Manufacturing Consent | Edward S. Herman

Summary of: Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media
By: Edward S. Herman

Introduction

Dive into the world of media manipulation and uncover the hidden forces that influence the information we consume daily. In the book summary of ‘Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media,’ you’ll discover the inner workings of mass media and how powerful elites shape our opinions. Explore the use of a ‘propaganda model’ to filter news and information, the role of advertising in shaping media coverage, and the reliance on government organizations as the primary sources of news. Learn about the power of flak, the ideology of anti-communism, and the influence of ‘experts’ on our perception of events. This enlightening summary exposes the biased nature of media coverage and challenges us to think critically about the information presented to us.

Media’s Alleged Elite Bias

The media often appear to criticize the ruling elite on certain occasions, such as the Watergate scandal. However, this criticism is only limited to representing one group of the elite against another. The media suppresses or ignores criticisms that come from non-elite groups versus elite groups. So-called criticism by the media is never directed towards the ruling elite. The Watergate scandal is a prime example of this since the media pursued Richard Nixon and his accomplices, who victimized the Democrats, a political party that represented the elite. The media remained silent when the government illegally spied on the Socialist Workers Party, a non-elite group. The media may seem to criticize the ruling elite, when, in reality, the criticism is only directed towards a divided opinion within the elite.

How the Mass Media Serves the Elite

The mass media presents news that aligns with the interests of the elite while ignoring information that goes against those interests. In the democratic west, the media is not constrained by state ownership or censorship, but instead, the pressures that compel it to publish propaganda for the upper class are more subtle and ‘natural.’ This is explained by the propaganda model, which contains various filters that information must pass through before being considered ‘clean’ enough to become news. These filters may consist of financial incentives, the need to please owners or advertisers, and sources of the news. The sources of the news, such as government agencies and large corporations, provide a great deal of material for news, and media often relies on them heavily. The filters ensure that any news that is presented in the media is staunchly in favor of those in power, proving that the mass media follows a ‘propaganda model’ that filters out information counter to elite interests.

“The Rise and Fall of Radical Press”

In the first half of the 19th century, the radical press in Britain, owned by independent proprietors, provided a strong medium representing the working class. Despite attempts to hinder it through libel laws and prosecution, the radical press remained strong, posing a threat to the ruling class’s monopoly on information dissemination. However, the industrial revolution saw the rise of the competitive mass media industry, which squeezed out the underfinanced radical press and consolidated the industry, leaving a few giants to dominate the entire Western media market. Today, the mass media is controlled by a tiny elite whose aim is profit, severely compromising its objectivity. The top 29 media providers control over half of America’s newspapers and the majority of sales and audiences of magazines, movies, books, and broadcasts. The article suggests that the mass media’s control by a tiny elite and the prioritization of profits hinder its objectivity.

The Impact of Advertisers on the Media

The media industry heavily depends on advertising to survive. As a result, media companies prioritize the attraction of advertisers, which can lead to biased coverage. Advertisers can influence the media to suppress news that may negatively impact big businesses. They also demand light entertainment over documentaries that may interfere with the “buying mood” of viewers. Advertisers strive to target their content to wealthier audiences to maximize sales while narrowing the scope of perspectives available in the media. Media organizations without advertising revenues are more likely to fail. Thus, the propaganda model includes advertising as another filter that allows wealthy corporations to control the narrative presented to the public.

The Media’s Overreliance on State Institutions and Corporations

The media rely mainly on state institutions and corporations to supply news, as they are considered reliable and constantly provide material. This, however, puts the ruling elites in control of the news agenda, allowing them to manipulate public opinion. Alternative sources of information are at a disadvantage, as their sporadic news may contradict elite interests. The media’s dependence on these sources poses a challenge to objective journalism, and they may even suppress alternative views to appease their regular sources.

The Elite’s Weapon: Flak

Flak is the backlash generated by the ruling elites against media outlets that report news which offends their interests. The aim of flak is to put free-thinking media on the defensive, fostering an image of an unfairly critical media with a liberal bias. Flak can take various forms, including direct threats, negative press releases, advertising boycotts, and even legal action. Right-wing think tanks are often the creators of flak, targeting critical media with well-funded and powerful organizations. By generating flak, the elite punish critical media, creating another filter in the propaganda model. The power of flak was demonstrated by the Vietnam War dossier published by the right-wing think tank ‘Freedom House’, which accused the media of misleading the American public through inaccurate research and exaggerated conclusions. Despite its criticisms, the dossier was accepted amongst the elite and positively reported in the mass media.

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