Thursday, September 28, 2006

Why we blog: the filters of the corporate media

Why the hell do we do it? Self-aggrandizement, sure, but more than that. We have a story to tell, and it's a story we can't seem to find elsewhere. For left-political bloggers, from lowly nihilix to mighty dKos, it's because we're systematically shut out of the system.

Why does it seem that our 'free press' is nothing more than a right-wing propaganda machine? Why do I always call it the 'corporate media' and not the Main Stream Media (or MSM, or some other crap?)

Why did I spend my time studying linguistics and not reading Chomsky on politics?

Enough of the rhetorical questions. One of the biggest things we have to realize is that our corporate media system is totally, irredeemably biased against us. That's us on the left, that's us not on the top, that's 85% of the American public. (Not counting the 10% of the well-off radical religious right, the 4% of the ownership class, and the 1% who are the dudes with all the levers of power in their hands. The ultra-rich, in other words.)

Noam Chomsky and Edward Hermann laid it out in Manufacturing Consent. It's called the Propaganda Model, and it consists of five filters that operate in our media world and allow the deep level of mind control that the powerful exert in this country. It's the basic text of any real media critic. And here it is - or at least, here's the Codex Nihilix version.

We begin with 'raw' news. All the things that are going on in the world, that people could conceivably be interested in.

Filter 1 - Money/Ownership
This first filter - —the massive financial requirement - —is an enormous hurdle for anyone wishing to establish a place in the media market. Only the wealthy (—the enormously wealthy) —need apply. As a result, every year the media is concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. This can be clearly seen in Fox News, where Roger Ailes has created an explicit right-wing propaganda machine (and in other parts of the Murdoch News empire.) Both Sinclair Broadcasting's Stolen Honor and Disney's Path to 9/11 show this as well.

Filter 2 - Advertising
Advertising distorts the news because it makes a publication accountable to it advertisers more than to its readers, listeners and/or viewers. For example, programs that raise concern over environmental or human rights issues that are consequences of the corporate system are not likely to be well-received at any network. Programs that create doubt over the way big business operates do not sell to large corporate sponsors. Similarly, sponsors object to programming that discusses disturbing and complex issues as they may disrupt the "buying mood."” Media audiences are not thought of as “citizens but as “consumers. Sponsors want “entertainment that will offend the fewest possible and create no disturbance. This filter also operates in so-called 'public' media - PBS and local giant Minnesota Public Radio, where underwriters (the polite term in the public media arena for advertisers) exert control far over that of the actual dollars they spend.

Filter 3 - Reliance on selective information
In order to cut costs media outlets increasingly rely on information provided by government, business and 'experts'”. The news bureaucracies have developed an increasingly uncritical symbiotic relationship with governmental and business bureaucracies and rely on them to satisfy their needs for a steady flow of news at low cost. Many corporate and governmental agencies are more than willing to help. The Pentagon, for instance, has a public information operation that employs thousands and spends hundreds of millions of dollars a year. Many of the '“experts' that the mainstream media consults have been co-opted by big corporate or government interests by being funded, sponsored and placed on the payroll of these same corporate or government interests. The same voices can be heard again and again - because they're easy, they won't rock the boat.

Filter 4 - Bullying
Chomsky and Herman call this “flak,” but it really just consists of threatening -– or bullying –- media outlets to get the coverage you want. Flak is an insider'’s word for negative reactions to media statements. The capacity to generate flak that is truly threatening is proportional to power. Those in positions of power and influence can generate flak directly by arranging letters or phone calls from the White House to anchormen or producers, or threats from ad agencies or big sponsors to pull advertising or to sue. The powerful can also create flak indirectly by complaining against the media to its employees and stockholders, generating advertising or press that denigrates the media, funding right-wing monitoring or think tank operations that attack the media, or funding political campaigns of candidates who support their policies and will take a hard line toward media deviation.

Filter 5 - The Smear
Some viewpoints just don't get to count. For decades before the collapse of the Soviet Union, this was the 'anti-communism'” filter. Now the so-called '“War on Terror'” is fanatically being promoted as the central noble cause, the one unquestioned value in our culture other than making money. The voices of those who question the legitimacy or morality of what this 'war'” really stands for are seldom if ever heard in the mainstream corporate media - and certianly only recently have you heard many.

So this is why we blog. Because for a while, we get to own the press (Liebling, roughly - the freedom of the press goes to those who own one.) While the corporate media giants are in this playfield, they don't control it nearly to the extent that they do broadcast or major print media. (This is also why net neutrality is so important.)

This is also why it's important to support non-corporate media outlets. The Guardian in the United Kingdom is a non-profit. Crappy as it sometimes is, public media is generally better than corporate. Sites like the NewStandard and NarcoNews Bulletin are examples as well.

Taking a look at Sinclair Broadcasting's attempts to run the propaganda vehicle Stolen Honor during the 2004 election cycle can show how the model holds. The campaign against them began at the level of filter 4 - bullying. (Ok, when we do it it's not bullying. Well, yes it is. But it's on our side.) This created some heat, as well as some delcarations by Sinclair that they would do it anyway, first amendment yadda yadda. (I am a defender of the First Amendment, but broadcast media is different, as it's a supposedly-regulated monopoly. There are only so many channels that we can have in the TV and radio world, so the holders of those licenses may be held to a standard like - don't interfere in the election on the side of one candidate.)

Then, as people got more pissed, the advertiser boycott started. People were floating lists of all the stations, all the advertisers, and contact numbers. Since the election wasn't seen as a sure thing for the Preznit (and since, as anyone who pays attention knows, he only won because of mass corruption in Ohio and possibly New Mexico) and because he was pissing off a lot of America, some advertisers pulled their ads. And then more did. And Sinclair, getting hit in the bottom line, started to freak.

But the campaign really hit high gear when Sinclair's stock price started taking a hit. This is big stuff, friends. This is enough public pressure on a company that people are saying it's worth less than it was the day before. This is money out of the pockets of each of the bastard executives who hold all those shares and all those options. And this is when they compromised and decided to run something else - still a smear, but not what they wanted at all.

Now, look at Path to 9/11. There were a number of things different about this. There was still the outrage, but this time the propaganda was funded exteriorally - there were no advertisers to punish. The thing was ramrodded through in about three weeks, giving the anti-campaign less time to mobilize, and the ultimate owner was Disney, a monster corporate giant who had far deeper pockets than Sinclair, which was just a midsize regional chain of stations.

The five filters of the propaganda model. Know them. Love them. Use them.

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