep him out of the Enemy's" [God's] "clutches. That might have been so if he had lived a few centuries earlier. At that time the humans still knew pretty well when a thing was proved and when it was not; and if it was proved they really believed it. They still connected thinking with doing and were prepared to alter their way of life as the result of a chain of reasoning. But what with the weekly press and other such weapons we have largely altered that."
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