While Donald Trump’s general, intellectual rhetoric is something to be desired, his continual bashing of “fake news” may be more VERACIOUS than the public gives him credit.
Journalist, Walter Lippmann, introduced the notion of “manufacturing consent” in his 1922 publication, Public Opinion. In it, Lippmann poses the notion that the news and reality do not always have a linear relationship. He suggests that the news serves, not as a source of objective information that innately creates a check-and-balance on the government, but an interpretation of current affairs that is carefully orchestrated to evoke an emotional response or outcome. The notion of a free Democracy is convoluted and misguided, Lippmann claims; a carefully orchestrated smoke-and-mirror magic trick. In other words, true democracy stipulates unbiased facts and information – characteristics the media views as minor technicalities.
Fast forward sixty years and the concept of “manufacturing consent” resurfaces in Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky’s book.
In the 1988 manifesto, “Manufacturing Consent,” Herman and Chomsky expand on this idea by applying it to the well-oiled mass media machine. They argue that news outlets “are effective and powerful ideological institutions that carry out a system-supportive propaganda function…”
Addressing the propaganda model, both men explain that, since news outlets are businesses with profits as their driving force, it would be impossible for journalism to be completely objective. This concept is no different than any other business model. If you owned a butcher shop, it would be a disservice to your business to highlight studies suggesting a vegan diet has long-term health benefits. Instead, you would focus on information that supported a carnivorous diet as being the cornerstone of a healthy diet. To do otherwise would be like shooting yourself in the foot.
For that same reason, corporations and some levels of government choose which information it divulges to the public and what it eradicates from the national narrative. They base this on what outcome best suits their needs and continual power.
Corporate-backed news stations are more than willing to pay millions in order to entice, persuade, or demand news anchors and journalists to push a particular agenda. If employees for a news station or newspaper refuse to change the narrative so that it aligns with company ideology, these employees are heavily scrutinized and lose credibility under the guise of being “conspiracy theorists.”
“Conspiracy Theory” was a term coined by the CIA in 1967 as a response to a leaked document called The Warren Report. It concerned the JFK Assassination and was sent to Agency bureaus all over the world. In an attempt to clean the mess, the government strategically implemented the concept of a “conspiracy theory” – a hair-brain idea rooted in lunacy and paranoia, not evidence. This caused enough doubt in the public eye to keep anyone from taking the report and its allegations seriously.
Manufacturing Consent was popular among dissident “free-thinkers”, but was shrugged off by most Americans as being too outlandish and paranoid. It was (in essence) a conspiracy theory. Believing in conspiracy theories meant you doubted your governmentand nobody wanted to appear unpatriotic and dismissive.
We don’t censor the truth in America. Technically, we can’t. The First Amendment protects our rights to freedom of speech and the press… or so we’ve been told, time and time again, over feverish pitches in courtrooms, classrooms, and picket lines. But if the very people we trust to provide that truth is supplying us falsified information, the concept of the First Amendment becomes convoluted and superficial. In reality, that clause in the Constitution actually gives reporters leeway to make unsubstantiated claims without anyone keeping them honest and in check.
Therefore, the only stories that tend to reach mass audiences are the ones that a) will create a reaction b) will be sure to divide people and c) don’t demand too much thought and attention – because the last thing the talking heads want you to do is stew in all the gross injustices and shady undertakings of the government.
News stations make sure to stay in sync with the official pronouncements of the U.S. government. Any attempt at “challenging the system” is found only in heavily-regulated op-ed pieces – tucked a safe distance away from the limelight, where Democrats and Republicans can artificially debate topics within a narrow scope.
This is how situations like our involvement in the Iraq War occurred. Even though Helen Keller herself would have been able to see that the U.S. invading Iraq was a terrible idea, virtually everyone in the media jumped in with both feet. Round-the-clock news stations suddenly became recruiting agents, bringing in think tanks and war heroes to boost the war rationale. Antiwar voices were almost totally silenced or made to look unpatriotic or uncaring.
This phenomenon was addressed in Manufacturing Consent, known as “flak” – a mechanism in which reporters or media outlets that dared challenge the public dialogue would be denounced by the establishment and by the American People. Those that suppressed these outlying journalists were deemed “experts” who were glorified and financially rewarded by private interest groups, investors, and political figures.
In the case of Iraq, fear of being called unpatriotic, anti-military, or pro-terrorism effectively hushed those who wanted to speak out. And when that didn’t always silence naysayers, networks like MSNBC simply yanked them from the airwaves. Because who needs a pros and cons list when we’re about to invade one of the most politically-charged war zones in the world?
Pushing positive narratives and hiding forbidden ones – these are the two elements needed to effectively “manufacture” public “consent.” And we have mastered this.
Because of tech companies like Google and Facebook, it is significantly easier to “manufacture consent” today than ever before. Currently, social media is the most influential factor in mainstreaming bad information and escalating the rate at which people process it. Social media knows no boundaries; it has no checks-and-balance system to police the spread of “fake news.” The democratic space it occupies is relentless, spreading like cancer through society and burying its way into our psyche. Suddenly, the microphone is amplified and everyone wants their turn at the podium.
Monopolistic tech companies like Facebook have profound power over media companies, being able to steer traffic where it suits them simply by tweaking algorithms. They can control how, where, and when we get information. News corporations no longer enjoy the control of their own economic fate that they once had. This responsibly now lands solely in the hands of social media moguls.
When Manufacturing Consent came to fruition, the major problem was that Americans across the political spectrum were being sold on the “Gold Star Standard” of American power and government policy.
Today, it isn’t exactly clear how much power politicians, advertisers, private interest groups, investors, and social media powerhouses control the global distribution of information. But I assure you, it’s sickeningly huge.
One thing IS for certain – Trust of modern media isn’t as simple as waving the flag, standing up during the National Anthem, and supporting the troops – albeit, it certainly has been embedded in our moral foundation that doing these things is what makes you a great American citizen. Questioning any of this makes you a traitor to America, which is exactly where the government wants its people.
It’s a shame that an updated version of Manufacturing Consent hasn’t been published. It appears now, more than ever, society could use another wake-up call, though it probably would be hurried in all the loud noise.