Patterico's Pontifications


Manufacturing Dissent

Filed under: General — Karl @ 9:28 am

[Posted by Karl]

I usually treat the establishment’s media bias like the weather in Forks, WA — sought by vampires, simply endured by normal people. Nevertheless, I was recently tickled by Ace’s twist on Noam Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent:

Suppose there are five possible plausible public reactions to an event or initiative. A, B, C, D, and E, ranging from rightist to leftist, and A and E representing the extremes.

Media debate tends to package C and D — C, a centrist reaction, and D, a left-center but still mainstream-ish reaction — as the only two possible reactions, and debates the issue without reference to A, B, and E, as if they don’t exist, or, if they do mention them, they are dismissed peremptorily as extremist and wack-a-doo and “not serious.”

Thus, at the end of the day, the public does get to “choose”… but only from the two options the media has pre-screened as permissible, C and D. Thus, consent of the governed has been “manufactured” — sure, the public chooses between C and D, but their choice was forced — as a magician forces a card on you — by a media that carefully insulated them from genuine consideration of A, B, and E.

However, the toxicity of the current political environment is better explained by the slow collapse of this model.

Ace’s model describes how the establishment media attempts to manufacture consent on behalf of the political class with which they identify. However, it was probably more effective 25 or 30 years ago than it is today. The increasing adoption of FM radio for music programming and advancements in satellite technology helped give rise to political talk radio on the AM band, which is dominated by conservatives like Rush Limbaugh. The increasing adoption of cable and satellite tech made cable news possible; Fox News Channel has the highest ratings for that that market segment.

The reach of right-leaning media may yet fail to match that of the establishment media. For example, Limbaugh reaches roughly 15-25 million listeners weekly, but the network news — as anemic as it is — still reaches that range nightly. FNC reaches an average of 50 million viewers monthly, but that is fewer viewers than CNN on a cumulative basis. Nevertheless, the trend favors cable and online news (with radio holding steady), while network news and traditional print media slump.

The center-left and its media does not like the competition, financially or ideologically. Under the prior Democratic administration, the White House counsel office spent your tax dollars producing a lengthy memo titled, “Communication Stream of Conspiracy Commerce.” The memo complained about “a media food chain” involving ideologically conservative journals and think tanks, the Internet, British tabloids and occasionally the US media. The Beltway press did not bite on the memo — but only because they already believed it. Thus, when Hillary Clinton later attacked the “Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy” as a defense to the Monica Lewinsky scandal (a story spiked by Newsweek and revealed by the Drudge Report), the establishment media was already onboard.

However, the center-left and its media had a branding problem. Labeling the competition as a conspiracy made them sound like, well, conspiracy theorists. Accordingly, under the current Democratic administration, the theory is now advanced more subtly as groupthink, rather than the secret plan of a shadowy cabal. Under the rubric of “epistemic closure,” right-leaning media is characterized as a closed, but organic ecosystem that produces “faux news” — overhyping stories the establishment tries to ignore, and even reporting fake stories.

Although people pushing the “epistemic closure” line will admit that it also exists on the left, they do not want to discuss it. Worse, the “epistemic closure” obsessives generally operate from the false premise that the establishment media, operating in the closed mode Ace describes, does not produce “faux news” as a matter of routine.

However, the establishment media hyped the “October Surprise,” Operation Tailwind and Rathergate, and fears that Diebold was rigging elections (that coincidentally evaporated after Dems won Congress in 2006), just to name a few. The establishment media failed to catch fabulists like Jayson Blair, Janet Cook, Stephen Glass and Scott Beauchamp early on, but would have everyone believe that their political prejudices did not impair their editorial judgment.

The establishment media decries false stories about Pres. Obama, but spread false stories about Sarah Palin — and continues to do so years later. The establishment wrings its hands over meaningless polls about Birthers… after ignoring equally meaningless polls about Truthers.

The establishment media recently joined in the left-wing’s bogus, but costly attacks on Toyota, just as they did with earlier bogus attacks on Chrysler and Audi. For decades, the establishment media has cranked out a steady stream of overhyped and bogus health and environmental scares — Alar, asbestos in schools, saccharin, silicone breast implants, acid rain, the population bomb, global cooling, etc. Indeed, a neo-Malthusian crank like Paul Ehrlich, publicly and famously discredited, is still treated as an expert by establishment outlets like The New York Times and Wired magazine.

Or consider the way the establishment media treats Congressional Budget Office estimates of jobs “created or saved” by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act as hard data. In reality, the CBO’s director has confirmed that these reports do not serve as independent checks on the real-world effects of the spending. Indeed, the CBO has reported that “it is impossible to determine how many of the reported jobs would have existed in the absence of the stimulus package.”

