david pritchard. bibliography.

Notes on Noam Chomsky, Necessary Illusions [1]

I found this book truly excellent. After years of reading a wide range of news sources, and never being quite sure what to trust, I found this book gave a really illuminating view of media and its societal role.

Democracy and the Media

Many other factors induce the media to conform to the requirements of the state-corporate nexus. To confront power is costly and difficult; high standards of evidence and argument are imposed, and critical analysis is naturally not welcomed by those who are in a position to react vigorously and to determine the array of rewards and punishments. Conformity to a "patriotic agenda," in contrast, imposes no such costs. Charges against official enemies barely require substantiation; they are, furthermore, protected from correction, which can be dismissed as apologetics for the criminals or as missing the forest for the trees. The system protects itself with indignation against a challenge to the right of deceit in the service of power, and the very idea of subjecting the ideological system to rational inquiry elicits incomprehension or outrage, though it is often masked in other terms. One who attributes the best intentions to the U.S. government, while perhaps deploring failure and ineptitude, requires no evidence for this stance, as when we ask why "success has continued to elude us" in the Middle East and Central America, why "a nation of such vast wealth, power and good intentions [cannot] accomplish its purposes more promptly and more effectively" (Landrum Bolling). Standards are radically different when we observe that "good intentions" are not properties of states, and that the United States, like every other state past and present, pursues policies that reflect the interests of those who control the state by virtue of domestic power, truisms that are hardly expressible in the mainstream, surprising as this fact may be.

One needs no evidence to condemn the Soviet Union for aggression in Afghanistan and support for repression in Poland ;it is quite a different matter when one turns to U.S. aggression in Indochina or its efforts to prevent a political settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict over many years, readily documented, but unwelcome and therefore a non-fact. No argument is demanded for a condemnation of Iran or Libya for state-supported terrorism; discussion of the prominent—arguably dominant—role of the United States and its clients in organizing and conducting this plague of the modern era elicits only horror and contempt for this view point; supporting evidence, however compelling, is dismissed as irrelevant.

[pp. 8-9]

It is a natural expectation, on uncontroversial assumptions, that the major media and other ideological institutions will generally reflect the perspectives and interests of established power. That this expectation is fulfilled has been argued by a number of analysis. Edward Herman and I have published extensive documentation, separately and jointly, to support a conception of how the media function that differs sharply from the standard version. According to this "propaganda model"—which has prior plausibility for such reasons as those just briefly reviewed—the media serve the interests of state and corporate power, which are closely interlinked, framing their reporting and analysis in a manner supportive of established privilege and limiting debate and discussions accordingly. We have studied a wide range of examples, including those that provide the most severe test for a propaganda model, namely, the cases that critics of alleged anti-establishment excesses of the media offer as their strongest ground: the coverage of the Indochina wars, the Watergate affair, and others drawn from the period when the media are said to have overcome their conformism of the past and taken up a crusading role. To subject the model to a fair test, we have systematically selected examples that are as closely paired as history allows: crimes attributed to official enemies versus those for which the United States and its clients bear responsibility; good deeds, specifically elections conducted by official enemies versus those in U.S. client states. Other methods have also been pursued, yielding further confirmation.


There are, to be sure, other factors that influence the performance of social institutions as complex as the media, and one can find exceptions to the general pattern that the propaganda model predicts. Nevertheless, it has, I believe, been shown to provide a reasonably close first approximation, which captures essential properties of the media and the dominant intellectual culture more generally.

[pp. 10-11]

Since the matter can become intricate, let us take a concrete example. Consider the examination in Political Economy of Human Rights of three categories of atrocities: what we called there "constructive," "benign," and "nefarious" bloodbaths. "Constructive bloodbaths" are those that serve the interests of U.S. power; "benign bloodbaths" are largely irrelevant to these concerns; and "nefarious bloodbaths" are those that can be charged to the account of official enemies and are thus useful for mobilizing the public.

