|The following is reprinted from Karen Reedstrom's
interview with E. G. Ross, originally published in the January 1997 issue of Full
* * *
Q: What is your intellectual background?
Ross: Like most people who prefer their human to their lizard brains, my background is varied. It reflects a strong curiosity. My parents and several other relatives encouraged it. Mom was tireless and delighted in my development. They taught me to speak early. I said my first word at six months in Austria, where I was born. The word was "light." I was apparently issuing fluent edicts from my highchair at eight months or so, although I don't remember it.
Q: When did you come to this country?
Ross: As an infant. We settled in Lebanon, Oregon, a small logging town. A big moment in my intellectual background was in grade school. My folks bought me an encyclopedia set. I was particularly attracted to the six-volume subset on science. I was soon spouting off the names of the planets, their diameters, distances to the sun, etc. I'm sure I made a perfect pest of myself.
I went to public school in grades one and two, then my folks switched me to a private school. There I was taught mainly by Benedictine nuns. Strong on the basics; excellent teachers. I took the moral training seriously and the nuns tried to encourage me into the priesthood. However, after getting no hot vocational messages from God, I realized that what most intrigued me about priests was that they got to talk into microphones. That realization led years later to a successful career in radio.
Let's see, I was class president two or three times in grade schoolwhich helped my speaking and social developmentas did editing the school's little newspaper (mimeographed). I graduated valedictorian from eighth grade, then went to a good public high school. I won the school's science award my first year and was active in Honor Society, Thespians, Forensics, a couple of sports. I guess all of that feeds into intellectual background one way or another.
Q: What college did you attend?
Ross: I had a couple of scholarships to the University of Oregon. I went there for awhile, changing majors at least a half-dozen times. I didn't know what I wanted to do. There were too many choices! I stuck it out short of a couple degrees, one an MFA in writing. But, frankly, college seemed to consist of seven parts B.S. for every three parts wisdom. I preferred cruising the library on my own, reading and studying what I wanted. I eventually dropped out to study radio broadcast engineering and announcing at a private school. Got my First Class Operator's license and landed a job at KPNW, that state's biggest new A.M. station. I had fans all the way down in Australia! I had a ball in radio. Best move I ever made. The real world was endlessly more fun than college!
Q: Did you get interested in Objectivism in college?
Ross: No, that was in high school. I remember one day in Mrs. Wilshire's Honors English class I turned around to see what this girl behind me was doing. She was super-glued to a copy of Atlas Shrugged. I asked her what the book was about. She said it concerned these intelligent, productive people and their incredible struggles in life. That intrigued me. I'd never read a book like that. That evening I found a paperback copy in the local Cent-Wise drugstore. For three days I refused to do anything but read it. I won't say it fundamentally changed my life, for I'd been questioning a lot of my basic premises for years, including religious. But it was a mental earthquake. At first I felt simultaneously liberated and confused. It was too much to integrate so quickly. Eventually it began to fall into place, and I grew especially impressed with Rand's perspective on the morality and need of work and purpose; that they weren't mere survival values, but happiness values; that you required them to be truly fulfilled and well-rounded.
One other thing about my intellectual background. I credit my dad for three immensely important lessons. First, he explained to me the difference between animals and humansin terms of the latter's ability to think. That was a major revelation to me. Second, he often made me substantiate my opinions. For instance, he'd tell me to look up the subject I was pontificating about, usually in the encyclopedia, and if I could back up my argument with facts, he'd accept itat least to the degree one dares accept a grade-schooler's argument! That was a monumental lesson in the scientific approach to thinking, even if Dad didn't explicitly intend it to be. It taught me that if you wanted your opinions respectedif you really wanted to knowyou had to support your views with facts from the real world, not just with spurts of neural fantasy.
Third, he was the first to show me how to use analogies to help clarify my thinking. We humans are pattern-finderswhether in the art world or that of science or businessand analogies help us to do that. Aspects of reality are inextricably entwined. Much of learning consists of springboarding from the aspects we understand to those we don't. Analogies are fantastically efficient springboards.
Q: Why did you give up radio if you loved it so much?
Ross: Several reasons, but the most basic is that I believe in constant self-development as a way of life. It's extremely important to me to keep pressing myself to define and embrace new goals and interests, to "force" myself to grow. As you know, I make up quotes for my newsletters' "peek-a-toons"the ones with little guys peering over a fence. One I recently ran said, "If peace were the point of living, death would be the ultimate attraction." That captures it. Peace is NOT the point of life, challenge and growth are! I agree with Captain Kirk that mankind is at its best when it struggles, when it chooses difficult things to do, when it overcomes obstacles in order to achieve and create and discover. That's why I think it's critical to happiness to forbid oneself to stagnate.
