The Sourcing Filter: Strong as it Ever Was

herman and chomsky faces

Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky’s “propaganda model” of the functioning of the U.S. mass media is surely one of the few great achievements of twentieth-century social science. Its explanatory and predictive force is as strong today as it was in 1988.

One test of this claim resides in the remarkable Presidency of Donald John Trump.

Trump is obviously multiply pathological and virtually incapable of telling the truth, except when it happens as a mere coincidence. He lies so often and so freely that both the quantity and the audacity of the lies tend to defy their tracking.

This, as well as Trump’s frequent irrational attacks on mainstream media, offer a good way to judge whether it remains true, as Herman and Chomsky argued in explaining their “SOURCING MASS-MEDIA NEWS: THE THIRD FILTER,” that major corporate media will tend to give far too much interpretive weight to people in high public and private posts.

With this in mind, consider a very peculiar headline from today’s edition of The New York Times.

Yesterday, Donald Trump said, plainly and on the record, that he was going to discontinue the “task force” that has played such an important role in keeping him from severely worsening the domestic impact of the ongoing global SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. Today, Mr. Trump has — entirely predictably — said he will, in fact, leave the task force in place.

The NYT‘s headline on this simple reversal? This:

“Seeming.” That, of course, is a counter-factual exculpatory adjective. Why is it there?

The only reasonable explanation is the one that comes from the Herman-Chomsky model: Treating TPTB with special reverence is so important to corporate mass media, that even such an extreme case does not break the “filtering” rule that inheres in the system: Official sources always have the benefit of the doubt, even when they are inarguably grossly unreliable.

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