Chomping on Chomsky: Discussing the Propaganda Model for Journalism

Herman and Chomsky’s first essay on a propaganda model for journalism was certainly intriguing. The authors take a critical perspective on mass media journalism, pointing at the ability of the wealthy and powerful to influence the news media. News passes through filters put in place by the “dominant elite,”, that depend on these five characteristics:

  1. How big and powerful the dominant mass media firm is
  2. Advertising as a primary source of revenue
  3. Reliance of the media on information provided by the government, businesses, and other experts
  4. Flak to discipline media that doesn’t align with the views of the dominant elite
  5. “Anti-communism,” or the creation of a common enemy, as a national religion and control mechanism

While I generally find this model for journalism convincing, I do have some concerns.

The authors write that the elite domination occurs so naturally that people think the news they receive is objective. This is interesting because it assumes that news organizations aim to be objective or to appear to be objective. There are certain sites (like TreeHugger) that have an outwardly political agenda. However, I recognize that these sites may not be under as much control by the dominant elite (they may be independent from major news sources) and may have filters of their own to paint certain subjects (such as nuclear power) in a negative light.

The third filter pertains to the reliance of journalists on authoritative figures such as the government, business heads, or experts. After working for an automotive journalist, I can see a journalist’s motivation for near-verbatim parroting of leaders. The general populace may not know the full goings-on in a press conference, so this reporting allows them to see this. The particular automotive journalist I worked for added commentary, but not all do.

The discussion of a dominant elite is reminiscent of a certain conspiracy theory that really grinds my gears. There is a particularly nasty conspiracy theory that posits that Jews control the world and are all in cahoots with each other. (If that’s true, why are there holes in my shoes?). This conspiracy theory is obviously false to anyone with a good head on their shoulders, but still leads to excessive prejudice against Jewish people. I don’t think that the authors are headed in this direction, as they discuss the worthiness of different victims (as the saying goes: “If it bleeds, it reads, unless it’s Jewish”) and Chomsky himself is Jewish. However, those who already subscribe to the conspiracy theory may use this model to solidify their beliefs.

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