Manufacturing Consent: A Necessary Framework for Media Consumption

by Mr.Ellipses

So it has occurred to me that if I am to engage in proper media analysis on this blog, that I need to build the proper foundation first. In that, there are conclusions that will be reached in future analysis, that may seem like non sequiturs and thus destined to be misunderstood. That is, if someone is ignorant about the topic of media analysis, then they will not understand or keep up with the various conclusions reached. As such I would have to be forced to either lay out the basics in every single post about media analysis, or build the proper framework now such that everyone will be on the same page.

I hate constantly being stuck at a 101 level because the person I am talking to had not done their HW. As such, in order to bring this conversation to the level that I require… I need to lay out a proper framework that will be necessary for any future analysis of corporate media. That framework, can, in fact, be found in Naom Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent. However, the book is super duper long, and is written in a style that I know most people hate. I would just throw every mther fcker there… but… practically speaking very few will end up taking up that advice and end up looking at the source material. So, let me just instead summarize the very basics that would be found in the book.

Keeping in mind that the propaganda model of the media is a well evidenced but hardly talked about – as the model actually predicts – social structure analysis, we are going to be talking about 5 basic structures and their origins. Chomsky and his co-writer Edward S. Herman detail what they call the 5 filters of the media.

They tell us that all reports that end up reaching out eye, first pass through a set of filters that constantly interact with one another. These filters manage to work in a certain way that leads to cooperate and government views. Meaning, because of the various wealth inequalities and power structures that we will become aware of, the media is destined to produce news that does not check power, but rather, is used to silent dissodant voices and promote the views of the social elite rather than the majority of the American people.

These social structures are so naturally occurring that most people within the news fail to realize that they function in ways that uplift rather than combat propaganda. This should not be surprising to anyone who has any knowledge of social justice and privilege, in that there are in fact vast networks of social structures that promote a culture that is bigoted. We should know that a bigoted culture influences people in various ways, and that this often go unnoticed. Many times peoples behavior is bigoted, and they may not even realize it themselves. Much of the same analysis we used to look at racism in america, is in fact the the same type of forces that dominate and influence the news media.

With that said, lets look at the first filter.

If we take a look at the Media and its development back in history what we will see is that right from the beginning various market forces had a tremendous impact. The industrialization of the media,  in which developing new technology became a practical necessity, made the cost of producing a paper very high. As such, anyone wishing to start a newspaper had to invest in all this industry. Therefore any newcomers were forced to seek a large audience just to beak even in profits. So right from the beginning, the market forces, competition for capital, meant that anyone seeking to start a paper had to have a lot of money to invest in the technology and they had to maintain a large readership to keep up with the bills. Even very small and local newspapers had an exceedingly high investment cost, and thus were almost forced to not stay local.

With this kind of setup, the forces of capitalism acting on the media produced a system in which the poor and the labor class had no chance to get their views out. Instead, the business class and the rich elite are the only ones who had the kind of investment money necessary to produce new media – and thus overtime, this class of people, the elite, started to dominate ownership of various large media organizations.

The evolution of the media, due to market forces, lead to the fact that most of us today are already aware of. That most news organizations are owned by a select group of extremely wealthy families.

Fact is, that mass media is has a heavily concentrated ownership. Only a handful of corporations control about 90% of the media distribution here in the US. If you know your history, you should know that such monopolies are no good. If the owners are the rich and powerful, chances are this is going to influence the way the media operates.

The funny thing about the wealthy is that they tend to want to stay wealthy. As such, the things they produce, are usually geared towards profitability. Now, in order to stay profitable in the face of so many market forces, these media giants are forced into competition. Various things like stockholders, bankers, private investors etc.. whose sole purpose is to focus of the “bottom line” will mean that the press will start to focus on the “bottom line” too – instead, you know, of the pursuit of truth, which is not always so profitable.

Those who refuse to succumb to such market forces are quickly run out of business. The few that are left, start to do what most major operations do to stay competitive… they get all buddy buddy with the investors, with the banks that give them loans, with the government that will give them subsidies, with the stock holders that demand a profit, and with other non-media massive corporations… As such they, out of necessity, build a social web of wealthy and elite organizations, that, in the end, demand a return on investment. This gears the media to extreme degrees in order to maintain profitability.