I loved radio, but I felt I'd done all I wanted in that field. It was starting to grow repetitive, stale. Talk radio hadn't gotten big yet. It's possible that if I'd been in the business when it had, I might have stayed longer. I did some minor talk shows, but the formats tended to be more restrictive than they are nowmainly extended interviews. It's a wonderful Renaissance in the field today. I'm glad opinionated, well-read, aware-minded people like Rush Limbaugh are out there garnering large audiences. You don't have to agree with all they say to see that it's good for the country to have forceful personalities on the air. Such people stimulate their audiences to reason about things in fresh ways, to avoid taking too much for granted in life, to challenge their own perspectives.
Incidentally, I send Rush all three of my newsletters. I don't know if they've had any influence on him, but from certain comments of his I sometimes think so. It's hard to tell, though, because Rush is a bright guy and smart enough to come up with ideas on his own. The liberals' worst error is not to revile him, but to underestimate him. He thrives on their revilement, then rolls over them using their own underestimation as his roadway.
To get back on my own road here, you were asking why I left radio. While still in it, I began reprinting my daily commentaries in newsletter form. I also began free-lancing for a couple local newspapersthe Valley Tribune and Willamette Observerand several magazines. Those activities got me hooked on the "print" side of the business. Actually, I'd worked part-time in print way back in college when I melted lead for old Linotype machines at the university press. I also occasionally wrote and did illustrations for the Daily Emerald, the U of O's school paper, printed at that time by the press.
Then, as computer technology advanced, I bought my own PC in the early eighties. A good friend, Brad Stewart, lent me some desktop publishing software. I eventually began doing a monthly newsletter for the Defense Education Committee (DEC), a non-profit corporation I helped form in 1984 along with two retired Air Force officers, Harry Hance and Ed Kelly, as well as Bob Bennett, who was the chief engineer for the Minuteman missile project, and a couple others. I was DEC's first president. From the experience gained doing DEC's letter, my interest in defense issues exploded and I founded UD in 1986. I've been hooked on print journalism ever since.
But there was another part to the story. Way back in 1982, while still in radio, I decided to take a crack at writing novels. I'd written a lot of short stories, including some which I produced as radio versions. I wanted to try something larger, so I wrote The Child Twisters, a science-fiction detective novel. After that I wrote Wire Shock, a murder mystery set in the contemporary radio business, and then Engels Extension, and then Foop Rebellion, which will be the sequel, of sorts, to Engels. Foop is a political adventure story of how three million people secede from the U.S.more or less peacefullybut I don't want to say more about it now.
Anyway, I got hooked on novel writing, too. Among that, my newsletters, illustration/painting work, narration, and several other part-time activities, there just wasn't a place for radio anymore.
Q: Did you observe any self-censorship of the media news while you were in radioany bias to liberal views or stonewalling a controversial subject such as is being done to Duesberg in the AIDS debate?
Ross: Sure, I observed it. I was fired from one station for running a commentary critical of the Federal Communications Commission. At the time I was working with Senator Bob Packwood and the National Association of Broadcasters to abolish the FCC. I wrote a bill that was influential in getting broadcast deregulation rolling. It would have eliminated many program restrictions on radio broadcasters, although Sen. William Pastore, who hated deregulation, stymied the original version. Its ideas lived on, though.
I must say that the nation owes Sen. Packwood a huge debt for his work at deregulating broadcasting. Liberals and conservatives alike owe him a debt. He was absolutely tireless and highly principled in his fight. I'm not sure talk radio as we have it today, and many other broadcast innovations, would exist without the wonderful work he did. He may've chased a few secretaries around his desk, but he had an extremely rational and productive side to his personality as well. I'll be forever grateful for what he did. I only wish more of the media were. Most aren't even aware of his tremendous fight on their behalf.
As to bias, mainly what I observed was either laziness or lack of curiosity. The go-along to get-along mentality. Peter Keatings galore. I didn't see a lot of deliberate slanting. It's more subtle than that, and hence a bigger, longer-term problem. The root of bias is a lack of critical thinking, of ability to stand back from the news and what your colleagues think is "PC" and reach your own conclusions.
Q: For instance?
Ross: For instance, I devised my own working description of news: reports of those events which affect the individual rights, safety, and happiness of citizens. At my news departments (those I headed), stories about individual rights always had "lead" statusbarring the occasional "emergency" items, such as critical traffic updates. I forbade my departments from constantly focusing on the "ketchup trail" type of events; death, destruction, disaster, debilitation. We'd report it, but not at the expense of, say, a story about lowering everyone's taxes or deregulating an industry or anything that stood to expand the individual rights and liberty of my listening audience.
Beyond this, a good journalist has to have what Aristotle had: a burning curiosityespecially for the positive. You have to be interested in life and man's unique role in it. You have to respect and admire achievement and development and potential and innovation. If more journalists had a bigger dose of those values, took them more seriously, I submit that the U.S. news media would look very different.
