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manufacturing consent

At almost three hours long, the classic documentary 'Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media' (1992) by Mark Achbar and Peter Wintonick, provides a good introduction to Chomsky's ideas on (American) politics and (corporate) media. Though given Chomsky's own insistence on nuance and getting the facts straight, it can't replace the book it was based on, or the pile of others he's written on the subject.

The book, 'Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media', cowritten by Edward S. Herman, described a propaganda model of the media, stating that commercial media are inherently biased since they are market-driven and therefore will tend to further (or at least not obstruct) the interests of their advertisers. Later documentaries like 'Outfoxed' have presented more glaring examples of this tendency.

Far from being a conspiracy, the propaganda model is merely "an outcome of the workings of market forces":

Most biased choices in the media arise from the preselection of right-thinking people, internalized preconceptions, and the adaptation of personnel to the constraints of ownership, organization, market, and political power. Censorship is largely self-censorship, by reporters and commentators who adjust to the realities of source and media organizational requirements, and by people at higher levels within media organization who are chosen to implement, and have usually internalized, the constraints imposed by proprietary and other market and governmental centers of power.

However, the manufacture of consent - a phrase from Walter Lippman - has another dimension. As media are dependent on major news sources like the government to fill their programs and papers, they are vulnerable not only to spin but also to selection and domination of certain news facts to the exclusion of others. A large portion of the book is devoted to painstakingly researched case studies counting and comparing news appearances of different events.

In this context Chomsky and Herman cite the Parkinsonian-sounding "principle of bureaucratic affinity", which states that "only other bureaucracies can satisfy the input needs of a news bureaucracy." If the previous point was relevant only for commercially owned media, this one holds for public media as well. The cluttered Dutch media landscape of today is a good example, with increasingly large amounts of airtime and column space being devoted to what certain people said in other media. Thus one news fact is kept alive for days by just getting responses to responses to responses to what wasn't a very interesting statement in the first place.

Anyway... Watch 'Manufacturing Consent' online (partly out of sync) or download it (.avi).

The film includes a brief excerpt from a debate between Chomsky and Michel Foucault, held in the Netherlands in 1971. (More excerpts from this debate can be found here and here, and a full transcript here.)

It also includes some curious exerpts from another appearance of Chomsky in the Netherlands, in a 1988 debate with liberal politician Frits Bolkestein, organized by the NRC. (The individual piece can be seen here.)

Chomsky.info contains a great many other interviews and articles.


the shock doctrine

What to think of this short film by Alfonso Cuarón and Naomi Klein , ' The Shock Doctrine '? Without having read the book of the same title that the film is meant to introduce, it all sounds rather heavy-handed and conspiratio… Read the full post »

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