Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data. Chomsky, Noam. Media control: the spectacular achievements of propaganda / Noam Chomsky. p. cm. Noam Chomsky's backpocket classic on wartime propaganda and opinion control begins by asserting two models of democracy—one in which the public. Media control: the spectacular achievements of propaganda / Noam Chomsky. p. cm. — (The Open Media Pamphlet Series) ISBN 1.
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Download Citation on ResearchGate | On Jan 1, , Noam Chomsky and others published Media Control: The Spectacular Achievements of Propaganda. Media control: The Spectacular Achievements of Propaganda by Noam Chomsky ; 5 editions; First published in ; Subjects: Mass media, Mass media and. The purpose of this course is to explore the role of print and electronic media in American Media Control: The Spectacular Achievements of Propaganda.
There was a huge depression and substantial labor organizing. In fact, in labor won its first major legisla- tive victory, namely, the right to organize, with the Wagner Act.
That raised two serious prob- lems. For one thing, democracy was misfunc- tioning. The bewildered herd was actually win- ning legislative victories, and it's not supposed to work that way. The other problem was that itwasbecomingpossibleforpeopletoorganize. People have to be atomized and segregated and alone. They're not supposed to organize, becausethen they might be something beyond spectators of action.
They might actually be participants if many people with limited resources could get together to enter the polit- ical arena. That's really threatening, A major response was taken on the part of business to ensure that this would be the last legislative victory for labor and that it would be the begin- ning of the end of this democratic deviation of popular organization.
It worked. That was the last legislative victory for labor. From that point on — although the number of people in the unions increased for a while during the World War II, after which it started drop- ping — the capacity to act through the unions began to steadily drop.
It wasn't by accident. We're now talking about the business com- munity, which spends lots and lots of money, attention, and thought into how to deal with these problems through the public relations industry and other organizations, like the National Association of Manufacturers and the Business Roundtable, and so on. They imme- diately set to work to try to find a way to counter these democratic deviations. The first trial was one year later, in There was a major strike, the Steel strike in western Pennsylvania at Johnstown.
Business tried out a new technique oflabor destruction, which worked very well. Not through goon squads and breaking knees. That wasn't work- ing very well any more, but through the more subtle and effective means of propaganda. The idea was to figure out ways to turn the public against the strikers, to present the strikers as disruptive, harmful to the public and against the common interests. The common interests are those of "us," the businessman, the worker, the housewife.
That's all "us. Then there's those bad strikers out there who are disruptive and causing trouble and break- ing harmony and violating Americanism.
We've got to stop them so we can all live together. The corporate executive and the guy who cleans the floors all have the same inter- ests. We can all work together and work for Americanism in harmony, liking each other.
That was essentially the message. A huge amount of effort was put into presenting it. This is, after all, the business community, so they control the media and have massive resources. And it wrked, very effectively. It was later called the "Mohawk Valley formula" and applied over and over again to break strikes. They were called "scientific methods of strike-breaking," and worked very effec- tively by mobilizing community opinion in favor of vapid, empty concepts like American- ism.
Who can be against that? Or harmony. Or, as in the Persian Gulf War, "Support our troops. Or yellow ribbons.
Anything that's totally vacuous In fact, what does it mean if somebody asks you, Do you support the people in Iowa? Can you say, Yes, I support them, or No, I don't support them?
It's not even a question. It does- n't mean anything. That's the point. The point of public relations slogans like "Support our troops" is that they don't mean anything. They mean as much as whether you support the peo- ple in Iowa. Of course, there was an issue. The issue was, Do you support our policy?
But you don't want people to think about that issue. That's the whole point of good propaganda. You want to create a slogna that nobody's going to be against, and everybody's going to be for. Nobody knows what it means, because it doesn't mean anything. Its crucial value is that it diverts your attention from a question that does mean something: Do you support our policy?
That's the one you're not allowed to talk about. So you have people arguing about support for the troops?
That's like Americanism and harmony. We're all together, empty slogans, let's join in, let's make sure we don't have these bad people around to disrupt our harmony with their talk about class struggle, rights and that sort of business. That's all very effective. It runs right up to today. And of course it is carefully thought out. The people in the public relations industry aren't there for the fun of it.
They're doing work. They're trying to instill the right values. In fact, they have a conception of what democ- racy ought to be: It ought to be a system in which the specialized class is trained to work in the service of the masters, the people who own the society.
