Defenders of the Faith 
July 17, 2001 

by Joe Sobran

   NEWSWEEK recently ran a cover story on the 
controversy over stem-cell research. Did I say story? It 
was really a propaganda screed, one of its authors being 
Eleanor Clift, whom you may remember as Bill Clinton's 
adoring Olive Oyl. Its theme was that scientific research 
shouldn't be inhibited by religious fanatics (namely, 

   The cover featured a color photo of a cluster of 
human stem cells, hugely magnified. The point was 
obviously that these things don't look like what we think 
of as a human being, so what's the harm of killing them? 

   Mind you, NEWSWEEK doesn't always make use of audio-
visual aids in discussing embryonic and fetal human life. 
In its coverage of late-term abortion, it has never used 
a color picture of a dismembered human fetus in the ninth 
month to shape public opinion. 

   By the ninth month, those little things do look 
pretty human, after all, and such a picture might, from 
NEWSWEEK's point of view, backfire. You don't have to be 
a religious fanatic to recoil from seeing a baby torn to 

   Scientists in Virginia are already creating human 
embryos for the sake of "harvesting" their stem cells. 
The embryos themselves, having served their purpose, are 

   It's all very mundane, routine lab work. There are 
no demented men with hunchbacked assistants and lightning 
flashing overhead. Nobody involved seems to have any 
qualms about toying with human life. Who says it's human, 
anyway? Only religious fanatics. 

   Should all this proceed with the blessing -- and 
subsidies -- of the government? Why not? Having redefined 
human life some time ago, the U.S. Supreme Court has 
recently been emboldened to take the sacrilegious step of 
redefining golf itself. 

   What puzzles me is why journalism should be so 
reflexively on the side of the government. During the 
Watergate era, we heard about the "watchdog press," the 
"adversary press," the press as the "fourth branch of 
government." That old skepticism about government, 
largely illusory then, hardly survives today even as a 
pose. Today the press seems to see itself as government's 
partner, assisting and promoting the expansion of the 
state. The only politicians it treats with skepticism, 
verging at times on open hostility, are those who try to 
put the brakes on government. 

   You might think that after a century of tyranny, 
total war, genocide, and mass murder, not to mention 
organized robbery through taxation, inflation, debauched 
currencies, and redistribution, all of which have 
generated moral corruption and social decay -- well, a 
little skepticism toward the modern state itself is long 
overdue. But the news media still persist in the faith 
that government is the natural instrument for the 
betterment of the human condition. If you believe that, 
you can believe that a tiger can be taught to pull a 

   In the good old days, the state was limited in its 
ambitions, if only because its techniques were still 
primitive. But today's sophisticated, organized, 
computerized, atom-splitting state knows a few tricks its 
crude ancestors had no inkling of. It also enjoys the 
propaganda services of nominally independent journalists. 

   Producing no wealth itself, the state punishes 
productive people and encourages dependency on itself. 
The parasite state wants parasite citizens. It increases 
the tax burden of producers and the benefits of its own 

   In order to do this, it has to invert common 
morality. It legalizes what were formerly crimes and 
criminalizes what were formerly freedoms. It has to 
convince its subjects that when the state commits a wrong 
-- killing or robbing, say -- it's not really wrong. It's 
somehow authorized. We are shocked by a "terrorist" 
bombing that kills dozens. We accept it as legitimate 
when our government bombs whole cities. 

   All this requires, as I say, the constant propaganda 
support of the "free" press. The press doesn't have to 
lie very often; it merely has to ignore the obvious, and 
pretend that the abnormal is normal. It keeps us 
"informed" by reporting on Washington sex scandals 
instead of the steady erosion of constitutional 
government. It alarms us about trifles, while soothing us 
about enormities. 

   Faith in the state couldn't survive without the 
partnership of state and press. You'd think a free press 
would favor a free society and the morality that supports 
it. For some reason, the opposite is true.


Read this column on-line at 

To subscribe to the Sobran columns, see or for details and samples
or call 800-513-5053 or write

Copyright (c) 2001 by the Griffin Internet 
Syndicate, All rights reserved.