Laos and Cambodia and Done

Loas and Cambodia are described as suffering terribly through the ’70s and later, in three stages, the first due to US bombing, the second and third due to Pol Pot and other factors. After reading this chapter and the wiki page on Cambodia, I still don’t think I understand what the US goals were there. Chomsky seems to have been especially angry due to his belief that he was misrepresented on his support for the Pol Pot regime.

The conclusions is an odd mix. It seems to say that the press is doomed to a propaganda model in some sense. But then there are times when the claim is made that public radio and television could help make things better, despite what he said earlier in the book about PBS commentary staying in line with the major network news sources.

It is claimed that the propaganda model has been proven, despite the fact that the usual standard of proof in the book is to state a fact and then say, “this is just as would be predicted by the propaganda model”. I guess if you already believe the propaganda model, then that is all the proof that you need, but I think lazy reporters and an expansive federal government explain everything that the propaganda model does and more. In fact, lets look at the propaganda model and see how well it correlates with the data laid out in the book.

1) Size, and concentrated ownership of mass media

This wasn’t shown to have any influence on the way the stories were covered. 0/1

2) Advertising

In the conclusions chapter it is claimed that war profiteering lead to the way the wars were covered. Other than that, no evidence is offered throughout the book. 0/2

3) Reliance of media on government and business experts.

This should be shortened to reliance on government experts, as other business experts weren’t cited. There should have been much more detail given to how much of each of these stories relied on the government, including interviewing the reporters who generated these stories. Half credit 1/2 / 3

4) flak as a means of disciplining the media.

One example of this is given in the Pope assassination chapter. Otherwise it is left to the imagination. I’ll give it another half credit, 1/4

5) Anticommunism

While it’s true that communism is always presented in a negative light, this may be because forced communism is an evil philosophy that caused more death and misery than any other in the 20th century. It’s hard to present it well when Russian communism murders 30 million, Chinese communism kills another 40 million in the great leap forward, and many more are subjugated to the power of the state. For this I will only subtract 1

This shows that the propaganda model went 0 for five. Some people find the model convincing though. Maybe they’ll change there mind if they read some Exchange and Production by Alchian and Allen.


7 Responses to “Laos and Cambodia and Done”

  1. Jon Says:

    Maybe you need to tell us what you think would qualify as evidence. You say none is offered and I say it’s offered throughout. But what is evidence for you?

    Here’s what I see. They offer some undisputed facts about the media (facts about advertising, concentration, etc) and simply ask what we would expect stories to look like given the incentive structure. This is contrasted with the common perception that the media is muckracking, interested in rooting out corruption etc. Those two views of the media conflict. So then they go look at stories to see which view more accurately reflects things, and in fact they pick cases that are put forward as the best evidence that the media is muckracking, iconoclastic, etc.

    But in fact, contrary to popular notions about what the media is doing and has done, the facts show that their behavior by and large is consistent with the model from H&C.

    So take the Tet Offensive. The perception is that the media lost the war for us, over-inflating the difficulties encountered with the Tet offensive, driving down public support for the war, etc. That would run counter to H&C’s thesis if true. Looking at the facts though we find that the media was in fact sugar coating the incident, offering stories that were more optimistic than the beliefs of military commanders. The general public was in fact more pessimistic than the media. So here we have a case put forward as if it’s proof that H&C’s thesis is erroneous, yet when we look into the details we find that the facts align with their hypothesis better than the muckracking hypothesis. And again, we’re looking at this story because it is put forward as if it somehow contradicts the thesis of H&C.

    Or look at Mai Lai. It’s put forward as if it is evidence of the rebellious iconoclastic nature of the media. There is a perception among some that the media is running around looking for stories like this in order to make the US military look bad. In fact these kinds of incidents were happening constantly, and this particular one was barely mentioned by the peace movement because it was so unremarkable. And in various ways the atrocity was spun in a manner subservient to power consistent with the H&C model.

    That to me is evidence. You say it’s not. If that’s not evidence, what would evidence look like? They are making predictions about what they expect to see, they go out and take a look at the cases that supposedly contradict their model, and they find that in fact they don’t contradict the model at all. Predictive power is evidence of a good model. Do you deny this?

    It’s kind of like the theory of evolution. One of the principle objections to Darwin’s theory was that the earth was believed to be only 10 million years old or less. Darwin said yeah, he needs more time. And later it’s proved that in fact the earth is older. That’s pretty good evidence of his theories. This is like H&C. A principle objection to their theory is that the press was antagonistic regarding Vietnam. That’s a widespread perception today. But you go and look at the details and you find that’s false. That’s pretty good evidence. You say they basically don’t give evidence. What would evidence look like if this is not evidence?

