on 5 June 2013
This book was recommended to me by someone I was having a discussion with when I expressed my frustration about how our media consistently toe the government line and frame the discussion in such a way as to absolve our countries of any culpability in the horrific suffering we've inflicted on others - wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya are all fine examples.
I couldn't figure out how our media consistently follow a very similar line, regardless of whether they are supposedly left or right-wing publications (that we are good and are bringing freedom, regardless of our very clear real motives, and our chosen victims who are evil and ridiculous). In this book, Chomsky and Herman define a propaganda model for modern capitalist societies that explains how and why this is so. They also provide some fascinating and eye-opening examples and case studies that are meticulously backed up with their sources (so you're not just getting their opinion on the matter). The discussions of El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and others are very well structured and are easy to read.
In conclusion, I would say that if you've identified that we get an extremely skewed representation of the news in our media and want to know why that is, this book is pure gold.
Also, the book was written in the late 1980s, and I was amazed that as I read it so many of the examples could have easily been applied to how our media reports the current Syrian civil war where there are very strong vested interests for Western nations. It's proof of a sound model and a timeless book. One of the most enlightening I've ever read, and to counter some of the comments about "conspiracy theories" - this book clearly is not supporting that.
I once wrote an article which was eventually published in the local newspaper with the subject title. It concerned my interactions with NY Times columnist, Tom Friedman, and how the "balanced" statement which I have made to him was transformed, through his unique alchemy, into a very one-sided statement that fit his pre-conceived ideas, and was published in one of his columns to reinforce those ideas. Yes, I was "misquoted," in concept, if not in fact. But my interest in the subject of what becomes news, and what does not, predated the above interaction by many years. Regrettably, it was only recently when I purchased and read this book. The central theme is an examination of what and how the news in made, particularly in the United States, and just as importantly, what is omitted (left on the cutting room floor, as the movie industry has it.)
This book was first published in the late `80's, and this edition contains a 36 page introduction which was written in 2002. Herman and Chomsky are listed as co-authors, and I struggled with the question of which one wrote more of the book: I believe it was Edward Herman. The book has numerous strengths. Remember that it was written long before the era of the purported "fair and balanced" reporting of Fox News, and therefore addressing the truly "low-hanging fruit" of Fox's biased coverage is not included. Much of the book looks at what we refer to as our "newspaper of record," the New York Times. Their thesis is rather provocative: much of our "news" should be viewed as propaganda, just as we KNOW the "news" issued by various totalitarian regimes is propaganda. To test this thesis, they utilize a method that involves establishing what they call dichotomies: observe how a single event is reported in at least two disparate news sources, one usually outside the United States; the other is to observe the reporting on largely similar events, but one event occurs to a population deemed "hostile" to the United States, the other event occurs to a "friendly" nation. There is an entire chapter on "worthy" and "unworthy" victims.
The analysis is performed on events that occur in the `60's, `70's and `80's, and frankly some of the events had slipped off my "memory radar" (if it was ever there in the first place!); other events I intensely remember, in part, due to my personal participation. As one example that the authors examine in detail is the treatment of the murder of Jerzy Popieluszko, a Polish priest, and that is juxtaposed with the murder of Archbishop Romero, as well that of four American nuns in El Salvador. Replete with extensive tables that document the coverage, the murder of a Polish priest received many times more coverage, since it occurred in a country that America, at the time, viewed as "hostile," (since it was part of the Soviet bloc), whereas the murder, even of Americans, in an American client state was downplayed. Numerous other examples were also provided, including the shooting down of a civilian airliner by Israel, and how that was juxtaposed with the same incident done by the Soviet Union. Examination of the news from elections in Nicaragua (hostile) and Guatemala (friendly) were likewise compared. Another entire chapter involved the completion fabrication of a KGB-Bulgarian connection behind the attempted assassination of the Pope by a right-wing Turkish fanatic (I had completely forgotten about this incident... in terms of sheer fabrication, it is an important one to remember.)
The last third of the book, or so, detailed media coverage of the American wars in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. Most of the analysis I felt was correct, and corresponded to the recollections of my own participation. However there was one glaring mistake, on page 183, where the authors claimed: "From January 1965, the United States employed Korean mercenaries, some 300,000 in all, who carried out brutal atrocities in the South." (Note: throughout most of the war the Koreans only had one division of troops, some 7,000 or so, the ROK "Tiger" division. It operated in Binh Dinh province, where I was). Furthermore, for 20 pages or so, the author, or authors appeared to have a running feud with author William Shawcross, of Sideshow: Kissinger, Nixon and the Destruction of Cambodia and other books. After reading these pages, it was still unclear to me what the feud was all about; certainly, overall, they seemed to be making much the same points, and Shawcross's book on Cambodia remains an essential read on that war. I also thought comments about Senator Eugene McCarthy were somewhat churlish.
