BEST OF MERIDIAN
Editors’ Note: Arch Madsen was one of the Church’s pioneers in communication and our personal hero. Before his death, we interviewed him, seeking insights about the corrosive power of media today. His candid interview is a must-read.
Q. As we come to a new millennium, what do you see as the most important issue facing our world?
A. At this moment, the most fierce and destructive ideological war in all human history is being fought and is escalating hourly. We are waging it with the sharpest and most powerful communications weapons ever produced. What is this struggle? It is clearly a continuation of the war in heaven–in dimensions far beyond anything mortal man has ever before experienced. It is a battle for the hearts and minds of people.
God would have us understand truth and be able to make our choices based on that enlightenment, while Satan seeks to destroy us with lies and illusion. This battle has produced more casualties, more suffering, more destruction of property than all physical warfare since time began.
Q. What makes this battle for our hearts and minds so particularly fierce today?
A. Today we have the most sophisticated media and power to communicate ever conceived. We are bombarded by messages, taught and shaped by images broadcast to us. The earth is swept by signals that convey ideas to the minds of all peoples in a single stroke. But with all this technology and communication, truth is not better or more powerfully conveyed or understood.
Today, as always, it is evident that there are very powerful forces that do not want the human mind to be enlightened. John Crosby, a New York columnist returning from a trip to Latin American, once wrote, “Just as the pursuit of truth is a constant thing among human beings, so is the suppression of it, and that applies to the free world as well as to the dictatorial ones.”
Any serious student of communications, looking at our world, can see many examples of the various facets of this suppression. We have deliberate suppression as well as ignorant suppression, voluntary suppression as well as involuntary suppression. But suppression of the truth is only one of the many weapons used in the battle for our minds. We must add to that the trickery of disinformation, of shallowness, and of corruption of language–the powerful tools that have always been used to blind us and promote darkness. There is nothing new in this.
In the Old Testament, seven hundred years before the birth of the Savior, the prophet Hosea witnessed the darkness of his people just before they were destroyed and taken into slavery. He wrote, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6). And from modern revelation we read the same: “Therefore, what I say unto one, I say unto all, watch, for the adversary spreadeth his dominions and darkness reigneth” (D&C 82:5). And again, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, darkness covers the earth and gross darkness the minds of the people” (D&C 112:23).
Q. So you’re saying that without knowledge and truth, a society can be corrupted and overcome?
A. Yes, and that’s why the effective use of communications is so important. In my observations of over fifty years in the communications business, I think it has a power here on the earth second only to God’s priesthood.
Over 2,500 years ago, a remarkable Chinese philosopher/general named Sun Tzu wrote a book in which he stated, “Fighting is the most primitive way of making war on your enemies. The supreme excellence is not to win a hundred victories in a hundred battles; the supreme excellence is to subdue your enemies without having to even fight them.” This is certainly one of Satan’s primary tactics today as he seeks to destroy people.
Q. How did you come to feel so strongly about this?
A. I saw it plainly in my years working for Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty. The Russians had shut off all the news to their people and instead fed them a steady diet of propaganda. But we sent news stories into the country on shortwave radio signals so that people could have access to the truth. Their government spent far more time and money trying to jam our signals than we spent sending them, and they hurt us a lot, but they were not successful. People would write down the news and the Russian history lessons that we sent to them and pass them round to each other.
One woman told me that she and her husband had been exiled to Siberia. The government put jammers around their home so they couldn’t pick up any radio or any television. They had two guards at their door who accompanied them wherever they went. Somehow, she got a shortwave radio, and two or three times a week, she used to leave her apartment with her two guards, take the streetcar out about a mile to the edge of the village, and then walk about half a mile into a cemetery where she could pick up the signal. That’s how much hearing the truth meant to her. And, by the way, the guards who came with her listened as attentively as she did.
I will never forget the Chernobyl disaster. We were holding a board of directors meeting of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty when we received the terrible message that the nuclear reactor had exploded and was spewing radiation far into the atmosphere. Our people immediately contacted radiation experts in the United States, received full instructions as to how the Ukrainians could protect themselves from the radiation, and began broadcasting the information into the country days before the Russians even admitted there had been an explosion and that their people living nearby had been irradiated.