The first-order prediction of a propaganda model is that constructive bloodbaths will be welcomed (with perhaps some clucking of tongues and thoughts about the barbarity of backward peoples), benign bloodbaths ignored, and nefarious bloodbaths passionately condemned, on the basis of a version of the facts that need have little credibility and that may adopt standards that would merely elicit contempt if applied in the study of alleged abuses of the United States or friendly states. We presented a series of examples to show that these consequences are exactly what we discover.

The second-order prediction of the model is that within mainstream circles, studies of this kind will not be found, and that is quite correct. But now we have an example that escapes these bounds. We therefore turn to the third-order predictions: what will the reactions be?

At this level, the model predicts that exposure of the facts would be rather unwelcome. In fact, one might draw an even sharper conclusion: exposure will be ignored in the case of constructive bloodbaths; it may be occasionally noted without interest in the case of benign bloodbaths; and it will lead to great indignation in the case of nefarious bloodbaths. The reasons are clear: the welcome afforded constructive bloodbaths cannot be acknowledged, if only because it exposes the hypocrisy of the furor over nefarious bloodbaths and enemy abuses generally; exposure of the lack of attention to benign bloodbaths is not too damaging, at least if the U.S. role in implementing these atrocities is suppressed; and exposure of the treatment of and reaction to nefarious bloodbaths not only again reveals the hypocrisy and the social role of the "specialized class" of privileged intellectuals, but also interferes with a valuable device for mobilizing the public in fear and hatred of a threatening enemy.

The first-order predictions of the model are systematically confirmed. The constructive bloodbaths were welcomed and approved, the benign bloodbaths were ignored, and the nefarious bloodbaths were angrily condemned on the basis of evidence and charges of a kind that would be dismissed with ridicule if offered against the U.S. or its allies. Turning to the second-order predictions, as the propaganda model predicts, such inquiry is regarded as completely out of bounds and is not to be found within the mainstream.24 Turning finally to the third-level predictions, these too are confirmed. Our discussion of constructive bloodbaths has been entirely ignored, the discussion of benign bloodbaths has merited an occasional phrase in a context that exculpates the United States, and our exposure of the handling of nefarious bloodbaths has elicited a huge literature of denunciation.

These reactions are worth exploring; they have definite implications for the study of ideological institutions. To see why, let us look at the two cases that we investigated in most detail: the U.S.-backed Indonesian invasion of East Timor (benign) and the terror in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge (nefarious).

These two cases are well chosen for the purpose of testing the propaganda model. In both cases it was clear that there were horrendous massacres. Furthermore, they took place in the same part of the world, and in the very same years—though the Indonesian violence and repression in Timor continue, with the support of the United States and other industrial democracies. The evidence in the two cases was comparable in accessibility, credibility, and character. This evidence also indicated that the atrocities were comparable in absolute scale for the time period under review, though larger in Timor relative to the population. The crucial difference was that the slaughter in Timor was carried out by a U.S. client with critical U.S. diplomatic and military support that mounted along with escalating atrocities, while the slaughter in Cambodia was conducted by an official enemy and was, furthermore, highly functional at that time in helping to overcome the "Vietnam syndrome" and to restore popular support for U.S. intervention and violence in the Third World "in defense against the Pol Pots." In fact, a few months after we wrote about this prospect, the deepening engagement of the U.S. government in Pol Pot-style state terror in El Salvador was being justified as necessary to save the population from the "Pol Pot left."

In our comparative study of the response to the Cambodia and Timor massacres, we drew no specific conclusions about the actual facts. As we reiterated to the point of boredom, an attempt to assess the actual facts is a different topic, not pertinent to our specific inquiry. That is a simple point of logic. The question we addressed was how the evidence available was transmuted as it passed through the filters of the ideological system. Plainly, that inquiry into the propaganda system at work is not affected, one way or another, by whatever may be discovered about the actual facts. We did tentatively suggest that in the case of Timor, the church sources and refugee studies we cited were plausible, and that in the case of Cambodia, State Department specialists were probably presenting the most credible accounts. Both suggestions are well confirmed in retrospect, but the accuracy of our suspicions as to the facts is not pertinent to the question we addressed, as is evident on a moment's thought, and as we repeatedly stressed.

