Manufacturing Consent - Noam Chomsky and the Media Reviews

Page 1 of 10
John B
Super Reviewer
January 16, 2012
Chomsky's landmark exposition of the media and how they choose to depict stories is still relevant today. However, he misses the mark on a key element: how the media can be driven to cover stories based on profit rather than some grand conspiracy. A visual masterpiece nonetheless.
Sarah P
Super Reviewer
½ July 23, 2011
I think the substance of this documentary was excellent - very important views are presented about how people and information are controlled. Was it exciting? No. Was it informative and interesting? Yes.
Anthony V
Super Reviewer
February 25, 2008
A great introduction to not only Chomsky but critical thinking. It's not as important to agree with Chomsky as to start thinking for yourself. A film everyone should see.
iLeo iLeo
Super Reviewer
½ June 1, 2008
Highly fascinating!!
Christopher B
Super Reviewer
February 8, 2008
Chomsky is very engaging yet it takes a keen mind to keep up with what he's saying. A view of the media which is more common now than when Chomsky was first saying it.
hoobasteve hoobasteve March 14, 2007
Every American should watch this by the time they are 18 and should watch it over again until they truly understand it.
Ben G. Ben G. January 10, 2014
This 3-hour long documentary (split into 2 parts) is not entertainment, nor does it try to be. But the information is fascinating & the analysis is powerfully insightful. It's also an excellent introduction to Noam Chomsky for those who haven't come across any of his work.

Manufacturing Consent is not for those who care more about style than substance, like Chomsky himself, there is no intellectual snobbery or pseudo-intellectual flourishing. Anyone can understand the points within, although some are so illuminating they're worth revisiting.

This documentary was extremely influential for me, it completely altered my perception of the world & triggered an interest in politics, which I hitherto thought myself totally apathetic towards (I am still apathetic towards the mainstream conception of politics, but justifiably so).

I would say Manufacturing Consent is the single most important thing I've ever experienced & recommend it to anyone with a conscience.
Kenneth C December 18, 2011
A masterful eyeopener about corporate media bias with big media's playing up of Cambodia's Khmer Rouge horror and simultaneous subtle coverup of the bloody US supported Indonesian occupation of East Timor being an effective and chilling example of it in action.
Jonny B
Super Reviewer
May 25, 2011
Required viewing for the human race.
OlSpazzy OlSpazzy ½ May 8, 2010
A fast-paced and overwhelming display of Chomsky's intellectualism, focused on media deception.
josephborden josephborden July 21, 2005
This film isn't the best to show newbies about politics, but for anyone with a basic understanding of how this country works, this movie will entertain you and make you think.
fyodor_fish fyodor_fish September 11, 2004
Ambitious in scope, and culled from more than five years of footage by documentary filmmakers Mark Achbar and Peter Wintonick, 1993?s [i]Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media[/i], is an often unfocused (and often uncritical) documentary on the life, times, and background of one of the most well known intellectuals, academics (for his work in linguistics), and critic of the mass media and U.S. foreign policy of the late 20th- and early 21st-century, Noam Chomsky. In Chomsky?s view, his activism is animated by a vision of a more just, more liberal society (Chomsky describes his own beliefs as anarcho-syndicalist or libertarian socialism, both of which are obviously utopian, and not likely to be accepted as viable political prescriptions in the near term). Chomsky seems to be guided by the animating principle that the exercise of state power, coercion and control, must, in all instances, be justified, challenged, and where appropriate, questioned as illegitimate.

Divided into multiple, interlocking parts that themselves betray a lack of focus, [i]Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media[/i] opens with a vigorous examination of Chomsky?s ideas about the mass media, ?Thought Control in a Democratic Society.? Chomsky posits that the mainstream media shapes, defines, and controls public opinion, often by excluding, marginalizing, or otherwise dismissing dissent, all in service of political and corporate elites. For Chomsky, the generally held belief in the conventional role of the media, that of enabling the public to assert substantive control over the political process (based on the underlying assumption that representative democracies function best with a well-informed public, and therefore a free press unencumbered by government control or influence), is a false, misleading one. The mainstream media is driven by the pursuit of profit, is often owned and operated by corporations, and manipulated by their own desire for continued access to the corridors of power on the local, state, and national levels. The mainstream media sets the general agenda, selects the appropriate topics, determines emphasis and the framing of issues, as well as careful filtering of information and the ?bounding? of debate, all in the service of dominant interest groups.

