Chomsky: The media syntax as propaganda trap

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Editor’s Note: Counterpunch just ran a terrific interview with Noam Chomsky conducted by the capable radio/TV host Laura Flanders (who happens to be kin to Alex Cockburn, a founding editor of that site.)  The talk ranged over many issues, OWS, Anarchism, Labor, Racism, Corporate Power and the Class War. Since the years have not blunted Chomsky’s intellect one whit, the exchange was as usual highly illuminating. Below we reproduce some excerpts focusing on the race war and the role of the mainstream media as a huge hurdle to democratic progress. You can read the whole article here.—PG

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LF: Trayvon Martin. Can you talk for a few minutes about the role of racism and racial violence in what we’ve been talking about?  Some people think of fighting racism as separate from working on economic issues. 

NC: Well you know, there clearly is a serious race problem in the country. Just take a look at what’s happening to African American communities. For example wealth, wealth in African American communities is almost zero. The history is striking. You take a look at the history of African Americans in the US. There’s been about thirty years of relative freedom. There was a decade after the Civil War and before north/south compact essentially recriminalized black life. During the Second World War there was a need for free labor so there was a freeing up of the labor force. Blacks benefitted from it. It lasted for about twenty years, the big growth period in the ‘50s and ‘60s, so a black man could get a job in an auto plant and buy a house and send his kids to college and kind of enter into the world but by the 70s it was over.

With the radical shift in the economy, basically the workforce, which is partly white but also largely black, they basically became superfluous. Look what happened, we recriminalized black life. Incarceration rates since the 1908s have gone through the roof, overwhelmingly black males, women and Hispanics to some extent. Essentially re-doing what happened under Reconstruction. That’s the history of African Americans – so how can any one say there’s no problem. Sure, racism is serious, but it’s worse than that…

LF: Talk about media. We often discern bias in the telling of a particular story, but I want you to talk more broadly about the way our money media portray power, democracy, the role of the individual in society and the way that change happens. …

NC: Well they don’t want change to happen….They’re right in the center of the system of power and domination. First of all the media are corporations, parts of bigger corporations, they’re very closely linked to other systems of power both in personnel and interests and social background and everything else. Naturally they tend to be reactionary.

LF: But they sort of give us a clock. If change hasn’t happened in ten minutes, it’s not going to happen. 

NC: Well that’s a technique of indoctrination. That’s something I learned from my own experience. There was once an interview with Jeff Greenfield in which he was asked why I was never asked onto Nightline.  He gave a good answer. He said the main reason was that I lacked concision. I had never heard that word before. You have to have concision. You have to say something brief between two commercials.

What can you say that’s brief between two commercials? I can say Iran is a terrible state. I don’t need any evidence. I can say Ghaddaffi carries out terror.  Suppose I try to say the US carries out terror, in fact it’s one of the leading terrorist states in the world. You can’t say that between commercials. People rightly want to know what do you mean. They’ve never heard that before. Then you have to explain. You have to give background. That’s exactly what’s cut out. Concision is a technique of propaganda. It ensures you cannot do anything except repeat clichés, the standard doctrine, or sound like a lunatic.

LF: What about media’s conception of power? Who has it, who doesn’t have it and what’s our role if we’re not say, president or CEO. 

NC: Well, not just the media but pretty much true of academic world, the picture is we the leading democracy in the world, the beacon of freedom and rights and democracy. The fact that democratic participation here is extremely marginal, doesn’t enter [the media story.]  The media will condemn the elections in Iran, rightly, because the candidates have to be vetted by the clerics. But they won’t point out that in the United States [candidates] have to be vetted by high concentrations of private capital. You can’t run in an election unless you can collect millions of dollars.

One interesting case is right now. This happens to be the 50th anniversary of the US invasion of South Vietnam – the worst atrocity in the post war period. Killed millions of people, destroyed four countries, total horror story. Not a word. It didn’t happen because “we” did it. So it didn’t happen.

Take 9-11. That means something in the United States. The “world changed” after 9-11. Well, do a slight thought experiment. Suppose that on 9-11 the planes had bombed the White House… suppose they’d killed the president , established a military dictatorship, quickly killed thousands, tortured tens of thousands more, set up a major international  terror center that was carrying out assassinations , overthrowing governments all over the place, installing other dictatorships, and drove the country into one of the worst depressions in its history and had to call on the state to bail them out  Suppose that had happened? It did happen. On the first 9-11 in 1973.  Except we were responsible for it, so it didn’t happen. That’s Allende’s Chile. You can’t imagine the media talking about this.

And you can generalize it broadly. The same is pretty much true of scholarship – except for on the fringes – it’s certainly true of the mainstream of the academic world.  In some respects critique of the media is a bit misleading [because they’re not alone among institutions of influence] and of course, they closely interact.

LAURA FLANDERS is the host of The Laura Flanders Show coming to public television stations later this year. She was the host and founder of GRITtv.org. Follow her on Twitter: @GRITlaura.

 

 

 

 

 

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