“Manufacturing Consent” 25 Years Later
Edward S. Herman (co-author with Noam Chomsky of “Manufacturing Consent’): All the problems of the propaganda media model we talked about in the book have grown worse; new media like Real News show potential but need funding for more investigative journalism
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore.
Twenty-five years ago, a book titled Manufacturing Consent, written by Noam Chomsky and his coauthor Edward S. Herman, the book broke new ground in analyzing the media and what they called the propaganda model.
Now joining us to talk about the significance of the book then and now is Edward S. Herman. Edward is an economist, a media analyst, a prolific author. For many years he was a professor at the Wharton School at Penn. Among his many books are Manufacturing Consent, also Corporate Control, Corporate Power, The Politics of Genocide.
Thanks very much for joining us, Edward.
EDWARD S. HERMAN, ECONOMIST AND MEDIA ANALYST: Good to be with you, Paul.
JAY: Why do you think the book made such a splash? And I wonder if you expected it when you wrote it. It was–did you think it was more an academic piece? Because it became essentially a very popular book. It inspired a documentary film. And it’s one of the landmark books of the last 25 years.
HERMAN: It didn’t make a big mark in the mainstream media. It did make a mark on the left. But even there there was quite a bit of debate, because the idea of a structural model that shows that the media do what they do because of deep structural factors and the idea that it wasn’t going to be easy to change ran counter to what a lot of leftists or liberals thought. They thought that you could reform the media rather easily by rather modest legislation that would make for a fairness rule. But the propaganda model–Manufacturing Consent argues that there are deep-seated factors at work here, and these aren’t going to be changed by simple liberal reforms.
JAY: And talk a bit about what you consider those deep-seated factors. And to what extent do they still exist? Or have they changed?
HERMAN: The propaganda model is a structural model. Its features are–it features ownership, who owns the media, the fact that it is based on advertising as the main funding source. The main sources for the media are powerful people in the United States–Pentagon officials and corporate officials and so on. Another factor in the model is the extent to which negative feedback, flak, comes also from powerful people. And then another element in the model is that there’s a basic ideology in the United States–anticommunism, the belief in the free market–and these are accepted by the mainstream media people.
So we have this set of factors that make up the propaganda model, and they are powerful factors. They still are relevant today.
Some people think that the new media, which has somewhat displaced the old media, is going to make for change. But the interesting fact is that the old media did a lot of journalism. It wasn’t good journalism, but the old media–newspapers, magazines especially–had investigative journalists. And with the rise of the new media, the new media’s absorbing a lot of the advertising, so the old media, the newspapers are well known to be in a crisis. They’re losing ads and they’re cutting back journalistic staff on a huge scale, and the new media’s not picking up the slack.
But I thought and a lot of people thought that the new media meant they were going to have to do more democratic media. But media concentration has grown in the new media. And a lot of new media is what is called social media. It involves a lot of personal connections and ego-building, and it doesn’t do investigative journalism. Google, Facebook, these outfits are not very–they don’t do investigative journalism to any significant degree. They gather stuff from others and they sell it, and they want to sell it to advertising. So in the new media, you’ve had a competition for advertising with the old media, and the new media spent an awful lot of time figuring out how to place ads.
JAY: If you go back to the mainstream newsrooms–and I’ve been in–you know, I’ve worked in them and around them for many years, and one of the things that always hit me, especially in American newsrooms, is that there seems to be a fundamental belief amongst the journalists themselves that American foreign policy always had at its root a good intent. It was for some kind of democratization, it was against some form of tyranny, and that all the sort of terrible things that happened along the way were, like, mistakes at the level of some individuals made policy mistakes, or one particular administration, maybe the Bush administration, did some awful things, but essentially from Truman on there’s good intent. And to what extent do you think that’s linked to the sort of structural factors you’re talking about?
HERMAN: I think it’s very deeply connected, because those structural factors mean that on, say, sourcing, on where you get your news, you go to the officials, you go to the State Department, you go to the Pentagon to find out the truth. And the owners are conservative folks. They’re very rich folks. And the flak, the flak, the negative feedback comes mainly from officials, Pentagon officials and powerful right-wing sources, and the underlying ideology which arises from the power structure–communism is really bad, free markets are really good; we’re supporting those things, those are our objectives, and therefore we’re good.