Why was the establishment media so slow to recognize the turnaround in the Iraq war? Why did they largely rush to judgment when the Duke lacrosse team members were accused of rape? Why did they get the Jena 6 case wrong? Why was the establishment media narrative about Hurricane Katrina built on myths, including grisly fables about violence and death in the Superdome? And why is the establishment media celebrating it?

These examples are but the tip of the establishment media’s “faux news” iceberg. Folks on the far left probably have an entirely different list, but that is the point — the establishment media’s center-left epistemic closure produces the same problems critics identify in the conservative media. That the critics are only concerned about closure in conservative media — and dismiss the theory that conservative media closure is partially caused by the establishment’s marginalization of conservatives — suggests they are less interested in solutions than they are in further marginalizing the right.

In addition to claims of “epistemic closure,” the establishment media is increasingly resorting to attacks on those outside their closed system as racists and bigots:

It does a disservice to both sides to say that the left, pure and simple, has radicalized the right. But for too many on the left, the right already is so radical — so unreasonable, irrational, kooky, atavistic, and unthinking — that it hardly matters whether the second America tries to protect and advance its interests politely or viciously. When it plays nicely, they believe, the second America is engaged in the tactic of papering over the bigotry that animates it at a foundational level. The only thing the second America can do to earn goodwill from this influential segment of the left is to abandon and denounce its primitive worldview and its cruel policies. Not quite convert or die, but — almost worse from the far left perspective — convert or be ruthlessly marginalized and stigmatized. Confronted with such a choice, Americans — not just from the second America, as its enemies on the left should know — are inclined to stop being polite and start getting real.

As with the epistemic closure obsessives, don’t hold your breath waiting for the center-left to consider that that their shrill stereotyping only adds to the problem. And as with the epistemic closure obsessives, the offense they give to everyone else is fueled in part by the double or triple standards at work. If you think the Ground Zero mosque is a bad idea (as I do), you are deemed a religious bigot, or are empowering religious bigots. In contrast, if you think Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptists protesting at military funerals (or Bill Keller setting up shop near Ground Zero) is a bad idea (as I do, for many of the same reasons), the center-left does not unleash the same gushing firehose of vitriol. When the passage of California’s Proposition 8 caused people to engage in anti-Mormon protests and boycotts, and to practice the politics of personal destruction against Miss California, the center-left was not denouncing it as religious bigotry. And to bring it full circle, if the folks behind the Ground Zero mosque are not entirely gay-friendly, the center-left media ignores it.

The ad hoc nature of these ad hominem attacks only reinforces the perception that the center-left uses them as a cudgel in an attempt to force everyone back into their closed model of public discourse. The center-left is no longer able to marginalize conservative views solely by control over a select number of media outlets. Accordingly, it must resort to stigmatizing those views and trying to arrogate to itself the power of classifying which speech is hateful, to be dismissed without further thought or discussion. Like the theory of “epistemic closure” itself, this does not require any conspiracy, just a media ecosystem with converging economic and ideological interests.

Ultimately, these attacks are a marker of the degree to which the establishment has become both reactionary and isolated. The establishment media seethes over issues like the Ground Zero mosque and illegal immigration in no small part because broadly bipartisan segments of the public think the mosque is a bad idea and support the key provisions of Arizona’s new immigration enforcement law. The establishment media is increasingly the public voice of a political class greatly out of step with mainstream opinion, not only on issues like the Ground Zero mosque and illegal immigration, but also health care, the value of government spending, free markets, and the limits on federal power. As the establishment media is exposed as manufacturing dissent on behalf of narrow, unpopular elite, they become marginalized themselves — and act out accordingly. However, the more they try to tighten their grip on the public discourse, the more the audience slips through their fingers.


32 Responses to “Manufacturing Dissent”

  1. A comprehensive list.

    SPQR (26be8b)

  2. SPQR,

    Sadly, not even close to comprehensive.

    Karl (f07e38)

  3. If there were 7 more links, we might take that seriously, Karl. Are you trying to fry my CrackBerry?

    Shorter leftist response – Koch brothers! Epistemic closure! Teabaggers! Rush!

    JD (204481)

  4. Your link for “not entirely gay-friendly” is broken, and a search for gutfeld on doesn’t turn up that article; I don’t remember reading it, could you post the correct link?

    Ben (abb12c)

  5. Well, that may not the the exact article, actually.

    The 8-10-2010 page doesn’t cover the subject at all.

