Stuffy reminds us that Voltarian print media used to be perfect, with each paper pandering to their readers without any competition. But then something called yellow journalism arrived, and now "each paper finds itself vying with the rest to see which one can sell the most papers by telling the biggest lies."
"The situation is entirely out of our own control. Our reporters are lying, cheating, manufacturing false evidence, even our editors are whipping them on. It began even before the Gris trial. We publishers are helpless. We want a Royal Censor we can resort to when a newspaper finds that it is being used as a tool for PR."
From this, we can assume that journalists on Voltar are pretty different from our inferior, lying Earth reporters, and have some sort of tenure system or other control over their publishers. Voltarian publishers are unable to fire unethical reporters, or replace editors with competent, professional workers. Owning a printing press doesn't necessarily mean these Voltarian publishers have any control over what they print. They're virtually hostages to the guys who want them to publish stuff.
The alternative is to assume that Stuffy and his fellow space publishers are so pants-crappingly stupid they need a Royal official to tell them how to solve this personnel problem.
Mortiiy, already furious, becomes so confused by this request that he dismisses Stuffy, but the publicist wails that this PR is responsible for the riots. Mortiiy wonders if it's some sort of "anger bomb," which again raises the question of why Earth is so terrible for exporting things like psychiatry and PR when Voltar already has devices capable of mind-control and irrational emotional responses.
At any rate, there's a - well, you might think that a hall full of Voltar's highest-ranking officials and the Emperor himself would have some pretty tight security. Maybe multiple rings of defenses, checkpoints within checkpoints. But instead, a group of Homeview people make it to the hall's entrance before getting into a scuffle with the Fleet marines guarding the chamber. Heller (not Mortiiy) demands to know what the eff, and the Homeview guys shout that some fakers are on one of their commentary channels.
"The manager has been going crazy thinking he'd misplaced a Homeview team. This isn't a Homeview team you've got in here. This is Madison and his crew!"
"WHAT?" cried Heller. "Captain, GRAB THAT TEAM!"
"ATTACK!" screamed Flick.
Well, it's been thirty pages since the Heller vs Hisst "battle." Guess the author felt we needed some excitement. But it's not even a proper Hubbard Action Sequence, most of it is summed up in a paragraph. Madison's team of crack criminal correspondents draw daggers and charge, and the Fleet marines set their electric knives to "paralyze." This would make more sense if the knives themselves were made out of an energy field like a lightsaber, so the author could say that the aliens toned down the voltage to a non-lethal setting, but as we've seen with Teenie's guards, Voltarian electro-weapons are sharp bits of metal wrapped in an electrical current. So you stab someone in the gut with one, shock them, and then say they've been safely, nonlethally paralyzed.
At any rate, Flick and the other criminals are outnumbered two-to-one and get their asses stab-shocked while the real Homeview crew is "smugly taking pictures." Heller demands that Madison be dragged out of the rabble, but the Earth publicist makes a dramatic entrance, stepping out from behind a light in the corner and informing His Majesty that he's mistaken about PR.
Heller lets him talk for almost a full page. It'd have been nice if he saved us some time and told the guards to grab and gag Madison.
"PR," said Madison, "means, in your language, public relations. It is, Your Majesty, of infinite use to a government." His voice took on a crooning lilt. "You can mold, sculpt and create in wondrous forms the opinions of the multitude. It is not necessary even to be sensible in your government decisions when you utilize PR. You can do anything you please and, by the beautiful techniques of imagery, bring about any public opinion that you might require. You do not even have to be fair or just in trials. If you, as a governing sovereign, do not like someone, he does not even have to be guilty of a single crime: you simply manufacture news stories and try him in the press. You do not even have to bring him to court."
You may recall that Madison didn't really work for the government while he was on Earth. He was more a freelancer Mr. Bury would hire whenever he needed to destroy someone he didn't want to assassinate in more conventional ways. So Madison really worked for the assistant of the man who controlled the government, people who didn't need to worry about public opinion in the first place.
"WHAT?" said Mortiiy, scandalized.
"Indeed," said Madison, "you may well stare in astonishment. But it is true. By manipulating public opinion, you can drive the mobs and riffraff any direction you want. In fact, it was by the skilled use of the Gris trial that I was able, with PR, to bring these wonderful riots to a positive boil!"
"WHAT IS THIS?" cried Mortiiy.
"PR," said Madison. "The whole planet of Blito-P3 is run on it." His voice took on an almost singing tone. "PR is the gift of Earth to a waiting universe."
