Some people call Noam a conspiracy theorist, but I tend to think that just a label used to discourage institutional analysis, which is exactly something Noam states in Manufacturing Consent, an institutional analysis film about mainstream media bias. He also wrote a book by the same name that I still need to read.
Some of the underlying ideas that Noam frequently conveys in many of his interviews are:
- Creativity is a fundamental need for humans.
- The military (among other purposes) is in many ways an extension of technological institutions.
- Authority should be challenged as to its necessity. If it does not prove useful it should be discarded as a source of power. Self regulating positive and negative market forces will keep most market aspects range bound and organized. This line of thinking is mentioned many times in A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History.
- Power sources which are largely funded by a small group of people will be biased toward promoting the interests of that small group of people. Self preservation is a key goal of any institution.
He then goes into a bit of information about thought control
- In a totalitarian government you do not need much public support to do whatever you want. In societies with more freedom you must set up a framework for controlling thought which makes it easier to control the people.
- "Democracy requires free access to ideas, information, and opinion." When you hear politicians pushing laws to regulate the web to save the children make no mistake that first and foremost they are pushing to create a fragmented, filtered, and imperfect information source and network which keeps power in the hands of those who are already powerful.
- Controlling people requires "necessary illusions and emotionally potent oversimplifications." This is part of the reason there is a left and right side to a story. Create these arbitrary pigeonholes for ways people should think and attach their identities to and hopefully they will not think beyond the categorization that already speaks and thinks for them.
Media shapes public opinion via
- selection of topics
- distribution of concerns
- framing of issues
- filtering of information
- bounding of debate within certain limits
He then talks about the concentration of power and bias of interest toward businesses associated with some publishing formats:
- Most large distribution news publishing formats are owned by a small group of elites who are tied to other large business interests.
- The AP and a couple other traditional news sources have an oligopoly over the mainstream news market. Some newspapers, like the New York Times, distribute a brief of the contents of their next day's paper to other newspapers to help set the daily agenda.
- Many (perhaps most) newspapers consist more of ad space than news (and thus in many ways the advertiser is more of a customer than the reader). While the web and search allow individuals more opportunity (you would never be reading anything I write without them), search engines struggle with balancing this same issue, and are favoring old media by doing things like trusting certain sources to seed vertical search and overemphasize core domain authority in their algorithms. Google has also recently started paying large traditional content providers, including News Corp., MTV, and the Associated Press. They also purchased a portion of Time Warner's AOL. The WSJ recently published an article highlighting that Google believes content partnerships are a key to longterm growth.
Some types of information are created or promoted because they teach people not to think or to not question authority, or to rally behind a common pointless cause.
- Sports and many other forms of news and entertainment are useful to help drive the masses away from
issues of importance to their life and help build "irrational attitudes of submission to authority."
Some publishing formats (like 30 minute television shows) work great because they segment audiences and require answers to fit in a 20 second window.
- Distribution via channels segmented via concision require you to convey thoughts quickly.
- In limited time slots, it is hard to break new ground or get beyond conventional thought patterns previously formed by others. If you say things outside of the normal realm of thought you do not have enough time to state your reasoning behind your words, and thus can be misquoted or taken out of context and made to look like an idiot.
- If you say something outside of the norm, like "education is a system of imposed ignorance" then you have no time to explain what that means, and end up sounding like you heavily bought into education. ;)
Noam Chomsky then went through a startling example of clear and overwhelming media bias.
In 1975 Indonesia invaded East Timor. The story of East Timor got a bit of press because the business community was interested what it meant for the Portuguese empire. As the killing reached genocide level in 1978 the US mainstream media coverage of the story dropped to zero. The US provided Indonesia most of their arms for the mass human rights violations and mass murders.
A declassified memorandum of a July 1975 conversation between President Gerald Ford and then-Indonesian President Suharto demonstrates clearly the extent of US support: Ford asks Suharto bluntly, "How big a Navy do you have and how big a Navy do you need?"
Around the same time the US heavily bombed Cambodia. The civilian deaths were not given strict numbers in the media until the Khmer Rouge gained power, at which point the US mainstream media started throwing out words like genocide and numbers like 2 million dead within a couple weeks.
People manipulate systems (as an SEO that is sorta what I do). In much the same way that most people are kept in the dark about SEO or public relations the same is true for just about any type of publishing or marketing business model. But, as Upton Sinclair would say:
It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.
I like learning about power, authority, and publishing business models because
- if you know flaws in other business models it is easy to build business models that eat at their flaws or revolve around markets they would never want to be in
- on the web everything is so scalable that if you have a really great idea it can go far, especially as people learn to trust software programs and other consumers to help them make decisions which once relied on friends or traditional intermediaries.
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