    Dustin (b54cdc)

  6. I think a recent upgrade to has tended to bork links that included apostrophes and other unusual characters in the title.

    Karl (f07e38)

  7. However, in this case, the problem was that a HA link got morphed into a Patterico link somehow. The link is now fixed.

    Karl (f07e38)

  8. Karl, I think the key insight in your piece comes at the end. Conspiracy theories are probably less common in this country than in most. What I see as the most dangerous trend of the past 30 years (since Reagan’s election) is the isolation of the political (or “ruling”) class from the other 90% of the population. Maybe that is what “epistemic closure” is (I refuse to use Google to find out) but it is creating a dangerous situation.

    I have some guys, all good craftsmen and union members, working on my house. I have hesitated to say anything about politics because you never know what people think and the job is the subject, not casual conversation. These are skilled men. Their politics are well to the right of mine, I learned today. It reminds me of the story of the union organizers going door to door in some Congressional district last week. They got depressed because, at every house they visited, they could hear O’Reilly or Hannity on TV inside.

    We are coming close to a danger point and the elites don’t even realize it. I hate that term “elites” because it suggests some sort of inferiority complex while I have multiple degrees, including Ivy League. It is a mind set that the person commenting on the tea parties, for example, is certain they are dolts and he is a near genius. Over at DC Caller’s comments today, I suggested one particularly obnoxious commenter spend some time at Khan Academy, then come back.

    They don’t know what they don’t know but they are very certain. There is a building impatience with this attitude on the part of the people who make the country actually work. They know stuff I don’t know and I am pretty good with tools. We’ve had some discussions over at Chicago Boyz about the loss of skills in the past two generations. Young men don’t know how to use tools or to make anything. College degrees are losing their cachet. We had better learn in a hurry how to make stuff again. In the mean time, the nancy boys who are lording it over society, like the Albert Brooks character in “Broadcast News” think they have the hand on the controls.

    They don’t and it is going to be ugly when it becomes obvious who runs the country.

    Mike K (d6b02c)

  9. Mike K, we are being led by people that don’t know how to use tools.

    Icy Texan (db9ed0)

  10. I agree with everything but the Albert Brooks analogy, Mike. He was the guy who worked his ass off and was passed over because he sucked at anchoring, while the idiot pretty boy (William Hurt) got all the money, and the prestige. His career was based on merit, while the doofus was based purely on looks and the ability to read off a teleprompter – sound familiar?

    We are coming close to a danger point and the elites don’t even realize it.

    On the contrary, I don’t think there’s anything “dangerous” about the tipping point at all, unless you’re one of the faux intellectuals who control the institutions of this country (at the moment). I believe we’re at one of the defining crossroads of what de Tocqueville famously observed about this country so long ago. Although he lamented that the likely future of superior intellects were being consigned to making money or either serving in what today we would call “think tanks,” he also viewed America as having the unique advantage of being able to reinvent itself as it went along. We’re in the beginning of that process right now, and I’m glad to be a witness to what’s going to follow.

    Dmac (d61c0d)

  11. And that lack of respect for the tool users is telling.

    I can’t even begin to tell you how odd it has been to explain to male college students how to change a tire. That they don’t even know NOT to jack up the car before they losen the bolts is seriously depressing. That they spend more than 10 minutes trying to make it work just so they don’t have to return the wheel to blacktop was hilarious. Sad, but funny.

    Yeah, if/when the time comes, those with pansy hands will be regretting.

    Vivian Louise (eeeb3a)

  12. Has anyone actually tried to loosen tire bolts on the roadside? They’re put on by air wrenches that apply pressure that you cannot expect to match with your own hands, even using some leverage it’s often impossible. I’ve actually stood on my lug wrench and jumped up and down, and still no dice. Not trying to be contrary, just sayin’. I keep some tire sealer, it works a heck of lot better in most cases.

    Dmac (d61c0d)

  13. hey’re put on by air wrenches that apply pressure that you cannot expect to match with your own hands, even using some leverage it’s often impossible.

    Don’t let some worker apply too much torque to your wheels. This can really mess up alloy wheels and hubs.

    That sealer stuff is a last resort, IMO.

    I’ve stood on that lug wrench (with the car on the ground, of course), to break the nut’s hold on the bolt, and maybe it’s because I’m a big guy, but I can apply a great amount of force with my weight, bouncing. Just hopping applies something like 6 times your weight in force. But I’ve had trouble too (particularly once after I went to Wal Mart and they didn’t replace a leaky valve stem).

    I guess it’s unrealistic to ask them to use a torque wrench.

