The Propaganda is the Message?


Don’t believe everything you read.  That is the message I get from Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky’s “A Propaganda Model” as they lay out their theory of who controls the media—the big money media barons, advertisers (e.g., corporate America) or the government—or as the authors bring to bear a combination of all three.  In looking at the boards of directors of media giants, the authors find that  “active corporate executives and bankers together account for a little over half of the outside directors of the ten media giants” (p. 285).    

McLuhan warns in his essay that a large media can be “ a powerful tool with which to clobber other media and other groups” (p. 138).  Is this not what Herman and Chomsky say is what is happening?  In fact has been happening since lack of funding shut down those three British papers in the 1850’s. 

Is the “message” as McLuhan calls it that same sound bite?  Fed to the media from the Pentagon for example and repeated on local, network and cable news each evening, and read them again in the newspaper the next morning.  The media, in this propagated world speaks in a seemingly singular voice, and it is a voice that has whispered in their ear, by a large corporation with an agenda and a threat to pull advertising dollars.  A board member with a stake in another company—and the clout to force the issue?  Or a branch of the government with a message fed at press conference—and the tacit threat of what would happen if a member of the press were to bite the hand that feeds him.

The propaganda can be subtle.  A recent example:  it is no mystery that many news outlets, particularly broadcast, use retired members of the military as paid “analysts”. A New York Times investigation in April of this year uncovered just how tight that connection is, detailing a “carefully orchestrated” junket to Guantanamo Bay in 2005.  Were these former military men tricked into delivering Pentagon talking points, or were they just trying to keep their relationships solid with the military and the defense contractors who ALSO pay them for their access to the military?  The answer probably lies somewhere in the middle.

In his farewell address in 1961, President Dwight Eisenhower coined the phrase in warning against  “the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex”. He was referring to influencing the government, but if you are to believe Herman and Chomsky—and the New York Times—it seems that’s exactly what’s happened. 


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