The five filters that shape the media narrative

In the groundbreaking book Manufacturing Consent published in 1988 by Noam Chomsky and Edward Hermann, they proposed a model of how the media in the US is used by the establishment as a means of control of the population. This works less overtly than in openly authoritarian countries where state dominance over the media is obvious. In the US, control of the media is not by the state but by an establishment elite. This control is hidden and achieves its effects more subtly and this feature actually makes the propaganda more effective because people do not realize that their opinions are being manipulated.

The key point of the model is that the people who are carrying out the propaganda (reporters and editors) are not consciously doing so and may be sincerely thinking that they are freely reporting what they see as the truth and would indignantly reject the idea that they are being told what to say and write. This sincerity is what makes the model so effective. Their views are instead shaped by the operation of five filters that subtly weed out voices that do not fit within accepted boundaries. (I have written extensively in the past about the contents of the book and you can read my descriptions of the first three filters and the final two filters. I also added a sixth filter, a note on how the filters operate, and how to combat them.)

Now Al Jazeera English has produced a five-minute cartoon explanation of the five filters narrated by a real journalist, Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!

To give an example that shows how effective this process of manufacturing consent by the establishment elite is, Glenn Greenwald recounts the recent astonishingly rapid reversal of Democratic and Republican positions on Russia.

The general Russia approach that Democrats now routinely depict as treasonous – avoiding confrontation with and even accommodating Russian interests, not just in Ukraine but also in Syria – was one of the defining traits of Obama’s foreign policy. This fact shouldn’t be overstated: Obama engaged in provocative acts such as moves to further expand NATO, non-lethal aid to Ukraine, and deploying “missile defense” weaponry in Romania. But he rejected most calls to confront Russia. That is one of the primary reasons the “foreign policy elite” – which, recall, Obama came into office denouncing and vowing to repudiate – was so dissatisfied with his presidency.

All of this demonstrates how fundamental a shift has taken place as a result of the Democrats’ election-related fixation on The Grave Russian Threat.

Put another way, establishment Democrats – with a largely political impetus but now as a matter of conviction – have completely abandoned Obama’s accommodationist approach to Russia and have fully embraced the belligerent, hawkish mentality of John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Bill Kristol, the CIA and Evan McMullin. It should thus come as no surprise that a bill proposed by supreme warmonger Lindsey Graham to bar Trump from removing sanctions against Russia has more Democratic co-sponsors than Republican ones.

And sure enough, public opinion has also shifted accordingly.

In the new survey, 34% call Russia a “very serious” threat, up from 21% in May 2016. Last spring, Republicans were about twice as likely as Democrats to consider Russia a deep threat (30% among Republicans, 15% among Democrats). Now, that’s reversed, with Democrats about twice as likely to consider Russia a very serious threat (51% among Democrats, 24% among Republicans).

There was an excellent documentary MANUFACTURING CONSENT – PROFESSOR NOAM CHOMSKY AND THE MEDIA based on the book that came out in 1992 that you can see below. It is revelatory and deeply engrossing even though it lasts 2 hours and 40 minutes. It begins with a 1642 quote from John Milton that says “They who have put out peoples eyes reproach them for their blindness”.


  1. Siobhan says

    What a coincidence. I just wrote a post about the small radical publication that accepted my work and how it’s being strangled by that first filter--no money.

  2. Jenora Feuer says

    There’s a certain irony in that the Barbara Frum in the Manufacturing Consent video is the mother of speechwriter David Frum, who spent a whole lot of time actively ‘manufacturing consent’ himself before finding himself on the wrong political side of some of the filters he’d helped set up.

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