You might also remember (me reminding you numerous times) that Madison was introduced as a clueless incompetent, whose demented attempts to make his clients famous always ended in their destruction, and that he regarded himself as a failure for that. He was always worried that Mr. Bury would fire or kill him for making someone bankrupt or a social outcast. But at some point he became some sort of devilish mastermind pleased with the chaos he created.
Heller sees "the embers begin to kindle" in Mortiiy's eyes and (finally) suggests that Madison shut up, but the publicist explodes that Heller-Wister is "a nobody, a nothing" who would be "shivering, unknown in some dark, dank cave" were it not for Madison's efforts. And that's the last straw for the new Emperor.
"Why, you infernal snot!" he stormed at Madison. "How dare you insult one of the bravest officers that ever lived! You're a snivelling coward in the bargain! You know very well an officer is forbidden to duel in his monarch's presence. Well, I will take care of that!" And he drew his hand blastgun to shoot!
It's one thing to introduce something that set the Confederacy on fire, and then try to tempt the Emperor with your foul promises. But insult Jettero Heller? Unforgivable.
Mortiiy barely restrains himself, remembering that he's Emperor now and needs to put his muderin' days behind him, but announces that "At LAST we've gotten to the bottom of it!"
The snarling rage struck fear into the tense hall. "A thing called PR mangles a million people in the streets, with tens of billions of property damage!
Point of order: all PR did in this case was give the public information about what the Apparatus was up to. They did the rioting. None of what "PR" said was actually false, and if more conventional Homeview coverage had said the same things you'd see the same response.
A P. T. Barnum gives us abominable freaks!
Poor P.T. Barnum. He only got dragged into the story fourteen pages ago, and he's already up there with the CIA and psychiatry as one of the book's big bads.
A CIA/KGB gives us a rotten, foul organization called the Apparatus! Two insane fake 'sciences' named psychology and psychiatry lying to the entire population!
No, just a couple dozen housewives.
Drugs shatter the lives of whole cities and subvert the government!
Yes to the latter, no to the former. At least on Voltar. And at any rate, the problem is that drugs are illegal, remember? They can't hurt anyone if they aren't profitable, right?
My two poor brothers dead, my father ruined in health and myself consigned to five years of Hells! And where did all this come from?"
Lombar Hisst's thirst for power?
He brought his fist down on the board. "A planet called Blito-P3, Earth! WE HAVE BEEN INVADED!"
Whoooaaa! What a wacky turn of events, dude! Earth invaded an alien planet! How craaaazy!
And by "invade" I mean one stupid alien took some of the worst parts of Earth culture and used them in a coup that's baffling in how close it came to succeeding.
Mortiiy straightened up. His face was very grim. But he had regained his self-control. He spoke now with kingly determination. "I know now why things went wrong with Voltar and I know where the disease came from. Primitive, decadent or decayed civilizations can be very dangerous to associate with.
Says the feudal emperor in his gilded palace ruling a thousands-year-old empire that is still following a schedule of conquests drawn up millennia ago because they can think of nothing else to do.
It can be like putting a patient with a contagious illness into a roomful of healthy people. A higher strata of culture can be pulled down and fouled by such association. We have seen these before in our history and we are far from perfect.
I'll be damned, the author wrote something I agree with.
"But never in my whole career, which has contained extensive travels, have I ever in my life heard of such a putrid and degenerate society as that of Blito-P3, Earth!"
Ever been to Slum City, with those "electric penis stimulation" services? Or the Army officers' club and brothel, with a floor devoted to farm animals? Well, Royalty probably wouldn't descend to such squalor.
Mortiiy takes a moment to tear up while gazing at the portraits of his father and two dead brothers, and while trying to hide his weeping gives his orders: Lord Heller is now the permanent Viceregal Chairman, and will complete this conference while the emperor retires to work on a replacement Grand Council at his leisure - the Emperor isn't ordinarily supposed to be involved in this sort of stuff, see. To show how unimportant his position is, Mortiiy signs six blank proclamations, and tells Heller to "dispose of Blito-P3, Earth, any way you see fit!" Dun-dum-duhn!
And there's a nice dramatic moment for the chapter to end on, don't you think? Well, you're wrong. The author spends another three paragraphs on Mortiiy's abrupt departure, the nobles' quick attempt to bow him out, and Mortiiy swiping at his eyes when he's out of sight, so blinded with tears that Krak has to escort him to his chambers. "He had loved his brothers very dearly. And knowing now, at last, what really had caused their deaths had brought the fact home." Earth killed his family, you see.
Or in other words, right when we, the reader, are supposed to be concerned about the fate of the billions on Earth, the author tries to make us sympathetic for the wrathful, trigger-happy tyrant who lost his two brothers to royal politics.
Back to Part Eighty-Six, Chapter Eight