FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Informing Our Consent

by JEREMY MOHLER

A quarter century ago, Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman established the Propaganda Model in a book called Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. The text is a product of the Reagan years; I was three years old in 1988, but I’ve read enough to be certain that these were pretty dark times in the U.S. for most people, times that set precedents still reverberating today. ManCon is textbooky and rote, even more than Chomsky’s other work, but it uses an eye-glazing amount of data to ground a few modest theoretical remarks. Though Chomsky is anti-theory, the book reads like Marxism Light to me, a low-calorie structural critique of the 1980s U.S. mass media, with sources, figures, data, samples, and tables to support its claims beyond any partisan or cynical doubt. The Propaganda Model implies that the structure of corporate media is the totality of its relations of production, i.e. profit. And this suggestion is even more urgent today.

Put reductively, the model lays out what the authors can infer from the blatant fact that the American mainstream press is owned by an ever-consolidating group of corporations. Pretty much, the press, for the most part, acts in the interest of the corporations that own them. It’s plain out in the open and tautological. Even someone as establishment as Hillary Clinton says so: “In fact viewership of al Jazeera is going up in the United States because it’s real news. You may not agree with it, but you feel like you’re getting real news around the clock instead of a million commercials and, you know, arguments between talking heads and the kind of stuff that we do on our news which, you know, is not particularly informative to us, let alone foreigners.”

Let’s try a Chomsky/Herman analysis inspired by ManCon. Corporate media’s “objectivity” can be seen in an article that ran a few hours after the February 17th protest in D.C. against the proposed Keystone XL pipeline project – which, as most should know, if Obama approves, will pump tar sands oil (thick, dirty stuff) from northwest Canada through Nebraska and other Midwestern states to the Gulf of Mexico, mostly for export – on The New York Times website, and then the next day in the Times daily paper on page B1. Note that Section B is the Business section. Looking past the framing of the environmental protest as a business and political issue, we see that the writers reduce an entire country to its leaders and business interests. Canada is “the United States’ most important trading partner,” and “a close ally against Iran and Afghanistan,” not the group of First Nations people that came all the way down to DC for the protest, natives from the parts of the Canada that are being most harmfully affected by tar sands extraction. Like the Yinka Dene Alliance of British Columbia. Or even all of B.C.: in December 2012, B.C. permanently banned oil drilling and gas fracking in the province, which kicked out Shell Inc. from the gorgeous Sacred Headwaters they were preparing to dig and frack. These unconcealed details aren’t mentioned in the Times.

The article’s quotes are also revealing, not in what they say, but in who is quoted. The writers used excerpts from some of the speeches at the protest, but talked to no one there. To get a handle on the situation, they talked to: an energy fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, an establishment think-tank; the vice president for oil sands and markets for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, an association self-described as “the voice of Canada’s upstream oil, oil sands and natural gas industry”; the Canadian ambassador to the U.S.; and the president of Shell Canada. I couldn’t make up a better list of sources to show how corporate media’s “objectivity” favors establishment power. Even USA Today had quotes from the protesters.

The Times also ran an opinion piece the day after the protest with the sort of cynical pretension that is common to corporate media. What does Joe Nocera – a business columnist for the Times and former Fortune writer – think about the pipeline protest? We shouldn’t really care, but in case we do, let’s take a look. In his criticism of pipeline opponents, Nocera calls their logic backward and quotes an “energy expert at Stanford University” to back that up. The expert’s (and Nocera’s) take is cynical: no matter what the protesters, or you, or I, or the native people of Northwest Canada do, the economic pressure to search for new supplies of fossil fuel will not go away.

It’s also destructively dualistic. Nocera sets up a false either/or choice between reducing supply or curbing demand. Why not do both at the same time? Why can’t we use public transportation more, start initiatives to reduce energy consumption by our local governments, etc., and at the same time come together to stop new fossil fuel infrastructure from being built? He finishes with: “In any case, McKibben, Hansen and others were arrested on Wednesday, as planned. They spent a few hours in jail and paid $100 fines. And that was it.” How cynical is that? The reason “that was it” is because papers like his Times didn’t cover it with the same gusto as, say, how Nickelodeon has developed an iPad app for kids that “has serious implications for its parent company, Viacom.”

