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.

Goodbye Keystone?

rock arch photo

Televised sports is, as Chomsky always says, an especially important institution in our corporate capitalist, market totalitarian order. Not only does it attract large numbers of eyeballs and eardrums, but it absorbs crucial amounts of intellectual and emotional energy that might otherwise flow in dangerous directions.

Hence, TPTB are starting to get pretty antsy about what COVID-19 means for such a socially crucial activity, which relies on lots of personal physical interaction.

In today’s New York Times, none other than Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who has Mr. O.J. Simpson to thank for his own rank and revenue, voices this concern:

“I don’t think we are going to see huge arenas full of people for a long time,” [Garcetti] said in a telephone interview. “I do think you can have games without audiences. We watch much of our sports through television. I think you can create some bubbles. We are hungry for it. It’s a necessary step to build our confidence.” [emphasis added]

Whether or not TPTB can work out a product that doesn’t implode and can attract eyeballs and eardrums might very well prove to be one of the major determinants of the fate of the overclass effort to restore “normalcy.”

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 Coming Onslaught

Julio Vincent Gambuto is the source of today’s re-post. This is righteous stuff, and as solid as a prediction of the human future can be:

And so the onslaught is coming. Get ready, my friends. What is about to be unleashed on American society will be the greatest campaign ever created to get you to feel normal again.

Pretty soon, as the country begins to figure out how we “open back up” and move forward, very powerful forces will try to convince us all to get back to normal. That never happened. What are you talking about? Billions of dollars will be spent in advertising, messaging, and television and media content to make you feel comfortable again. It will come in the traditional forms — a billboard here, a hundred commercials there — and in new-media forms — a 2020–2021 generation of memes to remind you that what you want again is normalcy.

Here at TCT, we think there are 3 interesting questions about this impending typhoon of normalcy marketing:

  1. Will the overclass commence selling normalcy (they’re already promising it, of course) too soon, sending the underlying population “back to work” (note that work here includes the actions of attending and reacting to normalcy marketing campaigns) before there is a viable basis for keeping the COVID19 pathogen from again threatening a mass culling of our huge medically vulnerable and genetically unlucky populations? Or will they somehow repress their base urge enough to wait for genuine safety? A premature “back to normal” effort might truly unmask TBTP and BAU. It remains to be seen if TPTB can recognize this.
  2. Will corporate capitalism — the overall environment for conducting big business — manage to re-inflate itself back to economic normalcy? Many pundits are opining that this is now impossible. Here at TCT, we lean toward thinking a post-COVID boom is actually pretty likely, if not necessarily extremely near. Corporate capitalism is very resilient, and, as thinkers like Joseph Schumpeter, Baran and Sweezy, and Naomi Klein have argued, it thrives on certain kinds of waste and destruction.
  3. Will there be any coherent push-back to whatever re-inflation efforts emerge? The delusionary nature of libertarian and supply-side dogma is about as obvious as it’ll ever be. Marxian and Keynesian rescues are pretty much the only game in town, as some have said all along, and as the headlines now show. But will this almost-admission of reality somehow trigger a viable campaign to finally end the bipartisan Thatcher-Reagan Consensus, which has always revolved around the core claim that society only improves when the already-rich get their hands on even more of society’s disposable wealth? It is possible to have hope. Here at TCT, we tend to worry that our corporate-pwned media ecology and our atomizing, automobile-centered infrastucture for everyday life render such a thing very unlikely.

Innovation and Capitalist Medicine

John Power reports on yet another appalling aspect of the world’s most expensive medical scheme:

Balking at the cost of in-house research, major drug companies have slashed R&D budgets in recent years to focus on the late-stage development and manufacturing of treatments pioneered externally – often by publicly funded entities such as government institutes and universities.

All 210 new drugs approved by the US Food and Drug Administration between 2010 and 2016 were developed with funding from the National Institutes of Health, which distributes about 80 per cent of its US$40 billion annual spend on medical research to more than 2,500 universities and research institutes worldwide.

“Big Pharma generally do not have research divisions anymore,­ they gave those away when they found their research was three times as expensive per drug developed than ones sourced from academia,” said Ian Frazer, a professor at the University of Queensland who co-invented the human papillomavirus vaccine. “Industry only gets involved in manufacturing and marketing a likely successful product.”

COVID Reaction: The Triumph of Ethics

Lots of folks have been wondering if the COVID-19 pandemic carries any legitimately hopeful meanings. Here at TCT, we think there’s at least one, and that it’s a doozy. Permit us to explain.

In his classic (though admittedly pretty hard-to-read) book, The Great Transformation, the Hungarian political economist Karl Polanyi argued that, despite official doctrine, no sane person really believes that human beings and natural objects are actually commodities, actually things that can be bought and sold, up to infinifty or down to zero, without regard to underlying physical and ethical realities.

Under certain conditions, Polanyi argued, certain groups of people can get away with pretending that land and labor really are merely salable things. But not always and not forever. When things get over- or under-heated, as they inevitably do, capitalist theory falls away, as people sense the truth of what Polanyi called, on page 76 of The Great Tranformation, “the commodity fiction”:

Now, one of Polanyi’s main subordinate hypotheses was that, despite the efforts of TPTB, society — meaning the democratic majority — would often be forced to defend itself against the commodity fiction by creating “welfare” policies based on the reality that land, labor, and money are not, in fact, infinitely salable quanta, but rather precious, ethically primary, qualitative realities of their own.

With this in mind, TCT would like to suggest that social distancing is, among many other things, a very major proof of the Polanyian “self-protection of society.”

As the most hardcore and/or naive capitalists among us are trying to point out, we could quite easily go back to letting the commodity fiction organize our everyday affairs. Doing so would undoubtedly be very good for capitalism.

But we are instead doing something else, aren’t we?

Why is that?

It is because we are choosing human life and human ethics over market valuations.

Just as Karl Polanyi predicted we would.

And, the news might be even better than this. We seem to be doing this astounding thing with little serious resistance. This may speak to the gradual improvement of our culture, in Polanyian and later culture-war terms.

We are voting with our feet, marching in the direction of the basic pragmatic point that, ultimately, in the real world, economic “markets,” as some have said, can be great servants, but are always, at the end of the day, terrible masters.

A big question now is whether we will somehow become aware of what we are, in fact, doing, and then use our new level of self-clarity to keeping stepping toward the other kinds of self-defenses we pretty obviously need to enact against our other impending realities, which promise to make COVID-19 look like, ahem, a tea party.