Manufacturing Consent: Summary Review

This is a summary review of Manufacturing Consent containing key details about the book.

What is Manufacturing Consent About?

Manufacturing Consent is a book that explores the mechanisms of mass media and their role in shaping public opinion, arguing that the dominant media outlets in the US serve as propaganda systems that promote the interests of the elite and powerful, and thereby "manufacture consent" for the existing social and economic order.

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Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media is a 1988 book by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky. It argues that the mass communication media of the U.S. "are effective and powerful ideological institutions that carry out a system-supportive propaganda function, by reliance on market forces, internalized assumptions, and self-censorship, and without overt coercion", by means of the propaganda model of communication.

Summary Points & Takeaways from Manufacturing Consent

Some key summary points and takeaways from the book include:

* "Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media" by Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman is a book that explores how the media shapes public opinion and how corporations and governments influence the media.

* The authors argue that the media in most countries serves the interests of powerful elites, rather than serving as an independent watchdog.

* They propose that the media is controlled by a small number of corporations, which influence the content of news and shape public opinion in ways that are favorable to their interests.

* The book is a critique of media ownership and censorship, and argues that media systems in many countries do not truly serve the public's interest.

Who is the author of Manufacturing Consent?

Avram Noam Chomsky is an American linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, historical essayist, social critic, and political activist.

Edward Samuel Herman was an American economist, media scholar and social critic.

Manufacturing Consent Summary Notes

The Illusion of Media Criticism of the Ruling Elite

The media's role in exposing the truth and holding the powerful accountable is often seen as a cornerstone of democracy. However, Manufacturing Consent by Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman argues that the media's coverage is controlled by the ruling elite, and true criticism of their interests is never allowed to surface. This control extends to what stories are covered, how they are covered, and what opinions are presented to the public.

Chomsky and Herman's first key idea emphasizes that the media will never criticize the ruling elite, but may appear to do so when opinions within the elite are divided. The Watergate scandal, where the media investigated and exposed the crimes of Richard Nixon and his accomplices, is often held up as an example of media's watchdog role. However, the authors argue that this was only possible because the scandal involved the powerful Democrats, who represented a section of the elite. When it comes to non-elite groups challenging the ruling elite, the media either suppresses or ignores such criticisms.

The illusion of media criticism of the ruling elite is created when the media represents the interests of one group of the elite against another. For instance, during election campaigns, the media may appear to be critical of a particular candidate, but the criticisms never go beyond certain limits that would damage the overall interests of the ruling class. This is because the media is owned by large corporations and wealthy individuals who have their own interests to protect. The media, therefore, cannot be trusted to be an impartial watchdog of society.

The Mass Media and Elite Interests: The Propaganda Model

The idea that the mass media is a neutral and objective source of news and information is a pervasive myth. Instead, according to the "propaganda model," the media in democratic societies are subject to a set of filters that ensure news aligns with elite interests. These filters can come from financial incentives, sources of news, and presentation of information.

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While not constrained by state ownership or censorship, the western media's subtle pressures often compel it to promote the interests and opinions of the powerful. For instance, multinational corporations like General Electric own significant portions of the media, which can lead to conflicts of interest in areas such as the nuclear power and arms trade. Other sources of news, such as government agencies and corporations, can also shape news stories by selectively releasing information and framing it in a certain way.

These filters lead to news that is carefully crafted to serve the interests of the elite, even if it appears to criticize those in power. Thus, the media in democratic societies serve as a tool to manufacture consent and maintain the status quo rather than a neutral source of information.

Understanding the propaganda model is crucial for critically evaluating news and recognizing the bias inherent in the media. By recognizing the filters at play, we can begin to see beyond the surface-level narratives and begin to uncover the underlying interests that shape the news we consume.

The Mass Media: Controlled by a Tiny Elite for Profit

The third key idea of Manufacturing Consent highlights how the majority of the mass media is owned and controlled by a small group of wealthy families and corporations whose primary objective is profit. The industrial revolution played a key role in this concentration of media ownership by squeezing out the independent radical press through competition and cost. Today, a handful of massive media giants dominate the Western media market, leaving little room for independent media to survive. This concentration of power allows for a control over the market that is attractive to investors seeking profit through sales and advertising. As a result, the media’s objective is not to serve the public interest but to prioritize profit over objectivity. The implications of this concentration of power are significant, as it severely hampers the media’s ability to provide an objective view of the world. Instead, the media serves to propagate the interests and opinions of the wealthy elite who own and control it, perpetuating a skewed view of reality.

The Influence of Advertisers on Mass Media

In today's media landscape, advertising revenue is crucial for the survival of media companies. As a result, media organizations are motivated to please their advertisers, which can lead to biased coverage and the suppression of critical news stories. This is because advertisers prefer content that appeals to wealthier audiences who are more likely to buy their products.

The pressure to cater to advertisers' interests creates a filter in the propaganda model, allowing the wealthy to filter out information that could potentially harm their businesses. This means that media companies will alter their reports in order to maintain their advertisers' support.

One example of this was when a US TV network lost its advertising funding after airing a documentary that exposed the malpractice of multinational corporations in the Third World. In televised media, advertisers have even gone as far as to demand the removal of serious programs that might interfere with the viewer's "buying mood".

The influence of advertisers on mass media has led to a narrowing of perspectives available to audiences. Media companies are more likely to target their content to wealthier audiences who are seen as more likely to buy products from advertisers. This can result in a lack of coverage of issues that affect working-class audiences.

The Media's Dependence on Government Organizations and Corporations

Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman argue that the media's need for constant material leads to an overreliance on sources like government organizations and large corporations. While these sources can provide a steady stream of information and are seen as reliable, they also allow the ruling elites to control and manage the news. By setting the news agenda and providing information at opportune times, these powerful entities can influence public opinion and further their own interests.

This reliance on government and corporate sources also limits the scope of alternative views, as they are less likely to have a steady stream of information to offer and may be seen as less reliable by the media. As a result, the media can become a filter for propaganda, allowing the ruling elites to control what news reaches the masses.

The consequences of this dynamic can be far-reaching, as demonstrated by the example of the false story about Soviet MiG aircraft supplied to Nicaragua in 1984. This story, timed for maximum impact, helped further President Reagan's political agenda and discredit the Nicaraguan election. The media's dependence on government organizations and corporations meant that this false story was treated as fact, with no independent verification.

The Elite's Response to Critical Media: Flak

When the media reports news that goes against the interests of the ruling elite, they can face a backlash known as 'flak.' This can come in many forms, such as negative press releases, advertiser boycotts, and legal action taken against critical media. The purpose of flak is to put free-thinking media on the defensive, portraying them as having a "liberal bias" and generating fear within media companies. This creates another filter in the propaganda model.

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The elite can generate flak through right-wing think tanks that are well-funded and powerful. These organizations can target critical media with flak, and when they claim that the media is being unfairly critical, people tend to listen. For example, the right-wing think tank 'Freedom House' published a dossier on the media's role in the Vietnam War, claiming that the media's reporting was too pessimistic and even cost the United States the war. Despite inaccuracies and exaggerated conclusions, the dossier was well-received among the elite and reported positively in the mass media.

Flak serves as a warning to the media to be cautious when reporting news that may go against the interests of the ruling elite. By punishing critical media, the elite can control the narrative and maintain their power. This reinforces the propaganda model and further emphasizes the need for alternative sources of information that are not subject to the same filters and biases as mainstream media.

The Mass Media and the Ideological Battle Against Communism

According to the propaganda model presented by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky, the mass media play a crucial role in shaping public opinion by presenting information through a biased lens. In this context, the ruling elites in the US influence the media to view events through the prism of the ideological battle against communism. This bias results in positive reporting of America and its allies while negative portrayals of communist forces, regardless of the reality on the ground.

The propaganda model suggests that the ruling elites benefit from this framing as it creates a common enemy for people to rally against. The perceived threat of communism serves as a unifying factor, which ensures that people support American policies, regardless of their socio-economic status or political affiliations. Moreover, the use of the anti-communist narrative enables the elites to label groups that challenge social hierarchies as pro-communist and anti-American. This labeling further strengthens the elites' hold on power and restricts dissent.

The propaganda model also highlights how the media's focus on anti-communism pressures liberal voices to shift their positions to the right to avoid criticism. As a result, the center of the political spectrum shifts further to the right, further consolidating the power of the ruling elites.

The Mass Media's Bias towards States Allied with the West

The mass media is often portrayed as a neutral source of information, but in reality, their coverage of events is heavily influenced by political interests. One such interest is the alliance of nations with the West, particularly the United States. States that are allied with the West are favored in news coverage, while those that are not are portrayed negatively.

The media's coverage of Central America is a perfect example of this bias. Nations in this region that are friendly to the US, such as Guatemala and El Salvador, are portrayed positively, while left-leaning nations such as Nicaragua are often criticized. The media portrays the sham elections in US-backed dictatorships as genuine and reliable, while dismissing the more transparent and fair elections held in Nicaragua as propaganda exercises for left-wing leaders.

This bias is driven by the interests of the ruling elites who want to maintain their control over these nations. By portraying friendly nations in a positive light, they can justify their support for authoritarian regimes and dismiss criticisms of their actions. Meanwhile, left-leaning nations are painted as a threat to American interests, allowing the elites to justify their interventions and suppress progressive movements.

The media's bias towards states allied with the West not only distorts the truth but also has far-reaching consequences. It undermines the principles of democracy and human rights, legitimizes authoritarianism, and perpetuates inequality and injustice. It also reinforces the propaganda model, which serves to maintain the status quo and protect the interests of the ruling elites.

To counter this bias, we must critically examine the media's coverage of world events and question their motives and sources of information. We must also seek out alternative sources of information and support independent media outlets that prioritize the truth over political interests. Only then can we hope to build a more just and equitable world.

The media’s use of ‘expert’ opinions can support biased reporting.

While the media often presents ‘experts’ as objective and authoritative sources, they can also be used to spread the propaganda of the ruling elite. ‘Experts’ are a crucial component in shaping public opinion, as they lend authority and legitimacy to media reports. However, it is important to understand that these ‘experts’ are often funded and educated by elite interests, and are only selected if they espouse the views of the dominant elite.

The media’s use of ‘experts’ to support biased reporting is a significant issue, as it allows for false or questionable claims to be presented as fact. For example, following an assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II in 1981, two ‘experts’ paid for by the media attempted to blame the plot on the Soviet Union, despite weak evidence that was later disproven. The credibility provided by the ‘experts’ allowed this conspiracy theory to gain widespread acceptance through the media.

The use of ‘experts’ by the media is part of a broader pattern of manufacturing consent, in which the ruling elite uses various methods to shape public opinion in their favor. The media’s selection of ‘experts’ who support elite interests reinforces dominant narratives and limits the scope of public debate, effectively suppressing alternative viewpoints.

To counter this bias, it is important for consumers of news to critically evaluate the sources and credibility of the ‘experts’ being presented by the media. Additionally, efforts to diversify the pool of ‘experts’ by including a wider range of voices and perspectives could help to promote more balanced and objective reporting.

The Selective Value of Life in Mass Media Reporting

Manufacturing Consent highlights how the mass media value some lives more than others depending on the message their deaths send. The media use selective coverage to reinforce the political interests of the ruling elite. The coverage of the brutal murder of a Polish priest who campaigned against Poland's communist government in 1984 is a prime example of how the media portrays the death of an individual in a manner that aligns with the ruling elite's interests. The coverage of the priest's death focused on its emotional impact and wider political implications for the communist system, casting the communist enemy as brutal and dangerous. The media's lack of coverage of the torture and murder of hundreds of religious representatives in Central American states friendly to the US is another example of how some lives are deemed less valuable than others.

The media coverage of these cases is a product of the interests of the ruling elites. The media happily report wrongdoings in enemy nations, using lurid details to provoke anger amongst viewers and readers while linking the crimes directly to the ruling system. In contrast, with US allies, the media conceal state crimes to preserve unity. Even the murder of US citizens in Central America is hidden, with their lives deemed unworthy of attention because they died in the wrong circumstances and at the hands of the wrong people.

The selective value of life in mass media reporting is used to propagate the political interests of the ruling elite. The media's portrayal of a person's death is not based on their inherent value as a human being, but rather on the message that their death sends. This devalues the lives of people in countries that do not align with the interests of the ruling elite. It also highlights the complicity of the media in promoting biased reporting that serves the interests of the elite. The media's reporting on deaths should be based on universal values that recognize the worth of every human life, irrespective of their nationality or political affiliation.

Book Details

  • Print length: 412 pages
  • Genre: Politics, Nonfiction, History

Manufacturing Consent Chapters

Chapter 1 :A Propaganda Model
Chapter 2:Worthy and Unworthy Victims
Chapter 3:Legitimizing versus Meaningless Third World Elections: El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua
Chapter 4:The KGB--Bulgarian Plot to Kill the Pope: Free-Market Disinformation as "News"
Chapter 5:The Indochina Wars (I): Vietnam
Chapter 6:The Indochina Wars (II): Laos and Cambodia
Chapter 7:Conclusions

What is a good quote from Manufacturing Consent?

Top Quote: “Education is a system of imposed ignorance.” (Meaning) - Manufacturing Consent Quotes, Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky

What do critics say?

Here's what one of the prominent reviewers had to say about the book: "[A] compelling indictment of the news media's role in covering up errors and deceptions in American foreign policy of the past quarter century." — Walter LaFeber, The New York Times Book Review

* The editor of this summary review made every effort to maintain information accuracy, including any published quotes, chapters, or takeaways. If you're interested in furthering your personal development, I invite you to check out my list of favorite personal development books page. On this page, you'll find a curated list of books that have personally impacted my life, each with a summary and key lessons.

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Chief Editor

Tal Gur is an author, founder, and impact-driven entrepreneur at heart. After trading his daily grind for a life of his own daring design, he spent a decade pursuing 100 major life goals around the globe. His journey and most recent book, The Art of Fully Living, has led him to found Elevate Society.

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