Manufacturing Consent and the Importance of Alternative Perspectives in the Media
Updated: Feb 17
By: Will Zang
It has been thirty-two years since Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman published Manufacturing Consent. Their pathbreaking study on the US media is required reading for those who want to understand how the media works and has become one of the best confirmed theses in the social sciences according to Chomsky and other scholars.
In many ways Chomsky and Herman’s argument is very simple: large media outlets (major cable news networks & large newspapers) are controlled by large, profit-driven corporations. These corporations are controlled by the “elites” in our society, the same group that fill important positions in the White House, have houses in Palm Beach, and golf at Mar-a-Lago. Therefore, the information, perspectives, stories, and points of view that come to us through our television screens and on the front pages of the newspaper reflect a corporate worldview, a point of view that benefits these elites. The selection of topics, emphasis placed on different issues, and the framing of debates are all biased in favor of these elites. The result is a misinformed public with a distorted outlook on the world who are ill-equipped to interpret the complex issues of today.
One critical function of this elite dominated media system is the exclusion of alternative points of view (ways of seeing the world that clash with corporate oriented goals and outlooks). For example, in the US, elites tend to be overwhelmingly white and male. As a result, it should not surprise anyone that the perspectives we get from major media outlets are mostly white and male. We need look no further than the way the media covers Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests. Cable news commentators have twisted these overwhelmingly peaceful gatherings in support of peaceful societal change into violent, bloodthirsty mobs that do nothing but loot stores and burn police cars. At the same time, the mainstream media downplayed hyper-violent law enforcement responses and discarded nuanced perspectives on the protests in favor of effective oversimplifications. Because BLM protestors and the changes they represent are an inherent threat to established elites and power structures, the media coverage of this movement has tried to slander it.
Another crucial tool the media uses to shape public opinion is the framing of debate, in which large media outlets establish the limits under which the conversation about a particular issue takes place. On modern cable news shows we often hear two perspectives on important issues: the liberal and the conservative. Popular wisdom says that when we hear “both sides of the issue” we can consider reporting to be “unbiased coverage” of a certain issue. Has anybody ever considered that there might be more than two sides to any given issue? What about completely different ways of thinking that fall outside of these very narrow boundaries? What about feminist, anarchist, or democratic-socialist perspectives? What about the points of view of African-Americans, of the poor, the homeless, or of undocumented Americans?
This is exactly why publications like We See You are so vital. The stated goal of this magazine is “to magnify the realities of living through different identities and societies in this diverse world, so people know that these perspectives and stories exist.” These “different identities and societies” are exactly what the mainstream media filter out. Publications like We See You allow us to get outside of corporate-controlled media and give us a perspective that we desperately need.