Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media by Herman & Chomsky

Thorough, informative, impressive and disheartening.

Herman and Chomsky present a ‘Propaganda Model’ about how U.S. mass media reports news and information and uses various case studies to support the theory. It is one (easy) thing to say that the mass media are biased; it is another (far more difficult) thing to demonstrate the fact.

Manufacturing Consent was not exciting, nor pleasant to read, but so very educational – Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and numerous other places and events are discussed.

As for the Propaganda Model, I shall let the author speak for themselves.

"The essential ingredients of our propaganda model, or set of news "filters," fall under the following headings: (1) the size, concentrated ownership, owner wealth, and profit orientation of the dominant mass-media firms; (2) advertising as the primary income source of the mass media; (3) the reliance of the media on information provided by government, business, and "experts" funded and approved by these primary sources and agents of power; (4) "flak" as a means of disciplining the media; and (5) "anticommunism" as a national religion and control mechanism. These elements interact with and reinforce one another. The raw material of news must pass through successive filters, leaving only the cleansed residue fit to print. They fix the premises of discourse and interpretation, and the definition of what is newsworthy in the first place, and they explain the basis and operations of what amount to propaganda campaigns." (p. 2)

The Conclusion really rebutted the conspiratorial connotations that are associated with Manufacturing Consent because Herman and Chomsky state that this system of filtering is so powerful as to be internalized largely without awareness. It is not like a government official told various media outlets to change certain stories or that there is a large intentional collusion going on, it is just that various structures and biases are in place and as a consequent the information presented does not represent a ‘free and independent press that delivers objective information.’*

I also appreciated that Herman and Chomsky more than once point out the difficulty of anyone who is not an ‘ardent researcher’ being able deconstruct the propaganda and discover information that is closer to objective notions of truth. It is extremely difficult to figure out what is actually going on in this world.

There isn’t sufficient space (or current inclination) to provide a more detailed assessment of their work, suffice to say that their model seems to be supported by the evidence and the model is rigorous enough that it makes predictions; most of which I have seen validated in my own experience with U.S. mass media.

Lastly, more personally, this one has been on my list for awhile so I am pleased to have finally read it and now can have a more informed opinion regarding one of the great works of dissident thought.

*In fact, the CIA did have the power to change news stories and there are coteries that control the media, but it isn’t likely one consistent body.


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