A telling example of how the media works


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.

Comments

  1. Pierce R. Butler says

    Exactly why H.R. Clinton can denounce accusations of corruption with the rejoinder that she never changed a vote due to contributor pressure.

  2. says

    Let us not forget the role of the public in all this: we are an essential of the feedback loop. Manipulate the public to demand only positive spins on issues A, B, and C, and no journalist will challenge that positive spin lest they incite public outrage.

  3. sonofrojblake says

    There are exceptions. The best I know of was “The Bugle” podcast, featuring John “Last Week Tonight” Oliver and his best mate Andy Zaltzman. Archives of the show going back to 2007 are available, up to 2012. This was the period the show was hosted (and paid for) by Times Online (i.e. Rupert Murdoch) and Oliver and Zaltzman are audibly baffled in July 2011 that they still have jobs as they lay into their employer without restraint over the phone-hacking scandal.
    (If you get into the Bugle archive, and I recommend you do, I should draw your attention in particular to two episodes.
    Episode 152, put out the week bin Laden was killed, understandably mainly deals with that story, and in the words of Oliver, is not so much a tribute episode to bin Laden, as a special “fuck-you-logy” to the big man. Subsequent fuck-eulogies were delivered, at the appropriate times, to Muammar Gadaffi and Kim Jong Il, although not, controversially, to Margaret Thatcher. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AVb84n-FFx4
    Episode 69 was put out the week news broke that a young man who was currently on a round-the-world gap year trip had been discovered to have painted a massive CDC on the roof of his parents’ £5m mansion, something like a year earlier, and it had just been discovered. The opportunity for puerile humour was not to be missed, and indeed it was not. Check it out.

  4. Chiroptera says

    Mano Singham: 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.

    When describing how the economic elites manage to effectively determine government policy, Gore Vidal claims that he was accused of being a conspiracy theorist. His reply was, “Conspiracy? No, they just all think alike.”

  5. KG says

    not so much a tribute episode to bin Laden, as a special “fuck-you-logy” to the big man. Subsequent fuck-eulogies were delivered, at the appropriate times, to Muammar Gadaffi and Kim Jong Il, although not, controversially, to Margaret Thatcher. – sonofrojblake@3

    What a courageous choice of targets.

  6. sonofrojblake says

    @KG, 5: please correct and forgive me if I’m wrong, I’m very, very bad at this, but do I detect sarcasm?

    If so: is there a target they missed? As in, was there some especially egregious arsehole who died between May 2011 and about June 2014 that you think they missed out? (They did debate somewhat whether Hugo Chavez deserved one, and concluded he did not.)

  7. KG says

    sonofrojblake@5,

    I’m very, very bad at this

    Something we can agree on.

    was there some especially egregious arsehole who died between May 2011 and about June 2014 that you think they missed out?

    Well you mentioned one yourself. To spell out my thought a little more (since you’re very, very bad at this) was that if you want to convince us how boldly independent Oliver and Zaltzman were, listing “fuck-eulogies” on three near-universally despised targets (at least in the USA), and one non-target who would have been controversial, and was greatly admired by Murdoch, is not particularly effective.

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