The rest of the population ought to be deprived of any form of organiza- tion, because organization just causes trouble. They ought to be sitting alone in front of the TV and having drilled into their heads the mes- sage, which says, the only value in life is to have more commodities or live like that rich middle class family you're watching and to have nice values like harmony and American- ism.
That's all there is in life. You may think in your own head that there's got to be some- thing more in life than this, but since you're watching the tube alone you assume, I must be crazy, because that's all that's going on over there. And since there is no organization per- mitted — that's absolutely crucial — you never have a way of finding out whether you are crazy, and you just assume it, because it's the natural thing to assume.
So that's the ideal. Great efforts are made in trying to achieve that ideal. Obviously, there is a certain conception behind it. The conception of democracy is the one that I men- tioned. The bewildered herd is a problem. We've got to prevent their roar and trampling. We've got to distract them. They should be watching the Superbowl or sitcoms or violent movies. Every once in a while you call on them to chant meaningless slogans like "Sup- port our troops. Therefore it's important to distract them and marginalize them.
That's one conception of democracy. In fact, going back to the business community, the last legal victory for labor really was , the Wagner Act. After the war came, the unions declined as did a very rich working class cul- ture that was associated with the unions. That was destroyed. We moved to a business-run society at a remarkable level.
This is the only state -capitalist industrial society which does- n't have even the normal social contract that you find in comparable societies. Outside of South Africa, I guess, this is the only industrial society that doesn't have national health care. There's no general commitment to even min- imal standards of survival for the parts of the population who can't follow those rules and gain things for themselves individually.
Unions are virtually nonexistent. Other forms of popular structure are virtually nonexistent. There are no political parties or organizations. It's a long way toward the ideal, at least struc- turally. The media are a corporate monopoly. They have the same point of view. The two par- ties are two factions of the business party.
Most of the population doesn't even bother voting because it looks meaningless. They're mar- ginalized and properly distracted. At least that's the goal. The leading figure in the public rela- tions industry, Edward Bernays, actually came out of the Creel Commission.
He was part of it, learned his lessons there and went on to develop what he called the "engineering of con- sent," which he described as "the essence of democracy. Usually the population is pacifist, just like they were dur- ing the First World War.
The public sees no rea- son to get involved in foreign adventures, killing, and torture. So you have to whip them up. And to whip them up you have to frighten them. Bernays himself had an important achievement in this respect.
He was the per- son who ran the public relations campaign for the United Fruit Company in , when the United States moved in to overthrow the cap- italist-democratic government of Guatemala and installed a murderous death-squad society, which remains that way to the present day with constant infusions of U.
It's necessary to constantly ram through domestic programs which the public is opposed to, because there is no reason for the public to be in favor of domestic programs that are harmful to them.
This, too, takes extensive propaganda. We've seen a lot of this in the last ten years. The Reagan programs were over- whelmingly unpopular.
Voters in the "Reagan landslide," by about three to two, hoped that his policies would not be enacted. If you take particular programs, like arma- ments, cutting back on social spending, etc. But as long as people are marginalized and distracted and have no way to organize or articulate their sentiments, or even know that others have these sentiments, people who said that they prefer social spend- ing to military spending, who gave that answer on polls, as people overwhelmingly did, assumed that they were the only people with that crazy idea in their heads.
They never heard it from anywhere else. Nobody's supposed to think that. Therefore, if you do think it and you answer it in apoll, you just assume that you're sort of weird. Since there's no way to get together with other people who share or rein- force that view and help you articulate it, you feel like an oddity, an oddball. So you just stay on the side and you don't pay any attention to what's going on. You look at something else, like the Superbowl. To a certain extent, then, that ideal was achieved, but never completely.
There are insti- tutions which it has as yet been impossible to destroy. The churches, for example, still exist. A large part of the dissident activity in the United States comes out of the churches, for the simple reason that they're there.
So when you go to a European country and give a polit- ical talk, it may very likely be in the union hall. Here that won't happen, because unions first of all barely exist, and if they do exist they're not political organizations.
But the churches do exist, and therefore you often give a talk in a church. Central American solidarity work mostly grew out of the churches, mainly because they exist. The bewildered herd never gets properly tamed, so this is a constant battle.
In the s they arose again and were put down. In the s there was another wave of dissidence. There was a name for that. It was called by the specialized class "the crisis of democracy. The crisis was that large seg- ments of the population were becoming organized and active and trying to participate in the political arena. Here we come back to these two conceptions of democracy. By the dictionary definition, that's an advance in democracy.
By the prevailing conception that's a problem, a crisis that has to be overcome. We therefore have to do something to overcome the crisis. Efforts were made to achieve that.
It hasn't worked. The crisis of democracy is still alive and well, fortunately, but not very effective in changing policy. But it is effective in changing opinion, contrary to what a lot of people believe. Great efforts were made after the s to try to reverse and over- come this malady.
One aspect of the malady actually got a technical name. It was called the "Vietnam Syndrome. The Reaganite intellectual Norman Podhoretz defined it as "the sickly inhibitions against the use of military force. People just didn't understand why we should go around torturing people and killing people and carpet bombing them. It's very dangerous for a population to be overcome by these sickly inhibitions, as Goebbels understood, because then there's a limit on foreign adventures.
It's necessary, as the Washington Post put it rather proudly dur- ing the Gulf War hysteria, to instill in people respect for "martial value. If you want to have a violent society that uses force around the world to achieve the ends of its own domestic elite, it's necessary to have a proper appreciation of the martial virtues and none of these sickly inhibitions about using violence.
So that's the Vietnam Syndrome. It's necessary to overcome that one.
That's another way to overcome these sickly inhibitions, to make it look as if when we attack and destroy somebody we're really pro- tecting and defending ourselves against major aggressors and monsters and so on. There has been a huge effort since the Vietnam war to reconstruct the history of that. Too many peo- ple began to understand what was really going on. Including plenty of soldiers and a lot of young people who were involved with the peace movement and others. That was bad. It was nec- essary to rearrange those bad thoughts and to restore some form of sanity, namely, a recog- nition that whatever we do is noble and right.
If we're bombing South Vietnam, that's because we're defending South Vietnam against some- body, namely, the South Vietnamese, since nobody else was there. It's what the Kennedy intellectuals called defense against "internal aggression" in South Vietnam. That was the phrase used by Adlai Stevenson and others.
It was necessary to make that the official and well understood picture. That's worked pretty well. When you have total control over the media and the educational system and scholarship is con- formist, you can get that across. One indication of it was revealed in a study done at the Uni- versity of Massachusetts on attitudes toward the current Gulf crisis — a study of beliefs and attitudes in television watching.
One of the questions asked in that study was, How many Vietnamese casualties would you estimate that there were during the Vietnam war? The average response on the part of Americans today is about 1 00, The official figure is about two million.
The actual figure is probably three to four million. The people who conducted the study raised an appropriate question: What would we think about German political culture if, when you asked people today how many Jews died in the Holocaust, they estimated about ,?
What would that tell us about German political culture? They leave the question unanswered, but you can pursue it. What does it tell us about our culture? It tells us quite a bit. It is necessary to overcome the sickly inhi- bitions against the use of military force and other democratic deviations. In this particular case it worked. This is true on every topic. Pick the topic you like: The truth of the matter is buried under edifice after edifice of lies upon lies.
It's all been a marvelous success from the point of view in deterring the threat of democracy, achieved under conditions of freedom, which is extremely interesting. It's not like a totalitar- ian state, where it's done by force. These achievements are under conditions of freedom. If we want to understand our own society, we'll have to think about these facts.
They are impor- tant facts, important for those who care about what kind of society they live in. It's grown quite a lot since the s. In the s the dissident culture first of all was extremely slow in developing. There was no protest against the Indochina war until years after the United States had started bombing South Vietnam.
When it did grow it was a very narrow dissident movement, mostly students and young people. By the s that had changed considerably.
Major popular move- ments had developed: In the s there was an even greater expansion to the sol- idarity movements, which is something very new and important in the history of at least American, and maybe even world dissidence.
These were movements that not only protested but actually involved themselves, often intimately, in the lives of suffering peo- ple elsewhere. They learned a great deal from it and had quite a civilizing effect on main- stream America. All of this has made a very large difference. Anyone who has been involved in this kind of activity for many years must be aware of this. I know myself that the kind of talks I give today in the most reac- tionary parts of the country — central Georgia, rural Kentucky, etc.
