Commentary: How manufactured consent collapsed the COVID-19 narrative

Fill up newsrooms with like-minded people, send out the signal — and presto! — the establishment gets what it wants.

Dr. Anthony Fauci (White House/Flickr)

(Daily Caller News Foundation) — “Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media,” by Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman, is a classic text for the left. The book, published in 1988 and still in print today, argues that corporate and governmental control of the news is so extensive that the “consent of the governed” has been overwhelmed by a “propaganda model” that manufactures public acquiescence.

Hmm. These days, as Americans seek to dig themselves out from under the propaganda that’s been piled high over such topics as the Lafayette Park clearanceHunter Biden’s laptop and, most profoundly, the origins of COVID-19, perhaps the right, too, should be familiar with “Manufacturing Consent.”

As Chomsky and Herman wrote, “the media serve, and propagandize on behalf of, the powerful societal interests that control and finance them.” This propagandizing, they continued, “is normally not accomplished by crude intervention, but by the selection of right-thinking personnel and by the editors’ and working journalists’ internalization of priorities and definitions of newsworthiness that conform to the institution’s policy.” In other words, fill up newsrooms with like-minded people, send out the signal — and presto! — the establishment gets what it wants.

The result of this system: “The mass media of the United States are effective and powerful ideological institutions that carry out a system-supportive propaganda function.”

Such analysis owes a debt to Marxism, with its emphasis on a materialist explanation for ideology; that is, the economic structure provides the structure of the “truth.” For instance, in 1859, Karl Marx himself wrote, “It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness.”

In the centuries since, Marx’s wisdom has been pithily summed up as “Situation determines consciousness.” Or as canny bureaucrats like to say about any question, “Where you stand depends on where you sit.”

Of course, one needn’t be either a communist or a bureaucrat to be cynical and hard-nosed about why people do things, and say things. As the 20th century muckraker Upton Sinclair icily observed of congealed interest, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

Yet of course, belief isn’t always about class or money — it’s sometimes about sincere belief. And the philosopher Eric Hoffer added much to our understanding in his 1951 classic, “The True Believer.” As he explained, dogmatic ideological movements appeal to certain personality types: “The permanent misfits can find salvation only in a complete separation from the self; and they usually find it by losing themselves in the compact collectivity of a mass movement.”

So now we’re starting to see how news stories can become news narratives, carried along by two journalistic types: mercenaries and true believers. If Marx’s theory of structural materialism offers one explanation for Mainstream Media behavior, Hoffer’s theory of zealous idealism offers another.

Either way, truth is the first casualty. As Glenn Greenwald, the renegade leftist reporter, writes of his ex-friends in the MSM: “They have nobody but themselves to blame for the utter collapse in trust and faith on the part of the public, which has rightfully concluded they cannot and should not be believed.”

Do most reporters care if conservatives and progressive apostates don’t trust them? Probably not. That is, they figure that such mistrust is the price to be paid for advancing their careers, and for telling their “truth” — especially if mendacity was needed to get rid of the dreaded Donald Trump. Yet after the official “truth” has been found to be lies, the trust of a nation dies.

And so now, American consent has been, well, un-manufactured. A new Trafalgar Group poll finds that just 17 percent of Americans believe that COVID-19 was a natural phenomenon; this low figure despite the fact that the “from the wild” explanation was pounded into the public for more than a year. Yet today, despite that pounding, 24 percent of Americans believe that COVID-19 was accidentally released from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, while another 29 percent believe that it was intentionally released. In other words, more than half the population thinks that there’s been, at minimum, a coverup by the People’s Republic of China and the U.S. government — and at worst, something akin to an act of war by the PRC.

To be sure, the same great engines of American consent-manufacture still exist: In Washington, D.C., in New York City, and in Silicon Valley. And so we’ll have to see what consent they next attempt to manufacture. Perhaps next time we won’t get fooled again.

James Pinkerton

James P. Pinkerton, a former White House domestic policy aide to Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, has been a Fox News contributor since 1996.