Our goal, then, was to consider the relation between the evidence available and the picture presented by the media and journals of opinion; to determine the actual facts is a different task. The latter task, we emphasized, was well worth undertaking (it simply wasn't ours). [...]

Turning to the first-order predictions of the propaganda model, in the case of Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge there were denunciations of genocide from the first moment, a huge outcry of protest, fabrication of evidence on a grand scale, suppression of the some of the most reliable sources (including State Department Cambodia watchers, the most knowledgeable source at the time) because they did not support the preferred picture, reiteration of extraordinary fabrications even after they were openly conceded to have been invented, and so on. In the case of Timor, coverage declined from a substantial level before the U.S.-backed Indonesian invasion to flat zero as the atrocities reached their peak with increasing U.S. support.

The importance of this suppression cannot be too strongly stressed. Because of it, few knew what was happening, or paid sufficient attention to the little that did seep through. As should be obvious, this is a criticism of great severity. I do not exempt myself from it, I must say with regret. The atrocities in Timor and Cambodia under Pol Pot began at about the same time, but I published my first word about the former nineteen months after writing about Khmer Rouge atrocities, though the Timor massacres were far more important by any moral criterion for the simple and sufficient reason that something could be done to terminate them. Thanks to media self-censorship, there were no substantial efforts to organize the kind of opposition that might have compelled the U.S. to desist from its active participation in the slaughter and thus quite possibly to bring it to an end. In the case of Cambodia, in contrast, no one proposed measures that could be taken to mitigate the atrocities. When George McGovern suggested military intervention to save the victims in late 1978, he was ridiculed by the right wing and government advisers. And when Vietnam invaded and brought the slaughter to an end, that aroused new horror about "the Prussians of Asia" who overthrew Pol Pot and must be punished for the crime.

The first-order predictions, then, are well confirmed. The second-order predictions were not only confirmed, but far surpassed; the doctrine that was concocted and quickly became standard, utterly inconsistent with readily documented facts, is that there was "silence" in the West over the Khmer Rouge atrocities. This fantasy is highly serviceable, not only in suppressing the subordination of educated elites to external power, but also in suggesting that in the future we must focus attention still more intensely and narrowly on enemy crimes. The third-order predictions are also confirmed. Our discussion of Cambodia under Pol Pot aroused a storm of protest. The condemnation is, to my knowledge, completely lacking in substance, a fact that has not passed without notice in the scholarly literature, and I am aware of no error or misleading statement that has been found in anything that we wrote. Much of the criticism is absurd, even comical; there was also an impressive flow of falsehoods, often surely conscious. But I will not pursue these topics here. Much more interesting was a different reaction: that the entire enterprise is illegitimate. It is improper, many felt, perhaps even inhuman, to urge that we keep to the truth about the Pol Pot atrocities as best we can, or to expose the ways in which the fate of the miserable victims was being crudely exploited for propaganda purposes.

Very strikingly, the second term of the comparison—our discussion of the media reaction to the U.S.-backed atrocities in Timor—was virtually ignored, apart from apologetics for the atrocities and for the behavior of the media, or a few words of casual mention. Again this confirms the third-order predictions, in close detail.

In short, the model is confirmed at every level.

Let us now examine the logic of the reaction that alleges it to be improper, inhuman, to expose the fabrications of the ideological system in the case of the Pol Pot atrocities. Evidently, it either is or is not legitimate to study the U.S. ideological system. Assume that it is legitimate. Then it is legitimate to formulate the propaganda model as a hypothesis, and to test it by investigating paired examples: media treatment of Cambodia and Timor, for example. But, the critics allege, the study of media treatment of Cambodia is illegitimate. Therefore, unless there is something special about this case that has yet to be pointed out, their position must be that it is not legitimate to study the U.S. ideological system. The fact that the reaction has been marked by such extraordinary dishonesty, as repeatedly exposed, merely underscores the obvious: the right to serve the state must be protected; the ideological system cannot be subjected to inquiry based on the hypothesis that its societal function is to serve external power. The logic is very clear.