Thus, we have the first filter: A steep investment requirement and market forces mean that the ones who are going to have control and influence over the media are going to be the onions of the extremely wealthy elite – not the opinions of the working class people.

Lets now look at the second filter.

In the olden days, the price at which you would sell your newspaper depended on the production cost. However, what was quickly found out, was that if you allowed advertisements on your newspaper, this gave you ad revenue. This ad revenue would allow you to offset the price of the product you are selling… in this case news. Ad revenue gave you the opportunity to sell the news at a much cheaper price while maintaining profitability. What this means, is that the newspapers that had large advertising revenues, would be able to sell cheaper compared to the ones that did not.

If market forces dictated that two news producers competed for profit, it means that the old trick of “selling your product for super cheap,” would be able to force your competitors out of the market. That is in fact what we saw done.

Think about that.. the ones who had no ad revenue had to price their news products at a more expensive value, this would lessen sales, and this would mean they would have less profit to work with when reinvesting in the news paper. Overtime, this would mean that those who had ad revue would drive out those who do not. Then, those that were left competed for ad revenue. What they had to do to stay competitive, was then tailor their news to target potential advertisement investors. Who ever could successfully bring in the most investors, had the market value edge, and that edge could be used to drive out the competition.

In order to do that, one would have to target people who had disposable incomes – not the poor. For the poor had no potential for ad revenue – they would not buy the products advertised, and if the investor saw no increase in sales with the advertisement, they would seek a different media outlet that would increase their sales.  Therefore, news organizations began to cater their news towards the target audience that had disposable income, and the more disposable income you had, the more your viewership was valuable. This means the news producers would write about things that are of the interest of the up scale viewers more than the downscale ones. Whoever got the bigger more elite audience, made their advertisers happier, and thus increased ad revenue, and thus use that edge to drive out other news organizations who could not compete.

This would mean that the news producers that printed stories that may anger the more elite viewers, ended up losing profits. Therefore the news producers would more likely print stories that benefited elite ends, rather than working class or poor ends, made it out on top. What this produces was a huge economic incentive for the massive media outlets to keep advertisers happy. This allowed advertising owners who have a specific political bent to control the media by not investing in any media that runs counter to that political leaning – therefore any newspaper arguing for politics of the common man, is going to lose out in the long run.

Advertisers are also not fond of complex and controversial programming that work against what they call the “buying mood.” As such, less serious programming will be preferenced, rather than more serious programming. So instead of looking at a decisive issue that might kill your buzz from buying the next can of coke, they would rather news producers talk about the next celebrity baby or something or other.

So the second filter we looked see that: Ad-revenue provides incentives for the media to produce things that target the more social elite, dis-incentives for coverage of controversial issues or issues that work towards the working class and against the business interests.

With those two in place lets look at the third filter.

The fact is that actual investigative journalism is hard. It takes a lot of time to get interviews and to gather research material. It takes a lot of skill to be able to navigate a topic, weed out the facts, and then to write about it in such a way that your audience will care enough to read your work. Combine that with the competitive demand of a daily news cycle and you get almost impossible deadlines to get real, heavily sourced, and accurate, news out there.

Lets say you own this daily news paper, and you have to get a new article out everyday just to stay competitive. What do you do? Well, as it turns out you are going to send your limited number of reporters to places where you think news will happen. You will send them to places that make getting news easy, and make sourcing material even easier. What kinds of places will that be?

Well as it turns out there is this place over there that is holding a “press conference” or that war over there that is offering free security towards “embedded reporters.” Inside that place, they give photo opportunities, give speeches directed at the press ready to be quoted by them in a story, they give transcripts of the entire speech, they hold a question and answer round for reporters, and to top it off they give proper sources that stem from powerful institutions with credible voices. If you go there, your investigative reporting job is made much easier.. why not go there?

Well, as it turns out, because of the demands of daily news, and the hard work required to do real investigative journalism, most journalist choose to take the easier route above. This is the third filter: The way in which the press sources its material.

You see, governments and corporations spend absurd amounts of money to make things easy for the massive news media. They have entire sections of their corporate or government structures devoted to a sole purpose of “media relations.” They set up interviews and press events, they even chose to leak materiel to the press that turns out to be mutually beneficial. They get the press addicted to “access” and use that power to shape the way the news is brought to the public. What you think they spend that much money to make sure the truth gets out there? Or perhaps do they spend that much money to ensure their versions of the truth get gobbled up by the public? Take a guess.

