he guy who got me to read The People’s History of the United States also sent me a YouTube video of Good Will Hunting, a scene where that book is referenced. Matt Damon is saying how amazing it was, an eye-opener (agreed) where upon Robin Williams counters with Manufacturing Consent. Okay, so since I read one, this lead me to read the other.
If you are on any medications for depression, I can’t recommend this effort. That’s not to say it isn’t good. Actually, it’s great – in the way it made me look at the world (and the United States) different (as did Peoples History).
So, Herman and Chomsky start this by looking briefly at the history of media (specifically newspapers) and their high cost of operations. They maintain that because they are driven by advertising (often high-dollar advertising (true of TV as well now)), it will be a media run by elites, the established order (and you can read this as “the right”). In this, media strives to protect its order, its status quo, and its powerbase.
Further, the media gets most of its information directly from press conferences and military briefings, meaning that a sympathetic media has its ear right on the propaganda horn. This can’t be good.
Then the authors look at several items of recent (as of the late 80s) history. The first were the elections in various South American countries, some of which were our client states, some were not. Those who were not “friendly” received far more negative media than those we supported. And in the case of San Salvador, the media overlooked the death squads (the ones we armed and supported). They back this up with statistics, showing how many front page pieces were placed for each type of story, and how they were cast. In this, victims are identified – worthy and unworthy. Those who are worthy get calls to actions, demands for reform, etc. Those who are unworthy are either miscast or simply overlooked. And all those tens of thousands of Central Americans, killed by death squads funded and trained by us? Unworthy.
The focus then shifts to Vietnam, looking at who our enemies were. The point is raised that we simply could not sway South Vietnam to support their corrupt and US-backed cronies. The guerillas were actually more indigenous than the public was lead to believe. And this began the entire literal shooting match, leading to carpet bombing, open attacks on civilians in villages, and a general scorched earth policy (little of which was covered until the failures of the Tet Offensive).
If this is not bad enough, they follow the media’s taint to Cambodia and Laos, looking at the secret American bombing campaign (which caused more upset in that congress had not been informed (let’s not worry about all those dead Cambodians)). This leads to The Killing Fields and the long genocide that followed.
Yes, it’s not a book for the weak of heart or the strong of patriotism.
It does have its faults. Like People’s History, they tend to use, reuse, and drive points into the ground through relentless hammering. But the topics it does cover, topics lost then and well forgotten now, are grim reminders of what the state can do when it directs media to overlook its sins.
Sad yet insightful. If you are a hard-core student of history or political science, you aught to give it a look.