That the American public isn’t outraged by the airtight definition of a conflict of interest in mainstream journalism exposes a number of things about both us and what we call ‘media’, better labeled as ‘corporate media’. How is the average U.S. citizen still convinced that watching, reading, or listening to mainstream news is in their interest? Why isn’t the public fact that Comcast and GE own MSNBC grounds for people to laugh at “the news”? Why aren’t people paying more attention to folks like Glenn Greenwald or Kevin Gosztola; watching or listening to Democracy Now!; or supporting Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR) or the Freedom of the Press Foundation?

The whole thing is mind-numbingly complex and can implode into conspiracy theory fast. But there are serious, in-your-face issues with the structure of our mass media that have reproduced and consolidated since 1988 when ManCon was released. And if we are going to do all of the positive things we talk about online and at protests like on February 17th, our media must be free of this conflict to allow us to give informed consent to each other and our leaders. Otherwise, our consent, as a public, will remain manufactured.

Jeremy Mohler is a writer living in Washington, D.C. His work has been published in Aint-Bad Magazine and The Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
December 09, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Nasty As They Wanna Be
Henry Giroux
Trump’s Second Gilded Age: Overcoming the Rule of Billionaires and Militarists
Andrew Levine
Trump’s Chumps: Victims of the Old Bait and Switch
Erin McCarley
American Nazis and the Fight for US History
Lewis Lapham
Hostile Takeover
Joshua Frank
This Week at CounterPunch: More Hollow Smears and Baseless Accusations
Paul Street
The Democrats Do Their Job, Again
Vijay Prashad
The Cuban Revolution: Defying Imperialism From Its Backyard
Michael Hudson - Sharmini Peries
Orwellian Economics
Mark Ames
The Anonymous Blacklist Promoted by the Washington Post Has Apparent Ties to Ukrainian Fascism and CIA Spying
Conn Hallinan
India & Pakistan: the Unthinkable
Andrew Smolski
Third Coast Pillory: Nativism on the Left – A Realer Smith
Joshua Sperber
Trump in the Age of Identity Politics
Brandy Baker
Jill Stein Sees Russia From Her House
Katheryne Schulz
Report from Santiago de Cuba: Celebrating Fidel’s Rebellious Life
Nelson Valdes
Fidel and the Good People
Norman Solomon
McCarthy’s Smiling Ghost: Democrats Point the Finger at Russia
Renee Parsons
The Snowflake Nation and Trump on Immigration
Margaret Kimberley
Black Fear of Trump
Michael J. Sainato
A Pruitt Running Through It: Trump Kills Nearly Useless EPA With Nomination of Oil Industry Hack
Ron Jacobs
Surviving Hate and Death—The AIDS Crisis in 1980s USA
David Swanson
Virginia’s Constitution Needs Improving
Louis Proyect
Narcos and the Story of Colombia’s Unhappiness
Paul Atwood
War Has Been, is, and Will be the American Way of Life…Unless?
John Wight
Syria and the Bodyguard of Lies
Richard Hardigan
Anti-Semitism Awareness Act: Senate Bill Criminalizes Criticism of Israel
Kathy Kelly
See How We Live
David Macaray
Trump Picks his Secretary of Labor. Ho-Hum.
Howard Lisnoff
Interview with a Political Organizer
Yves Engler
BDS and Anti-Semitism
Martha Durkee-Neuman
Millennial Organizers Want to See An Intersectional Understanding Of Gun Violence
Adam Parsons
Home Truths About the Climate Emergency
Brian Cloughley
The Decline and Fall of Britain
Eamonn Fingleton
U.S. China Policy: Is Obama Schizoid?
Graham Peebles
Worldwide Air Pollution is Making us Ill
Joseph Natoli
Fake News is Subjective?
Andre Vltchek
Tough-Talking Philippine President Duterte
Binoy Kampmark
Total Surveillance: Snooping in the United Kingdom
Guillermo R. Gil
Vivirse la película: Willful Opposition to the Fiscal Control Board in Puerto Rico
Patrick Bond
South Africa’s Junk Credit Rating was Avoided, But at the Cost of Junk Analysis
Clancy Sigal
Investigate the Protesters! A Trial Balloon Filled With Poison Gas
Charles R. Larson
Review:  Helon Habila’s The Chibok Girls: the Boko Haram Kidnappings and Islamist Militancy in Nigeria
December 08, 2016
John W. Whitehead
Power to the People: John Lennon’s Legacy Lives On
Mike Whitney
Rolling Back the Empire: Washington’s Proxy-Army Faces Decisive Defeat in Aleppo
Ellen Brown
“We’ll Look at Everything:” More Thoughts on Trump’s $1 Trillion Infrastructure Plan
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail