Propaganda is alive and well in the United States – we do not have state-owned media as in a totalitarian society; but ours is a “soft propaganda” of a different model. Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky wrote Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media in 1988, yet their thesis has never been significantly challenged. Their “propaganda model” describing the way mass media works in the West, and specifically in the United States, has proven accurate many times over throughout the 1990’s and early 2000’s.
Mainstream media pro-government compliancy has been demonstrated in every major American conflict or intervention of the last two decades and beyond: from both Iraq wars, to Kosovo, to the general “War on Terror,” to Libya, to coverage of the Arab uprisings. This is not, says Herman and Chomsky, because the federal government owns the mediums of communication, but primarily because of the special corporate-government relationship born of both private media’s desire for profits, and government’s desire for good PR among it’s constituency. This relationship serves to keep both entities in power and influence, and especially shapes the way government actions in foreign affairs are presented to the American masses.
The Manufacturing Consent Wikipedia page has an excellent outline summation of how American propaganda works:
Herman and Chomsky’s “propaganda model” describes five editorially distorting filters applied to news reporting in mass media:
- Size, Ownership, and Profit Orientation: The dominant mass-media outlets are large firms which are run for profit. Therefore they must cater to the financial interest of their owners – often corporations or particular controlling investors. The size of the firms is a necessary consequence of the capital requirements for the technology to reach a mass audience.
- The Advertising License to Do Business: 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.
- Sourcing Mass Media News: 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.”
- Flak 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 organized by powerful, private influence groups (e.g. think tanks). The prospect of eliciting flak can be a deterrent to the reporting of certain kinds of facts or opinions.
- Anti-Communism: This was included as a filter in the original 1988 edition of the book, but Chomsky argues that since the end of the Cold War (1945–91), anticommunism was replaced by the “War on Terror”, as the major social control mechanism.
—End Wiki article
For a wonderful layman’s explanation of the above points in Chomsky’s own words, please go to this page at Chomsky.info.