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Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky on Politics & Media – The Collector



manufacturing consent noam chomsky


Why is it that the range of debate permitted in mass media is often so limited, even in places which are supposed to be democratic and in which speech is supposed to be free? Why, in fact, are ordinary people so poorly informed in spite of the absence of any formal restrictions on the flow of information? These are the questions pursued by Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman in Manufacturing Consent.

The conclusion they come to is a radical one: that we should consider the Western media as a propagandistic one. This article explains the arguments they pursue as follows: first, a brief note on their collaboration, before focusing on the ‘economic’ incentives for mass media to restrict its reporting. It then moves on the consider the role of unofficial government influence and the effect of public pressure. It concludes with reflections on how Manufacturing Consent turned out to prove so prescient, and how it relates to other elements of Chomsky’s political thought.


The Authors of Manufacturing Consent: Chomsky and Herman

chomsky photograph 70s
A photograph of Chomsky as a younger man, 1977, via Wikimedia Commons

Noam Chomsky collaborated with media scholar Edward S. Herman to write Manufacturing Consent – presenting the theories contained therein as Chomsky’s is not intended to diminish Herman’s contribution. Indeed, Chomsky has been quite explicit that Herman was arguably the major partner in their collaboration, and that the seeds of many of the core ideas can be found in Herman’s previous work Corporate Control, Corporate Power.

The focus on Chomsky is justified because a large part of what makes Manufacturing Consent so interesting is how it relates to Chomsky’s broader political project, and it is this which will inform some of the conclusions of this article. Undoubtedly, a somewhat different article could be written focusing on Manufacturing Consent in the context of Herman’s authorship at large. This happens not to be that article.

The Basic Premise of Manufacturing Consent

chomsky photo portrait
Photograph of Noam Chomsky, 2017, via Wikimedia Commons

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The subtitle of Manufacturing Consent is “the political economy of the mass media.” The attribution of a political economy to mass media is interesting and worth interpreting carefully. One thing we should note is that the term “political economy” has various resonances in the social sciences. The most straightforward definition is simply the study of the relationship between politics and economics. Another definition in circulation is that political economy is the study of the relationship between a government and the citizens whom it governs.

Both definitions seem plausible and apt, given the basic premise of Manufacturing Consent. That premise is simply that the kind of participation which is possible in a democracy (indeed, in any political system which permits some form of participation) is greatly determined by the kind and variety of information about political events that one has access to.

Chomsky and Herman will argue that one of, if not the, most important determining factors behind the kind of information modern-day Americans have access to are the economic pressures placed on major news organizations to report certain things in a certain way.

The Basic Elements: Corporatism

juan gris still life newspaper
Still Life with Newspaper, Juan Gris, 1916, via Google Arts & Culture.

The theory that Chomsky and Herman set out in Manufacturing Consent has come to be called the “propaganda model of communication,” and it has five basic elements.

The first element is “size, ownership, and profit orientation”: this is the argument that, given that the size of large media corporations is based on their profitability, rather than (say) how accurately or fairly their reports are, then the influence of media corporations will be based on their ability to attract investment above anything else.

Second, “the advertising license to do business”: because the largest source of income for news organizations now comes from advertising – rather than, for example, newspaper sales, or some other product of consumer demand – it is the political stance of advertisers that determines the political stance of news agencies and other media organizations. The implication here is that, insofar as a corporation has interests, they are primarily economic. Were the main source of media revenue from individual consumers, that might result in some kind of equilibrium between the political positions held by ordinary people and the issues the news media focus on.

chomsky activist photograph
Chomsky speaking at a protest, 2011, via Wikimedia Commons

For Chomsky and Herman, the success of a news organization depends greatly on the relationship they are able to foster with governments and large corporations, given the latter constitute a major information source upstream:

“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”.

The problem, clearly, is the creation of favored or disfavored news sources by these bureaucracies: the very powerful are able to, in effect, decide who should be able to hold them accountable. It would be no surprise if the consequence was less forensic scrutiny.