For their efforts in gathering news and sending it into the former Soviet Union, our staff were called radio saboteurs and our stations condemned as capitalistic tools foisting dirty slander against the Soviet Union into the airwaves.
When Prague, Czechoslovakia, became free of Communist domination, we opened a news bureau there, and l went there to represent the board of RFE/RL and dedicate it. About four hundred people, representing the new government, came to the reception, and we moved about shaking hands with many of them. Someone asked us, “Did you know that nearly everyone you shook hands with today was a criminal under the Communists? Most of them have been in prison–some for as long as fourteen years–during this long, dark hour of their nation’s history. They just wanted to come today to shake hands and let you know how much RFE/RL had meant to them.”
Next we went to Warsaw, and the same thing happened. I asked Lech Walesa if the radios had helped in their struggle for freedom, and without a moment’s hesitation he said, “My friends, does the earth need the sun?”
Q. Have we also seen suppression of truth on a large scale in free countries?
A. Every serious student of communications should read a book called Barriers Down by Kent Cooper, which relates the story of a communications cartel. The invention of the telegraph in 1844 brought enormous change. At that time, a young German by the name of Julius Reuter gathered news in Paris and sent it by pigeon between Cologne and Brussels. His lucrative business, of course, was threatened by the telegraph, so he decided to move to London, set up a cable news agency, and have it subsidized by the British Crown. Reuter then spread his news agency all over the world, cooperating in part with a similar agency called Havas in Paris. Havas was also subsidized by the government and operated an advertising agency. Havas would place advertising with the newspapers they served, with the understanding that the paper guaranteed to print Havas news exactly as it was transmitted–or no advertising. A smaller but a similar agency was established in Berlin, called Woolf.
Together these three news agencies set up a global news cartel. They divided the countries of the world into three regions, and each organization had a total news monopoly in the areas under its service. Under this plan, all news in and out of their countries was totally under their control. Can you imagine the bias, the political slant, the misinformation that dominated the news? For over seventy years, all news coming into or out of the United States passed over the editorial and censorship desks of these cartels, subsidized by their governments. It was a cartel of hideous proportions that lasted well into the 1930s.
Cooper, who for twenty-five years was the general manager and chief executive officer of Associated Press, said that in his opinion, this news cartel was a major factor leading to World Wars I and II.
Once when my wife and I were in South America, one of my friends started giving me a lecture on how we had exploited his country. I asked him how we had exploited it, and he admitted he couldn’t tell me, but we did. Unbeknownst to him, all he was doing was repeating propaganda. That was the image of the United States that had been carefully perpetrated by the French news cartel that operated in his country, and he believed it. This was just one little outcropping of all the tensions that still exist in the world caused by this news cartel–and its suppression of truth.
Q. Assuming this news cartel is now a thing of the past, how would you rate our media today?
A. Today’s media is complex. No single force, of course, is behind all that we hear and see. Obviously there are fine journalists and corrupt journalists, moral and immoral media. It is clear, however, that the people who operate the media, from film to television to journalism, come from their own moral standards and values which clearly influences their work. And I’m certain that with something as powerful as media, Satan gets into every little niche and crack he can find. He wants us to be bound in darkness, and he’s found ways to do it that are slick, sophisticated, colorful, and inviting.
Q. How can we discern truth from the philosophies of men?
A. We have been told that “the glory of God is intelligence,” and we have been encouraged to get an education and cultivate our minds. Yet, the United States ranks only thirteenth in the world in the quality of education. Why is that? It just doesn’t seem to be important to us anymore.
Sometimes it seems that America has reached the same place as ancient Rome when people preferred the circus to the forum. If we try to place programs on television that invite people to think, they turn it off. They seem, instead, to want an endless diet of entertainment.
Q. Even if our society embraces the circus, isn’t there something we can do personally as members of the Church to become more discerning and filter light from darkness, truth from sham?
A. If we want to become more discerning of the many voices around us, we have to begin by improving our study of the scriptures, and this has to be done in the home. We cannot depend on someone else to teach us or our children. We have to know the scriptures well enough to be able to use them as a light and standard by which to judge everything else we see and hear.
That’s where it all starts. We are the Lord’s anointed and we’re going to lead the world through the most terrible times it has ever seen. But if we don’t know what we believe in, nor love the Lord with all of our hearts, there’s not going to be very many of us to do the job.
Q. God has given us the commission to proclaim the truth of the gospel to the whole earth. How are we going to use the media to do that?
A. We just have to realize the immense force we’re up against and pray that the Lord will open the way for us. Think of the Mormon pioneers and the suffering and sacrifice they experienced as they were driven from their homes and thrust into a wilderness. Then you get a clear picture of how cleverly Lucifer fought the Restoration. In the first section of the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord told us that the Church must be brought out of obscurity, and Lucifer has fought that as well.
When people know something about us, missionary work is much easier. But in many parts of the world people know nothing of us. I went to lunch once with Margaret Thatcher’s minister of communications. When he found out I was a Mormon, everything cooled. As we talked, I won him back a little. He finally confessed, “All I know about the Mormons is that you’re polygamous and live in the desert.” Now, consider who was speaking-the minister of communications for Britain, and he knew nothing more than that!
But today, the Church is beginning to come out of obscurity. President Hinckley has stepped forward with interviews that have impressed journalists and changed their point of view about us. The Mike Wallace interview on 60 Minutes was an absolute miracle. That interview was touched by the Spirit, and it is communication of that sort that will sweep the earth.
Q. What can we do as a people to help this process along?
A. We need to have an organization of skilled and talented people worldwide who know how to use the media. We have to move toward the time when we have a core of people in communications. In fact, I look forward to the day when we have a thousand highly skilled people in the Church in communications. They’d know how to go to the top people in this field and say, “Here’s this excellent program,” or, “Here’s this excellent message. Let’s run this on television.” Excellence really speaks. Everything we do has to be with the finest talent that knows how to pray. We have the message, and there are tens of millions of people just begging to hear it in a way they can understand.
The field of communications is not the highest paying field in the world, but what’s money? It’s a piffle. The sort of people who will make a difference in spreading the truth of the gospel through communications to the world will have to be those who see themselves as lifetime media missionaries. They will seek the sophisticated experience necessary to do the job at the highest levels. Why couldn’t the publisher of the New York Times or Readers’ Digest be some talented High Priest? Why can’t we have several world-famous columnists among us?
Q. What about those of us not in communications? What can we do to help?
A. We can encourage the process, encourage those in media who are willing to produce things of excellence. Some years ago, Frank Stanton of CBS created a thirty-nine-week series of hour-long television programs called “The Great Adventure,” a powerfully produced story of America. He had at least twenty-five of the most talented people working on it. They had produced them and had started running them on the air. But they were canceled after only six episodes. They had failed miserably against a cowboy show running on ABC. About a year later, I was at CBS headquarters and was introduced to the woman who had been in charge of the program. “We were so disappointed that ‘The Great Adventure’ was canceled,” I said. “How many letters did you receive about it?”
“I don’t think you want to know,” she said.
“I suppose the response wasn’t very good based on the ratings. You don’t need to tell me, but you have 196 affiliates. What if you had received ten letters a week from people from each of your affiliates telling you how much they had enjoyed it?”
She looked at me and said, “I would have sat down and bawled. That would have given us the impetus to continue.”
I am surprised how often people embrace the tawdry, the ugly–things that encourage the natural man. That’s Lucifer at work, and he’s powerful. He’ll take the slightest crack in a person’s character or value structure and he’ll blow it right open.
Q. What does Satan want to convince us of?
A. He wants to teach us that we have no need to repent. And then, when we are convinced of that, we are destroyed. That battlefield of the mind, which began in the premortal world, rages today at its hottest. But we have no need to fear. The barriers that Satan creates to prevent truth from reaching the human mind can be breached and broken. This is not a dispensation that will end with gross darkness covering the earth, but with God and truth prevailing. We can all be a part of that if we will.
2001 Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.