In 1988, Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman took Walter Lippmann’s phrase, “manufactured consent”, and turned it against itself. According to Chomsky, Lippmann felt that the public could not be trusted to rule, that they are too naive and ignorant. So what is needed in modern times when you can no longer use open force to get the people in line is to manufacture consent through propaganda and control of mass media in a nation. According to Chomsky, Lippmann sees this consent as part of democracy. Chomsky sees it as very undemocratic.
“Manufactured Consent: the Political Economy of the Mass Media” explains how the media and government work hand in hand with corporations and moneyed elites to create consent among the populace for their corporate agenda. Sloganeering, nationalism, and corporatism are promoted by the elite classes as the best way to run our nation. In fact, other options such as full participation, full information and honest elections are not to be considered.
A prime example of this is the discussion of health care. Single payer plans, public health care that is available in the rest of the industrialized world, was never given a serious look in the United States. What we ended up with was a market based plan that protects the profits of health insurance companies.
When dissent arises against the corporate and business dominance of our nation, the media and their proxies manufacture an artificial schism in the American population to get the attention diverted away from themselves. The propaganda of hate, the propaganda of the oppositional other, the divisive discourse against those that have superficial disagreements with you, a technique we know as divide and conquer, is a powerful strategy. That’s how the elite in this nation stay in power against overwhelming numerical odds.
It is not always sufficient to detect forms of coercion used to manufacture consent. We must also know how and where to point our discontent. As long as the elites can manufacture a schism between segments of the lower classes based on race, religion, and non-economic ideologies, we will not be able to unite against them and we will fight each other for scraps. Until we have full access to ideas and education, we will consent to the rule of the 1% and fight members of our own class over the leftovers. Most of us are marginalized economically, so the best thing we can do is share knowledge of this manufactured schism with others and resist its lure.
Back in late 2002 and early 2003, President Bush was making the case for war in Iraq. He utilized all sorts of baseless hyperbole and outright lies about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to get war authorization. Major news outlets from NPR, the New York Times, Fox and others, promoted many lies that lead us into the Iraq War.
Because of insecurity brought on by the events of Sept. 11, 2001, the American public was very susceptible to lies that lead to war with Iraq, a nation not even involved in the terror attack. We can debate the real motives for attacking Iraq: oil, revenge, extension of empire, to create an example for those that would openly disagree with the West, or more likely, a combination of all those factors. But it was the job of the news media to manufacture consent for the war and reject anyone who disagreed with our “patriotic” effort.
Those who did not believe Iraq was a threat were called un-American and traitorous. The mass media discourse created a schism to discredit the non-believers of the media/government story on Iraq. It separated Americans into those that “supported our troops” and those that “hated America.” Journalists were embedded with the troops as they wrote stories about the war. And how many of them would write anti-war stories when their lives were in the hands of U.S. coalition troops? The news was overwhelming pro-war for the first two years of the conflict.
West Virginia University provides a valuable summary of Chomsky’s discussion of manufactured consent:
“When media news coverage of issues is bias in favor the status quo, these are the results:
1. ownership of media is held by major corporations with interests and goals similar to power elite elements of society
2. people with different views, "dissenting voices," are not heard much
3. the breadth of debate is limited
4. the official stance and institutional memory prevail and become history
5. people's interest and attention are often diverted away from issues about which they could become concerned”
When the cracks in the wall of manufactured consent start showing, the plutocrats have a back up plan: manufactured schism. Manufactured schism would add the following steps:
1. Make sure to avoid issues that would anger the general populace toward the moneyed elite; keep your focus on partisan politics.
2. Discuss the horse race for Congress and the White House between two supposedly “polar opposite” parties and support the myth of a two-party system and lateral differences, not vertical class differences.
3. Make sure to insult and attack the opposition. If not using name calling, mock the opposition with humor or cleverness.
4. Avoid issues of income inequality and focus on the cultural and non-economic ideological differences between people.
10. Discuss the “conflict” between choice and anti-choice forces, supporters of immigration and those opposed to immigration, gay marriage, religion in school, gun rights, and other divisive issues while ignoring shared economic concerns.
If everyday people see that they are being manipulated, the elite classes must divert their anger toward the plutocrats' chosen targets and not the true enemies of public prosperity, the plutocratic class themselves. Thus, Fox News points at liberals and Obama as the enemy so people don’t see that people like the Koch Brothers with Americans for Prosperity and the Chamber of Commerce have been working for decades to keep wages low and get favorable conditions for moving jobs overseas along with their corporate welfare. MSNBC will discuss the foibles of the Republican’s “war on women” while spending less time on how Republicans get elected through gerrymandering. And MSNBC certainly does not want discuss how Democrats use money from the same corporations Republicans do to get elected.
So the networks promote the faux “two-party” system and promote the idea of a divided America between right and left when it’s really the rich versus the lower classes. As an example, the latest end to long-term payments for the long-term unemployed barely gets covered in the big news outlets. However, these news outlets don’t mind discussing how to cut unemployment and food stamps. Meanwhile, corporate welfare mostly goes unchallenged by the 6 major news outlets (see the graphic near the top of the page).
The ruling classes create a specific set of necessary illusions to deal with the disaffected. These illusions tell us that the Democrats or the Republicans are the enemy, they are stupid, they are the ones that are out to get you. And if it’s not the “evil liberals” or “fascist conservatives”, it’s the immigrants, or the lazy homeless that are ruining this nation. It can’t be corporations that benefit from illegal immigration. Nope.
If it’s not the right or the left, the problem is identity groups: the atheists, or fundamentalists, the gays or the red necks, the Mexicans or Mormons, or Fox or MSNBC themselves. If women would only stay in their place, all would be better. And that idea will certainly keep those that support women’s rights busy working to protect them. And the plutocrats go marching on laying off Americans, cutting benefits, cutting the social safety net, and ending unions while banking billions.
Corporate controlled media promote the status quo in their news and talk programs to protect their positions. They have little interest in creating discontent in the populace that would trace back to them. They have a vested interest in creating manufactured consent for their corporate agenda.
When there is a crisis such as the financial meltdown in 2008, it is incumbent upon the corporate masters of these media outlets to make sure the populace focuses their discontent on each other, to manufacture a schism in the lower classes. The Tea Party was promoted by Fox News as a tool to attack the left and keep their attention away from the bankers that caused the 2008 economic collapse.
This in turn incensed Democrats and they fell into the trap of fighting their class brothers and sisters in the Tea Party with insults and endless hours of Internet trolling. Finding common ground would have been best. Yes, it is not easy, but we share many common concerns about employment, wages, taxes, government spending, and other issues.
As it stands now, the manufactured schism in society is keeping people from uniting to address the real economically based issues we face. I am afraid that life will have to get worse for more people before the lower classes (the 99%, if you wish) unite against those that caused the economic collapse of 2008 and previous economic disasters.