Paris is Burning
The propaganda model seeks to explain media behavior by examining the institutional pressures that
constrain and influence news content within a profit-driven system. In contrast to liberal theories that argue
that journalism is adversarial to established power, the propaganda model predicts that corporate-owned
news media will consistently produce news content that serves the interests of established power.
First introduced in 1988 in Edward S. Herman’s and Noam Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent: The
Political Economy of the Mass Media, the propaganda model argues that “the raw material of news” passes
through five filters that ultimately shape the news audiences receive. These filters determine what events
are deemed newsworthy, how they are covered, where they are placed within the media and how much
coverage they receive.
The five filters are as follows:
Concentrated ownership, owner wealth and profit-orientation of the dominant mass-media firms. Corporate
media firms share common interests with other sectors of the economy, and therefore have a real stake in
maintaining an economic and political climate that is conducive to their profitability. They are unlikely to
be critical of economic or political policies that directly benefit them.
Advertising as primary source of income. To remain profitable, most media rely on advertising dollars for
the bulk of their revenue. It is therefore against the interests of the news media to produce content that
might antagonize advertisers.
Reliance on information provided by “expert” and official sources. Elites have the resources to routinely
“facilitate” the news-gathering process by providing photo-ops, news conferences, press releases, think-
tank reports and canned news pieces that take advantage of the news media’s need for continuous and
cheap news content. Business leaders, politicians and government officials are also typically viewed as
credible and unbiased sources of information, jettisoning the need for fact-checking or other costly
background research. This filter was clearly demonstrated during the run-up to the 2003 Iraq War, when the
U.S. news media took official pronouncements at face value, refusing to investigate their veracity or
Flak as a means of disciplining the media. Flak refers to negative commentary to a news story that can
work to police and discipline journalists or news organizations that stray too far outside the consensus. Flak
includes complaints, lawsuits, petitions or government sanctions.
An external enemy or threat. Manifesting as “anti-communism” during the Cold War period when
Manufacturing Consent was originally published, this filter still operates, particularly in the post-9/11
political climate. This filter mobilizes the population against a common enemy (terrorism, energy
insecurity, Iran…) while demonizing opponents of state policy as insufficiently patriotic or in league with
The propaganda model suggests that corporate media ultimately serve to “manufacture consent” for a
narrow range of self-serving élitist policy options. It allows us to understand the institutional pressures that
ultimately color how activists’ causes and actions are covered. By understanding the limits of “objectivity”
and the contradictions within corporate-sponsored journalism, we can develop media tactics that take
advantage of these contradictions while also bypassing the filters of the corporate press, and directly
appealing to the public through alternative forms of media. As Herman himself suggests, “we would like to
think that the propaganda model can help activists understand where they might best deploy their efforts to
influence mainstream media coverage of issues