Tuesday, December 28, 2010

For Those That Doubt The Propaganda Model

Watch this infuriating interview from CNN regarding Wikileaks. And while doing so keep in mind that CNN ostensibly is tasked with doing journalism. That is, if they are pursuing their perceived function they should be trying to uncover corruption/immoral behavior by powerful officials that work contrary to the public interest.

The difference between what the media portray themselves as doing and what they actually do was long ago explained by Ed Herman and Noam Chomsky when they offered their Propaganda Model for the media. They say that based upon an institutional analysis of what the media is and what it's incentive structure is, we should expect it to largely be an enterprise that is in service to power, not an institution that undermines power when that is in the public interest.

Herman and Chomsky proved that their model was correct in a number of ways. One way was to take the examples that are often put forward as evidence that the media is iconoclastic and examining them in detail to show that this perception is false. People perceive that media coverage of the Vietnam War was largely negative and played to the interests of the anti-war movement. Many think that this negative coverage undermined the war itself and worked against the interests of the powerful factions that were perpetuating that war. In fact that is just the opposite of the truth. For the details you'll need to check out Manufacturing Consent.

I think the above interview is another good illustration. The host and government spokerperson's views are pretty much identical. They disparage and criticize an institution that is in fact doing what journalists ought to be doing if what they did wasn't service to power. CNN is hostile to iconoclastic journalism so naturally they oppose Wikileaks.


HispanicPundit said...

People would be more sympathetic to your view if Wikileaks actually, you know, uncovered something of matter.

But since what it reveals is largely unimportant, and everybody should agree with the principle that governments deserve atleast some secrecy, that makes Wikileaks look like its sole goal is to be a spoiler - and now Assange seems to be profiting from it.

I dont think this means CNN is all about powerful special interests...it just means they are human.

HispanicPundit said...

One thing I do have to admit though, is that Greenwald is one sharp pundit.

The only person I have seen able to tangle with him is David Frum, in their bloggingheads appearance. Everybody else, he wipes the floor with.

Jon said...

Not that your comments are on point, but:

If tax dollars being spent on trafficking young boys don't matter, if opening up multiple new war fronts and lying to the American people about it don't matter, if punishing Europe for blocking genetically modified food from Monsanto doesn't matter, if undermining the judicial system in Spain and Germany doesn't matter, if drug giant Pfizer digging up dirt on prosecutors to cover up drug tests on children that died as a result doesn't matter, if all that and tons more doesn't matter I guess I have to wonder what would matter?

And if it doesn't matter, why are so many powerful people calling for the murder of Assange? Why is the mainstream media lining up to denounce journalism in this case if it doesn't matter?

If Greenwald struggled with Frum as you claim, and I don't agree but you're entitled to think what you want, maybe he could learn from Chomsky and his brutal smack down of Frum. That was fun to hear.

Darf Ferrara said...

I just read Manufacturing Consent, and this interview shows the exact opposite point that the propaganda model makes. Taking it point by point from the wiki page.

1,2) Ownership and advertising. I see no reason to associate with this particular story.

3) Sourcing. The government is quoted but the bulk of the time is given to GG, an articulate, intelligent, attractive constitutional lawyer and government critic. He is given the bulk of the time to speak, and is not interrupted or shouted down.

4) Flak. Some is brought with the opposing view (a view held by a significant part of the population, I'd imagine) but she isn't given as much time as GG. The interviewer is obviously biased against wikileaks, but treats GG fairly.

5) Communism? Well.

If anything, the people that are against wikileaks are so because they assume that the US has a "public interest" in keeping "our" secrets. The "public interest" what you oppose in this case.

By the way, you seem to believe that it is more important to observe what the media actually does (smear Assange, call him a criminal, etc) than to listen to what they say (claims of seeking truth, etc). Do you think that this is true generally? That is, do you think that revealed behavior is usually much more informative than declared?

HispanicPundit said...

A 30 second discussion when David Frum was just getting started does not count as a smack down.

But I do encourage Glenn Greenwald followers to watch or listen to the David Frum discussion, it can be found here.

Jon said...

