In their classic book on the news media, ‘Manufacturing Consent’, Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky presented a ‘propaganda model’ of how the major broadcasters and newspapers operate. Whereas the ‘mainstream’ media declare that their aim is to educate, inform and entertain the public, their actual societal purpose ‘on matters that are of significance for established power’ is to avert any ‘danger’ that the public can ‘assert meaningful control over the political process’ (Herman and Chomsky, ‘Manufacturing Consent’, Vintage, 1988/1994, p. 303).

As media analyst Lance Bennett wrote:

‘The public is exposed to powerful persuasive messages from above and is unable to communicate meaningfully through the media in response to these messages…. Leaders have usurped enormous amounts of political power and reduced popular control over the political system by using the media to generate support, compliance, and just plain confusion among the public.’ (Ibid., p. 303)

Thus, rather than manufacturing public consent for elite policies and priorities, manufacturing public ignorance is the more desirable and effective goal. After all, explicit public ‘consent’ is typically not required for the UK government, for example, to attack the welfare system, underfund and carve-up the NHS for commercial purposes, sell arms to Saudi Arabia to bomb Yemeni civilians, sabre-rattle in the Indo-Pacific to ‘counter’ China, or increase its nuclear weapons arsenal by 40 per cent.

Significant public activism and opposition to state-corporate power need to be rooted in widespread shared public knowledge. But, in the absence of adequate public knowledge, and thus the reduced ‘threat’ of an informed populace participating in a real democracy, power is more or less free to do as it pleases.

Take a recent Reuters news report following the death of Colin Powell, one of the perpetrators of the supreme international crime of invading and occupying Iraq. Like a parody from the satirical website The Onion, the article was titled: ‘Powell remembered as “one of the finest Americans never to be President”’.

As Matt Kennard of Declassified UK noted:

‘The wildest thing about Western establishment media is its journalists aren’t even working under threat of prison or violence.

‘They do state propaganda – and sanitise our worst war criminals – totally off their own back. Incredible discipline and dedication to serving power.’

Recall that, in February 2003, as the US and allies were preparing to invade Iraq, US Secretary of State Colin Powell had addressed the United Nations Security Council, dramatically holding up a small glass vial he said could contain anthrax, a biological weapon.

‘Saddam Hussein and his regime will stop at nothing until something stops him,’ stated Powell, arguing that Iraq was deceiving UN weapons inspectors. He claimed that he was providing ‘facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence’. Powell’s presentation was seemingly watertight, based on supposedly undeniable evidence, and it was reported as such by an obedient ‘mainstream’ news media across the globe.

But it was all lies, and it is ‘irrefutable’ that Powell ‘consciously deceived the world’, as US political analyst Jon Schwarz noted. Around one million Iraqis died as a result of the invasion-occupation, while many more millions became refugees, the country’s infrastructure devastated.

With her customary sardonic wit, the Australian political writer Caitlin Johnstone described the infamous image of Powell holding a vial while addressing the UN Security Council as a ‘viral anti-war meme’:

‘Over the years Powell’s meme has been an invaluable asset for opponents of western military interventionism and critics of US propaganda narratives about empire-targeted nations, serving as a single-image debunk of any assertion that it is sensible to trust the claims US officials make about any government that Washington doesn’t like.’

For the benefit of credulous, power-friendly journalists and anyone else who believed that Powell had made just one mistake that he bitterly regretted for the rest of his life, she added:

‘Powell’s other contributions to the world include covering up and participating in war crimes in Vietnam, facilitating atrocities in Central America, and destroying Iraqi civilian infrastructure in the Gulf War. But it’s hard to dispute that his greatest lasting legacy will be his immortal reminder to future generations that there is never, ever a valid reason to trust anything US officials tell us about a government they wish to bring down.’

She added:

‘Be sure to remind everyone of Powell’s sociopathic facilitation of human slaughter often and loudly in the coming hours. Public opinion is the only thing keeping western war criminals from The Hague, after all, and those war criminals are keenly aware of this fact. At times like these, they suddenly become highly invested in making sure that regular people “respect the dead,” not because they respect any human alive or dead, but because they cannot allow the death to become an opportunity to amplify and change public opinion about their egregious murderous crimes.’

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *