Through the perspective of Chomsky and Herman, it can be seen that the propaganda model helps to create an explanation behind the power of mass media within the current capitalist economy of the United States.
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The propaganda model presents the notion that the content produced by mass media outlets is invariably aligned with the inherent interests of the political and economic elites in that the produced content supports the current sociological and ideological biases that this specific sector of the population espouses.
Through such support, this in turn impacts the perception of viewers who rely on the media as a means of information regarding daily events around them. Through the study of Gimenez et al. (2013), it was seen that the correlation between the propaganda model and the power of the media can be summarized on the impact of irrational exuberance as a means of influencing the behavior of a media outlet’s audience.
Irrational exuberance can be defined as the means of by which an individual molds their behavior on the actions of other people. It is defined as being “irrational” since some individuals tend to take things at face value resulting in their opinion being swayed by outside media without necessarily considering the other side of the issue.
One example of this can be seen in the recent case involving Trayvon Martin, an African American teen that was shot by George Zimmerman in an act of supposed self-defense. The coverage of the media involving this particular case continuously focused on the issue of race as being the prime factor behind the shooting with the media portraying Zimmerman as being racist towards African Americans.
What was “neglected” to be mentioned was that Zimmerman had in fact helped an African American family in the past and was not known to be overly racist. Furthermore, the photo of Trayvon Martin that was utilized by the media as a means of showing the face of the victim was not in fact a recent photo of him.
Rather, the photo was several years out of date and it can be assumed that a younger looking photo was utilized as a means of creating public anger at Zimmerman for shooting an innocent boy with a promising future ahead of him.
However, it should be noted that Martin was considered by his school as a “high risk” student due to him being involved in various violent fights and dubious undertakings that were rarely mentioned by the mass media.
The end result though were numerous rallies and protests regarding the verdict of the trial where Zimmerman was found innocent, yet, those rallying were clearly impacted by irrational exuberance since they did not take into consideration the views of the school regarding Martin and the possibility that he may have been violent instead of the “saint like” portrayal that the protesters were rallying behind.
By placing the case of Trayvon Martin and the lack of sufficient coverage of both aspects of his life through the lens of the propaganda model, it can be seen that the issue was in part used as a means of furthering the cause of gun control advocacy. President Obama himself used the issue as a means of furthering stricter gun controls measures which at this particular point time was a “hot button” issue so to speak.
This shows how the mass media as it is known today has its own inherent biases in portrayal and presentation which are impacted by the powers that be (i.e. government and corporations) wherein issues are edited and presented based on what they want people to think and how irrational exuberance can set in to impact the decisions of viewers.
Usefulness of Understanding the Power of the Media: Media Ethos and the propaganda model
In their analysis of the mass media within the U.S. Jackson & Stanfield (2004) attempts to simplify the assertions made by Chomsky and Herman by correlating the ownership of mass media outlets and the means by which such institutions function (i.e. through advertising and news sources) as a method by which media content is controlled.
This level of control as described by Klaehn (2003) is not limited to the content of the media that is being presented; rather, it also encapsulates the type of ethos that such media abides by.
Media ethos refers to the way in which the media shows itself to the general public, in a sense; it is a method in which the mass media present an “image” to their viewers so that their opinions coincide with what those of the media on the basis of the media being an expert in portraying factual news.
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This particular “image” refers to the media’s “character” in the sense that media is attempting to persuade a group of viewers of the righteousness of their statements based on their inherent character (i.e. as a supposedly unbiased presenter of news).
In the case of the mass media ethos this takes the form of the media attempting to convince other people of the “righteousness” or “validity” of their statements and what they present on the basis of the image that they are portraying, namely, as individuals that have a great deal of experience and knowledge regarding news and current events (Klaehn 2002, p. 147).
It is this argument on the basis of a projected image that is a cause for concern since basing it on a person’s/media company’s knowledge and experience alone does not justify the action itself.
This is an important aspect in understanding the why the propaganda model is useful in understanding the power of the media since it shows that it is possible for the media to utilize its image as a purveyor of unbiased news to actually portray biased news with the general public believing otherwise.
For example, a person may argue for the righteousness of a cause on the basis of their knowledge of the event yet this attempt at persuasion may in itself be self-serving for the person/company that is attempting to persuade other individuals.
Through an understanding of the propaganda model, the impact of media power becomes clearer since the model shows how media ethos is actually self-serving towards the media corporations themselves since it justifies their actions under the basis of a righteous cause yet in the end is more beneficial to them than to other individuals (i.e. presenting an edited and manufactured version of the news to appease advertisers and government officials rather than present the news as it actually is).
In the case of media ethos, what must be understood is that through the propaganda model it can be seen that they type of ethos it espouses is a type of “artifice”, meaning that is created, manufactured, made, constructed etc. It can be considered a type of surface image which may in fact have an entirely fictitious relationship to what is actually true (Goodwin 1994, p. 101).
This aspect is exemplified by the four main aspects of the propaganda model namely: funding, ownership, sourcing and flak. In the case of media ethos, what must be understood is that the way which an idea or concept is “packaged” drastically changes the perception of the audience towards accepting the idea itself or the validity of its statements.
The Chomsky and Herman assertions regarding the impact of the 4 factors of the propaganda model, when boiled down to its very essence, says the following: ” the media is controlled by outside forces who can influence what you read and in turn how you think”.
It is in the way that such a concept is packaged and presented to the public that changes the perception of the public to the idea that what they receive is an edited version of the news (Goodwin 1994, p. 101).
It is not outright explained that the news is based on the interests of currently established powers (i.e. corporations and the government), rather, the mass media presents itself as unbiased despite what the propaganda model shows is a situation where bias is actual aspect of its operations.
An examination of the historical nature of media ethos has shown that in one way or another, despite its apparent ethical appearance, there is always an underlying reason behind its creation which does in fact create a beneficial effect for the individuals that created it.
As it was stated earlier, ethos is not something that is inherent but rather something that has been created and manufactured with a surface image in order to fulfill a particular purpose.
It is often utilized as a method of convincing people or justifying a particular set of actions and as such it is crafted in such a way so as to be convincing, believable and thus adaptable. The propaganda model thus helps us see the underlying ethos behind the content created by mass media and to what ends they serve.
Gimenez, M, Revelli, J, Lama, M, Lopez, J, & Wio, H 2013, ‘Interplay between social debate and propaganda in an opinion formation model’, Physica A, vol. 392, no. 1, pp. 278-286
Goodwin, J 1994, ‘What’s Right (and Wrong) About Left Media Criticism? Herman and Chomsky’s Propaganda Model’, Sociological Forum, vol. 9, no. 1, p. 101
Jackson, P, & Stanfield, J 2004, ‘The Role of the Press in a Democracy: Heterodox Economics and the Propaganda Model’, Journal Of Economic Issues (Association For Evolutionary Economics), vol. 38, no. 2, pp. 475-482
Klaehn, J 2002, ‘A Critical Review and Assessment of Herman and Chomsky’s ‘Propaganda Model”, European Journal Of Communication, vol. 17, no. 2, p. 147
Klaehn, J 2003, ‘Behind the Invisible Curtain of Scholarly Criticism: revisiting the propaganda model’, Journalism Studies, vol. 4, no. 3, p. 359