Regular readers will know that we are not enamoured of the mainstream media. However, Belmont Club have gone rather too far in their excoriation of the media when they compare them to the Ministry of Truth in George Orwell's book 1984.
In 1984, Orwell describes a totalitarian society in which the state controls newspapers, books, television and all other media through the cynically named Ministry of Truth. One of the Ministry's functions is to maintain the official fiction that the Party is always right – not only by lying about the present but by changing all historical evidence. In that society the role of the media is to parrot what the dictators want them to say about both the present and the past, without paying attention to the truth.
The media in the West currently peddle a set of myths about the way the world works. Myths in which they believe. These beliefs cause them to impose certain interpretations on events and to ignore stories that tend to suggest that perhaps the world works in a different way. When they feel strongly enough, they feel obliged bend the truth – to report something other than what literally happened, in the noble cause of conveying a deeper truth to the public who would otherwise be led astray.
But, they do not have the power physically to coerce people who do not share their beliefs.
In some cases most of the media professionals happen to share the same set of prejudices as state officials and publicise these prejudices at the expense of the truth. Sometimes they even allow state officials to rewrite scripts to fit in with the government's agenda – in this case their witch hunt against drug users. However, the media can be independent of the government when they choose to be, as with their campaign of opposition to the liberation of Iraq. Nor do most of the media spin their stories in favour of George Bush's visceral and ignorant dislike of stem cell research. So the media are not simply an extension of the state, even when they behave badly.
The media do not, and cannot, censor opposing views. The likes of Thomas Szasz and free market economists can't get much time on major networks, but this has not stopped such people from propagating their ideas. Even though the media tend to stick fairly closely to a common left-of-centre, elitist ideology, they are not completely homogeneous. Fox News is more right wing than CNN and the blogosphere is becoming more important. Although they leave a lot to be desired, the media in a free society are not like the omnipresent state controlled television in 1984 in any important respect.
P.S. It doesn't help that Belmont Club link to a Holocaust-denying web site in that post, and approvingly quote from its tendentious interpretation of both Orwell and World War 2. What are they thinking of?