Another consequence of this, which Chomsky and Herman don’t dwell on but seems obvious, is an intensification of partisanship. Imagine a country that has a left-wing party and a right-wing party. The left-wing party favors its preferred media sources, and the right-wing party favors its preferred media sources, with the best, up-to-date, reliable information. Of course, only one party can be in power and therefore be in a position to supply its preferred news sources with a great deal of useful information. This means that it is a matter of protecting a given news organization’s interests that the political party they align with wins. Clearly, partisanship of some kind is probably inevitable, but it isn’t difficult to imagine a more moderate form of partisanship were the fate of right-wing newspapers bound up in the fate of right-wing parties, and left-wing newspapers left-wing parties.

Catching Flak 

josef danhauser newspaper readers
Newspaper Readers, Josef Danhauser, 1840, via Wikimedia Commons

Chomsky and Herman also discuss the external pressure media organizations face, as another structural limitation on what media organizations can report or discuss. The arguments addressed so far have been almost exclusively about the distortive effect those in positions of power have. These arguments are pretty intuitive: whatever else one thinks, it is extremely hard to justify a small group of people having a disproportionate degree of control over media organizations.

Things are more complicated when it comes to flak. Chomsky and Herman are quick to suggest that flak can be stirred up by powerful organizations, but clearly, even organic flak – that is, lots of individual readers, watchers, or listeners reacting of their own accord – presents a limitation on the free expression of the press. However, it was previously suggested that part of what was wrong with the disproportionate reliance on advertising was just that it prevented everyone from being able to set the agenda for news organizations – by removing their subscriptions or simply not buying their newspaper at the newsstand. Isn’t this a kind of flak, or functionally similar to it?

It isn’t immediately obvious whether the ideal here should be – whether everyone should be able to put pressure on news organizations, or that nobody should. The latter is difficult to imagine – democratic politics of any kind seems to encourage an extremely vocal expression of opinion. It remains an open question whether flak as such can be eradicated, or merely taken out of the hands of the powerful

Terror and the Rogue State

newspaper fruit dish
Newspaper and Fruit Dish, Juan Gris, 1916, via Wikimedia Commons

In the more recent editions of Manufacturing Consent, Chomsky and Herman have added a section addressing the “war on terror” as a mechanism of control. That is, commitment to the war on terror becomes an imperative higher than any particular commitment to fight terrorism, and the insinuation that one isn’t sufficiently on board is so potentially damaging to a news organization’s reputation that it imposes a major restriction on reporting.

This idea is closely related to another element of Chomsky’s broader politics, which he explores in Rogue States. This book is subtitled “The Rule of Force in World Affairs,” and argues that the political culture in the West has stifled the kinds of questions we are able to ask about the motives and intentions of our geopolitical “enemies,” such that we repeatedly misunderstood their behavior with deleterious effects both for people in these places and for people in the West. The idea is that restrictions imposed by the war on terror agenda don’t just prevent good reporting, but they shackle Western people (and thereby Western governments) to ill-informed conceptions of the world and the West’s ability to remake it.

Noam Chomsky Broke the Idealism of the Late 20th Century

berlin wall photo coloured
Berlin Wall at the Potsdamer Platz, Edward Valachovic, 1975, via Wikimedia Commons

One thing worth stressing about this theory and its impact at the time is that the Western world was on the cusp of a period of political self-confidence when this book was published in the late 1980s. Four decades of the Cold War meant that a strong sense of superiority of the Western democratic system of government had been established by contrast with the widespread (and broadly accurate) perception of authoritarianism and corruption in the Eastern Bloc.

From the late 1980s until 9/11, it became plausible – indeed, somewhat fashionable – to hold theories that seem almost insane today, and that glorified the imminent future dominance of Western liberal democracy. What makes Manufacturing Consent so potent is that it argues that information restriction and propaganda, which many Americans and Western Europeans had learned to associate with Communist countries, were, in fact, prevalent in the West too.

In fact, one of the most infamous quotes from the book says exactly that: “Especially where the issues involve substantial U.S. economic and political interests and relationships with friendly or hostile states, the mass media usually function much in the manner of state propaganda agencies.” Moreover, even as Communist regimes began to stutter and fall away, Chomsky and Herman appeared to suggest that this tendency within Western society was liable to get even worse.

