Based on a series of case studies—including the media’s dichotomous treatment of “worthy” versus “unworthy” victims, “legitimizing” and “meaningless” Third World elections, and devastating critiques of media coverage of the U.S. wars against Indochina—Herman and Chomsky draw on decades of criticism and research to propose a Propaganda Model to explain the media’s behavior and performance. Their new introduction updates the Propaganda Model and the earlier case studies, and it discusses several other applications. These include the manner in which the media covered the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement and subsequent Mexican financial meltdown of 1994-1995, the media’s handling of the protests against the World Trade Organization, World Bank, and International Monetary Fund in 1999 and 2000, and the media’s treatment of the chemical industry and its regulation. What emerges from this work is a powerful assessment of how propagandistic the U.S. mass media are, how they systematically fail to live up to their self-image as providers of the kind of information that people need to make sense of the world, and how we can understand their function in a radically new way.
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About the Author
NOAM CHOMSKY is Professor, Department of Linguistics and Philosophy, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Read an Excerpt
This book centers in what we call a “propaganda model,” an analytical framework that attempts to explain the performance of the U.S. media in terms of the basic institutional structures and relationships within which they operate. It is our view that, among their other functions, the media serve, and propagandize on behalf of, the powerful societal interests that control and finance them. The representatives of these interests have important agendas and principles on behalf of, the powerful societal interests that control and finance them. The representatives of these interests have important agendas and principles that they want to advance, and they are well positioned to shape and constrain media policy. This is normally not accomplished by crude intervention, but by the selection of right-thinking personnel and by the editors’ and working journalists’ internalization of priorities and definitions of newsworthiness that conform to the institutions policy.
Structural factors are those such as ownership and control, dependence on other major funding sources (notably, advertisers), and mutual interests and relationships between the media and those who make the news and have the power to define it and explain what it means. The propaganda model also incorporates other closely related factors such as the ability to complain about the media’s treatment of news (that is, produce “flak”), to provide “experts” to confirm the official slant on the news, and to fix the basic principles and ideologies that are taken for granted by media personnel and the elite, but are often resisted by the general population. In our view, the same underlying power sources that own the media and fund them as advertisers, that serves as primary definers of the news, and that produce flak and proper-thinking experts, also play a key role in fixing basic principles and the dominant ideologies. We believe that what journalists do, what they see as newsworthy, and what they take for granted as premises of their work are frequently well explained by the incentives, pressures, and constraints incorporated into such a structural analysis.
These structural factors that dominate media operations are not all-controlling and do not always produce simple and homogeneous results. It is well recognized, and may even be said to constitute a part of and institutional critique such as we present in this volume, that the various parts of media organization have some limited autonomy, that individual and professional values influence media work, that policy itself may allow some measure of dissent and reporting that calls into question the accepted viewpoint. These considerations all work to assure some dissent and coverage of inconvenient facts. The beauty of the system, however, is that such dissent and inconvenient information are kept within bounds and at the margins, so that while their presence shows that the system is not monolithic, they are not large enough to interfere unduly with the domination of the official agenda.
It should also be noted that we are talking about media structure and performance, not the effects of the media on the public. Certainly, the media’s adherence to an official agenda with little dissent is likely to influence public opinion in the desired direction, but this is a matter of degree, and where the public’s interests diverge sharply from that of the elite, and where they have their own independent sources of information, the official line may be widely doubted. The point that we want to stress here, however, is that the propaganda model describes forces that shape what the media does; it does not imply that any propaganda emanating from the media is always effective.
Although now more than a dozen years old, both the propaganda model and the case studies presented with it in the first edition of this book have held up remarkably well. The purpose of this new Introduction is to update the model, add some materials to supplement the case studies already in place (and left intact in the chapters to follow), and finally, to point out the possible applicability of the model to a number of issue under current or recent debate.
Table of ContentsIntroduction xi
1. A Propaganda Model 1
2. Worthy and Unworthy Victims 37
3. Legitimizing versus Meaningless Third World Elections: El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua 87
4. The KGB-Bulgarian Plot to Kill the Pope: Free-Market Disinformation as "News" 143
5. The Indochina Wars (I): Vietnam 169
6. The Indochina Ware (II): Laos and Cambodia 253
7. Conclusions 297
Appendix 1: The U.S. Official Observers in Guatemala, July 1-2, 1984 309
Appendix 2: Tagliabue's Finale on the Bulgarian Connection: A Case Study in Bian 313
Appendix 3: Braestrup's Big Story: Some "Freedom House Exclusives" 321