Adventures in Everyday

The Legitimacy Farm – 3/7


In 1922, Walter Lippmann wrote a book entitled Public Opinion, in which the term “the manufacture of consent” was used for the first time (Lippmann, 1922, chap. 15.4). Advisor to President Wilson during World War 1, Lippmann used this term to describe the process by which his government and other democratic governments are able to control the public’s opinion by manipulating the media that they are exposed to. Inspired by the phenomenal success of President Wilson’s wartime Committee on Public Information, also known as the Creel Commission, Lippmann wrote many books about propaganda in a democratic society. In Public Opinion he wrote that:

The creation of consent is not a new art. It is a very old one which was supposed to have died out with the appearance of democracy. But it has not died out. It has, in fact, improved enormously in technic [sic], because it is now based on analysis rather than on rule of thumb. And so, as a result of psychological research, coupled with the modern means of communication, the practice of democracy has turned a corner. A revolution is taking place, infinitely more significant than any shifting of economic power. (chap. 15.24)

Borrowing Lippmann’s term “the manufacture of consent,” renowned linguist and known political dissident Noam Chomsky appears to believe that such a revolution has indeed taken place (Chomsky, 1997). In his book Media Control: The Spectacular Achievements of Propaganda, Chomsky describes many cases of modern propaganda, in which the news media is being manipulated to serve the needs of an elite. He begins by describing the overwhelming success of the Committee on Public Information’s efforts to increase public support for military intervention in World War 1 (p. 3), and goes on to describe many modern cases, such as the ongoing effort to “reconstruct the history” of the Vietnam war to shape public memory (p. 32). Considering these findings, there is little question whether much of the news media that we have been exposed to, both historically and currently, are somewhat biased in a progovernment and procorporate manner. But do people actually think that the news is biased?

A web search for media awareness groups and websites suggests that yes, at least some people do feel like their media (news media or otherwise) are at least somewhat biased in favor of government and corporate affairs. Such a web search may bring you to the media awareness site Fair: Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, whose newsletter had “over 55,000 recipients, with more signing on every day” in 2004 (see “What’s FAIR?,” n.d.). Or you may find the informal media criticism group ABOVE THE INFLUENCE (of government propaganda) [sic] (Amero, n.d.) – a group within the popular social networking web service Facebook (see “Facebook factsheet,” n.d.) – which boasts 1,433 members at the time of writing. Finally, as a very general indication of the popularity of media criticism, a Google search for the term “manufacture of consent” results in nearly 17,000 hits at the time of writing (see If we can take these data as a general indication of the overall awareness of media bias, then there appears to be many people who are concerned about the present progovernment and procorporate spin in news and other media, which is labeled by some as propaganda. So then how is it that such media manipulation is still allowed to occur in our democratic society?

One possibility, endorsed by many writers including Chomsky and Lippmann, suggests that a small, clandestine elite, operating from the highest tiers of society, is orchestrating a “manufacture of consent” that primarily targets a dominant, upper class demographic of society, who in turn influence the opinions of lower classes. Lippmann says that “the social superior is likely to be imitated by the social inferior, the holder of power is imitated by subordinates, the more successful by the less successful, the rich by the poor, the city by the country” (Lippmann, 1922, chap 3.15). Chomsky agrees. An important part of his propaganda model of media bias is the idea that “the primary targets of the manufacture of consent are those who regard themselves as ‘the more thoughtful members of the community,’ the ‘intellectuals,’ the ‘opinion leaders’” (Chomsky, 1989, p. 70; c.f. Paterson, 1988, p. 82). If the manufacture of consent primarily targets these upper echelons of society, as Chomsky and Lippmann claim, then how is it that the majority of the population appears to be relatively satisfied with their role in the system? Why is there no popular revolt? The answer, according to Chomsky’s propaganda model, is that the bulk of mass media is deliberately designed to prevent people from becoming too interested in politics –distracting them from important issues (Chomsky, 2001). Chomsky writes:

The real mass media are basically trying to divert people. “Let them do something else, but don’t bother us (us being the people who run the show). Let them get interested in professional sports, for example. Let everybody be crazed about professional sports or sex scandals or the personalities and their problems or something like that. Anything, as long as it isn’t serious. Of course, the serious stuff is for the big guys. ‘We’ take care of that.” (p. 22)

But is it necessary to suppose that the mass media system is inherently designed with the interests of a small supervisory elite in mind, who manufacture the consent of entire populations to suit their goals? Or can media production and distribution be explained in strict psychological terms? If a psychological interpretation is indeed possible, it must not only explain the status of the current media environment, but the interpretation must also provide an explanation as to how the media system has evolved to this point.

. . .

Table of Contents

1 Background

2 Abstract

3 Introduction

4 A Psychological Interpretation of the Propaganda Model

5 Analysis of the Institute for Propaganda Analysis Techniques of Propaganda

5.1 Name-Calling

5.2 Glittering Generalities

5.3 Transfer

5.4 Testimonial

5.5 Plain Folks

6 Discussion

7 APA-Style References


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