Overall, even with the passage of time (or perhaps because this book has withstood the passage of time, as is even more true today, in the era of Fox News), this is a very important read for one interested in the "food chain" of how we are fed the news. Please overlook some of the flaws. 4-stars.
on 3 November 2011
Having had a an avid interest in the mainstream media for some years now and having read quite a few books on the subject over the years I can say without hesitation that Manufacturing Consent is the best book I have ever read on the subject.
The power of the media in shaping perceptions about current and past events should need little explanation in itself as I'm sure anyone who is interested in the subject would agree.The question is who is behind the shaping of public opinion and why is it so important to them that we see things in very specific ways.
Manufacturing Consent presents a lucid and compelling case about how the mainstream media serves powerful special interest groups within our societies and prevents us, the general public , from applying the same standards to all situations and all parties via a set of media " filters " that have an enormous effect on public perceptions
The first chapter sketches out a " propaganda model " that is applied to various situations and incidents covered by the mainstream media ranging from the highly selective treatment of elections in Central America , alleged state plans to assassinate the Pope , state terrorism , worthy and unworthy victims through to the Vietnam war and much more in between.
The book is complete with a thorough end notes section from a wide range of sources and is a absolute must read for any who wish to see through the smoke and mirrors that obscure some ugly truths about the service to power the mainstream media provides in our " free " societies.You will never see the media in the same light again !!
on 21 June 2009
I'm not a fan of writing long reviews, so I'll just state that Chomsky and Herman do a phenomenal job of contrasting, what Chomsky calls, the 'hypocracy' in American politics. Namely the US focusing on their enemy's crimes, and overlooking its own crimes.
on 5 July 2004
"This book centers in what we call a "Propaganda Model", an analytical framework that attempts to explain the performance of the U.S. media in terms of the basic institutional structures and relationships within they operate. It is our view that, among their other functions, the media serve, and propagandize on behalf of, the powerful social interests that control and finance them.... In our view the...underlying power sources that own the media and fund them as advertisers, that serve as primary definers of the news, and that produce flak and proper thinking experts, also play a key role in fixing basic principles and the dominant ideologies. We believe that what journalists do, what they see as newsworthy, and what they take for granted...are...well explained by the incentives, pressures, and constraints incorporated into such a structural analysis."
Noam Chomsky (MIT)
and Edward Herman (Wharton Business School)
From the Introduction
Next to the Bible, Joseph Campbell's THE POWER OF MYTH and FOR YOUR OWN GOOD, the seminal work of psychologist Alice Miller, every single American home should have this book. Perhaps to a greater extent than even much of the other work of Noam Chomsky, MANUFACTURING CONSENT reveals the irony of where a truly moral path leads in our world. Meaning, the religious/moral paradigms of Christian Conservatism, embraced in the inner world of personal integrity and "family values" and followed to their obvious conclusion--our outer world structured by commerce and international politics--leads one invariably to finding GOD somewhere on the left of America's political center; far and away from the Limbaugh-isms on American conservative radio. Anything less is either cancerous cynicism or delusional hypocrisy.
"'Genocide' is an invidious word that officials apply readily to cases of victimization in enemy states, but rarely if ever to similar or worse cases of victimization by the United States itself or allied regimes. Thus, with Saddam Hussein and Iraq having been U.S. targets in the 1990s, whereas Turkey has been an ally and client and the United States its major arms supplier as IT engaged in its severe ethnic cleansing of Kurds during those years, we find...Turkey's treatment of its Kurds was in no way less murderous than Iraq's treatment of Iraqi Kurds, but for (U.S. Ambassador) Peter Galbraith, Turkey only 'represses,' while Iraq engages in'genocide.'"
From the Introduction (emphasis mine)
This 2002 edition of the 1980s MANUFACTURING CONSENT has a new introduction written by the authors that includes some important words about the current Administration and foreign policy, as well the power of the Internet to affect the Media's status quo. But lest you think the bulk of this work is dated, trust me; their analysis has only become more accurate with the Clinton and Bush Administrations. The writers don't need to add specific revelations about, say, Enron, the true cause of 9/11 and the current secret war in Afghanistan to prove their point.
