In his seminal 1922 book, Public Opinion, journalistic pioneer Walter Lippmann coined the phrase “manufacturing consent,” describing how the Woodrow Wilson administration, for whom he served as part adviser, part raconteur, “was trying, and while the war continued it very largely succeeded… in creating something that might almost be called one public opinion all over America.” Lippmann cited the work of George Creel, a fellow journalist who became chairman of Wilson’s Committee on Public Information, and whose successful use of propaganda included pro-war speeches placed in periodicals, classrooms, newspaper ads and cartoons, placards in store windows and more. “Think of the dogged work,” Lippmann wrote, “the complicated ingenuity, the money and the personnel that were required. Nothing like that exists in time of peace, and as a corollary there are whole sections, there are vast groups, ghettoes, enclaves and classes that hear only vaguely about much that is going on.”
Sixty-six years later in their 1988 book borrowing Lippman’s famous phrase, Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky lamented the ways in which even without government coercion, the media too often shapes public opinion in ways that coincide with the interests of those with political and economic power, mainly by self-censoring and relying on sources with incentives to maintain the status quo. The book was written at the close of the Reagan administration, fourteen years after Lippmann’s death and 27 years after President Dwight Eisenhower warned of the rise of a military-industrial complex bent on perpetual war, in his farewell address to the nation in 1961.
By the time Chomsky and Herman’s book was published, Americans had added to the experience of World War I the righteous intervention in World War II (coupled with the villainous internment of more than 100,000 Japanese Americans), the conflict in Korea (1950-53), the war in Vietnam (1961-73), a failed military invention to free U.S. hostages in Iran (1980), the disastrous loss of 241 marines in a truck bomb attack in Beirut, Lebanon in 1983 followed days later by the invasion of Grenada, and a raid on Tripoli, Libya (1986). By the following year, 27,000 American troops were invading Panama, a year before Reagan’s successor, George H.W. Bush launched the first Persian Gulf War. Subsequent presidents would initiate military action in Somalia (1992), Haiti (1994), Bosnia (1995), Kosovo (1999), Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2003). President Obama sent U.S. troops to participate in the NATO coalition that helped overthrow Muammar Qaddafi in 2011 (an intervention he would later say spawned his worst mistake: underestimating the viciousness of the aftermath) though he was denied authorization after going to congress for lawful clearance to strike Syria two years later, after the dictator Bashar al-Assad used sarin gas to put down a rebellion against his regime at the bitter end of the Arab Spring. And of course, Obama dispatched Navy Seals to kill al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in 2011.
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Author: By Joy-Ann Reid