Now you can give them anywhere. People may agree or not agree, but at least they understand what you're talking about and there's some sort of common ground that you can pursue. These are all signs of the civilizing effect, despite all the propaganda, despite all the efforts to control thought and manufacture consent. Nevertheless, people are acquiring an ability and a willingness to think things through.
Skepticism about power has grown, and attitudes have changed on many, many issues. It's kind of slow, maybe even glacial, but perceptible and important.
Whether it's fast enough to make a significant difference in what happens in the world is another question. Just to take one familiar example of it: The famous gender gap. In the s attitudes of men and women were approximately the same on such matters as the "martial virtues" and the sickly inhibitions against the use of military force. Nobody, neither men nor women, were suffering from those sickly inhibitions in the early s.
The responses were the same. Everybody thought that the use of violence to suppress people out there was just right. Over the years it's changed. The sickly inhibitions have increased all across the board.
But meanwhile a gap has been growing, and by now it's a very substantial gap. Accord- ing to polls, it's something like twenty-five percent. What has happened? What has hap- pened is that there is some form of at least semi-organized popular movement that women are involved in — the feminist move- ment.
Organization has its effects. It means that you discover that you're not alone. Oth- ers have the same thoughts that you do. You can reinforce your thoughts and learn more about what you think and believe. These are very informal movements, not like a mem- bership organizations, just a mood that involves interactions among people.
It has a very noticeable effect. That's the danger of democracy: If organizations can develop, if people are no longer just glued to the tube, you may have all these funny thoughts arising in their heads, like sickly inhibitions against the use of military force.
That has to be overcome, but it hasn't been overcome. There is a very characteristic development going on in the United States now. It's not the first country in the world that's done this. There are growing domestic social and eco- nomic problems, in fact, maybe catastrophes.
Nobody in power has any intention of doing anything about them. If you look at the domestic programs of the administrations of the past ten years — I include here the Democ- ratic opposition — there's really no serious pro- posal about what to do about the severe problems of health, education, homelessness, joblessness, crime, soaring criminal popula- tions, jails, deterioration in the inner cities — the whole raft of problems.
You all know about them, and they're all getting worse. Just in the two years that George Bush has been in office three million more children crossed the poverty line, the debt is zooming, educational standards are declining, real wages are now back to the level of about the late s for much of the population, and nobody's doing anything about it.
In such circumstances you've got to divert the bewildered herd, because if they start noticing this they may not like it, since they're the ones suffering from it. Just having them watch the Superbowl and the sitcoms may not be enough. You have to whip them up into fear of enemies. In the s Hitler whipped them into fear of the Jews and gypsies. You had to crush them to defend your- selves. We have our ways, too.
Over the last ten years, every year or two, some major monster is constructed that we have to defend ourselves against. There used to be one that was always readily available: The Russians. You could always defend yourself against the Russians. But they're losing their attractiveness as an enemy, and it's getting harder and harder to use that one, so some new ones have to be conjured up.
In fact, people have quite unfairly criticized George Bush for being unable to express or articulate what's really driving us now. That's very unfair. Prior to about the mids, when you were asleep you would just play the record: But he lost that one and he's got to make up new ones, just like the Reaganite public relations apparatus did in the s. So it was international terrorists and narco-traffickers and crazed Arabs and Saddam Hussein, the new Hitler, was going to conquer the world.
They've got to keep coming up one after another. You frighten the population, ter- rorize them, intimidate them so that they're too afraid to travel and cower in fear. Then you have a magnificent victory over Grenada, Panama, or some other defenseless third- world army that you can pulverize before you ever bother to look at them — which is just what happened. That gives relief.
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We were saved at the last minute. That's one of the ways in which you can keep the bewildered herd from paying attention to what's really going on around them, keep them diverted and con- trolled. The next one that's coming along, most likely, will be Cuba. That's going to require a continuation of the illegal economic warfare, possibly a revival of the extraordinary inter- national terrorism. The most major interna- tional terrorism organized yet has been the Kennedy administration's Operation Mon- goose, then the things that followed along, against Cuba.
There's been nothing remotely comparable to it except perhaps the war against Nicaragua, if you call that terrorism. The World Court classified it as something more like aggression.
