Journalists and editors often get highly offended when it is suggested that they serve as the mouthpieces of the owners of the media institutions they work for. They protest that they write what they want to write about and that no one censors them or tells them to slant the reporting in a particular way. But as Noam Chomsky and Edward Hermann pointed out in their brilliant analysis Manufacturing Consent (1988), that kind of explicit direction is not necessary. It is even counter-productive because such tightly controlled information systems are clearly seen as what they are, propaganda. To be truly effective as propaganda, those generating it have to believe that what they are saying is of their own volition, and this is why the western media works far better as a propaganda system than media where the state runs it.
Chomsky and Herman write that in the western model, there are various filters in place that subtly weed out along the way anyone who does not already have an ideological affinity for what the owners believe. The higher up the ladder you go, the more you will share the views of the owners and the more you will hire people below you who share those same views. (I wrote about the Chomsky-Herman model and the five filters here and here.)
I was reminded of this by the statements of Chris Mitchell, an editor to one of Rupert Murdoch’s Australian newspapers, describing his relationship with Murdoch. Murdoch is notorious for using his media empire to advance his business and political interests. But Mitchell felt no sense of being told what to do.
The Queensland journalist, who edited Brisbane’s Courier Mail and the Australian newspaper for 24 years and now writes a media column in the Australian, describes his relationship with the media proprietor as not close but “friendly and trusting” and says they are of a like mind. “The unvarnished truth is that I did not need Rupert directing me,” he says. “All my campaigns were my own and they were usually my own ideas. And of course because our world views are similar I never ran any of those ideas past Rupert.”
Of course Murdoch did not need to direct Mitchell. That would be tedious. It is far better to hire someone who thinks like you and then let them loose to be ‘free’ to write what they want.