As Chomsky points out in [i]Manufacturing Consent[/i], the conception of representative democracies guided and directed by political elites isn?t a revolutionary idea. Chomsky traces the idea of political elites directing the masses in representative democracies back to the English Civil War, and much more recently, to the ideas of philosopher Reinhold Niebuhr and influential journalist (and author of the seminal [i]Public Opinion[/i]), Walter Lipmann. In each case, the fundamental assumption is that the masses are simply incapable of recognizing and adequately responding to their own common interests. Chomsky quotes a particularly damning passage from Reinhold Niebuhr?s writings, ?Rationality belongs to the cool observer?the stupidity of the average man, he follows not reason, but faith, his naive faith requires necessary illusions and emotionally potent over-simplification.? One need only look at the current presidential campaign coverage and the failure of the mainstream media to challenge either campaign for factual errors or mischaracterizations, or to signal the emotional appeals made by the Bush campaign (i.e., the fear of future terrorist attacks).

In Chomsky?s formula, the mainstream media serves the special interests of the political and corporate elites, and not the American public, except to reinforce the status quo or, in many instances, to pacify and numb the American public into acquiescence in the decisions made for them by those elites (a claim that can be more adequately made for television news programs, especially those on the 24-hour news channels and general television programming, than for national newspapers, like the [i]The New York Times[/i] and [i]The Washington Post[/i]). In the case of the national newspapers, Chomsky sees the result of their efforts aimed squarely at what he calls the political class (roughly the top 20 percent). The [i]Times[/i] and the [i]Post[/i] are more sophisticated in the methods they use to shape and manipulate the opinions of the political class, but they nevertheless function to reinforce the status quo, and marginalize dissent. Chomsky uses the First Persian Gulf War in 1991 as an example to prove his thesis. The mainstream media, with rare exception, took the Bush I administration?s pronouncements about the danger posed by Iraq, and the need for immediate military action. Missing from the discourse was an alternative point of view that urged caution, diplomacy, and the exhaustion of all alternatives before military action. That particular point of view was missing from the generally fawning coverage by the national news media, the editorial pages of those newspapers, the nightly news programs, or the still nascent Cable News Network. Unfortunately, the marginalization of the anti-war perspective was even more evident in 2002 and 2003, when the Bush II administration misled the country into the invasion and occupation of Iraq. In Chomsky?s view, the media failed to present a forum to debate all the options, military and non-military alike. In democratic societies, Chomsky argues, the decision to go to war implies a responsibility, an obligation to present reason for war, and those reasons should be examined and critiqued and, if found, wanting rejected before the decision to go to war is made.

In [i]Manufacturing Consent[/i], Chomsky extends his critique of the mass media to the venerable [i]The New York Times[/i] (and its motto ?All the News That?s Fit to Print?). Besides criticizing the [i]Times[/i] for its apparent subservience to political elites, Chomsky also criticizes what he perceives as an almost unspoken assumption that what appears in the [i]Times[/i] can and should be classified as ?history.? Their musty archives are the foundation for creating perceptions, for generating ideas about what was, once ?news worthy,? and what continues to be ?news worthy.? Everything else missing from its voluminous archives simply falls into the memory hole. Chomsky uses the example of the genocide in East Timor that occurred in the late seventies as the linchpin of his argument. For the better part of several years, while the atrocities continued in East Timor (following an invasion and occupation by Indonesia, tacitly supported by the U.S. government), [i]The New York Times[/i] gave scant coverage. Instead, the [i]Times[/i] gave frequent and extensive coverage to the genocide in Cambodia. Chomsky argues that the difference in coverage was connected to several factors: (1) the U.S. government could use the genocide in Cambodia as a propaganda tool in the global fight against Communism, and (2) the U.S. had ?clean hands? in Cambodia (at least after the end of the Vietnam War, when the illegal bombing of Cambodia had ended), (3) the U.S. government?s tacit support of the Indonesian invasion and occupation of East Timor served its broader anti-communist interests in the area, and (4) the Indonesian government purchased fully 90 percent of its military supplies from U.S. defense contractors.

