Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media (1988), by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky, proposes that the mass communication media of the U.S. “are effective and powerful ideological institutions that carry out a system-supportive propaganda function, by reliance on market forces, internalized assumptions, and self-censorship, and without overt coercion”, by means of the propaganda model of communication. The title derives from the phrase “the manufacture of consent,” employed in the book Public Opinion (1922), by Walter Lippmann (1889–1974).
Chomsky credits the origin of the book to the impetus of Alex Carey, the Australian social psychologist, to whom he and co-author E. S. Herman dedicated the book. Four years after publication, Manufacturing Consent: The political Economy of the Mass Media was adapted to the cinema as Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media (1992), a documentary presentation of the propaganda-model of communication, the politics of the mass-communications business, and a biography of Chomsky.
Five filters of editorial bias
The propaganda model for the manufacture of public consent describes five editorially distorting filters, which are applied to the reporting of news in mass communications media:
- Size, Ownership, and Profit Orientation: The dominant mass-media outlets are large companies operated for profit, and therefore they must cater to the financial interests of the owners, who are usually corporations and controlling investors. The size of a media company is a consequence of the investment capital required for the mass-communications technology required to reach a mass audience of viewers, listeners, and readers.
- The Advertising License to Do Business: Since the majority of the revenue of major media outlets derives from advertising (not from sales or subscriptions), advertisers have acquired a “de facto licensing authority”. Media outlets are not commercially viable without the support of advertisers. News media must therefore cater to the political prejudices and economic desires of their advertisers. This has weakened the working class press, for example, and also helps explain the attrition in the number of newspapers.
- Sourcing Mass Media News: Herman and Chomsky argue that “the large bureaucracies of the powerful subsidize the mass media, and gain special access [to the news], by their contribution to reducing the media’s costs of acquiring […] and producing, news. The large entities that provide this subsidy become ‘routine’ news sources and have privileged access to the gates. Non-routine sources must struggle for access, and may be ignored by the arbitrary decision of the gatekeepers.”
- Flak and the Enforcers: “Flak” refers to negative responses to a media statement or program (e.g. letters, complaints, lawsuits, or legislative actions). Flak can be expensive to the media, either due to loss of advertising revenue, or due to the costs of legal defense or defense of the media outlet’s public image. Flak can be organized by powerful, private influence groups (e.g. think tanks). The prospect of eliciting flak can be a deterrent to the reporting of certain kinds of facts or opinions.
- Anti-Communism: This was included as a filter in the original 1988 edition of the book, but Chomsky argues that since the end of the Cold War (1945–91) anticommunism was replaced by the “War on Terror” as the major social control mechanism.