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Jailed Italian Mafia boss Messina Denaro dies



Mug shot of Matteo Messina Denaro

A handout photo shows Matteo Messina Denaro Italy’s most wanted mafia boss after he was arrested in Palermo, Italy, January 16, 2023. Carabinieri/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo Acquire Licensing Rights

ROME, Sept 25 (Reuters) – Italian Mafia boss Matteo Messina Denaro, who was arrested in January after spending 30 years on the run, has died, AFP reported on Monday, citing Italian media.

Messina Denaro, 61, was suffering from cancer at the time of his arrest. As his condition worsened in recent weeks he was transferred to a hospital from the maximum-security prison in central Italy where he was initially held.

He was convicted of numerous crimes, including for his role in planning the 1992 murders of anti-mafia prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino – crimes that shocked Italy and sparked a crackdown on the Sicilian mob.

He was also held responsible for bombings in Rome, Florence and Milan in 1993 that killed 10 people, as well as helping organise the kidnapping of Giuseppe Di Matteo, 12, to try to dissuade the boy’s father from giving evidence against the mafia. The boy was held for two years, then murdered.


Dubbed by the Italian press as “the last Godfather”, Messina Denaro is not believed to have given any information to the police after he was seized outside a private health clinic in the Sicilian capital, Palermo, on Jan. 16.

According to medical records leaked to the Italian media, he underwent surgery for colon cancer in 2020 and 2022 under a false name. A doctor at the Palermo clinic told La Repubblica newspaper that Messina Denaro’s health had worsened significantly in the months leading up to his capture.

Reporting by Crispian Balmer and Kanjyik Ghosh; Editing by Kim Coghill and Gerry Doyle

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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Ukraine to receive US long-range ATACMS missiles, US media report



United States President Joe Biden has informed his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, that Washington will provide Kyiv with ATACMS long-range missiles, US broadcaster NBC News has reported.

Ukraine has repeatedly asked the Biden administration for the long-range Army Tactical Missile Systems (ATACMS) to help hit supply lines, airbases and rail networks deep behind Russia’s front lines in occupied regions of Ukraine.

But the White House has not announced a decision to provide Ukraine with the ATACMS system and the missiles were not publicly discussed when Zelenskyy visited Washington, DC on Thursday for talks with Biden, even as the US announced a new $325m military aid package for Kyiv.

The White House and the Pentagon declined to comment on the NBC report on Friday.


The Pentagon also declined to say whether any promise of ATACMS was given to Zelenskyy during his meetings on Thursday at the Department of Defense, saying: “In regards to ATACMS, we have nothing to announce.”

A date for delivery of the ATACMS was not revealed, according to NBC.

Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs warned earlier this month that the supply of longer-range missiles to Kyiv would cross a “red line” and the US would be viewed as “a party to the conflict” in Ukraine if it did provide such weapons.

Zelenskyy did not answer directly when asked about the NBC reports on ATACMS, but he noted that the US was the biggest single supplier of weaponry to Ukraine.

“We are discussing all the different types of weapons – long-range weapons and artillery, artillery shells with the calibre of 155mm, then air defence systems,” Zelenskyy said, speaking through an interpreter.

“We have a comprehensive discussion and [we] work with the United States at different levels,” he said.

The Washington Post also reported that the US plans to provide Ukraine with a version of the ATACMS that will be armed with cluster bomblets rather than a single warhead, citing several unnamed sources familiar with the deliberations, and that can fly up to 306km (190 miles).

ATACMS is designed for “deep attack of enemy second-echelon forces”, a US Army website states, and could be used to attack command and control centres, air defences and logistics sites well behind the front line.



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Who is Lachlan Murdoch, heir apparent of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire?



For Lachlan Murdoch, this moment has been a long time coming. Assuming, of course, that his moment has actually arrived.

On Thursday, his father Rupert Murdoch announced that in November he’ll step down as the head of his two media companies: News Corp. and Fox Corp. Lachlan will become the chair of News Corp. while remaining chief executive and chair at Fox Corp., the parent of Fox News Channel.