Corporations and government institutions sue their money and status to give this allure of “prestige” and “official” capacity.. and as such, using them as source material, also grants the press coverage of it, this same “prestige” and “official” look. This look is like heroine to reporters. They love to have “official sources” and love to get that interview with this rich and powerful man that no other media might get. It is that addiction to “access” that allows for a lot of social pull. I mean, if you take away any “access” from media sources that refuse to play ball and develop a mutually beneficial relationship… this sets up a very easy way to weed out any overly critical media. They print a negative story? Cut their access, and then watch them squirm to meet daily deadlines and lose out to their competitors who have “official sources and leaks.”

It is when you have this huge conglomerate of media relations funded by government and corporate interests – because they are the only ones who have that kind of money to fund media interest programs – you begin to see the media depends on these sorts of press conferences just to meet their daily deadlines… and when they develop this type of relationship, you bet this is going to give some leverage to government and corporate institutions on not only what gets published in the news, those neat planned soundbites, but also which media institution get punished for not playing ball.

With the third filter in place, let look at the forth.

The forth is flak. What is flak? Well when you do something wrong.. you catch a lot of flak. In this case, when the media does something someone disapproves of, people give them flak.

In fact, with each filter we have talked about previously, we have seen how each filter alone is able to also give flak. With the first filter, the owners can produce flak. In order to keep a news paper going you are going to have to depend on wealthy owners. It is those wealthy owners that will be able to produce flak. It is their business after all, and they have a say on what is printed and what is not. With the second filter, it is the the advertisers that produce flak. If the paper does not produce news to the advertisers liking they can pull their ads. In the third filter, it is the media relations arm of the government or corporate structures that illicit flak. They can deny access and effectually starve media institutions that are too critical on them.

Notice how the ability to produce flak is correlated with how much political or economic power one has? This means that the poor or labor class has very little ability to produce flak and thus are very unlikely to be able to influence what the media produces… meanwhile the rich and powerful can produce flak effectively and thus have this uncanny ability to influence what goes out in print and what does not.

Finally the fifth filter, is the ideology around anticommunism, and in modern times, around the US antiterrorism.

This filter is straight up made of fear and fuzy definitions. You see most Americans do not know what communism is, they have not read the manifesto or das capital.. they have no real idea what it is, but they know one thing.. it is evil and anyone or any country that propagates those ideas are either fools or enemies. It is the same with terrorism.. most Americans have no idea what terrorism is, or how it is defined… all they know is that anyone who attacks the United States or its allies is a terrorist, and anything the US does, by definition, can not be associated with terrorism.

All Americans know about those two words.. is that nothing good can come from them. As such, anyone even slightly associated with those words needs to be condemned without question. It is the fuzzy definitions that allow entire countries to be balled as enemies as a result of their so called “association” with “communist activities” or “terrorist activities”… but never is any hard evidence brought to bear. All one needs to do is invoke fear within the general public.. and you can pass the patriot act, you can build the NSA spy station without notice, you can go in and overthrow democratically elected governments in Latin america, and you can block medical supplies that the Cuban people, or Palestinians need to live. You can do all these things by simply labeling any movement you do not like as communist or terrorists and pretty much any action will be sanctioned.

With these five filters in place… we can see how the cooperate media is not in any position at all to be the overseas of truth and are not in any real position of power to check corporate nor government action. Instead, what we would expect of the Mass media, is to have them propagate ideologies of the elite… or to use an academic term to take part in modern propaganda campaigns.

It is only through our analysis of various political economies and social power structures, that allow us to see the role of the Mass Media and how that role has been there for decades. The idea of the free press serving the common man is long dead, and Noam Chomsky and Edward S Herman, in their book, go through great pains to detail all the evidence to prove this very point. I highly suggest you give it a go… because what these fairly uncontroversial social structures I have shown you produce…. is something that is so astonishing that you would only believe it when you have seen all the evidence in favor of the propaganda model. For now though, this introduction will suite my purpose when I explore how the Mass Media betrays the people at almost every turn.