There's always an ideo- logical offensive that builds up a chimerical monster, then campaigns to have it crushed. You can't go in if they can fight back. That's much too dangerous.
But if you are sure that they will be crushed, maybe we'll knock that one off and heave another sigh of relief. In May , the memoirs of the released Cuban prisoner, Armando Valladares, came out. They quickly became a media sensation. I'll give you a couple of quotes. The media described his revelations as "the definitive account of the vast system of torture and prison by which Cas- tro punishes and obliterates political opposi- tion. Castro was described as "a dictatorial goon.
Remem- ber, this is the account of what happened to one man. Let's say it's all true. Let's raise no ques- tions about what happened to the one man who says he was tortured.
At a White House cere- mony marking Human Rights Day, he was sin- gled out by Ronald Reagan for his courage in enduring the horrors and sadism of this bloody Cuban tyrant. He was then appointed the U. Human Rights Commission, where he has been able to per- form signal services defending the Salvadoran and Guatemalan governments against charges that they conduct atrocities so massive that they make anything he suffered look pretty minor.
That's the way things stand.
That was May It was interesting, and it tells you something about the manufacture of consent. The same month, the surviving members of the Human Rights Group of El Sal- vador — the leaders had been killed — were arrested and tortured, including Herbert Anaya, who was the director. They were sent to a prison — LaEsperanza hope Prison. While they were in prison they continued their human rights work. They were lawyers, they continued taking affidavits.
There were prisoners in that prison. They got signed affidavits from of them in which they described, under oath, the torture that they had received: This is an unusually explicit and comprehensive tes- timony, probably unique in its detail about what's going on in a torture chamber.
This page report of the prisoners' sworn testi- mony was sneaked out of prison, along with a videotape which was taken showing people tes- tifying in prison about their torture. The national press refused to cover it. The TV stations refused to run it. No one else would touch it. This was a time when there was more than a few "light-headed and cold-blooded Western intellectuals" who were singing the praises of Jose Napoleon Duarte and of Ronald Reagan. Anaya was not the subject of any tributes.
He didn't get on Human Rights Day. He wasn't appointed to anything. He was released in a prisoner exchange and then assassinated, apparently by the U. Very little infor- mation about that ever appeared. The media never asked whether exposure of the atroci- ties — instead of sitting on them and silencing them — might have saved his life. This tells you something about the way a well-functioning system of consent manufac- turing works. In comparison with the revela- tions of Herbert Anaya in El Salvador, Valladares's memoirs are not even a pea next to the mountain.
But you've got your job to do. That takes us toward the next war. I expect, we're going to hear more and more of this, until the next operation takes place. A few remarks about the last one. Let's turn finally to that.
Let me begin with this Uni- versity of Massachusetts study that I men- tioned before. It has some interesting conclusions. In the study people were asked whether they thought that the United States should intervene with force to reverse illegal occupation or serious human rights abuses.
By about two to one, people in the United States thought we should. We should use force in the case of illegal occupation of land and severe human rights abuses.
These are all cases of illegal occupation and aggression and severe human rights abuses.
If you know the facts about that range of examples, you'll know very well that Saddam Hussein's aggression and atrocities fall well within the range.
They're not the most extreme. Why doesn't anybody come to that conclusion? New York, NY. Seven Stories Press. Chomsky, N. Toronto, Canada: House of Anansi Press. La Propaganda [Propaganda]. Quito, Ecuador. Noam Chomsky. Sixth Edition. Noam Chomsky: Biography. European Graduate School. Authors Google: Noam Chosmy. Published on YouTube. Libertarian Socialism. Civil Liberties [Web page].
Plenary Discussion, May University of Marr, A. London, UK. Published on YouTube on Oct. The Chomsky Problem; Chomsky. Media Conglomerates, Mergers, Concentration of Ownership.
Global Issues [Web page]. On Propaganda, Noam Chomsky interviewed by unidentified interviewer.There was a name for that. What would that tell us about German political culture? For example, there was a good deal of fabrication of atrocities by the Huns, Belgian babies with their arms torn off, all sorts of awful things that you still read in history books. The Reaganite intellectual Norman Podhoretz defined it as "the sickly inhibitions against the use of military force. This is an unusually explicit and comprehensive tes- timony, probably unique in its detail about what's going on in a torture chamber.
There are no political parties or organizations. That's in a prop- erly functioning democracy.
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