Manufacturing Boredom

In order to get certain people to learn some economics I will read  and blog Manufacturing Consent by Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky. I expect some interesting facts, some lousy analysis and lots of preaching to the choir. I’ll try to read a chapter a week.

Introduction and Preface and Chapter 1

The Introduction is enormous. It starts out with a Milton quote. I’m reminded of Johnson’s review Paradise Lost – None wished it longer.

They start out stating the Propaganda Model System as it is called, or PMS. The model consists of five points by which news is filtered.

1) Size, concentrated ownership of mass media
2) advertising
3) reliance of media on gov’t and business experts
4) flak as a means of disciplining the media
5) anticommunism

They then make excuses for the system not fitting all the facts. The media has limited autonomy, there is dissent, but usually these filters hold. They also make no claim that the media is influenced by the system.

As an aside, I would like to have seen other models of media selection presented. They dismiss out of hand media claims that they only seek the truth. This is fair enough, but I’m sure that there has been some research before Chomsky came on the scene. Would it be too much to ask for a review of other models?

They claim that the analysis is a ‘free market’ approach. What does this mean? Do they mean an economic analysis? I’ve only heard Chomsky refer to the free market as bad. I’ll assume he mean that this analysis will be bad. I’m sure that I’ll agree. This isn’t a conspiracy theory. Well, it quacks like a duck.

They claim that there is a monopoly on media because 9 companies dominate the mass media (as far as market cap goes). How many companies should there be? In many industries 9 large competitors would make for a competitive industry. In computer chips there are only two major manufacturers (Intel and AMD), and that is about as cutthroat and competitive as industries get.

Now lots of criticism of commercialism and low culture. This is Chomsky and Hermann as the fun police. If people don’t like reading about atrocities in East Timor then they are bad people. Oh, no! Shopping channels, Infomercials, product placement! Decrying the fact that people like celebrity gossip and might be popular at a communist rally, but what basis is there for believing that Chomsky has superior taste to everyone else? “Polls regularly show that the public would like more news, documentaries, and other information, and less sex, violence, and other entertainment, even as they do listen to and watch the latter.” What does this mean? I’m confused.

The previous paragraph was brought to you by Coca-Cola.

Various discussions of the way news stories have been spun, KGB plot to assassinate the pope, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, workers of the world unite, chemicals are killing us all etc, etc.

More soon!


16 Responses to “Manufacturing Boredom”

  1. Jon Says:

    You’ll learn despite yourself.

  2. Jon Says:

    Am I supposed to read chapter 5 of Exchange and Production?

  3. darfferrara Says:

    I thought it was the whole book. You know, one unreadable monstrosity for another. Would it kill you to try and learn something new?

  4. Jon Says:

    To learn though you do have to try and improve your reading comprehension skills. Check out your last blog post. I talk about how Americans benefit from cheap Hatian labor and corporate abuse in third world countries. Your response: “I’m sure the boot is real heavy on your throat with your android phone.” I don’t know what to tell you except to respond to what I wrote rather than the position you attempt to concoct. That’s a common concoction. I complain about US corporate abuse and people pretend I’m saying that I’m suffering.

    Your concoction of Chomsky is that since people do watch gossip this means that people are happy with the choices offered to them in media, as if Chomsky says people don’t like to watch gossip. That’s not what he said. If you are given the choice between pizza and burgers and you eat a burger this doesn’t mean you wouldn’t rather have a steak, but it’s not on the menu.

    Many things don’t make the menu. That’s primarily because of the filters. That’s a testable hypothesis, and Herman and Chomsky do test it. You can look to places where the same filters aren’t in place and you can see what appears on the menu. You can make predictions about what you will expect to see and what you will expect to be somewhat muted. You can also look to polling data about what Americans say they would like to see on the menu. Perhaps you are unsatisfied with this kind of a thing because it’s not like proving a mathematical theorem, but it is the way science is done.

    Your claim about “excuses” for why not all the data fit the facts is very misleading. Is there some expectation that no stories critical of US corporate interest would ever be published? No. So Chomsky does not expect that there will be no discussion of East Timor. He expects that it will be discussed, but that the discussion of it will be colored due to the filtering. If he expects East Timor to be in the news, where is this data that doesn’t fit the facts?

  5. darfferrara Says:

    Let’s test my reading comprehension. You write “Check out your last [referring to Darf’s] blog post.” You then point to your own blog post’s comments. But not your last (meaning either previous, or final) blog post, but rather one from several days past. That’s a large number of errors for such a short sentence! But I think I managed to interpret what you meant despite the high density of errors. Has my reading comprehension improved? The rest of the paragraph seems to be a defense of Pol Pot, which I find both perplexing and disturbing.

