Thursday, 10 July 2008

Chomsky: What makes the mainstream media mainstream? (part two)


Orwell wrote Animal Farm in the mid-1940's, a satire on the Soviet Union, on a totalitarian state. "Literary Censorship in England" was an introduction to that novel, but it was suppressed and wasn't discovered until some 30 years later. In it Orwell says that whilst England isn't a totalitarian state, and doesn't have the KBG breathing down peoples necks, the result is pretty much the same: "People who have independent ideas or who think the wrong kind of thoughts are cut out."

People only succeed in the media when the power structure knows they're going to say the right thing. Much like university faculty in the more ideological disciplines. They've been through a system.

"Corporations sell audiences to other corporations."

"The obvious assumption is that the product of the media, what appears, what doesn’t appear, the way it is slanted, will reflect the interest of the buyers and sellers, the institutions, and the power systems that are around them. If that wouldn’t happen, it would be kind of a miracle."

This hypothesis is extremely sound and stands up under the harshest scrutiny.

Such discussion is unlikely to be found in the education system. And obviously not in the media. Why would it?


It's a system simi;lar to Leninism. We - the elite political and corporate class - do things for you and are doing things in the interest of everyone. We let you vote once in a while. But otherwise shut up, do as we say, think what we tell you to think, and let us get on with making the decisions.

How did this evolve?

Much of it comes from the first World War, after which the US went from being a debtor to a creditor nation.

Highly organized state propoganda was first seen during World War I in the form of the British Ministry of Information (BMI). The BMI was used to pursuade the US to enter the war, otherwise Britain was in trouble. It was geared towards sending the US propoganda, massive fabrications of "Hun" attrocities, largely aimed towards US intellectuals. It succeeded. BMI documents show that their goal was "to control the thought of the entire world," as Chomsky puts it.

Woodrow Wilson was elected in 1916 on an anti-war platform, in spite of the fact that he intended to go to war. The problem for Wilson was this: how do you get a pacifist population to become raving anti-German lunatics who want to kill people. To this end they set up the only major state propoganda agency in US history: the Committee on Public Information, often called the Creel Commission. It worked, stirring up enough hysteria to convince Americans to go to war.

A lot of people were impressed by this, including Hitler, who cited (in Mein Kampf) state propoganda as a reason why Germany lost the first World War. The US business community was also impressed.

Public Relations industry

A US invention, a 'monstrous' industry derived from the Creel Commission. Edward Bernays was a leading figure of the Creel Commission and went on to write Propoganda, published in 1925. (Incidentally, whilst 'propoganda' means something different today, at the time it meant simply 'information' and didn't have the negative conotations it has today.) In Propoganda, following his experience of the first World War, Bernays says that it is possible "to regiment the public mind every bit as much as an army regiments their bodies".

Also of the Creel Commission, Walter Lippman (the most respected 'serious' journalist in the US for over half a century) spoke of a new art in democracy which he called the "manufacture of consent". Chomsky says:

"By manufacturing consent, you can overcome the fact that formally a lot of people have the right to vote. We can make it irrelevant because we can manufacture consent and make sure that their choices and attitudes will be structured in such a way that they will always do what we tell them, even if they have a formal way to participate."

[Which is why Chomsky says elsewhere that "Democrat and Republican are two sides of the same business faction". It doesn't particular matter which side you vote for because the same interested parties (the corporations and banks) are backing both sides and their interests will served no matter what.]

Academic political and social science derives from the same propoganda industry (Chomsky cites Harold Lasswell as their founder). Lasswell and others realised that "politics has to become political warfare, applying the mechanisms of propaganda that worked so brilliantly during the first World War towards controlling people’s thoughts."

Strangely, "controlling people's thoughts" is not somemthing you'll study in media classes at college.

James Madison, during the constitutional convention, said that the goal of the new system was "to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority".

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