Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media

Article excerpt

POLITICS AND JOURNALISM HERMAN. EDWARD S. and NOAM CHOMSKY, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. New York: Pantheon Books, 1988. 412 pp., $24.95 cloth, $14.95 paper.

In an important work of scholarship, Herman and Chomsky offer a "propaganda model" of the manner in which the media serve as a system-supportive institution by inculcating and reinforcing the economic, social and political agenda of the elite.

Herman, a professor of finance at the University of Pennsylvania, and Chomsky, a professor in the department of linguistics and philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, draw extensively on their previous research to offer a well-documented critique of the myth that the mass media serve as an "independent" social institution.

At the crux of Herman and Chomsky's treatise is their propaganda model, consisting of five "news filters" which determine the nature and content of news. The first filter can best be characterized as "concentration of ownership." Through analysis of financial data in proxy statements, trade publications and annual reports, Herman and Chomsky provide compelling evidence that media organizations have a central stake in the maintenance of the social and economic status quo. The second news filter, heavy reliance on advertising revenue, is an extension of the first, for the ability to attract audiences with buying power attracts advertisers which, in turn, leads to greater concentration of wealth, power and media ownership.

An extension of the work of several media sociologists, especially Mark Fishman, Gave Tuchman and Herbert Gans, the third filter the media's reliance on news "beats" and official sources in both the governmental and corporate realms. The section describing this filter also includes an excellent account of governmental public-information operations which strive to supply much of the "official" and legitimized information the media crave.

The fourth and fifth frames are predominantly ideological in nature, and refer, respectively, to feedback mechanisms which delimit the media's occasional forays into criticism of the system, and the media's blind acceptance of the "national religion" of anticommunism. Both filters, Herman and Chomsky argue, are testament to the media's general reluctance to dispute the priorities, agenda and interests promulgated by government, corporations and even conservative interest groups.

The confluence of these various forces and filters, according to the model, results in the media's selection of a dominant frame for each issue and concomitant selection of facts to fit each frame. The same can be said for the authors' description of the model itself; and that it is important to acknowledge the assumptions underlying this work.

First, the main argument of the book is that the media are subject to many systemic influences that shape news content. In contrast, the underlying premise of the book appears that media ought to be independent of influence. This sentiment is best articulated in the last line of the book, following the author's various prescriptions for reform: "Only to the extent that such developments succeed can we hope to see media that are free and independent. …