[pp. 153-158]

Journalists often meet a high standard of professionalism in their work, exhibiting courage, integrity, and enterprise, including many of those who report for media that adhere closely to the predictions of the propaganda model. There is no contradiction here. What is at issue is not the honesty of the opinions expressed or the integrity of those who seek the facts but rather the choice of topics and highlighting of issues, the range of opinion permitted expression, the unquestioned premises that guide reporting and commentary, and the general framework imposed for the presentation of a certain view of the world.

[pp. 11-12]

Containing the Enemy

In brief, it is necessary to ensure that those who own the country are happy, or else all will suffer, for they control investment and determine what is produced and distributed and what benefits will trickle down to those who rent themselves to the owners when they can. For the homeless in the streets, then, the highest priority must be to ensure that the dwellers in the mansions are reasonably content.

[p. 22]

[Woodrow] Wilson's Creel Commission, dedicated to creating war fever among the generally pacifist population, had demonstrated the efficacy of organized propaganda with the cooperation of the loyal media and the intellectuals, who devoted themselves to such tasks as "historical engineering," the term devised by historian Frederic Paxson, one of the founders of the National Board for Historical Service established by U.S. historians to serve the state by "explaining the issues of the war that we might the better win it."

[p. 29]

By the late stages of the [Vietnam] war, the general population was out of control, with a large majority regarding the war as "fundamentally wrong and immoral" and not "a mistake," as polls reveal up to the present. Educated elites, in contrast, posed no serious problem. Contrary to the retrospective necessary illusion fostered by those who now declare themselves "early opponents of the war," in reality there was only the most scattered opposition to the war among these circles, apart from concern over the prospects for success and the rising costs. Even the harshest critics of the war within the mainstream rarely went beyond agonizing over good intentions gone awry, reaching even that level of dissent well after corporate America had determined that the enterprise was proving too costly and should be liquidated, a fact that I have documented elsewhere.

[p. 33]

If the media, and the respectable intellectual community generally, are to serve their "societal purpose," such matters as these [alignment of international regime with U.S. economic interests] must be kept beyond the pale, remote from public awareness, and the massive evidence provided by the documentary record and evolving history must be consigned to dusty archives or marginal publications. We may speak in retrospect of blunders, misinterpretation, exaggeration of Communist threat, faulty assessments of national security, personal failings, even corruption and deceit on the part of leaders gone astray; but the study of institutions and how they function must be scrupulously ignored, apart from fringe elements or a relatively obscure scholarly literature. These results have been quite satisfactorily achieved.

[p. 40]

The Bounds of the Expressible

The primary targets of the manufacture of consent are those who regard themselves as "the more thoughtful members of the community," the "intellectuals," the "opinion leaders." An official of the Truman administration remarked that "It doesn't make too much difference to the general public what the details of a program are. What counts is how the plan is viewed by the leaders of the community"; he "who mobilizes the elite, mobilizes the public," one scholarly study of public opinion concludes. The " `public opinion' that Truman and his advisors took seriously and diligently sought to cultivate," was that of the elite of "opinion leaders," the "foreign policy public," diplomatic historian Thomas Paterson observes; [...].

[p. 47]

In the democratic system, the necessary illusions cannot be imposed by force. Rather, they must be instilled in the public mind by more subtle means. A totalitarian state can be satisfied with lesser degrees of allegiance to required truths. It is sufficient that people obey; what they think is a secondary concern. But in a democratic political order, there is always the danger that independent thought might be translated into political action, so it is important to eliminate the threat at its root.

