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.

Why NPR Sucks

Alexander Cockburn used to argue that, under corporate capitalism, one function of the major mass media is clever misreporting of important stories.

With this powerful hypothesis in mind, take a listen to this little ditty from today’s version of NPR’s Morning Edition:

The story is about how Bloomberg News instructed its own award-winning reporters to stop probing the wealth and power of China’s ruling class [story behind paywall, of course], and went so far in the effort as to try coercing its journalists’ life partners into signing NDAs.

So, important story, for sure. But what, pray tell, is it about?

Surely, the story is about the severe limitations placed on journalism by private, for-profit media ownership — right, National Public Radio?

Nope. Not even close.

What, instead, does NPR — the supposedly alternative content “made possible” by its constantly-mentioned private sponsors — say their own story is about?

Mike Bloomberg might be a weasel.

What else at Bloomberg News is being hidden if such contracts exist that require such secrecy?

The Engine of Idiocracy

tv idiocy

Here is an unsurprising headline:

Netflix is making a fourth ‘Beverly Hills Cop’ movie

Despite its superior emotional power – i.e., the main reason for its current ascendancy – video, as a medium, is quite narrow, as it lacks the capacity to bear much nuance and variation, compared with print and live interaction.

Add to this generic defect the fact that corporate capitalism imposes strict filters on media content, not the least of which is the crowding-out effect produced by its relentless multi-trillion-dollar flood of very pointed marketing-based sponsorship.

The overall result is a media ecology with an outflow every bit as shrunken and predictable as was that of the terrible old Socialist 1.x regimes.

It is pathetic, if not tragic — and also, of course, entirely undiscussed.

Zuckerberg is Irrelevant

naive graphic

AOC is fantastic. She says “our greatest hope is a multiracial, working class movement in the United States of America.” Righteous.

But AOC is apparently also now questioning Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg about whether his property will allow lies in its political ads.

This is both a bit much, and far too little.

With the partial exception of local newspaper want ads, all advertising is a form of lying. In the hands of major corporations, the dishonesty is a lavishly researched, intricately implemented endeavor. And Facebook, uncontroversially, is in the business of advertising. Nothing more, nothing less.

Facebook, in other words, exists to facilitate lying. Literally.

AOC almost certainly knows all this.

The question, then, is why she isn’t talking about the only imaginably effective response to the Facebook problem: unleashing the United States Postal Service.

Playing naive isn’t going to get us where we need to go. We must discover and speak the truth about power, and act accordingly.

Our Media Catastrophe

The Reagan Revolution will go down as one of human history’s most successful elite schemes. As its remarkable run nears the half-century mark, it still shows precious few signs of even being politically named as a problem, to say nothing of actually being reversed. At this late date, what passes for a left continues to wander around in various self-referential circles grasping (perhaps) at micro-straws (including plastic straws) while mumble-ranting about stillborn, punch-pulling neologisms like “neo-liberalism” and “intersectionality.”

One important sign of the continuing addlepated weakness of the forces of reason and survival is their lack of alarm about the fact that, by this point, all the major outlets of public communication are in the full control of the corporate capitalist machine. As folks like Bernie Sanders labor to get civilized medical insurance mentioned within the Democratic Party branding operation, this issue, along with the other unmentioned whopper of one-person-one-vote, lies all but untouched, despite the paint-peeling facts-at-hand, which now make the institutional landscapes enumerated by Herman and Chomsky and Bagdikian look like the epoch of Common Sense and the committees of correspondence.

To wit: In any democratic society, this “news story,” which NBC News, the child of the Comcast theft-empire, would not only have cost Comcast/NBC its broadcasting licenses, but would be Exhibit A in the long-overdue move to democratize and diversify the U.S. communications infrastructure.

As it is, such shameless self-advertising propaganda by the single greatest opponent of universal media accesss goes by completely unnoticed.

A Worthy Idea: Media Strike!

Larry Sanger is a libertarian, so he has not thought through modern life’s inevitable collective dimension. We homo sapiens face unavoidable problems of how to make macro-choices and how to account for the various dilemmas of group size/social scale. In the 21st century, with 8 billion of us afoot, these shared conundrums are certainly not going to go happily away if we don’t face up to them.

His libertarian bent also means that, despite his own deep immersion in it, Sanger doesn’t seem to remember that government invented both computers and the internet.

Of course, as a libertarian, Sanger also ignores the reality that capitalists hate price competition and generally try to swallow and merge with their business competitors — making capitalism an inherently centralizing (and totalitarian) institutional order.

It thus isn’t surprising that Sanger’s call for a boycott, on July 4 and 5, of the corporate media oligopolies does not include a demand for the only institutional arrangement that could ever possibly achieve his stated goals: lavish, bleeding-edge public provision of both internet access and elementary social media platforms/apps (non-commercial alternatives to Facebook, Google, etc.).

If he thought it through, Sanger would be calling for the USPS to enter the field of modern communications media access provision and internet software development/operation, i.e., for it to fulfill its Constitutional duties by making available a safe (private), non-commercial, cutting-edge basis for maximum democratic correspondence amongst We, the People.

But, despite this fatal flaw, TCT thinks Sanger’s boycott — and it actually uses the word “strike”! — is, for now, an excellent idea. Let’s do this!

On July 4 and July 5, do not use any corporate internet or cellular media or apps. If you must look at TCT or some other non-commercial app, and if you also somehow have a way to do so without going through a corporate access pipe, please choose a non-proprietary, non-corporate browser.

As for TCT, we will be on strike then!