Some notes on Manufacturing Consent (Part 1)

Last year in my common core course, the tutor recommended us to read Manufacturing Consent written by Professor Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky and get more understanding about the relationship between media, politics and social movement.

I work out some notes and have some thoughts about the book. Although I do not totally agree with the authors on some points, I still feel surprised about its insights to the present since this book was first published in 1988.

“The democratic postulate is that the media is independent and committed to discovering and reporting the truth, and that they do not merely reflect the world as powerful groups wish it to be perceived. Leaders of the media claim that their news choices rest on unbiased professional and objective criteria, and they have support for this contention in the intellectual community. If , however, the powerful are able to fix the promises of discourse, to decide what the general populace allowed to see, hear and think about, and to “manage" public opinion by regular propaganda campaigns, the standard view of how the system works is at serious odds with reality (p.xi, Herman & Chomsky, 1988)."

The quote above is basically the main point of the whole book. Following this argument, the authors begin to tell why the powerful manipulates the media, what distorts and how they bias media, the evidence and how the authors choose the evidence to support their arguments by case studies.

Why the powerful manipulates media? Manufacture of Consent toward certain policies and legitimacy on whole institutions

“The mass media serves as a system for communicating messages and symbols to the general populace. It is their function to amuse, entertain, and inform, and to inculcate individuals with the values, beliefs, and code of behavior that will integrate them into the institutional structures of the large society. In a world of concentrated wealth and major conflicts of class interest, to fulfill this role requires systematic propaganda (p.1, Herman & Chomsky, 1988)."

Before entering further details, something needs to be clarified first. I indeed admit what the authors criticized about the media in the democracy (here refers to US) since I come from Taiwan, a totally free democracy but with media almost lack of professionalism and quality and full of political bias and fake news. (I even wonder that maybe Taiwan step into the so-called post-truth era earlier than the West at least 10 years.)

However, just as what North, Wallis and Weingast  (2009) criticizes about Olson (1965, 1982), democratic institutions still enable citizens to have some degree of representation and political power since with free speech and competition for vote, the political entrepreneur has incentives to publicize and advocate the problem when excessive rent-seeking and collusion between vested interests and the incumbents threat the whole system, similar to what Galbraith (1956) called about “countervailing power."

(Actually in the footnote of appendix in Logic of Collective Action, Olson (1965) admits the possibility proposed by North, Wallis and Weingast (2009). However, he thinks that the heterogeneity (or asymmetry) of organization ability of different groups still matters more in deciding whether they will be considered or represented in the political system. As a result, “countervailing power" cannot be totally outset by each other. Inequity and inefficiency still exists and sometimes is very large (Olson, 1982).)

The general situation of media in the world is not reporting ideological bias but facing state coercion and control since in the World Press Freedom Index done by Reporters without Borders in 2016, the countries with good and fairly good press freedom only accounts for 29% in the world (53 out of 180) (Coyne & Leeson, 2009).  With sufficient free speech, the citizens in a democracy still have more ways to overcome the distortion and control of information by elites if happened compared to authoritarian countries.


What distorts? “Filters"
1. The size, concentrated ownership, owner wealth and profit orientation of the dominant mass media firm
2. Advertising as the primary income source of the mass media
3. The reliance of the media of the media on information provided by government, business and “expert" funded and approved by their primary sources and agents of power
4. “Flak" as a means of disciplining the media
5. “Anti-communism" as a national religion and control mechanism
(I would rather change anti-communism into ideological marginalism or mainstream bias to fit the context outside US)

And the following articles will elaborate these 5 filters.

(To be Continued)


  • Coyne, C. J., & Leeson, P. T. (2009). Media, development, and institutional change. Edward Elgar Publishing.
  • Herman, E. & Chomsky, N. (1988). Manufacturing Consent. New York: Pantheon Books.
  • Galbraith, J. K. (1956). American capitalism. New York: Houghton Mifflin.
  • North, D. C., Wallis, J. J., & Weingast, B. R. (2009). Violence and social orders: a conceptual framework for interpreting recorded human history. Cambridge University Press.
  • Olson, M. (1965). Logic of collective action. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
  • Olson, M. (1982). The rise and decline of nations. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press




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