The changes make Rupert’s eldest son the undisputed leader of the media empire his father built over decades. There’s no real sign that his siblings and former rivals James and Elisabeth contested him for the top job; James in particular has distanced himself from the company and his father’s politics for several years. But Rupert, now 92, has long had a penchant for building up his oldest children only to later undermine them — and sometimes to set them against one another — often flipping the table without notice.

Given Rupert Murdoch’s advanced age, this might be his last power move. But there’s a reason the HBO drama “Succession” was often interpreted as a thinly disguised and dark satire of his family business. In Murdoch World, as in the fictional world of the Roy family, seemingly sure things can go sideways in an instant, particularly when unexpected opportunities arise.


Lachlan Murdoch has lived that first hand. Born in London, he grew up in New York City and attended Princeton, where he focused not on business, but philosophy. His bachelor’s thesis, titled “A Study of Freedom and Morality in Kant’s Practical Philosophy,” addressed those weighty topics alongside passages of Hindu scripture. The thesis closed on a line from the Bhagavad Gita referencing “the infinite spirit” and “the pure calm of infinity,” according to a 2019 article in The Intercept.

Béatrice Longuenesse, Lachlan’s thesis advisor at Princeton, confirmed the accuracy of that report via email.

After graduation, though, Lachlan plunged headlong into his father’s business, moving to Australia to work for the Murdoch newspapers that were once the core of News Corp.’s business. Many assumed he was being groomed for higher things at News Corp., and they were not wrong. Within just a few years, Lachlan was deputy CEO of the News Corp. holding company for its Australian properties; shortly thereafter, he took an executive position at News Corp. itself and was soon running the company’s television stations and print publishing operations.

Lachlan’s ascent came to an abrupt halt in 2005, when he resigned from News Corp. with no public explanation. According to Paddy Manning, an Australian journalist who last year published a biography of Lachlan Murdoch, the core problem involved two relatively minor issues on which Lachlan disagreed with Roger Ailes, who then ran Fox News.

“The real point was that Lachlan felt Rupert had backed his executives over his son,” Manning said in an interview. “So Lachlan felt, ‘If I’m not going to be supported, then what’s the point?’” Manning did not have direct access to Lachlan for his book “The Successor,” but said he spoke in depth with the people closest to his subject.

Lachlan returned to Australia, where he has often described feeling most at home, and founded an investment group that purchased a string of local radio stations among other properties.

While he was away, News Corp. entered choppy waters. The U.K. phone-hacking scandal, in which tabloid journalists at the News of the World and other Murdoch-owned publications had found a way to listen to voicemails of the British royal family, journalistic competitors and even a missing schoolgirl, had seriously damaged the company. The fracas led to resignations of several News Corp. officials, criminal charges against some, and the closure of News of the World as its finances went south.

Manning said that the damage the scandal inflicted on News Corp. — and on both Lachlan Murdoch’s father and his brother James, chief executive of News’ British newspaper group at the time — helped pull Lachlan back to the company.

“He was watching the family tear itself apart over the phone-hacking scandal,” Manning said. Lachlan was “instrumental in trying to circle the wagons and turn the guns outwards, and stop Rupert from sacking James.”

While it took more convincing, Lachlan eventually returned to the company in 2014 as co-chairman of News Corp. alongside James.

Not long afterward, Ailes was forced out of his job at Fox News following numerous credible allegations of sexual harassment.

Lachlan Murdoch has drawn criticism from media watchdogs for what many called Fox News’ increasingly conspiratorial and misinformation-promoting broadcasts. The network hit a nadir following the 2020 election when voting machine company Dominion Voting Systems sued Fox News for $1.6 billion, alleging that Fox knowingly promoted false conspiracy theories about the security of its voting machines.

Fox settled that suit for $787.5 million in March of this year. A similar lawsuit filed by Smartmatic, another voting-machine maker, may go to trial in 2025, Fox has suggested.

In certain respects, though, Lachlan Murdoch’s behavior suggests some ambivalence about his role at News Corp. In 2021 he moved back to Sidney and has been mixing commuting and remote work from Australia ever since. “I think there’s a legitimate question about whether you can continue to do that and for how long” while running companies based in the U.S., Manning said.


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