“Manufacturing Consent” 25 Years Later

If you haven’t read “Manufacturing Consent” by Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman, you really should. That book plus Walter Lippmann’s “Public Opinion” and Alex Carey’s “Taking the Risk Out of Democracy” are three essential reads on propaganda in the US.

This Edward Herman interview on the Real News Network gives a sense of the book’s thesis and impact.

More at The Real News

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  1. YankeeFrank

    Its amazing to me how many people have yet to absorb the basic message of Manufacturing Consent, and live in denial of the true depth of the propaganda our media vomits on them daily — supposedly “intelligent” people who, I guess, just want easy answers and comfort, which is what the MSM exists to provide.

    1. banger

      Anyone who can think critically can see the obvious by simple analysis. This system, as a system, requires a PR/Propaganda operation to keep the people compliant to centralized authority. If there’s a problem it can only be solved through the use of brute force and police-state methods.

      Fortunately there is some resistance, mainly on the right to this state of affairs.

      Why do people not “see” the obvious? Because most of us desperately want to believe that by turning on the mainstream media we will get a coherent narrative of the shape of our world in a time when we have way too much information to process and way too few tools to analyze that information and very weak communities to sustain an alternate world-view.

      Polls have shown that around 75% of the American people do not believe the Warren Commission report on the JFK assassination–logically, it would follow that then the government and the media has been lying to the American people for a half-century and, as some of us believe, that crime was carried out by the CIA and Oswald was a CIA asset and a patsy, then the current political arrangements are technically illegitimate. And thinking along those lines will make you wonder about other events. And the agony of facing those facts is too painful and thus any non-orthodox belief on major events in our history is strictly forbidden on the mainstream and no books that contradict the official view are allowed, not only on the mainstream media, but the intellectual and left wing journals and media outlets. BTW, Chomsky and most of the left refuses to go there and follow Chomsky’s early partner against the Vietnam War, Peter Dale Scott.

      1. Mcmike

        Oh sure, i remember when the right fought telecom deregulation, mourned the end of the fairness doctrine, and rallied to save public noncommercial media.

        I recal how it was the right wing justices that tried to block citizens united and are leading the charge on campaign reform.

        Right wing protection of whistleblowers and support of transparency groups like anonymous and wikileaks is legendary.

        1. McMike

          I also remember how the right turned out into the streets by the tens of thousands to protest the obvious lies leading up the Iraq War. Fox New was relentless in debunking the claims made by the administration, and was all over Rice and Powel like a cheap suit for thier deceptions.

          When the Abu Graib scandal emerged, it was the right that demanded more information, and that the photos be released.

          And, oh, how the right howled when Dick Cheney and Bush claimed imperial infallibility for the supreme executive. And when Cheney outed our intellgience asset Valerie Plame, the right rallied to the cause and demanded that Cheney be deposed.

          I even remember when all the right wingers gathered in Seattle to oppose the WTO. And how they banded together and linked arms when the mounted cops sprayed peper spray in their eyes and beat them with batons.

          And who can forget the right wing leaders of the Occupy movement, and their bold defiance of authorities and corporate interests, going so far as to take a summer off of work to camp out and live in tens in some park, subjected to continuous harassment, provocation, and surveilance by the police.

          Meanwhile, all the liberals could come up with was backing some Koch-brother funded campaign to keep government out of medicare.

          1. Thor's Hammer

            And in what alternative universe do you believe that Left wing politics exists in the USA? As in Oboma Banksterism vs Romney Vulture Capitalism?

            Delusion is the opium of the masses.

          2. Mcmike

            Obama is a center right corporatist hiding behind a center left social agenda facade. How did my post contradict that?

            That the right can parrot the notion the he is a socialist is evidence of the huge success of right wing propaganda.

        2. banger


          Look, I’m not doubting that the right defended authoritarian rule. But the right includes libertarians who oppose and have opposed the growing power of the police state while the much of the left, once Obama came to office, supported the same methods by supporting Obama.

          I guess much depends on what you describe as the left and the right. I suggest to you that the libertarina right has greater numbers than the anti-authoritarian anti-Obama left (you cannot be on the left and support Obama).

          We need to move beyond left and right anyway and move towards an anti-authoritarian party that favors close to the people government. Many of us in the old “new left” favored such a course–but that vision has all but disappeared.

          1. McMike

            Ok, but it seems to may the libertarianism (textbook, not captured Koch-style, is neither left nor right.

            How can you be both right and libertarian?

  2. Jim Haygood

    Good timing for a post on Manufacturing Consent, given the saturation coverage of events in Boston.

    Locked-down cities, black-clad paramilitary police in armored personnel carriers, public safety exceptions to Miranda. According to the MSM, this is the new normal, comrades.

    As a kind of tragicomic addendum, the incident has been a windfall for an acquaintance who does radio voiceovers. One of his public service spots about reporting suspicious activity is getting heavy airplay … KA-CHING go the royalties!