(For example, see their comparative analysis of the painfully ironicrelationship of the U.S. government with the Latin-American terrorist states Guatemala and El Salvador [we supported them militarily] and its adversarial relationship with the actual [though politically inconvenient] democracy Nicaragua during the Reagan years. Then compare this provable reality to the Media's Orwellian, fun-house mirror images and writings, as Chomsky and Herman show them to be. It is chilling. Through more than dozens of easily documented but heretofore underanalysed examples, the writers show how the dominant U.S. press (New York Times, Washington Post, CBS News, etc.) so often becomes the propaganda tool of the U.S.government that only an analysis of this degree would help you to understand what must be its obvious actual function. This work, in fact, may be the only book that could prepare you or anyone well enough to readthe revelations of investigative journalist Gary Webb in his book DARK ALLIANCE, the book that gives the full documented proof of the story that ironically ended his career in the 1990's: his discovery of the origins of America's Crack Cocaine era in "IranContra" and Reagan's CIA.)
What the book lacks can be seen as a product of its internationally political perspective. The raison d'etre of this book is indeed all but stated outright with its final chapters on Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam during and after the Vietnam War. (One could painfully envision Thomas Mann writing a similarly structured expose of the German media during World War Two, ending with documented proof of the otherwise hidden "final solution" for the Jews.) Through this they climactically prove, unquestionably, that the popular story of the Media's East-of-Eden break with Government & propaganda at this time in American history is, simply, a very useful myth. However, while Rachel Carson, Ralph Nader and several other consumer advocates over the 20th Century are mentioned by them in this introduction, the kind of "muckraking" examples you'd expect in that context, regarding the purposely unreported crimes of big business (like those of the chemical, fast food and oil industries)--despite their adverse affects on human health and American culture--are almost conspicuously missing from this work. I would suggest, as a companion book, INTO THE BUZZSAW by investigative journalist Christina Borjesson, with its powerful Introduction by Gore Vidal.
Just the same, I cannot imagine an honest critique of this book's contents that would not smack of a sincere desire (subconscious or otherwise) to belied to, such that a primitive, cultish, cynically comfortable but inevitably destructive definition of American patriotism can have some illusion of moral validity. The opening chapters set you up so clearly and powerfully for their revealing of the U.S. supported holocaust of Indochina--again, displayed as final proof of their Propaganda Model's ubiquity--that you cannot help but walk away from this book with both an enlightened mind, and a broken heart.
Agree or disagree with this book's premise, after reading MANUFACTURING CONSENT you will not be able to read the newspaper or watch CNN with the same naiveté again. That alone makes it a treasure.
on 13 July 2000
If i were too say that the managers of General Motors or Ford aim to maximise market share and profits......is that a conspiracy on their part ? ......hardly. Similarily corporate mangers whether in governemt, media or other instituitions will act in way to marginalise public participation because it is their job to do so. Otherwise their major shareholers which tend to large corporations or mulinationals will remove them from office. Witness the problems that would occur if the Car industry admitted its major role in contributing to global warming. Chomsky and Herman have conducted an instituitional analysis of the mass and major media. They have found that it is dominated by large coporations who set the agenda and limits of debate of the news...the smaller newspapers and radio / tv media companies then tend to follow very closely their chosen stories. And they have further found that the market for the news media is not the general public but advertisers and the product is not the news but rather the consumers who buy the products the advertisers sell. So you have large companies selling relatively priveleged audiences (we are talking of the big papers, TV, radio etc) to other large companies who wish to offer various products, financial and otherwise. In such a situation the newspapers are hardly going to rock the boat buy holding to account the very the very companiers which provide the main source of there income.......advertisers....when they commit corporate crime. An excllent book when the film of the same name opened in Seatlle it out grossed Indecent Proposal on its opening night !......that tells you what people what people will really watch when given the chance....and why cultural managers fear the general public so much.
on 30 August 2006
In 'Manufacturing Consent', Herman and Chomsky provide a very powerful analysis of the way in which the 'corporate' media distort the reality of world events. The pair are +not+ conspiracy therorists, a label they are often dismissed with, but rather posit a number of ways in which journalists and editors unconsciously but inevitably serve the interests of those in power. The model of the media they present is supported by an overwhelming volume of citations, often from declassified government documents, and this characteristic rigor of research seems to leave very little room in which their opponents might manoeuver. However, these opponents have the power of repetition, and unfortunately this wins over reason and evidence almost every time; hence the bizarre beliefs of much of the Amerrican public.
The 'Propoganda Model' (PM) of the mass media posits five 'filters' which serve to emphasize those elements of the news favourable to the American elite (i.e. the goverment and the corporate interests that it serves), and edit out those that show it in a bad light. These are: "(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 goverment, 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." In the first two chapters, the authors expound the model that arises from these premises. In the remaing chapters they examine a number of case studies, including examples from Central America and Indochina, comparing the written records of the time - e.g. CIA reports, NGO investigations, foreign media sources - with the reports that appeared in the American press and television. These data (often quantifiable things such as column inches or number of front page articles) fit with convincing accuracy the predictions of the PM.