    Dustin (b54cdc)

  14. “In addition to claims of “epistemic closure,” the establishment media is increasingly resorting to attacks on those outside their closed system as racists and bigots:”


    Mouthpieces for the Slaveowner/Jim Crow-o-crat Party are calling ME racist?

    Gee, I’m so hurt.

    Next thing you know the Nazis will be accusing me of anti-semitism.

    That’ll really sting.

    Dave Surls (102b63)

  15. Karl – Great cotton pickin’ list and another great post.

    Let them eat cake or wagyu beef while they still can.

    daleyrocks (940075)

  16. Thus, at the end of the day, the public does get to “choose”… but only from the two options the media has pre-screened as permissible, C and D.

    It strikes me that a great many people in the Obama administration and Democratic Party are out there in “E” land. So IMO this understates the problem.

    Subotai (6922a8)

  17. Guys, I also lent them my lug wrench. A wonderful beauty that has worked for me every time I’ve needed it. I keep one in my car.

    Vivian Louise (c7cad6)

  18. VL rocks.

    Changing a tire roadside is the suck. Especially in the rain, on the shoulder of a 70 mph highway, and the tire you are changing is on the road side of the car.

    JD (8ded14)

  19. any young man who
    can’t change flat tire should return
    stones to the front desk

    ColonelHaiku (5d380f)

  20. Is it too early to go off topic?

    James Lee was once arrested for smuggling illegal immigrants into the US. File it under “Irony”.

    Subotai (6922a8)

  21. We accept the use of terms like “epistemic closure” and then we rub our hands gleefully that the elites are going to get what’s coming to them? I thought “echo chamber” was a perfectly adequate term and picturesque besides.

    I know what epistemology is. I just don’t think it’s a useful term for ordinary conversations. Dare I say it? It’s esoteric!

    Gesundheit (aab7c6)

  22. OK, work is now done. Sitting down with a very tall Rusty Nail (you know how it is when there’s too little Jim Beam to make the next drink so you just put it into this one?) and a good book. I’m getting mellow enough that you can use all the high fallutin’ Greek terms you like.

    Gesundheit (aab7c6)

  23. Oh… and listening to Adam Rafferty. Wow. Now THAT is something that those epistemologically challenged effete elites will never equal.

    Gesundheit (aab7c6)

  24. Colonel must pull the
    episiotomy card
    gesundheit force hand

    ColonelHaiku (5d380f)

  25. Dang, Gesundheit–I believe I may have just discovered the exact same problem with my bottle of Johnny Walker.

    elissa (72cba6)

  26. Hey, (glowing) top off the glass with a large dollop of Drambuie and it’ll be t’ bomb.

    Gesundheit (aab7c6)

  27. #25 to Col Haiku
    Q: What is the difference between Epistemology and Episiotomy?
    A: Epistemology has limits.

    replied in joke form
    ’cause two words exceed haiku
    form six syllables

    TimesDisliker (bb25d4)

  28. Gilbert Gottfried joke:
    ‘gesundheit force hand’ punchline:
    girl say ‘pretty tight!’

    TimesDislaiku (bb25d4)

  29. A diverse crowd, with subjects as varied as my Philos 181 class (is it epistemic or epistemologic closure?) to my third year OB/Gyn rotation (episiotomy closure).

    Never heard of Adam Rafferty, but thanks for that. I’ll assume, since the name was mentioned on the YouTube thread, you know of Tommy Emmanuel. If not, look him up.

    MD in Philly (3d3f72)

  30. Indeed, a neo-Malthusian crank like Paul Ehrlich, publicly and famously discredited, is still treated as an expert by establishment outlets like The New York Times and Wired magazine.

    The absurd thing is that, at one time Wired actually was in the vanguard calling attention to the fact that he’s a total crank.

    They were among the first to run a serious, long interview with his arch-nemesis, the late Julian Simon:
    The Doomslayer

    Yet another reason I stopped reading Wired a decade ago.

    IgotBupkis, President, United Anarchist Society (9eeb86)

  31. I guess it’s unrealistic to ask them to use a torque wrench.

    Well, for this activity, I would state that there is simply no substitute for a classic x-bar tire wrench. The piddly little things they use in place of them as a part of standard jack mechanisms are pretty worthless, and always have been, even long before the days of ubiquitous air wrenches.

    Vivian: you sorta beat me to it. That’s the one.

    I know what epistemology is. I just don’t think it’s a useful term for ordinary conversations. Dare I say it? It’s esoteric!

    So… I take it then that you hate people who give vent to their loquacity by extraneous bombastic circumlocutions?

    IgotBupkis, President, United Anarchist Society (9eeb86)

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