By Noam Chomsky
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The mass media makes a profound impact on our thinking. They shape images for us and tell us what to think about that image. Essentially everything we know-or think we know-about events outside our own neighbourhood or circle of acquaintances comes to us via our daily newspaper, our weekly news magazine, our radio, or our television.
How free is the Western media and those in cahoots with it elsewhere? Can a media monopolized by the corporates exercise freedom? Could it operate independent of the business and corporate interests which are furthered by the political parties in the legislatures?
Noted intellectual Noam Chomsky raises these posers through a profound analysis of the evolution of ‘free media’ in tandem with the ‘liberal democracy’ in the United States. Such questions were never more pertinent than today when the US media has effectively turned into the spokesman of the establishment and the White House. As evidenced from the propaganda by the CNN, AP, the New York Times and Washington Post, it appears that converg-ences of interest of the military-industry-media-bureaucracy combine has assumed the contours of a perfect whole that is out to stub all dissenting voices and opinion.
How did all this come about? The US President Woodrow Wilson was extremely annoyed with the pacifist attitude of the American people during the First World War. He appointed the Creel Commission in 1916. It paid dividends. Within six months the war hysteria peaked and the passive people were baying for the blood of the Germans.
Celebrated journalist Walter Lippmann was part of several of such propaganda commissions. He observed: “It is only a few elite, an intellectual community, who can understand the common interests. These things elude the general public. The stupid masses should be driven towards a future that they are too dumb and incompetent to envision for themselves”.
Clearly this was the birth of propaganda and it is how media was initiated into brainwashing of mass mind. It was further refined into public relations. The leading figure in the public relations industry, Edward Bernays, actually came of the Creel Commission. He went on to develop ‘engineering consent’ which he described as ‘the essence of democracy’. He said: ‘The people who are able to engineer consent are the ones who have resources and the power to do it-the business community-and that is who you work for’.
Logic is clear: Propaganda is to democracy what bludgeon is to dictatorship. The American media follows the dictum verbatim. Saddam exposed the US duplicity for sometime after annexing Kuwait. He said he could not stand the annexation of West Bank by Israel and occupation of southern Lebanon (which was by then over 13 years old). He pointed out how the US was blocking negotiations and vetoing UN resolutions against Israel. But no press would report, no editorial would comment on this. Iraq had urged the UNSC to link Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait with the Israeli withdrawal from the occupied Palestine areas. Then President Bush, the larger, was embarr-assed. An ABC poll had said the people favoured it by two to one. But US shot down the ‘linkage’ and few in the media bothered to highlight it.
Consider the propaganda barrage launched by the CNN and Fox during the first Gulf War. Iraq was projected as a monster out to conquer the world. But nobody questioned as to how a third world country without an industrial base would destroy the world when it could not defeat Iran despite being backed by the US, the USSR and being bankrolled by the entire oil-rich Arab world. Nobody in the media pointed that out.
The double standards extend to all spheres. The US State department defines ‘terrorism’ as ‘calculated use of violence or the threat of violence to attain goals that are political, religious or ideological in nature through intimidation, coercion or instilling fear’. But when this becomes the Pentagon or State Dept’s policy, it is called low intensity conflict or counter terrorism. The US has been behind all terror campaigns in the Central American states.
What is true about US media is true about media everywhere. It is not just the suppression of certain news stories from our newspapers or the maligning of certain people and sections of history that characterizes the opinion-manipulating techniques of the media masters. They exercise both subtlety and thoroughness in their management of the news and the entertainment that they present to us.
For example, the way in which the news is covered: which items are emphasized and which are played down; the reporter’s choice of words, tone of voice, and facial expressions; the wording of headlines; the choice of illustrations - all of these things profoundly affect the way in which we interpret what we see or hear.
Noam Chomsky’s Media Control is a must read for all those who thought they were alone in accusing the media of bias and partisanship.