Citizen Action Monitor

Was CBC’s coverage of Juan Guaidó’s failed coup a propaganda attempt at “Manufacturing Consent”? 2/3

Can Manufacturing Consent provide criteria by which to evaluate CBC’s coverage as propaganda?

No 2476 Posted by fw, May 26, 2019

In Part 1, I asked readers to reflect on this question –

“Based on your viewing of the CBC’s video, and on your reading of my detailed description of the CBC’s framing of the issues as portrayed in the video, and on your initial understanding of the brief introduction to Herman and Chomsky’s ‘Manufacturing Consent’, would you characterize the CBC’s coverage of the Venezuelan coup attempt as a piece of propaganda?”

Today’s post derives primarily from a quirky 9-minute video, embedded below, that summarizes key ideas of  Herman and Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent as a mass media propaganda model. Because the video is a mix of selected excerpts from a much longer documentary, this abridged version, which features Chomsky’s thinking, is very choppy, fragmented and, in my opinion, lacks coherence.

For that reason, below the video, I have provided my summary notes, drawn largely from the video, intended to capture and explain the essentials of Manufacturing Consent as a mass media propaganda model. While I am not satisfied with the result, I hope it will take us one step further towards providing a set of criteria to objectively evaluate CBC’s coverage of Juan Guaidó’s failed coup as a calculated propaganda attempt at “Manufacturing Consent.”

Noam Chomsky – Manufacturing Consent, Published by Chomsky’s Philosophy, October 15, 2015 (9-min).

This summary of Chomsky’s analysis of how the corporate media functions is excerpted from the long 1992 documentary Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media.

My Notes from the Video (and a few other uncited sources)

Documentary excerpts that break down how the mass media indoctrinate the American people to the will of those in power by setting up the illusion of freedom while tightly constricting the narrow margin of acceptable thought.

Primary function of the mass media is to mobilize public support for the special interests that dominate the government and the private sector. It’s “the primary function of the mass media in the United States to mobilize public support for the special interests that dominate the government and the private sector.”  

1/ What are those interests?

Those interests are reflected in those who are in a position to make decisions that determine the way society functions.

In US society the major decisions are those related to the economy – such as investment, production, distribution.

And those decisions are in the hands of a relatively concentrated network of major corporations and conglomerates and investment firms and so on.

The role of the network

  • Staffs major executive positions in government
  • Own the media
  • Are in positions to make decisions
  • Dominate what gets done in society


2/ Whose consent is being manufactured?

There are two targets for the system’s propaganda —

  • One is the politically active educated classes class made up of 20% who are educated, articulate, have an influential; role in decision making by virtue of their participation in social life as managers or cultural managers as teachers, writers and so on
  • They’re supposed to play some role in the economic, political and cultural life of the society
  • They must be deeply indoctrinated

The other target is the 80% of the population whose main function is to follow orders, not to think too much, not to pay too much attention to anything. They pay the price regardless of whether the politically active educated class accepts or rejects the media’s propaganda.


3/ The propaganda model of America’s elite major media outlets

The model is basically an institutional analysis of the major media in what we call a propaganda model

  • Primarily it’s about the national media that sets the agenda for others to adhere to
  • The elite media – NY Times, Washington Post (WAPO) and CBS, NBC, ABC — set the general framework, which consists of
    • selection of topics
    • distribution of concerns
    • emphasis
    • framing of issues
    • filtering of information
    • bounding of debate within certain limits
  • To serve the interests of the elite groups in society, they
    • determine
    • select
    • shape
    • control
    • restrict

Chomsky declares that the New York Times “… plays an enormous role in shaping the perception of the current world on the on the part of the politically active educated classes. … its editors probably feel that they bear a heavy burden in the sense that the New York Times creates history. What happened years ago may have a bearing on what happens tomorrow. Millions of clippings are preserved in the Times’ library, all indexed for instant use. A priceless archive of events and the men who made them. [The New York Times archives is] the place where people will go to find out what happened in the New York Times.

Therefore, it’s extremely important that history is going to be shaped in an appropriate way, that certain things appear, certain things not appear, that certain questions be asked, other questions be ignored, and that issues be framed in a particular fashion.

It’s obvious in whose interests that history is being preserved – the politically active educated classes.



The five editorially distorting filters of the Manufacturing Consent propaganda model

The propaganda model for the manufacture of public consent describes five editorially distorting filters, which are applied to the reporting of news in mass communications media.

Filter 1Size, Ownership, and Profit Orientation: The dominant mass-media outlets are large companies operated for profit, and therefore they must cater to [possible editorially distorting] financial interests of the owners, who are usually corporations and controlling investors. The size of a media company is a consequence of the investment capital required for the mass-communications technology required to reach a mass audience of viewers, listeners, and readers.

Filter 2Advertising: Since the majority of the revenue of major media outlets derives from advertising (not from sales or subscriptions), advertisers have acquired a “de facto licensing authority”. Media outlets are not commercially viable without the support of advertisers. News media must therefore cater to the political prejudices and economic desires of their advertisers. (This has weakened the working class press, for example, and also helps explain the attrition in the number of newspapers). [As well, in this age of ubiquitous digital communication media, traditional print and television mass media outlets have been bleeding lucrative advertising revenue, which threatens their ability to influence elite political and economic decision makers. It’s too soon yet to predict where this shift will take us].

Filter 3Corporate Subsidization of Mass Media News Sources: Herman and Chomsky argue that “the large bureaucracies of the powerful subsidize the mass media, and gain special access [to the news], by their contribution to reducing the media’s costs of acquiring […] and producing, news. The large entities that provide this subsidy become ‘routine’ news sources and have privileged access to the gates. Non-routine sources must struggle for access, and may be ignored by the arbitrary decision of the gatekeepers.”

Editorial distortion depends on the news media’s continuing access to private and governmental news sources. If a given newspaper, television station, magazine, etc., incurs disfavor from the sources, it is subtly excluded from access to information. Consequently, it loses readers or viewers, and ultimately, advertisers. To minimize such financial danger, news media businesses editorially distort their reporting to favor government and corporate policies in order to stay in business.

Filter 4Flak and the Enforcers: “Flak” refers to negative responses to a media statement or program (e.g. letters, complaints, lawsuits, or legislative actions). Flak can be expensive to the media, either due to loss of advertising revenue, or due to the costs of legal defense or defense of the media outlet’s public image. Flak can be used by powerful, private influence groups (e.g. think tanks). The prospect of eliciting flak can be a deterrent to media reporting of certain kinds of facts or opinions.

Filter 5Fear — This used to be anti-communism but now usually takes the form of ‘the War on Terror’. You’ll see fear used to manipulate people on FOX news every day. A fearful populace can be controlled. This is done for a variety of reasons including:

  • to create an enemy that will be exploited in order to scare people into accepting restrictions on their rights and liberty;
  • to discourage dissent while profit-making wars are waged; and
  • to get rid of people the government or corporate elite do not like by discrediting, attacking, or punishing them.


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