Manufacturing Consent: The Poltical Economy of Mass Media (Betty Mattei)


Manufacturing Consent: the Political Economy of Mass Media by Edward S. Herman and Naom Chomsky is a 1988 analysis of American mass media, describing the effects of news media on the functions of democracy. In Manufacturing Consent Chomsky develops the propaganda model with ‘five filters’ or five elements that distort and work to control– inovertly, as Chomsky argues– the mass media.

Manugactorinconsent2Within this analysis Chomsky talks about human nature’s need for creativity and natural aptitude for being creative, yet within modern democracy the American people have become “cogs in the machine” as an elite 20% control what we are ‘fed’ via news media. He argues that the rest of the people, the 80%, are divided and pinned against one another. Chomsky sums up his argument with, “Propaganda is to democracy what violence is to dictatorship.” In short he implies that propaganda is the democratic way of coercion. It is subtle, inovert, and creates a system of self-censorship as we are ‘sweetly’ coerced by our media into what to think and practice. Chomsky’s analysis has since been updated to incorporate the War on Terror into his propaganda model and self-censorship argument.

Since its publication in the late 80s, Manufacturing Consent has functioned as a point of argument for leftist political groups. The book has been made into a movie, as well as a conference for enthusiasts. The book has faced harsh criticism and even been outlawed in countries such as Turkey because of its thought-provoking nature that has ended in citizen unrest.

In 2004  the Anti-Chomsky Reader was published by several writers and editors including Peter Collier and David Horowitz. In this counter-argument to Manufacturing Chomsky’s analysis of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Communism are broken down and essentially dismantled based both on Chomsky’s apparent “lack of knowledge” and use of vague linguistics.

Chomsky’s famous propaganda model was also debunked because of his failure to acknowledge the American people’s ability to voice their opinions through editorials and independent media as well as not explaining the wide availability of opinion-based news reporting (FOX vs CNN vs MSNBC).

After my brief amount of research I have to admit that my own opinions about Manufacturing are definitely still premature. While Chomsky presents a well-written, thought-provoking argument that may bare some weight, he tend towards the extreme and has a way of avoiding facts that contradict his argument rather than incorporating them. He has such strong feelings about the corruption behind the American mass media and, while that may be true, he does not wholly address the civil liberties we are granted through our Constitution. Before investigating the arguments of The Anti-Chomsky Reader, Chomsky indeed had me fully convinced!



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