Does anyone remember this famous viral video?: “This is extremely dangerous to our democracy”. A creepy montage of a wide range of local channels repeating the same message, reminiscent of 1984 and other dystopias.
For those who haven’t read it (just download free copies online), Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky (1988, with revisions) is a book which proposed a propaganda model explaining the trends and behaviors of the US mass media system, not just how they are influenced by government but even more how economic and social influences promote this behavior without overt coercion or state censorship. It uses a variety of major historical examples, and later editions preface with discussions of the increasing centralization/consolidation of media companies and their move to the internet. It’s an excellent and influential book, and an Orwell Award winner.
But about CONSPIRACY
In Manufacturing Consent, the creators explicitly declare that their model does not rely on conspiratorial reasoning: that the propagandist patterns of mass media are all a result of an explicit conspiracy which all the major perpetrators are co-operating with. Instead, they argue that a variety of uncoordinated but systematic external factors create a pressure for media to encourage and discourage certain types of content. They define and justify five main ‘filters’ that determine the content we see:
- Size, ownership, and profit orientation of dominant media outlets: they must cater to the financial interests of the owners such as corporations and controlling investors.
- Advertising: almost all revenue needed for them to survive comes from advertising, so media must cater to advertiser’s political and economic desires.
- Sourcing mass media news: larger and more aligned media outlets get special access to many routine news sources like government announcements and large organizations in a mutual benefit situation. Other news sources are more expensive and risky to access by nature, and the large routine ones can arbitrarily exclude media publishers they don’t like, especially those non-mainstream. This encourages mainstream media to seek those routine sources, creating a bias in what facts they receive.
- Flak: legal, social or reputational harassment is expensive and damages advertising revenue. It is often conducted by powerful, private influence groups like think tanks. Even if not explicitly a conspiracy, they often still align incidentally. This threat to media outlets deters reporting certain facts or opinions
- National enemies: during the Cold War, anti-communism created a social filter that not only affected communism, but rather anything considered remotely related such as socially-progressive policies, civil rights, and being opposed to the invasion in Vietnam, along with impacts on how news criticized Nicaragua’s democratic elections while unanimously legitimizing El Salvador’s extreme violent repression and corruption as democratic. After the fall of the USSR, this was replaced with the War on Terror as the major social control mechanism, affecting reporting on the recent conflicts in the Middle East.
(more quick explanation and justification for those who haven’t yet read the book: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Propaganda_model )
The point of that list being, the mass media organizations, government, think tanks and advertisers all have their own motivations and don’t require a conspiracy or overt government coercion to cause the censorship and propaganda they create. They individually have agendas and abuse their power or profit or influence, but the model’s creators argue that there is no need to blame a real conspiracy for this behavior. An interesting side effect is that these induce self-censorship and a bias in sources where the writers usually haven’t been told not to write about something, it’s simply not economically viable and discouraged independently by each large media outlet, leading to an unorganized but systematic system of propaganda that discourages criticism of the state and of major businesses.
What are your thoughts on this? Do you believe it’s justified to claim the mass media’s biases largely aren’t conspiratorial, or would you debate otherwise? Do you think this is comparable to the alt-right concept of “Deep State” or that DS theory implies the hidden shadow conspiracy that this denounces?