When you think about the media as a business, you might see their objective as selling their material to audiences. The success of an opening weekend for a film is often discussed in terms of box office sales. Albums are charted based on the number of purchases and downloads they receive once being released. The audiences buying into these products are the ones that culture industry platforms try to market toward, right? Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky argue otherwise in their piece “A Propaganda Model.” Instead of media catering to audiences, they see the audiences as commodities for media to sell to advertisers, where their true loyalties lie. In this light, they discuss how propaganda functions in mass media as a means to manipulate populations. Consent for the audience’s economic, social and political policies are manufactured to sustain the organization’s for-profit business model.
In addition to explaining how the propaganda model works, Herman and Chomsky categorize five editorial filters of bias that organizations fall into to function as a business. These filters are size, ownership and profit orientation; advertising license to do business; sourcing mass-media news; flak and the enforcers; and anti-communism and fear ideology.
This propaganda model is especially interesting when examining the media’s role in public discourse surrounding the political realm. Considering the filter of sourcing, an excellent example of this, albeit fictitious and sobering, is the relationship between the media and the White House in the Netflix series House of Cards. The morally corrupt protagonist Frank Underwood enables a more sinister side of political reporting when he partakes in an ongoing tryst with Zoe Barnes, an aspiring hard news reporter. In exchange for their involvement, he feeds her with information for her to “break news” and be recognized in her field. The power play works for both parties because Frank then gets to push his own agenda in the media while Zoe climbs the ranks in her own right, thus feeding into the propaganda model of the media pushing government policy. Later in the narrative, Frank has a similar exchange with Ayla Sayyad of the fictional Wall Street Telegraph. Although they keep their relationship professional, he obliges her requests to be a source only to make his own political gains. In one scene where Frank initiates a meeting with her, she notes that she’s surprised that he wishes to speak to her, given that she’s not “the biggest friend of the administration.” He responds, “Isn’t that the very best reason to speak with you?” Ayla continues to ask him questions about a political move that hasn’t officially been announced yet, to which he responds that it won’t be worked out for several months. “The committee feels compelled to act because of hypotheses advanced by those in the media … If you repeat allegations over and over, people start to believe that they’re true.”
Perhaps sadly, this kind of work of the propaganda model doesn’t just stick to fictional works of drama. Julie Yioutas and Ivana Segvic explain how media framing with sourcing and media agendas affect the news in their study “Revising the Clinton/Lewinsky Scandal: The Convergence of Agenda Setting and Framing.” In their analysis of media coverage of the Clinton/Lewinsky affair, they find that agenda setting in media and political involvement happens in three stages, including the amount and the methods of coverage. By outlets focusing on the morality of the subjects and asking other sources to address the issue through this lens, the media directly works with the political players surrounding the situation to push a certain agenda. This information doesn’t necessarily serve the public, as Herman and Chomsky would say, but ultimately to push the same hegemonic model of power.