  2. darfferrara Says:

    Suppose I postulate that if the sky is blue then we would expect dropped objects to accelerate at a rate of 9.8 m/s. Then I observe that dropped objects do accelerate at a rate of 9.8 m/s. Have I proved that one causes the other? If the sky was red would that change the outcome? To really test this we might test that “sky=blue implies a=9.8m/s” we might measure acceleration when the sky was red or yellow. If the acceleration was still 9.8 m/s then we might conclude that sky color had nothing to do with the acceleration of objects falling. To that end, Chomsky has presented no evidence that 1 and 2 are causative, 3 and 4 Chomsky has given some small evidence (though if they had been interested they could have presented much more), and 5 was given a significant amount of evidence, although it almost completely explained by 3.

    Let me ask you directly, where did they show that concentration of media slanted the stories? Or can you admit that that particular filter is a “sky is blue” type filter?

  3. Jon Says:

    For the record Herman is the primary author so don’t forget that he’s there. So based on 1 and 2 predictions can be made about what we would expect from stories. These will vary depending on the make up of the owners. A highly concentrated ownership (maybe GE serving the whole country) would have a different set of needs an interests than a local paper like the Monroe Evening News. The stories would be expected to reflect the needs and interests of the advertisers and owners. For large, global companies generally it does serve their interests to destroy Vietnam. This country via public participation was looking to have their resources directed at benefiting the public at large. This is a less profitable situation for major capital investors, (i.e. the people that own the media and advertise within the major media).

    That follows directly from 1 and 2. And when we look at the media product we find that it adheres quite closely to this model. You might say that this is not all that useful because it’s obvious. But I don’t think it is obvious to most people. I think most people have a perception that the media was antagonistic towards US war aims in Vietnam. H&C offer a model that predicts that generally this would not be the case and they do the work to show that in fact it was not the case. And this despite widespread impressions to the contrary. It’s as if Darwin showed that the earth is over 4 billion years old.

    And you say that’s not evidence. Then what would qualify as evidence?

  4. Jon Says:

    H&C aren’t saying anything much different from what Orwell would say. Is Orwell wrong?

  5. darfferrara Says:

    I don’t think that you are understanding my objection. When I make the analogy of the blue sky, I am not stating a fact because it is obvious, but because it is true at the time. Just as I will accept the fact that it is true that there are fewer (or were fewer in 1985) media companies than there were at times previous to that. However if the sky were red (or there were more media companies) as happens occasionally, are the consequences different? I don’t think that it is clear that the consequences should be different. If you were trying to prove this empirically, you might try to show how during different times you might somehow try to show how things were different over time as media converges, or look at different countries with different types of media, all the while controlling for changes in technology, differences in culture, etc. You don’t do that though, and neither do Chomsky and that other guy. You just say, “It is in the interest of GE to destroy Vietnam”. That isn’t obvious to me. In fact, it seems like it is wrong. I think that needs a great deal of proof. You respond, “Vietnam was destroyed, and there are fewer media companies than previously. That is proof.” Needless to say, I don’t find that proof convincing at all. I’m holding a stone and there are no tigers around. Obviously, the stone keeps away tigers.

  6. Jon Says:

    Maybe I’m not getting you here. Sometimes I presume you are disputing one thing because I don’t see any reason for dispute on another point. So let me first see if I get what you are saying.

    H&C note that there are 5 filters that effect the content of news. Among them are the type of ownership and advertising.

    So if I’m understanding you right you’re saying that it isn’t proved that the type of ownership or advertising plays a roll in the content.

    To me this is the expectation without actually looking at the content. That’s the incentive structure. Are you denying that this filter plays a role in the content of news or would you say you don’t deny it but still regard it as unproved. Because if you accept it I even though it’s unproved I see no point in trying to prove it because we are in agreement.

  7. darf ferrara Says:

    Type of ownership and advertising could play a role in a particular media company, but the claim is that it changes the it for all the media. There is implicit collusion maybe? I don’t see any reason to expect that. Also, size of media companies is stated to be a reason. If there were twice as many media companies and they were each half the size, should we expect anything different? If there were ten times the number of media companies should we expect anything different? I don’t see any reason to expect anything different. And I certainly don’t know of any reason to think that “it does serve their interests to destroy Vietnam” if they are a large company.

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