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Noam Chomsky and Manufacturing Consent

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Mass media is an influential role in democratic societies. Media is a tool to express public opinion, respond to public worries and communicate important events and viewpoints. The central basis of democracy relies upon the impression of a fairly cognizant electorate. Noam Chomsky, a well-known linguistic and public activist, focused on the three-way relationship between corporates, media and the government. Within this focus, Chomsky used corporation, media outlets and politics to help support his contention through the documentary Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media. The documentary discussed that mass media can control society’s thought process, by manipulating and influencing what individuals conceive and receive. In the documentary, Chomsky focuses on the media in the United States due to the idea that the media in America is highly manipulative to the viewers. Despite the push-back of Chomsky’s perspective of the media, Herman and Chomsky shed light on the link between the corporate media and governments. Throughout the paper, we will look into various topics brought up in the documentary, such as the meaning of manufactured consent, the role of mass media in manufacturing consent, as well as how we can foster intellectual self-defence. Chomsky’s main goal is to validate how the news can crucially influence and shape the thoughts and opinions of society.

Manufactured consent is a term coined by Walter Lipmann, who defines it as a technique that can gain control of society. In his book Public Opinion (1921), Lippman believes that society is not intelligent enough to involve in political, however, he believes that a large number of individuals in society follow faith rather than reason. Lippman’s beliefs contradicts the model of a democratic society. However, Chomsky believes that an individual should not be underestimated. Thus, Chomsky focuses on who’s consent is being manufactured. He explains that there are two different groups that are targets for propaganda, the first group are the political class, which are 20% of the population. These individuals are educated, accomplished, participate and have a role in cultural, economic and political life and their consent is essential. The other group would make up 80% of the population and these individuals follow orders, they don’t think and they are the ones that usually pay the cost (Achbar, 2009). With the idea of manufactured consent, mass media within the United States is used to organize public support of the elite, that would dominate the government as well as private sectors. Chomsky confidently believes that to understand the society we reside in, we have to first figure out who is in control and who makes important decisions. The “A Propaganda Model” determines who is in control, it splits the mass media into two sections— the elite and national media. In this model, Chomsky states that the elite media have the dominance, they control the major news and paper companies and can alter the thoughts of the readers or viewers. These major corporations are also associated with the government; therefore, they are given superiority for decision making.

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Through the “A Propaganda Model”, Chomsky states that the elite media, the major news and paper companies, have supremacy to alter the opinions of individuals (Klaehn, 2002). Chomsky calls major news and paper companies as “agenda-setting media”. These companies are very profitable corporations, for example, Fox News is the representative of the Republican Party. It was established in 1996 to provide a protected and welcoming space for ideas of pro-Republican politicians. The commentators on Fox News have been viewed as unreliable and bias. For example, an incident occurred between Fox News host Tucker Carlson and historian Rutger Bregman, where Carlson called one of his guests a “tiny brain moron” during an interview (Krueger, 2019). Ruteger Bregman appeared on Fox News after he went viral for his comments on how billionaires should stop avoiding taxes and pay their share. Bregman stated that the Murdoch’s, owners of Fox News, want the anchors to use the topic of immigrants as a scapegoat instead of talking about tax avoidance from large corporations. With this statement, Carlson was deeply offended and became defensive. The segment was not aired, however Bregman posted a clip of their conversation and went viral on Twitter. Carlson responded that there are no corporate masters, or anyone in management that tells the anchors on what position to take on air. He claims that he is grateful for the total freedom given to them. This situation brings up one of Chomsky’s statement that if an individual believes something different, then they would not be in the position that they are in right now— which summarizes the propaganda system of the corporate media. However, Carlson has not accepted that his “total freedom” to say what he likes on Fox News is allowed since he has shown that he can be trusted to not talk beyond the imaginary line that has been drawn. Another example is the lack of media coverage in North America concerning the situation happening in China. Approximately, thousands of Uyghur Muslims are currently being confined in concentration camps in a western region of China called Xinjiang (Beydoun, 2018). Once brought to these camps, the Muslims face harsh abuse in which they are given an ultimatum, it’s their religion or freedom. There is some news report that have emerged that the government is now forcing Muslims to consume alcohol and pork, which is known to be a forbidden consumption in Islam. It’s disarming that there is an ethnic/religious cleansing happening and that the most powerful countries and large media corporations are silent. Perhaps, it might be because countries like the United States and Great Britain are quiet since the victims are not white. However, it’s much bigger than that. With a surge of economic strength, China has achieved to become the second largest funder to the United Nations, and with Russia, it attempts to weaken the United Nation’s protection of human rights structure by cutting its costs. In North America, China is crucial as it provides infrastructure, mining, and energy and so much more. As Chomsky has stated, “there is no Western concern for issues of aggression, atrocities, human rights abuses and so on, if there is profits to be made off of it.” (Achbar, 2009). The case of the ethnic/religious cleaning of the Uyghur Muslims is a prime example this statement.

Manufactured consent within mass media has formed an “intellectual-self defense”, due mainly to the fact that news papers, radio ads, and social media all disproportionally spend more time advertising products rather than deliver information regarding society and political issues. According to Chomsky, intellectual self defense is developing an independent mind in order to protect themselves from manipulation and control of the elite. Today, where all our information comes from mass media, it is hard to have an intellectual mind since much of what we know now has come from the media and has shaped our interests and judgment. Despite Lippman’s faith in individuals, Chomsky encourages individuals of society to try and understand the world and practise what they learn (Achbar, 2009). In order to reach this goal, we have to take a step back from the media and look at the society from the outside. It is important for us to take an objective view to any new information that we learn and decide upon ourselves and our opinion of the matter instead of letting the media decide for us. It’s important to first realize and acknowledge the notion that mass media distorts, edits and censures information before presenting it to viewers or readers. Large media corporations circulate the information they want to air, instead of the concrete facts that occur in an event. Therefore, it misguides the viewers or readers. The next step is for us to do our own research. We have to be able to ask ourselves questions that are not being answered and find those answers for ourselves. For example, if a news agency puts out information that differs from another news agency, then ask yourself why to do these news agencies differ and look at their references or citations. Is the full story being told? What is missing? Who is writing this piece of information? Most importantly, who gains by providing false stories? Lastly, when reading newspapers or journals, Chomsky states that we should read the last paragraph. This technique is taught in journalism school where the last paragraph summarizes all the important points addressed in the article. This helps the reader point out the important parts of the article the writer wants to address. All of these steps aid us to protect ourselves from the manipulation of the media, and also helps us to maintain objective and increase our intellect.

Noam Chomsky believed that the government and large corporation have control over major news corporations and censure vital information leaving the American’s in the dark about political issues such as tax evasions and religious cleansing. The term manufactured consent is the tool that summarizes Chomsky view of the control of media. The only way to combat manufactured consent is through intellectual self-defence. By acknowledging, remaining objective and asking questions can individuals foster the growth intellectual self-defence. The media has changed drastically over the last years, and more people rely less upon these corporations to get the information they did. However, we still have a long way to go. All in all, Chomsky’s main point is that our society does not live in a democratic world, if there is corporate control over mass media.


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