Q: Are things getting worse?
Ross: No, contrary to what many libertarians, conservatives, and Objectivists believe, they're truly improving. For instance, there's far more rational reporting on economic news now than there was 20 years ago. You have several networks devoted only to that subject! That's a magnificent step forward. There are also some good younger reporters, such as Christiana Amanpour, John Stossel, and Brit Hume, who are rising to the tops of their professions.
Rush Limbaugh is a good reporter in many ways, chiefly because he's unafraid of controversy, thinks for himself, and therefore uncovers things that less curious and more timid reporters don't. These people, and others like them, including many "unknowns" at the local level, are influencing their colleagues, who, by sheer force of competition, will be forced to improve or make way for their betters. I'm optimistic about the future of journalism; broadcast and print. The sheer numbers of new networks, internet outlets, new types of broadcast stations, and desktop publishing outfits are creating opportunities for many more journalists of higher quality.
Q: You publish three newsletters, The Positive Economist Bulletin, The Objective American, and Understanding Defense. How and why did you get started with those?
Ross: Okay. UD is the oldest. I started it in 1986 during the height of the peaceniks' protests against things military. They didn't like the Pershing missiles we were putting in Europe to counter the Soviet SS-20 threats; nor the GWEN early warning Air Force communications towers going up nationally; nor the brief military build-up-refurbishment, actually-under the Reagan administration. Anything military, they were by and large against it. They weren't just opposed to the U.S. being world cop, a perfectly legitimate concern. They were against the most fundamentally adequate defense.
I'd been editing the letter of a local non-profit defense forum, which I'd co-founded in 1984, and in early 1986 decided to start my own profit-making pro-defense letter to try some new ideas. The profit motive provides innumerable incentives to creativity that aren't possible to non-profit corporations. I wish more freedom activists took this fact to mind, or at least more carefully examined its potential. Anyway, Dr. Petr Beckmann helped me out a bit with UD, recommending it to his readers and letting me use most of his Access to Energy mailing list in exchange for some other work I provided to help promote AtE.
Because economics so often dovetails with defense, I eventually created The Positive Economist Bulletin. I'd already written a lot on economics. I'd done hundreds of radio commentaries and features on economics and in the early 1980s I was the most frequent contributor to The Freeman for awhile. In the late '80s I wrote a regular column for years for the now-defunct Gold Standard News. Then, because philosophy and other fieldsincluding science and law and politics and even artaffect both economics and defense, I later spun off a third newsletter, The Objective American. It eventually become the largest of the three. UD is going on thirteen years; the other two on seven and six years, respectively. Altogether, their circulation, including syndicated, exceeds 150,000.
Q: What kind of research do you do for the newsletters?
Ross: No magic there. It's what any good journalist doesor ought to do. I've built up a network of contacts and sources over 27 years. I was a radio news director and commentator for 14 years and I made the most of it. The radio days not only helped me work within stringent deadlines, but it taught me to organize and write rapidlyand provided me with access to an amazing array of information, much of it hard to find. I read for hours every day. I'm persistent. And strict. I don't miss deadlines. I believe that's part of good service to readers, giving them a product that arrives on time. I have an organizational system I designed specifically for doing the newsletters, which makes production easier. I have about 15 writers who do contract work for me; some more, some less. Several are true, nationally known experts in fields ranging from satellite imagery to special forces to aviation to psychology. One of them recently became a writer for the prestigious British publication, Jane's Intelligence Review and provides material for several TV networks. Another is a top terrorism expert. One is great at special operations forces. Even so, I still research and write 80% of the material myself.
Q: For your economic letter you take a "positive" approach, what do you mean by that?
Ross: I'm often asked that. Let me stress that it does not mean being a Pollyanna. When I talk about being positive, I mean that the positive is a part of the objective. You cannot be objective if you dwell only or primarily on negative news or views. That's bad epistemologyand worse psycho-epistemology. Man is an animal who wants answers. If you feed him an incessant stream of problems, never offering answers, he will rebel; especially Americans, who are the most optimistic people on the planet. This largely accounts for the continuing slide in the popularity of the major TV news programsalthough ABC, with its new three-nights-a-week program, "Solutions," inside the World News Tonight program, is taking a stab at changing that. That's the right track. I hope ABC stays on it and other networks and publishers see the value of the approachnot to exclude the negative, but to balance it. As I say in each issue of PEB, the positive inspires individuals to create a brighter future. It uplifts the spirit. It spurs productivity and achievement. It's the can-do outlook that so characterizes America.
This excerpt represents less than 1/3 of the interview with Mr. Ross. To read the full text, you may order a copy of the January 1997 issue of Full Context here.
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