Debate cannot be stilled, and indeed, in a properly functioning system of propaganda, it should not be, because it has a system-reinforcing character if constrained within proper bounds. What is essential is to set the bounds firmly. Controversy may rage as long as it adheres to the presuppositions that define the consensus of elites, and it should furthermore be encouraged within these bounds, thus helping to establish these doctrines as the very condition of thinkable thought while reinforcing the belief that freedom reigns.

[p. 48]

The basic presuppositions of discourse include those just reviewed: U.S. foreign policy is guided by a "yearning for democracy" and general benevolent intent; history and the secret planning record may tell a rather different story, but they are off the media agenda. It follows that the use of force can only be an exercise in self-defense and that those who try to resist must be aggressors, even in their own lands. What is more, no country has the right of self-defense against U.S. attack, and the United States has the natural right to impose its will, by force if necessary and feasible. These doctrines need not be expressed, apart from periodic odes to our awesome nobility of purpose. Rather, they are simply presupposed, setting the bounds of discourse, and among the properly educated, the bounds of thinkable thought.

In the first chapter, I mentioned some of the ways of approaching the study of the media and evaluating models of media performance. One appropriate method is to consider the spectrum of opinion allowed expression. According to the propaganda model, one would expect the spectrum to be bounded by the consensus of powerful elites while encouraging tactical debate within it. Again, the model is well confirmed.

[p. 59]

Consider U.S. policy with regard to Nicaragua, a topic that has probably elicited more controversy and impassioned rhetoric than any other during the past several years. There is debate between the hawks and the doves. The position of the hawks is expressed by a joint declaration of the State and Defense Departments on International Human Rights Day in December 1986: "in the American continent, there is no regime more barbaric and bloody, no regime that violates human rights in a manner more constant and permanent, than the Sandinista regime." Similar sentiments are voiced in the media and political system, and it follows that we should support the "democratic resistance" to Communist terror. At the other extreme, the doves generally agree that we should dismiss the World Court, the United Nations, and other "hostile forums" that pander to Communists and pathological Third World anti-Americanism. They offer their support for the "noble objective" of the Reagan administration—"to somehow `democratize' Nicaragua"—but they feel that the contras "are not the instrument that will achieve that objective" (Representative Michael Barnes, one of the most outspoken critics of the contra option). A leading Senate dove, Alan Cranston, recognizes that "the Contra effort is woefully inadequate to achieve...democracy in Nicaragua," so we should find other means to "isolate" the "reprehensible" government in Managua and "leave it to fester in its own juices" while blocking Sandinista efforts "to export violent revolution."

Media doves observe that "Mr. Reagan's policy of supporting [the contras] is a clear failure," so we should "acquiesce in some negotiated regional arrangement that would be enforced by Nicaragua's neighbors" (Tom Wicker). Expressing the same thought, the editors of the Washington Post see the contras as "an imperfect instrument," so we must find other means to "fit Nicaragua back into a Central American mode" and impose "reasonable conduct by a regional standard." We must also recognize that "the Sandinistas are communists of the Cuban or Soviet school" and "a serious menace—to civil peace and democracy in Nicaragua and the stability and security of the region." We must "contain...the Sandinistas' aggressive thrust" and demand "credible evidence of reduced Sandinista support for El Salvador's guerrillas." None of this is debatable: it "is a given; it is true," the editors proclaim. It is therefore irrelevant, for example, that Reagan administration efforts to provide evidence for their charges of Nicaraguan support for El Salvador's guerrillas were dismissed as without merit by the World Court, and in fact barely merit derision. At the outer limits of dissent, Nation columnist Jefferson Morley wrote in the New York Times that we should recognize that Nicaragua may be "beyond the reach of our good intentions."