Actually, I think it goes back a long way, Paul. But I think that the idea of we were good and superior, you go back and read Teddy Roosevelt and his views, we’re the natural superior. This has been an ingrained–pretty much ingrained, but it’s part of ideology, and the whole power structure reflects it. And as we become an empire, well, of course we must be trying to do good. The media are simply–they’re part of the political economy. They’re reflecting what the deeper forces, the transnational corporations, the government officials, what they want.
JAY: And you see a situation where even to this day Dick Cheney can go on television shows and be interviewed and say, oh, all the intelligence agencies thought there were weapons of mass destruction, as if it wasn’t a deliberate deception. And we know so much now, both the Downing Street Memo–the British intelligence in fact didn’t think there were weapons of mass destruction, and, in fact, even the American intelligence agencies didn’t think [incompr.] they’re essentially bullied into it. But the media still allows him to say these things, and not just him. And then with President Obama, you know, after critiquing the war because it was a stupid war, there’s no accountability in the media towards President Obama, how he didn’t call Cheney, Bush into account for an illegal war and kind of adopted it as his own and carried on the same policy now. And the media just–you know, Gore Vidal had this line about U.S.A. being the United States of Amnesia. The media so plays along with that, although individual journalists you talk to, they certainly know better.
HERMAN: A lot of the individual journalists do know better, but the ones that really rise to the top are the ones that will read or accept the dominant view. So you’re quite right. They actually have been amazing. You know.
In spite of the new media and this supposed development of the democratic order, when Bush wanted to go to war in 2003, he could lie, and the lies would not be contested. I mean, The Times and The Post both sort of apologized for not having been more critical, but there were lots of people, Paul, who had an alternative view, and it was extremely easy to show that the Bush claims of weapons of mass destruction probably held by Iraq were invalid. But the people who could say that were kept away.
JAY: So in terms of developing the new media–and I guess we’re part of that at The Real News–there is an opening here that didn’t exist before. I mean, the internet does make possible The Real News and other independent news outlets who are saying these sorts of things that won’t get said on mainstream television. But I think what you’re saying–and I think it’s true it’s still a very small segment of the population that we get access to. But, I mean, the challenge, I think, for us is that we’re–you know, have to accept this world isn’t going to change, like, mainstream news isn’t going to change, and it is up to us to figure out how to get to large numbers of people.
HERMAN: Absolutely so. But I think you’re doing an important job, because the mainstream media does not allow alternative viewpoints. It’s true that we need more investigative journalism, and The Real News Network probably, if it had more money, would do so. But the next best thing is to get on the program people who maybe have done investigative work, or at least have a viewpoint that can’t get in The New York Times. That’s where Real News Network can be very constructive and is very constructive.
JAY: Yeah, I agree with that. In fact, we’re just discussing now with creating a sort of little conglomerate of independent news outlets, where we’re all going to collaborate and try to raise some money to create an investigative fund for doing just what you’re talking about.
HERMAN: Good. That will be wonderful.
JAY: So just final thoughts 25 years after the book. Any other reflection you have?
HERMAN: Well, I think things don’t look good, Paul, because we’re in a war system and have war mixed with patriotism. The government is very powerful and aggressive. Concentration in the media keeps increasing. The internet has proved to be a disappointment, but it still has some potential.
But I think still, Paul, what we really need: a rise of democracy. I mean, we need a democratic order.
The sad fact, the tragic fact is that we’ve got–had more inequality, and that has affected the political system. So we have moved to the right. And the right-wingers don’t want a more democratic media. They don’t even want a fairness doctrine, let alone a system that I think would be good of actually subsidizing an independent media. That would be a terrific thing, but I’m afraid it’s still in the distance.
Underlying it all we need a more democratic order, where the public’s interests can actually feed into the political process. The trouble is that there’s an interaction: if you have a rotten media, they won’t allow more democratization. And without more democratization, it’s hard to get a better media. But we have to still keep fighting for that end.
JAY: Alright. Thanks very much for joining us, Edward.
HERMAN: Thank you, Paul.
JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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