    1. tongorad

      Tell the kids to go into police work I reckon. I watched the coverage on the teevee, an army of beer-bellied police mostly standing around doing f-all. Well-fed they are…

  3. Paul W

    I doubt a single person on the right would ever read Chomsky. The propaganda has been that effective. Of course who on the left would ever listen to Pat Buchanan? The old right-left narrative shall enslave westerners right to the end.

    1. Claudius

      I think the right were among the first to read it. As I state below:
      ‘ ..arguably, since the books publication it’s been the right that has done most to surpassed the left at critiquing the myth of media objectivity; developing an entire industry of think tanks, media watchdogs and pundits to “discover” and “denounce” purported instances of liberal media bias to more fully reflect their own values as “fair and balanced”.’

  4. Claudius

    Ed Herman’s and Noam Chomsky’s seminal work challenged the common doctrine of media objectivity in the United States, at a time when it was almost heretical to suggest that U.S. media such as the New York Times, Time and Newsweek magazines and CBS News were propaganda vehicles for the establishment.

    Though, arguably, since the books publication it’s been the right that has done most to surpassed the left at critiquing the myth of media objectivity; developing an entire industry of think tanks, media watchdogs and pundits to “discover” and “denounce” purported instances of liberal media bias to more fully reflect their own values as “fair and balanced”.

    The five “filters” highlighted in the first chapter of Manufacturing Consent – media ownership, the importance of advertising, reliance on official sources, “flak” produced by wealthy interest groups, and anti-communism as an ideological control mechanism (now superseded by the War on Terror) and how the Capitalist “free market” system itself can screen out “improper” ideas, without coercion – remains as relevant today as they were when the book was first published.

    The astonishing outcome, to me, is that despite such seminal work the five filters remain such powerful propaganda tools in shaping public opinions (though, not all-powerful) today. Still, powerful enough to create a war momentum against a country that posed no threat to the American people and to keep American caught up in that war for ten years, and counting.

    And, despite the “freedom” of the internet – the market place of ideas – propaganda still managed to change the moral compass of a nation to such a degree that torture and human right abuses were accepted as a new “normal” , have a nation progressively accept the attenuation of its constitutional rights and personal freedoms under the pretext of those same right and freedoms being protected and dutifully elected to office the charlatans and criminals that enable all of this to happen.

    “Propaganda is to a democracy what the bludgeon is to a totalitarian state.”
    —Noam Chomsky, Media Control: The Spectacular Achievements of Propaganda, 1997

    1. Mcmike

      The notion of the right leading the charge is laughable

      They did not debunk the media, they rejected a media that says things they don’t like. They replaced it with faux news and Limbaugh. The right is demonstrably the worst informed sector in the history of the republic. Numerous studies have born out that Fox news viewership is predictive of a major drop in IQ, as well as a propensity to significant factual errors in understanding. Fox news viewers live their own world of scripted incessant pr, and have their own set of “facts”.

      The infrastructure of right wing media and think tanks was built by corporations and billionaires, and constitues a propaganda leviathan that makes government pr look like amateurs.

      Whats more, the right was agressively supportive of the propaganda regime, back when it was being done by a republican administration.

  5. Garrett Pace

    Am I alone in thinking that Chomsky is a lousy author – irrespective of the quality of his arguments? Approaching his work as an adult I find I can never get through the longer stuff.

    …Road to Serfdom is soporific also…

    1. McMike

      Do you want to be informed, or entertained?

      Do you understand that the preference for entertainment is the root of the problem?

      1. Garrett Pace

        Well, I don’t really want this to be about me. Here’s Chomsky himself, shown at the beginning of Rebel Without a Pause:

        “if I had the capacity to be a good speaker, which I don’t, I wouldn’t use it. I’m a boring speaker and I like it that way…I doubt that people are attracted to whatever the persona is…People are interested in the issues, and they’re interested in the issues because they are important.”

        This is interesting, for I find his speaking a lot more engaging than I do his writing. But you see his attitude. He displays an odium towards being interesting, which I regularly find displayed in academic writing – the author worries that people will think they haven’t any confidence in their conclusions and have tarted up the language and style to mask it. It turns academic writing into a literary backwater where few dare tread, and the wisdom and learning of our academes rarely see the light of day.

        And it makes it challenging for those of us who want to introduce new ideas to friends and family. Don’t know that I’d recommend Chomsky (or Hayek or Rand) to dilletantes who want to know more.

        1. Valissa

          I think he’s a much better speaker than a writer too. It is possible to be a good (as in easily understandable) writer and a thoughtful academic. I have many books written by such – they do exist! I don’t think there’s anything wrong with expecting an author to do a good job explaining their points in a readable and readily digestible fashion.

