Tass: All the propaganda that's fit to print
The Kremlin challenge comes not only in tanks and rockets, but also in words -- the kind that clack endlessly from the small gray teleprinter that stands beside a battered gas stove and a small and ancient refrigerator in the back room of The Christian Science Monitor office here.
The room was built as a kitchen; the office, like all others in our building, was originally a small apartment.
The kitchen setting is apt, though. The little gray machine serves up dish after dish of propaganda prepared by the Soviet news agency Tass (the Russian initials for the Telegraph Agency of the Soviet Union) according to receipes set forth by the Kremlin.
The material is hard to read, harder to digest. No spontaneity, no fun, no liveliness. But after standing by the machine for 4 1/2 years, starting and ending the day with its gray view of the world, I find myself wishing all Americans and their allies also had to read it for at least a few days.
They would find the broadest and crudest of challenges: their own world turned on its head, all ideals and assumptions reversed, all items subordinated to the destructive view that everything good in the world is Soviet or pro-Soviet, and everything bad is American or pro-American.
Tass sends its basic service around the world. It reads all major overseas wire agencies and countless Western journals, taking advantage of Western freedom to play back criticisms of the West and ignore positive developments.
(Senior members of the Communist Party here are not given such heavily censored material. Some get "White Tass," which is a fuller conpendium of Associated Press, United Press International, Reuters, and others. Top people get "Red Tass," which appears to be an almost complete version of daily news. In short, what anyone can read abroad, only the top people can see here.)
Tass is not a "news" agency at all, except that it does relay Soviet speeches and announcements. Every now and then it inserts a lighter note (the walrus population rising, the discovery of the bones of mammoths on which man may have beaten out primitive music), but even then the basic aim of Tass is preserved: to boost the Soviet system.
When it comes to the United States, no slander is bad enough. Here is one complete item, which indicates its lack of normal Western standards of reporting:
Bonn Feb. 9 Tass -- During exercises in the FRG (West Germany), an American tank ran into a fence around a residential house in the city of Alzev, knocking down a West German policeman. The tank drove away from the accident scene. The policeman died. Item ends.m
No other details. No explanations. Nothing except the barest details rewritten from local reports to make the US look as bad as possible. Have there been accident involving Soviet troops in Eastern Europe? Don't read Tass to find out.
The Russian service is translated into other languages. The English version is awkward, since translation must be word for word to ensure political correctness. The last man to see the material before it is handed to teleprinter punchers is the political editor, who sees that nothing untoward creeps in.
Tass is a nonstop government circular and a relentless propagandist. And it uses words familiar to outside readers -- "peace," "detente," and so on -- but on Tass they have very different meanings.
The world of Tass is worth looking at closely. It gives insights into the heavy hand of Kremlin thought and action, the ideology in whose name all actions are taken and justified. Many people openly disbelieve the ideology by now, but its hold on power is still great.
If we let Tass words bounce around the world without knowing what they are and what they want to do, we simply make the Kremlin's job easier.
So here (below) is a minidictionary of Tass terms. It is offered in the tradition of the Marquis de Custine, a wise French nobleman who toured czarist Russia for five months in 1839.
"I do not blame the Russians for being what they are," he wrote later, "I blame them for pretendi ng to be what we are."