Of course, neither Chomsky nor the documentary filmmakers could have foreseen the advent of the Internet, and the ready availability of national and alternative news media, both inside and outside the United States (i.e., the foreign press). For a nominal price (i.e., registration), readers from across the country can access their local and national media, and receive updates on important news items multiple times a day. The speed of the Internet however, has its own costs. Some news stories may simply not gain sufficient traction for follow-up news articles, and in the span of a day or two can disappear from public consciousness. Another issue, long prevalent in print media, the placement of news articles that implicitly reflects their ?value? is exacerbated by obtaining news through online news sources: the news that would ordinarily be placed only a page or two behind the main page can be easily buried or ignored. The implicit assumption here is that the headlines and the accompanying content found on the home page of the web sites for the mainstream media should be considered ?news worthy,? and everything else can be safely ignored.

In addition, the rapid creation and expansion of the ?blogosphere? (i.e., individual and group weblogs, often with a political, analytical focus, created and maintained at low cost, and freely accessible to anyone with a computer and an Internet connection) means the possibility of greater democratization, and ultimately, greater participation in the democratic process, with the ability of the news media to set agendas, and select and frame the terms of debate, diminished. Of course, the influence of the blogosphere on the democratic process is more speculation than fact, but it bodes well for an energized, more informed electorate (and therefore, more accountable politicians). More formally, media watchdog groups, like Fair and Accuracy in Reporting (FAiR), Media Matters, and Campaign Desk (operated by the Columbia University School of Journalism), also have a role to play in critiquing the mainstream media within the same news cycle.

Chomsky and the documentary filmmakers also couldn?t have foreseen the rise of 24-hour news channels to their present stature and ubiquity in the national consciousness and their role in selecting, shaping, and filtering particular news stories (with an emphasis on sensationalism over news analysis). Chomsky also couldn?t have foreseen the advent of one 24-news channel in particular, the FOX News Channel that was explicitly created as an answer to the perceived ?liberal bias? of the mainstream news media and the other 24-hour news channels. FOX News? obvious conservative bias indicates that Chomsky?s theories are, in part, incorrect, and in need of refinement. His theories depend on a veil of ignorance, smoke and mirrors that separates the selection, presentation, and dissemination of news from its eventual audience, who unquestionably accept the news as unbiased. Instead, a new media model seems to have arisen, one that proudly wears its ?bias? on its sleeves, and which, contrary to expectations, receives relatively high ratings. The viewers who tune into FOX News don?t want unbiased, perceptibly objective news, but instead want to be fed ?information? that reinforces preexisting political, cultural, and social beliefs. That alone suggests that, at least for a substantial segment of the population, the acquiescence to be led by media consonant with their own beliefs is a conscious one (contrary to the Chomsky?s model of the media). Of course, a counter-argument here would attempt to take into account the various educational, cultural, and other institutional forces that created the pre-existing conditions for that acquiescence.

In the penultimate segment, [i]Manufacturing Consent[/i] features a series of debates between Chomsky and his opponents, plus a tangential segment on Chomsky?s involvement with a French Holocaust denier (Chomsky?s position was based on free speech unhindered by government interference, but his position was distorted in the media into support of the Holocaust denier himself). The last segment celebrates the alternative media (i.e., newspapers, magazines, community radio stations, and progressive publishers, with a brief mention of media watchdogs like FAiR) that the documentary filmmakers (and presumably Noam Chomsky) hope will, with time, prove to be the first steps toward a counter-mainstream media. Alas, that hope, and that promise, still remains unfulfilled.
Page 1 of 10