I first heard the term “new world order” in 1991, during the first Gulf War. I had a vague, possibly erroneous, understanding that the United States was involved in some type of clandestine world government. The term has since become a common phrase used in political speeches and informational articles. Once described as a “pursuit of justice and more secure in the quest for peace” by by GHW Bush, Noam Chomsky paints a different picture saying, “We’ll be the world’s mafia, running a global protection racket. That’s the New World Order”.
Of course this is not how “The New World Order” is portrayed in our press. Instead, according to Chomsky, a carefully planned propaganda campaign taught the domestic population to “respect the martial virtues”, and “shed the dread Vietnam syndrome” in order to overcome “our sickly inhibition against the use of military force”, so that the United States of America is able to “move toward the real New World Order, one based on the rule of force”. All sold to the American public in order to “Manufacture Consent” for the war in Iraq.
A “Propaganda model” as defined by Herman and Chomsky in “Manufacturing Consent” is “an analytical framework that attempts to explain the performance of the U.S. media in terms of the basic institutional structures and relationships within which they operate”. Rather than propaganda being blatantly thrust upon the American public, a subtle series of structural factors are maneuvered in order to maintain control of information made available in our ‘free press’ environment. Although more difficult to recognize than a system in which formal censorship by government owned media outlets takes place, “free market” propaganda is just as powerful.
The propaganda model’s structure derives from the fact that the dominant media are firmly imbedded in the market system. They are profit-seeking businesses, owned by very wealthy people and/or corporations, funded by advertisers, who are also profit-seeking entities, with the main focus of reaching as large an audience as possible to maximize profit. (Herman, 2003). The propaganda model consists of a series of “filters” described as:
First Filter: Size, ownership, and control
Second Filter: Advertising dependence
Third Filter: Sourcing of Mass-Media News
Fourth Filter: Flak and the enforcers
Fifth Filter: “anticommunism” as a control mechanism.
Acting to reinforce each other, the filters effectively constrain the information flow by choosing which information to make available to the American public. The media ownership, therefore, determines what is a “legitimate” news story is. Chomsky states, “The elite domination of the media and marginalization of dissidents that results from the operation of these filters occurs so naturally that media news people, frequently operating with complete integrity and goodwill, are able to convince themselves that they choose and interpret the news “objectively” and on the basis of professional news values”. Information is systematically and intentionally controlled in order to protect the interests of the elite. Edward Herman explains stating, “Clearly the manufacture of consent by a ‘specialized class’ that can override the short-sighted perspectives of the masses must entail media control by that class”.
According to Chomsky, as of 2002 nine major transnational conglomerates, including Disney, AOL Time Warner, Viacom and others, “own all the world’s major film studios, TV networks, and music companies and a sizable faction of the most important cable channels, cable systems, magazines, major-market TV stations, and book publishers…Another fifteen firms round out the system, meaning that two dozen firms control nearly the entirety of media experienced by most U.S. citizens”. A current Google search shows that number down to six, due to mergers and acquisitions. All of these companies and corporations have as their main focus bottom line considerations. Financial pressures on these companies forces an information filter to catch anything that may offend advertisers or consumers and threaten profits. “A country can have very high standards of protection for free expression … and still have very limited EFFECTIVE free expression, because of concentration of power over what can reach the public”.
Marketing and advertisements are major concerns for profit driven concerns. Even public broadcastings have been forced to accept advertising dollars and have therefore been forced to operate under some of the same constraints as have the other media giants. As a result there is a growing avoidance of controversial subjects that might offend powerful patrons. Although not a formal censure, the effect is the same.
News media need a steady source of reliable information sources, and with the twenty four hour news channels it is not cost effective to send cameras and crews to all locations where news could “happen”. As a result news teams are sent to high profile locations such as Washington D.C., State Capitals, police stations, etc. to gather information in volumes, thus cutting down on costs. News teams are not sent to other locations unless the news event has been deemed “newsworthy”. This limits and determines what is covered and what is not.
“Flak” refers to negative responses to a media statement or program. This can take the form of letters, phone calls, petitions, lawsuits, blogs, bills before Congress, and any other form of threat or action that is costly to the company. Corporate sponsored organizations have existed since the 1970’s to formally monitor and effect actions of corporations, media firms and politicians. The government is a major producer of flak, sometimes working hand in hand with other flak organizations to achieve their desired goals.
Ideology can also be a powerful control filter. Communism has been given a strong negative connotation, and is used to control groups that are viewed as “too soft” on social concerns. McCarthy and Red scares became potent control mechanisms for both private citizens and public entities. The 9/11 events have fostered a new “patriotism” that is used in a similar way to control anyone who speaks out against the war.
The five filters act together to effectively limit undesirable news from being offered to the American public. Since the American public can only consume news it is offered, the illusion suggests that we have an open and free information exchange and are well informed. Powerful ideology gatekeepers also influence the news that is offered, putting the desired spin on events, depending on the needs of the media owners and interests. For example “the torture of political prisoners” could be termed “terrorist detainees” with the suggestions that they are being provided all the rights available under U.S. law.
September 11, 2001 ushered in a whole new level of propaganda. Chomsky writes, “At home the population has to be in fear, has to be cowering in terror, in fear of terrible enemies about to destroy us”. American had been attacked on her own soil and we were frightened to our core and thirsty for revenge. Although there were, and to date have been no, ties to the 9/11 attacks with Iraq, we would move steadily to war against the evil dictator, Saddam Hussein, to take revenge upon Osama Bin Laden and the Al Qaeda network.
How did we get from Bin Laden to Hussein? Propaganda. A carefully maneuvered control of fear, focus and frenzy allowed the American people and government to be manipulated into a response which would reverberate throughout the world, turning overwhelming world support into world hatred, in a matter of years. But I assure you; it had nothing to do with oil.
