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In the 1988 book Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, Chomsky argued that corporate mass media essentially controls the minds of the general population as an alternative to authoritarian control of behavior.

The authors suggest that the more "free" a nation is, the more governments and industry must rely on thought control, bounding of the debate and so on in order to effectively rule the population. The basic idea is that the opulent minority must be protected from the majority who would obviously choose to reduce wealth inequality.

Can anyone provide examples of demonstrably and participatory democratic societies that use such coercive indoctrination methods on their populations?

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    Could the question please define "true democracy"? Especially how it differs from ordinary democracy. Without clear definitions the question might not be answerable. Jan 1, 2023 at 8:59
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    Also, this line is not correct: "The basic idea is that the opulent minority must be protected from the majority who would obviously choose to reduce wealth inequality." While I suspect that Chomsky would probably agree with that as an application of the propaganda model, Manufacturing Consent almost entirely deals coverage of foreign events from the American perspective and the basic idea is about "supporting privilege and existing institutional structures" in general.
    – Obie 2.0
    Jan 1, 2023 at 14:26
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    Meh. Closing this Q plays exactly to the kind of conspirational worldview this Q espouses. There is a good book in MC, just not the one the OP decided to focus on. Vote to reopen. Jan 1, 2023 at 16:41
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    As did I. Too many decent questions are eliminated because of the bias of their authors, and this one is less blatant than some. It asks whether a model is true, and in any case the leading question at the end of the original question has been changed.
    – Obie 2.0
    Jan 1, 2023 at 23:40
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    Good to read Chomsky along with Nobel laureate Harold Pinter. Here he is through the lens of John Pilger. And here his own Nobel speech. [Warning: He was dying of cancer as he delivered that speech so it can be disconcerting to watch. The readable text is below the video if preferred]
    – user44167
    Jan 3, 2023 at 12:12

2 Answers 2

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Well, there are really two books for one in M.C.

The first book, the one I read more than 25 years ago, is a fascinating, if deeply uncomfortable book about how democratic countries manage to arrange a certain consensus of coverage of foreign affairs in their press and that without directly applying pressure on the media. The case study was simple:

  • CIA-backed right wing regimes in Central America kill many many people? Talk it down, question the victims' integrity and significance, minimize it. Gotta fight Communism!

  • One Polish priest gets killed by the Communist Polish authorities? Talk it up, glorify and humanize the victim, keep it in the limelight. Gotta fight Communism!

As some of us, for example, squirm to articulate exactly how "Lybia in '11" is different than "Ukraine in '22" this part of MC is quite topical.

I also note that MC has 2 authors, the other being S. Hermann. Perhaps that is what made it more interesting than the rest of the stuff I usually see coming out of Chomsky. Not sure.

This is a very worthwhile book and I encourage anyone interested in foreign policy and politics in general to read it. You might look at the media with different eyes.


Back to the question:

The basic idea is that the opulent minority must be protected from the majority who would obviously choose to reduce wealth inequality.

The second book, the one you seem to be alluding to, I remember considerably less well. Or maybe I just dismissed it as I read it.

Or, like Obie says:

Manufacturing Consent almost entirely deals coverage of foreign events from the American perspective

While the subject of the book's case study is Latin America vs Polish coverage, i.e. very much foreign policy, this question concerns domestic policy - i.e. something very much not examined by said case study.

The notion of "dark forces manipulating the majority" is also quite topical these days. To be frank it reminds me of Trump's dark talk of "the elites".

How and why exactly the "powers that be" would manage to pull the strings of the election of two such radically different politicians as Obama and Trump eludes me. But I am sure Chomsky can explain it quite well to his followers.


There are certainly interesting things to look at in the way certain subjects are covered by the media. Such as, for example, the lower level of taxation imposed on capital gains, as opposed to employment income. Though I haven't read him, I suppose that is partially what Piketty covers. And the persistent tendency of not so well off Americans to vote against their interests in lowering income tax for the wealthy or against universal health care. Surely, a bit of media manipulation - possibly of the type covered in M.C. - assists in achieving this political outcome.

But the formal presentation of such mechanisms is in different books, not Manipulating Consent, which does not really concerns itself all that much with this domestic politics and income distribution. So this claim, if it is indeed made in the book, seems to be riding on the coattails of the, much more acclaimed, foreign policy coverage core of M.C.


p.s. There are widely diverging estimates of Chomsky's net worth. One thing one can safely say is that he's made a lucrative and comfortable living criticizing the democracies he so deplores. And lives in. In fact, for all his criticism, it is rather hard to envision what other political systems would tolerate his kind of criticism (as we should - I am by no means suggesting we should censor Chomsky nor dismissing the value of having dissident voices).

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    why squirm to explain Libya? I'm seeing plenty of people agree that the Libyan invasion was bad, without cognitive dissonance. Jan 2, 2023 at 21:51
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    @user253751 Because Libya leads to Iraq. Then Afghanistan, Vietnam... Usually long before that the bellows of WHATABOUTISM drown out all further discourse. Which means that Biden is the Pope and all his minions (many of whom here) wont brook questions. Peculiarly appropriate given the name of the papal decrees. And of course Libya, Iraq... are just the tip of the iceberg. See Harold Pinter above for the S American side.
    – user44167
    Jan 3, 2023 at 12:35
  • @user253751 As for no cognitive dissonance re Libya how many of those who claim that they agree Libya was "bad" chose Trump over Hillary (of Gaddafi fame)? At least Chomsky has openly admitted re Trump vs Biden was wrong in context of Ukraine
    – user44167
    Jan 3, 2023 at 12:47
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Recent events such as the banning of Russia Today (in some cases happening before the Feb 2022) in EU countries and the discussion around TikTok in the USA support the validity of propaganda model.

Though, it is not obvious that propaganda makes democracy untrue. It's just that some kind of consent is going to happen, and if you don't manufacture it, somebody else would likely do, to their benefit.

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    I don't think at least RT fits the narrative of the question. E.g. in his book the idea is that media, by themselves, does not write about Nicaragua. Nothing is forbidden. Jan 1, 2023 at 10:16
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    @ThomasKoelle - I also think the author has not fully understood Chomsky's claims in Manufacturing Consent. It's all about forces that encourage self-censorship: advertising, flak, fear, and so forth. They seem to have accepted this answer largely on the basis that it says that the model is correct more than any evidence that it provides for the model itself (of which there is some, at least for sufficiently broad interpretations thereof).
    – Obie 2.0
    Jan 1, 2023 at 15:06
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    It does not. The whole point of MC is that the media can be manipulated without needing to resort to crude censorship as given in your 2 examples. RT doesn't "unbound debates", it merely claims that 2+2=5. Zelensky is a Nazi. rt.com/russia/563002-zelensky-guard-nazi-insignia US had bioweapons in UA. rt.com/russia/568853-us-bioweapons-ukraine-kirillov Bucha was staged. rt.com/russia/553328-ukraine-staged-killings-bucha Jan 1, 2023 at 16:42
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    @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica While all of this is true, it's also true for Fox News but Fox hasn't been banned.
    – Rekesoft
    Jan 2, 2023 at 8:00
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    @alamar because the Russian propaganda model relies on overwhelming attention spans with multiple false messages, which are unrelated to each other or the truth, to create the impression that the truth (about a certain topic) is entirely unknowable.
    – wrod
    Jan 4, 2023 at 20:04

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