Here's how advertising and ownership are associated with this story. The propaganda model predicts that CNN will serve first and foremost the needs of it's owners and advertisers as opposed to being concerned about the public good. Who are the advertisers? Pfizer, Shell Oil, Monsanto, Bank of America, and the rest of the corporate world that is quaking in their boots at what the remaining 99% of cables may reveal about their behavior.

It's in the public interest to know if Bank of America is stealing tax dollars, or if Pfizer is killing children in Nigeria. But it's not in the corporate interest. The propaganda model would predict that CNN and the mainstream media would cover the story in a manner that best serves the interest of those advertisers. So the story leads with how Jullian Assange is somehow deviant because he stands to get paid from a book, and on it goes from there.

The alternative model is that of CNN being a journalistic enterprise, very interested in exposing wrongdoing and corruption because it's a public interest story.

Is it your position that the latter model more accurately describes the interview?

The powerful and wealthy don't want to be lied to. They want to know what's going on in the world. A large group of people does support Assange. It is useful to have an informed lawyer on to understand the other side. Consider that you want to understand the best way to go about prosecuting Assange. So it's useful to have Greenwald on.

Jon said...

Took Frum about 30 seconds to embarrass himself and get shamed into silence. Listen here.

Darf Ferrara said...

The ownership story might make sense if you believed that these companies have market power over advertising, but that is implausible to me. Another reason that it is implausible is that these companies bottom lines will likely not be affected at all by the release of these documents. If anything they might prefer that media outlets not speak about the leaks at all, although I'm not a media analyst, so maybe any publicity really is good publicity. Do you really think that it fits with the Propaganda Model (PM) that the expert used would be someone who is a constitutional lawyer, someone who has personally talked to Julian Assange, who takes the position that is anti-corporate, and pro-openness, and on top of that, makes the news anchor look silly and uninformed? That seems to not fit with the PM at all.

You seem to think that there are only two models to choose from. This is not correct. There are an infinite number of models that could be used to explain the data. What about the model that says that news anchors, acting as individuals, believe that it is in the common good for the US government to be able to keep secrets? Does this not fit the data just as well in this case?

By the way, I am interested in your answer to the question I asked in the last paragraph of my last comment.

Jon said...

Well since you asked so nicely I'll answer your last question.

I don't have a problem taking someone at their word generally unless an institutional analysis would reveal that you should expect them to be unreliable when they state their preferences. The PM actually predicts that the media would present themselves as journalists. Evaluating themselves with regards to the PM would undermine their goals. If we accept the PM that is.

A company certainly has power over it's own advertising. I'm not sure I'm understanding you there.

Providing information is one of the functions of media, so I don't think it's surprising that this story is being covered.

The PM isn't making claims about how a single individual will be excluded from a discussion. If the majority of time, or perhaps half the time, was spent with people like Greenwald, then yeah, you could say that is surprising. What this interview shows I think is the framing of the issues and bias associated with the discussion on the context of a supporter and I think it fits the PM very well.

To establish an alternative model I think you'd need to look at the institutions and show that based on an analysis you'd expect that supporting state secrets (such as those related to trafficking of young boys, subverting justice in Spain, etc) was somehow in the public interest. Seems a tough argument to make. The idea that a corporation, like CNN, would offer a product that served the needs of it's owners and clients seems very natural.

Darf Ferrara said...

It seems like you accept revealed over declared when it suits your purposes. When people claim to want less sex and violence in movies, and more documentaries, but continue to neglect documentaries at the box office you dismiss the revealed preferences.

When I say that companies don't have market power I mean that it is unlikely that any particular company can, by ceasing to advertise on CNN, can significantly reduce the profits made by CNN. If you look at a show like 60 minutes, for example, they used to take down a different corporation every week, and it never affected their bottom line.

In order to know if PM is the best model you need to look at other models. The PM fails in this example, IMO. In order to stretch the model to claim that it fits this model, you even have to assume that you understand the intentions of the news-anchor, instead of letting the evidence speak for itself. I don't know about you, but I do known people that think that Assange is a traitor to the "public interest" and should be disposed of. It isn't a stretch to think that someone with that view would be a news anchor.