To begin to understand, we must revisit the first Iraq war of 1991; Operation Desert Storm. Recall President George H.W. Bush’s speech to Congress in September of 1990 where he presented his New World Order as a “quest for peace”, ironically in a call to war:
A new partnership of nations has begun, and we stand today at a unique and extraordinary moment. The crisis in the Persian Gulf, as grave as it is, also offers a rare opportunity to move toward an historic period of cooperation. Out of these troubled times, our fifth objective—a new world order—can emerge: A new era—freer from the threat of terror, stronger in the pursuit of justice and more secure in the quest for peace. An era in which the nations of the world, east and west, north and south, can prosper and live in harmony.
Vital economic interests are at risk as well. Iraq itself controls some 10 percent of the world’s proven oil reserves. Iraq plus Kuwait controls twice that. An Iraq permitted to swallow Kuwait would have the economic and military power, as well as the arrogance, to intimidate and coerce its neighbors—neighbors who control the lion’s share of the world’s remaining oil reserves. We cannot permit a resource so vital to be dominated by one so ruthless. And we won’t.
Now well into the second Iraq war the “new world order” is firmly in place. Only its doctrine has changed. Recall that the first war clearly had as its objective, protecting oil reserves. The new Iraq war is no longer concerned with oil assets. Instead, we have become the vigilant attack dog of the world, out to conquer terror where ever it may (or may not) rear its ugly head. Here are excerpts from George W. Bush’s October 7, 2002 speech before Congress:
We know that Iraq and the al Qaeda terrorist network share a common enemy — the United States of America. We know that Iraq and al Qaeda have had high-level contacts that go back a decade. Some al Qaeda leaders who fled Afghanistan went to Iraq.
Members of the Congress of both political parties, and members of the United Nations Security Council, agree that Saddam Hussein is a threat to peace and must disarm. We agree that the Iraqi dictator must not be permitted to threaten America and the world with horrible poisons, and diseases, and gases, and atomic weapons. (IPA, 2002)
Had the oil situation suddenly disappeared? Was Iraq no longer an area that held “vital economic interests” that we need to protect? Or was the message simply different this time around? Bush II’s “Propaganda model” suggests that “oil” was not a palatable advertising slogan; “freedom is on the march” was much better. War would be a hard sell so an advertising campaign was developed, and at its core an Iwo Jima-esque photo of firemen raising an American flag amongst the rubble of Ground Zero. A new definition of patriotism emerged, with flags waving, bumper stickers abounding and everyone singing “I’m Proud to be an American where at least I know I’m free”. The message was clear; support the war or be marked as un-American.
The media marched obediently, forced to co-operate or face the brutal backlash of flak attacks and advertising boycotts. Politicians were equally paralyzed, and anyone brave enough to speak out was attacked with media campaigns such as the famous “swift boat” attack on John Kerry. Powerful corporations determined what would be reported, and there was a flag on every lawn, as a united America seemed to have no opposition to the war. The Patriot Act passed through Congress at an unprecedented rate, stripping citizens of their most basic civil rights. The New World Order was in full swing, in a unilateral march to war.
Chomsky suggests that there are “two different views of the New World Order and the Middle East” saying that “we have a choice between abuse of reality, namely what actually happens, and reality in the sophisticated sense, the illusions and fabrications of propaganda”. Part of the sophistication is the absence of protest, as private and governmental voices were eerily silent. Chomsky’s writing partner, Edward Herman explains the lack of public dialogue saying, “Because the propaganda model challenges basic premises and suggests that the media serve antidemocratic ends, it is commonly excluded from mainstream debates on media bias”.
Sadly the Iraq War is but one of many examples of the propaganda model at work. In a capitalistic economic system, a profit seeking press can not be unbiased. However, this directly opposes the concept of a free and open press. Information vital to protecting our country’s philosophical foundations must be free to be voiced in public, through the media. The propaganda model is a useful tool that can be used to analyze powerful forces at work, enlighten the public, and allow us to act in order to ensure more complete information for the public in order protect our way of life.
Critics of Chomsky are plentiful, accusing him of, “portray(ing) the United States as the rogue hegemony in an integrated world that is constantly trying to balance global economic and physical security” (Chomsky, Washington Post, November 26, 2003). In the September 24, 2001 Nation titled “Of Sin, the Left & Islamic Fascism”, Christopher Hitchens describes Chomsky as “soft on crime and soft on fascism.” Far from a doctrine of hopeless negativity, Chomsky’s propaganda model urges action. Keeping in mind that the United States of American has the form of government that best allows a free press, Chomsky warns against misreading the propaganda model, saying, “It does not suggest — in fact, it strongly denies — that the US is a totalitarian society where conformity is rigidly enforced”.
Chomsky quotes James Webb, former Reagan Aid Secretary, as describing the George W. Bush Administration as “an extremist Administration which prefers brute force to other means, which has relentlessly maneuvered the country into a neat little war and did so because they’re facing domestic problems. They have no way to deal with them. They have only one idea in their heads and that is to turn the United States into a mercenary state, Hessians”. This is the New World Order. Because the United States is the reigning Superpower, there is no deterrent. But the Propaganda Model is a powerful tool that can open our eyes to the mechanics of the media machine that have lulled us into a happy servitude. Although things look bleak, Chomsky insists things aren’t inevitable, and reminds us that “There’s no outside force that’s going to prevent it. The responsibility lies right here, obviously”.
As a footnote: this was written in 2007. It is all the more timely with the developments of the 2016 presidential election. The rise of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are a fascinating study in “Manufacturing consent”.