The presentation of the book is scientific in style: a hypothesis is suggested, and (overwhelming) evidence to support it is cited. These citations are what gives the PM its avantage over its rival model (i.e. that the media are agressive and noble seekers of the truth, who know no boundaries). As I said in the introduction, this rival model's persuasiveness lies only in the frequency with which it is repeated or implied. Of course the same could be said for the belief that the earth is flat; we have come to accept (or at least so we claim) that if we are given evidence that a conventional belief is flawed, we should reject it. This book, with its huge body of objective evidence, constitutes insurmountable proof that this rival theory is indeed fatally flawed, and should therefore be abandoned. The facts that this remains unacknowledged, and that the book's authors are patronised, fit perfectly the predictions of the PM.
I strongly recommend that you read this book: if you do so with an open mind, it will deepen your understanding, or shatter your illusions, depending on your current standpoint. However, for those falling into the latter category, i.e. those largely unfamiliar with Chomsky's thinking, I would recommend that you start out (as I did) with 'Understanding Power', which is somewhat boader in scope, dealing in addition with aspects of society other than the media. For those interested in how the British media compare with the American, the editors of 'medialens.org' have just produced a book called 'Guardians of Power' which I believe applies the PM to Britain, though I am yet to read it. Please do give 'Manufacturing Consent' a try; it is a true mile-stone in twentieth century thought, picking up with passion where Orwell left off.
on 17 November 2015
Difficult to write a review that would do this book justice. The propaganda model that is put forth in this book has been thoroughly researched and is very well fleshed out with both an extensive appendix and sources. I have looked for critiques of this book, however as I have not found any yet of academic quality, and considering that I am hardly an expert on the topic, it is difficult for me to make one either. The only thing that I will say is that you need to be aware of the context that this work was written in and the date it was published, 1988. Internet has greatly changed several aspects of the Media since the time this book was published, however (unfortunately) this book is still highly relevant.
If you are a Westerner and are unfamiliar with the main thesis of this work, or media studies in general (Edward Bernays for e.g.), then this book might very well revolutionize your understanding of the World that you and everyone one else on this planet lives in. A word of warning for younger readers or those unfamiliar with Chomsky, this is most definitely a work of academic writing. While it is certainly one of the most engagingly written academic works I have read, it of course maintains the necessary objectivity and measured nature of its genre so it might appear dull if you are not experienced with academic literature (use this sentence as an example). If you are worried it might be to dull for you to read, then I would always recommend Orwell's great work of fiction "1984" as a great first book to read as it is universally thrilling.
Manufacturing Consent is Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman's devastating critique of a complacent mainstream mass media. The book analyses prominent stories from the 1980s and samples much commentary from newspapers such as the New York Times and finds a disturbing consensus that permeates through the media market, a market that promotes itself to the public as being open, unbiased, independent of and fiercely critical of, establishment power.
The truth, according to Herman and Chomsky, is that due to a convergence of several key factors such as newspaper ownership patterns, the huge influence of advertising and what the media call 'credible sources of news', the mainstream mass media presents a highly distorted impression of what is and isn't news and how that news is selectively framed, interpreted and presented to the consumer - 'consumer' because news media don't sell news to the public, they sell consumers to advertisers.
What Chomsky and Herman are at pains to point out is that this is not a conspiracy theory - no one tells Jeremy Paxman or Andrew Marr what to write or write about - they don't have to be told because they wouldn't have ascended the corporate media ladder if they hadn't already successfully internalised all the underlying assumptions beforehand.
Perhaps where the book falls down is that it is a product of its time: many of the key case studies have been drawn from the 1980s, such as the difference in how the media presented pro-democracy revolutions in Eastern Europe (they supported them as the pro-democracy movement opposed an Official Enemy of the United States, the victims of the Soviet army (or their proxies) were mourned and the leaders of the revolutions courted) compared to pro-democracy revolutions in Central America (the media opposed them as the dictators who ran countries like El Salvador were by default democrats because the U.S. supported them, the victims in the death-squad democracies were neglected (even if they were American nuns) and the leaders of the pro-democracy revolutions were slandered, misrepresented or simply ignored). However, the lessons that Herman and Chomsky draw out from these studies have ramifications beyond their individual cases and can be readily applied to comparisons betwixt, say, democratic mutterings from the media on Iran or North Korea, compared to their commentary on the same subject on Pakistan or Saudi Arabia.
If you are a journalist, student of media or journalism, or simply have an interest in how the news is put together, this book should be your key text.
on 3 November 2015
The first chapter, his model of propaganda, is disturbing but essential reading. Only the brave need attempt to read the rest of the book chapter by chapter: the odd chapter read in detail is enough to convince you that there are data available to support his argument and to give you sleepless nights.