        2. Claudius

          Read them aloud…. Sounds remedial I know. As a student I found some of the more difficult text hard to follow – Karl Popper’s ‘The Open Society’ being one of them.

          A professor of mine pointed out that the art of understanding is as much a psychological process related to a physical object as a cognitive process related to an abstract object…

          “Talk the text to an object as if the object is a child”, he said.

          I tried and it worked. Previously incoherent text became, well at least comprehensible.

          Just don’t do it within earshot of friends and neighbors…. Oh! Or a new acquaintance with whom you might want to start a serious relationship.

          I managed to wean myself off the process for entire book, but occasionally find myself reading passages aloud without being, initially, conscious of it.

        3. McMike

          Very well. It just seemed a bit of a gratuitous ad hom.

          Yes, they seem to be better speakers than writers. But that was sort of my point, these sort of messages tend to come off better in person, and are hard erdeliver in writing and be both informative/truthful/complete and also entertain. That’s hard to do.

          I mean, for fact-based truth telling, the power is in the people and their personalities.

        4. RanDomino

          I enjoy his talking style. He tells good stories and concisely gives context (already knowing some context helps, granted) without going off on tangents. His dry and sarcastic sense of humor takes some getting used to but is all the better for the way he slides it in while talking about something horrible so as to not induce despair.

    2. Valissa

      Agreed that he is a pretty terrible writer. I own some of his books but have not read any of them cover-to-cover. I can only read him in small doses. The classic Bernays book, Propaganda, is much easier reading as is this book… Taking the Risk Out of Democracy: Corporate Propaganda versus Freedom and Liberty, by Alex Carey (an Australian prof). Chomsky’s foreward to this book is readable though, perhaps a better editor?

    3. banger

      That’s true he’s not a great prose stylist. But he is logical and a great and fearless researcher. But he’s too orthodox left and narrow-minded about power. He tends to be overly-simplistic and, as I’ve said many times, is opposed to deep politics and those of us who follow his old comrade Peter Dale Scott.

    4. Susan the other

      I love Chomsky, but funny story: I bought a car tape to listen while driving, forget which of his books. And I got into the middle of it and accidentally rewound it. Big mistake. I could never find where I was and found it so frustrating, I just ejected it.

  6. Claudius

    Apologies, perhaps I should stop using inverted commas….

    To quote Edward S. Herman, from his ‘THE PROPAGANDA MODEL: A RETROSPECTIVE’

    ‘Because the propaganda model challenges basic premises and suggests that the media serve antidemocratic ends, it is commonly excluded from main stream debates on media bias. Such debates typically include conservatives, who criticize the media for excessive liberalism and an adversarial stance toward government and business, and centrists and liberals, who deny the charge of adversarial
    and contend that the media behave fairly and responsibly.’

  7. ++good

    The state has put a major city under house arrest and deployed two paramilitary brigades under NCA control, imposing counterinsurgency rules of engagement – for one youth reputed to be skilled in… wrestling. The public picked up the prison term lockdown without a thought (Where is this shelter-in-place “order” published? Does it is invoke the same CCPR-illegal emergency authority as the recent statewide snow-lockdown?) Posse comitatus is now a quaint, irrelevant relic from days of yore. And not a peep of complaint. They had em singing God Bless America for chrissakes.

    1. banger

      Well, the whole affair stinks with the relentless and lying speculations in the media. I think this was, if nothing else, a good opportunity to test a police-state takeover of an entire city. The authorities now know that there will be no objection to such a thing by the people who have proven time and time again that they want an authoritarian state and this recent incident guarantees that’s what were going to get.

    2. RanDomino

      From what I understand it was, for legal purposes, merely a ‘strong suggestion’. Not being in Boston, I don’t doubt that it was more than that.

  8. denim

    “News is bad for you – and giving up reading it will make you happier

    News is bad for your health. It leads to fear and aggression, and hinders your creativity and ability to think deeply. The solution? Stop consuming it altogether
    Rolf Dobelli
    The Guardian, Friday 12 April 2013 15.00 EDT”


    But, if you feel you must, be sure to have an antidote at hand… the love of truth.

    1. alex morfesis

      I prefer the love of ruth…but she wont return my text…suspect the reebee is not too keen on me…I guess being “greek” orthodox does not really count…

      so how about them mets…think harvey can win the cy young award this year…

      not really a big fan of the chompski beat or ralef nahdyr(he is lebanese you know) not that I am a bircher either…just noise makers…all of them…

      no one really watches the snorefestmedia anymore so why even give it any semblance of capacity or respect…

      even the red hat church ladies from ohio know better, but it is the fear of the unknown that keeps those suffering in silence…if you kick over the old bucket of water, where is the next drink going to come from…how will the buses run…

      one has to give some grudging respect to dark evil people like kissinger and karl rove…they spend 100 hours a week on creating the environment for bad things to happen to good people…

      complaining about the fact there are evil people on this planet is a bit silly…counterpunching the evil is what good people need to do…

      and now back to my sheeplstan…

      so will the mets make it to the playoffs this year…

  9. Susan the other

    I’ve never seen Edward Hermann before and I found him a very peaceful soul. I disagree with his pessimism about no investigative journalism. I think we’ve got great journalism – it just isn’t the MSM. It’s NC and a few other spectacular blogs. And even CSPAN occasionally. And I’d like to put a good word in for our innate human sense of bullshit. When was the last time somebody tried to manipulate you? It pissed you off, right? And it wasn’t even important.