    Honestly I do thank you for giving an interpretation that fits the sentence. He is claiming (according to you) that there is not news, documentaries, and other information on the TV? Do you believe that this is true? My intuition is that the polls are wrong. Have you ever heard of the Bradley Effect? The Spiral of silence?The Shy Tory Factor? People don’t always tell the truth when they answer polls, and polls aren’t always sampled correctly. 1932 polls had Hoover beating Roosevelt, in ’48 Dewey beats Truman. He can site polls all day long, and you can call that science, but it doesn’t make it plausible that people would rather watch Sense and Sensibility or Why the US Is A Bad Country than The Killinator VI, This Time It’s Personal.

    Do you really think that what is done in this book is science? Maybe social science, but social science is to science as sanitation engineer is to engineering. And that would be fine enough if it was an attempt social at social science. The language it uses is cheer leading for socialist ideas and derogatory of capitalist ideas. A book like that can certainly be written, but don’t try to pretend it’s science just because they put up a few uninteresting tables.

  6. Jon Says:

    I have no idea what you’re saying. I made errors when I referred you to your last blog post and my comments? I said Chomsky claims there will be no news on TV? If it’s a joke I don’t get it.

  7. darfferrara Says:

    “Polls regularly show that the public would like more news, documentaries, and other information, and less sex, violence, and other entertainment, even as they do listen to and watch the latter.”

    Explain the point of this sentence.

  8. Bill Says:

    When you say “They claim that the analysis is a ‘free market’ approach”, where did they make this claim? It doesn’t sound like something Chomsky would say. Could you quote the surrounding paragraph?

  9. darfferrara Says:


    • Bill Says:

      Thanks, I just watch the movie this weekend on hulu. I heard him use the phrase “institutional analysis” but not “free market analysis.”

  10. Jon Says:

    The point is the public is not real happy with the choices on the menu. They’ll eat the burgers too, but they’d rather have more options.

    Does this question have something to do with the comment I just made? This is very confusing.

  11. darfferrara Says:

    So, to be clear, the point he is trying to make is that there are not enough documentaries and news shows? And we know this because there are polls that show this?

  12. Jon Says:

    I think his point is that polls show that Americans would like less sex, violence, and other entertainment. That’s not his opinion. It’s a statement of fact. This is what the polls show.

  13. darfferrara Says:

    The fact is that a poll claims that Americans would like less sex, violence, and other entertainment.The fact is that I have given you links that show that polls are unreliable. The fact is that if you tried to get your wife to watch a documentary instead of Battlestar Galactica she would punch you in the face. How many documentaries that were Oscar Nominated last year can you name?

    The other problem is that even if the polls were accurate they describe the average preference of the populace, not the marginal preference of the individual. Average and marginal may sound like big words, but you should understand them to know why Chomsky sounds dumber than a box of hammers here.

  14. Jon Says:

    You wanna know what your problem is? Here’s your problem. You just concoct arguments that aren’t made and you refute them.

    This is a book about how there are certain factors that people don’t often consider that affect the content of news. One factor is ratings. Nobody is saying that’s completely irrelevant. But other factors are involved which prove that it is not purely ratings. That leads to content that viewers may not in fact prefer. But that isn’t surprising since the viewers are not really the customer. The customers are wealthy advertisers. Phil Donahue’s ratings were fine, but he was canned because there are other factors involved in determining what will be shown and heard in the media.

    One piece of information relevant to this claim is polls about people’s wants and desires in media. It alone is not a proof. Polls are not perfect. But polls are a data point. Let’s not be Bob Dutko and pretend that since polls can be misleading therefore we’re entitled to pretend that they provide no information whatsoever or that single payer health insurance is not the preference of the American people. It’s a relevant data point that in itself doesn’t prove the case, but is another piece of data confirming what our expectations would be given the propaganda model.

    This is also not to say that someone wouldn’t want to watch Battlestar Galactica. It’s not a claim about what everybody wants. Polls indicate general beliefs, not specific ones.

    Your example of me and documentaries is poor because I watch a ton of documentaries. I may not know which was Oscar nominated, but I watch all kinds. But I’m just one person and one person doesn’t demonstrate a general rule.

    • darfferrara Says:

      It is true that I am rebutting arguments that Chomsky doesn’t make. This is because he doesn’t actually argue for a position, he insinuates and allows simple yokels with that don’t understand marginal preferences to infer what his arguments are. It is left for more intelligent and good looking people in South Carolina to correct these simpletons.

      Chomsky sites the poll, insinuating that Americans are not happy with the choices that they are given to watch. You have inferred that Americans in general will be happier if the polls are followed, and more news and documentaries are produced instead of sex and violence. Your job now is to read Exchange and Production and come back and explain to everyone why you were wrong because you didn’t understand marginal arguments. You might even be able to cite some data, like box office receipts of documentaries versus action adventure movies, and TV ratings for Dateline NBC versus the Amazing Race.

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