Making Sense of What Doesn't Make The News
WINDSOR, Ontario — Lucky the Ambassador Bridge is jammed with trucks.
Otherwise, would-be media revolutionaries might storm it armed with digicams and laptops, ready to take on the corporate gatekeepers of news and information.
Here at the University of Windsor, where some 300 scholars, students and media guerrillas are revisiting Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky's groundbreaking "propaganda model" on the eve of its 20th anniversary, the talk is of how to take back the public agenda and make it serve the public interest instead of the corporate bottom line.
As Sut Jhally of the University of Massachusetts put it in his galvanizing keynote speech, the "absences'' are what hurt.
"What doesn't make it in (the news) is more important than what makes it in," said the executive director of the Media Education Foundation.
In Herman and Chomsky's Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, the authors proposed their propaganda model as a way of understanding how the mass media "filter" the news through five sieves.
Stripped down for purposes of, as Chomsky would say, typical media "concision," they are: ownership interests, advertiser concerns, the nature of journalists' sources, flak (or negative feedback) and ideology.
No recent failure of the media has been more spectacular than that during the run-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, when they marched in lockstep to promote the weapons of mass destruction lie.
Few journalists ventured outside the Pentagon for their information. Those that did and dug up contrary evidence, or lack of it, were confined to back pages, marginalized or scorned.
The facts underreported because of media filters "are the inconvenient and larger truths that the Herman-Chomsky model forces us to confront and challenge,'' said Valerie Scatamburlo-D'Annibale, an associate professor here.
(For the record: The Star was the only major metro daily in Canada not to back the war on Iraq. It has however endorsed the Canadian "mission" in Afghanistan.)
Noting that both the New York Times and Washington Post eventually apologized for their shoddy reportage, Herman said, "The ink had hardly dried when they were doing the exact same thing with Iran."
This is why New York-based Danny Schechter of MediaChannel.org talked of media "war crimes." He cited historical examples of indictments of media — from Tokyo Rose after World War II to radio stations in Rwanda.
Reminding his audience that the Nuremberg trials were really about "crimes against peace," he said, "We have the right to demand accountability.
"This is a story about crime, collusion and complicity between media and government."
Hyperbolic, perhaps. But a case could be made.
Here's the thing: Unlike, say, during the U.S. invasion of Vietnam, this time the media are entwined with the government as ground zero for protest.
Activists are working to change how the media cover stories. Among them, Toronto's Isabel Macdonald, who in Haiti opened some journalists' eyes to the 2004 overthrow of the democratically elected Aristide government — a coup the Paul Martin government backed.
In fact, said Colin Sparks of the University of Westminster in London, England, "The mass media are not only the enemy, but also the battleground."
But so far, there are only rumors of war. That's because there are no corporate media here but me.
Until yesterday, even the Windsor Star had not showed up and had only given the conference a scant paragraph or so notice.
But hey, I read this morning that Law & Order star Chris Noth is coming to town for tea.