    1. Claudius

      I caveat this comment by telling you that I don’t own a TV. I do read International and foreign language newspapers (mostly in airport lounges) but I do listen to international and foreign language radio.

      Independence is the essence of media journalism – ideally a “stateless”, non-partisan news organization that through impartiality and neutrality empowers a journalist to work on all sides of an issue, conflict or dispute without any agenda other than accurate, fair reporting. And by that measure, American Media Journalism is in terminal decline if not already at an end (which is not the same as saying CNN, MSNBC and the like will as an entity will disappear).

      In the US, the boundaries between journalism and other forms of public reporting – ranging from public relations or advertorials to Government/Economic/Corporate/Academic journalism – are vanishing; commercialization and cross-media, cross-political party mergers have gradually eroded the distinct professional identities of newsrooms and homogenized their brand of journalism (whether in print or broadcast). Trending, away form the ideal that “truth (society) speaks to power”, and trending towards the political design that it is power (of which the media is part) that speaks truth to America. Increasingly, pivoting them towards journalism for the amorphous “American people“ or “The Nation” which, as a consequence, is causing them to lose touch with American people in societies that makes-up a nation called America.

      And while I find blogs, bloggers and comments viscerally interesting, it’s not mainstream (antonym of “MSM“) journalism. That is not meant as a pejorative; it simply emphasizes that blogging “journalism” is more factoid-based opinion rather than primary source, subject matter based expert analysis. While there is, perhaps “a truth” in the information and data that blogs such as NC collectively garner, it is not until someone or some (algorithmic) thing can elicit “truth“ in a consistent, persuasive, repeatable and manner that blogs, predominantly, remain threads of subjective opinions that have yet to coalesce into an ‘objective’ stream of accepted “truth”. An ideal objective towards which, in my own small way, I am willing to participate and contribute.

      1. Lambert Strether

        antonym -> acronym?

        * * *

        Primary sourcing is very, very hard. It’s very hard to reverse engineer truth out of bullshit. The quest for a non-mainstream business model continues…

        1. Claudius

          Mainstream media as an antonym to the pejorative term “MSM”
          So, the quest for a non-MSM business model continues…

          Reversing engineering truth from bullshit is possible .. The NSA’s primary source data-trawling is a testament to that.

          The problem of course is that those who want to reveal the truth, don’t have the computational means – just a collective consciousness of the blogosphere.

  10. Strategist

    It’s interesting how Al Gore’s book “The Future” mentions the ideas of “Manufacturing Consent”, and uses the phrase a few times, but in an exhaustively carefully referenced book, does not mention Chomsky.

  11. Wow...it works

    After a post about “manufacturing consent”-

    “Am I alone in thinking that Chomsky is a lousy author”

    “Well, I don’t really want this to be about me”

  12. RanDomino

    Also, it has to be said that the Propaganda Model is just a hop, skip, and a jump away from an observation of the Society of the Spectacle.

  13. from Mexico

    Two other excellent films are 1) the “Propaganda” segment of “The Power Principle” and 2) “Psywars”, both which are available free on the internet

  14. from Mexico

    There is a dissident school out there that argues that propaganda is not nearly as effective as some of the “Manufacturing of dissent” crowd asserts. Even some of the members of this crowd say that propaganda by itself is insufficient, that it must always be backed up by violence. It is the latter group that dominates policy making in the United States, and that is why we have seen the explosion of the police state in the United States in the past 30 or 40 years.

    South America offers an excellent counter factual to the true believers in the omnipotence of propaganda. Most of the media in countries like Bolivia and Argentina is owned and controlled by the neoliberal elite, and it daily spews all the neoliberal propaganda. Most people, however, have learned just to ignore it. If propaganda is not backed up by the instruments of violence of the state — the police and the military — it seems to loose much of its effectiveness.

    But even then, it is arguable that the combination of propaganda and state violence has its limits. This is what has transpired in some South American countries, like Bolivia and Argentina, where even the combination of propaganda and state violence were insufficient to maintain neoliberal control.

    1. RanDomino

      But those places also don’t have large middle-classes acting as intermediary managers and diverters and providing a reason to blame poor people for being poor- “See, if you just work hard enough you can be middle-class, so it’s your fault”.

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