A Taste of Propaganda in America

Have you seen this video?
Shocking, isn’t it? Disturbing, no? Is it not an outrage that Fox would cave to Monsanto in such a fashion? Yet another reason not to watch Fox News.
Except it isn’t just Fox. Welcome to the American propaganda machine, my friends.

In their 1988 work Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, authors Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky outline a propaganda model of the American media. To summarize their argument, five filters distort the news we receive:
  1. Ownership
  2. Sources of funding
  3. Sources of information
  4. Flak
  5. Anti-Communism 
News organizations are privately-owned businesses in a capitalist society. They exist to make a profit, and will therefore act in accordance with that interest. The first filter of ownership applies in that news companies will, naturally, suppress anything a report writes which paints the parent company in a bad light.
This factor grows more problematic when you have large corporations owning many different news outlets. When dissent could mean your job, and everyone has the same boss, that boss gains considerable influence in shaping the opinions of the public.
But even corporate news networks aren’t the true masters. Businesses require money, and they need customers to earn money. Therefore, they need to satisfy as many customers as possible to keep the greenbacks flowing. A news organization’s customers can manipulate its content by threatening to withhold their support.
Now, that doesn’t sound so bad, you may think. We’re the customers, so if we demand honesty from the news, then they must provide! But we’re not their customers. The news makes its money from advertising. Advertisers, of course, are companies trying to sell their products to us. They do so by buying the eyeballs television and news papers attract from those outlets’ owners. And they will notbuy from media that goes against their interests.
The third filter, that of finding sources of information, can also be important. Reporters cannot necessarily investigate every story in full detail. They rely on inside sources for their leads. These insiders can influence the news significantly. Since the reporter wants to keep the source, he or she will tend to avoid criticizing the source in the story, or portraying the source negatively. The insider can then release only the information he wants people to know—true or false. The U.S. federal government takes advantage of this filter through the use of the White House press secretary.
The fourth point, “flak,” refers to when the subject of an unflattering news piece (or other interested party) becomes angry and protests the offending story. The protest may be in form of angry letters, the threat of a lawsuit, or actual legal action.
The last filter, anti-Communism, is no longer in vogue. According to Wikipedia, Chomsky and Herman have updated this filter to “Fear.” The media paints a particular group of people as “the enemy”—a politically established and convenient target—and reports on events through that lens. These days, the designed enemy is Islamic terrorists.
You can see this system in action in the initial video. Monsanto did not want their unconscionable use of bovine growth hormone, as revealed by Jane Akre and Steve Wilson in their video segment, to become a matter of public discussion. They gave Fox flak by threatening a legally unsupported lawsuit. Regardless, the Fox management did not to risk going to court. Furthermore, Monsanto owned a large portion of advertising on their network, including Florida. Fox caved, and coerced the reporters into bowdlerizing their story before firing them.
I am unsure exactly how often this particular scenario plays out, but the factors in play are constants. Only a few companies own the majority of the media in the United States, as this guide demonstrates, which consolidates conflicts of interest and probably makes it easier for offended parties to sue. I should note that the Internet is affected as well. Google has substantial powers of censorship, exercised in order to enforce its content policy on sites using AdWords or other Google platforms. I do not believe I even need to mention Apple.
Moreover, these companies don’t even write all their news content themselves. Apparently, about 75% of the news you read and watch consists of press releases. I remember my media studies instructor mentioning a higher percentage a few years back, but a cursory search reveals no such statistic for the United States. Actually, I found one source, which is where I got the 75% figure: a page on how to use press releases to promote your e-zine.
As the author of a novel, it’s a path that people have recommended to me many a time. I expect the likeness of Laurence Fishburne in a black trench-coat and sunglasses to show up any day now.
Full disclosure: Runicfire uses Blogger, a Google product, as a content management system. This makes this blog subject to Google’s content policy, which amounts to the equivalent of Standards and Practices on network television. I have yet to run into any issues, probably because I did not go along with my original plan for this blog: a graphic travelogue about foul-mouthed, lascivious, half-octopus pseudo-lesbian shock troops on the front lines of WWII Europe.

Additional Sources:
Propaganda Model” Wikipedia.org, 2013.

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