Book review: Manufacturing Consent

Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media.Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars.

It’s strange. There’s not a whole lot I can say about this book, because it seems to be stating what should really be perceived as common sense. I’m aware that, as someone who has worked my adult life in print media, I’m probably more likely to have encountered some of the things mentioned in here, but even with that background I was heartily bummed by the text.

(This is a good thing. I mean, it’s bad news but the way it’s presented and explained is superb.)

Broadly speaking, the book discusses the complicity between governments and media organisations in shaping the way the populous – particularly the voting populous – interpret news. It’s very much weighted towards foreign policy, but the assumption is certainly made that local matters suffer from this kind of finessing, too.

A propaganda system will consistently portray people abused in enemy states as worthy victims, whereas those treated with equal or greater severity by its own government or clients will be unworthy.

The process of such finessing is described as the propaganda model with all the negatives that entails. You can see a Worker & Parasite-style explanation of the main thrust of Chomsky and Herman’s ideas on information control here.

If you’d not considered things this way, perhaps it’s time you did.

Throughout the book, the authors detail examples of instances in countries – usually client states or targets of US invasion, either by military or covert means – where the reportage has toed the government line to the point of wilful distortion. So too do they produce plenty of examples about the power of wording – again, based on the whims of powers-that-be – is used to the same effect. It’s relentless.

(If anything, the book sometimes feels like a little bit of a drag, but that’s only due to the rigorous nature of the receipts the authors offer. And OH SHIT do they have receipts.)

This edition of the book, produced some 20 years after the original, includes updates on the way discourse around the Iraq war was shaped according to the tenets described by the authors two decades early. I guess administrations never learn any new tricks. Suffice it to say that the addenda to the original work merely update the avalanche of facts, piling grim reality upon grim reality.

Regrettably, the propaganda model still works well, with the MSM performance before and during the Iraq invasion-occupation, and in readying the U.S. public for an attack on Iran, showing them to be reliable members of the war-making team, even in these cases where the wars are based on lies and threat inflation.

It certainly would be interesting to see a version of this work updated for the role of social media sources in the propaganda model. I guess it’s just a more insidious version of Business As Usual, but there’s something to be said from hearing from the OG authors on the topic.

I’m not sure that it would ever be taken up, but reading of Manufacturing Consent in high schools as part of media consumption training would be a great thing. This isn’t a pleasant book to read, but it is crucial, if only to be able to tread the fine line between full media acceptance and “fake news!” bullshit.

(Also: go watch this documentary for more Chomsky. It covers a lot of this stuff, and you’ll be glad you did. Gnomic Noam is indeed the man.)

(My Goodreads profile is here.)


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