Other doves feel that we should not too quickly reject the State Department argument that agricultural cooperatives are legitimate targets for contra attacks, because "in a Marxist society geared up for war, there are no clear lines separating officials, soldiers and civilians"; what is required is careful "cost-benefit analysis," a determination of "the amount of blood and misery that will be poured in, and the likelihood that democracy will emerge at the other end" (New Republic editor Michael Kinsley). Neither Kinsley nor the State Department explain why similar arguments do not justify attacks by Abu Nidal on Israeli kibbutzim, far better defended against an incomparably lesser threat. And it is naturally taken to be our right, as rulers of the world, to carry out the cost-benefit analysis and to pour in blood and misery if we determine that the likelihood of "democracy" is sufficiently high.

Notice that for the doves it is obvious without comment that there is no need to impose "regional arrangements" on our Salvadoran and Guatemalan friends, who have slaughtered perhaps 150,000 people during this period, or our clients in Honduras, who kill fewer outright but have left hundreds of thousands to starve to death while the country exports food for the profit of agribusiness. We need not "isolate" these admirable figures or "leave them to fester in their own juices." Their countries already conform to the "Central American mode" of repression, exploitation, and rule by privileged elements that accede to the demands of U.S. power ("democracy"), so even hideous atrocities are of no account; and they merit aid and enthusiastic backing, accompanied by occasional sighs of regret over the violent tendencies in these backward societies if the terror, torture, and mutilation that we organize and support become too visible to ignore or attack the wrong targets (Christian Democrat political figures rather than union and peasant organizers, for example).

By 1986, the contra option was opposed by 80 percent of "leaders," polls report. The propaganda model would therefore predict debate over contra aid but near unanimity in opposition to the Sandinistas. To test the hypothesis, consider the period of maximum intensity of debate over Nicaragua policy, the first three months of 1986, when attention was focused on the issue of contra aid. During these months, the New York Times and the Washington Post ran no fewer than eighty-five opinion columns on the matter (including regular columnists). As expected, they were divided over contra aid. But of the eighty-five columns, eighty-five were critical of the Sandinistas, the overwhelming majority harshly so; thus close to 100 percent conformity was achieved on the major issue.

It is not that more sympathetic voices are lacking in the mainstream. There are many who would easily qualify for admission to the forum if they had the right things to say, including Latin American scholars whose opinion pieces are regularly rejected, or the charitable development agency Oxfam, with long experience in the region, which found Nicaragua's record to be "exceptional" among the seventy-six developing countries in which it works in the commitment of the political leadership "to improving the condition of the people and encouraging their active participation in the development process."

[pp. 59-62]

The effectiveness of the state doctrine that there were no elections in Nicaragua, in contrast to the U.S. terror states, provides useful lessons for future commissars. It confirms the judgment of Woodrow Wilson's Committee on Public Information (the Creel Commission) "that one of the best means of controlling news was flooding news channels with `facts,' or what amounted to official information." By dint of endless repetition, combined with media election coverage conforming to Washington dictates, the required doctrine has become established truth. Virtually no deviations are to be found. Even human rights groups that have made a real effort to steer an even course fall prey to these impressive achievements of state-media propaganda. Thus the Deputy Director of Human Rights Watch criticizes the Reaganites for inconsistency: they "have been loath to speak out [about] ... abuses under elected governments" (he mentions El Salvador and Guatemala), but they condemn "human rights abuses by the hemisphere's left-wing regimes—Cuba and Nicaragua." On the one hand, we have the "elected governments" of El Salvador and Guatemala, and on the other, Nicaragua, left-wing and therefore lacking an "elected government." At the outer reaches of dissidence in the media, the liberal Boston Globe contrasts El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras ("unstable democratic" with Cuba, Nicaragua, Guyana, and Suriname ("socialist" The "democratic" governments have "civilian presidents" who were "elected," though they are "battling the army for political control" but in Nicaragua, we have only a "socialist junta in power since 1979 revolution"—no elections, no "democracy" as in the U.S. clients.

[p. 67]

Similarly, no celebration of the passionate U.S. commitment to human rights would be sullied by mention of the striking correlation between U.S. aid and torture worldwide documented in several studies, particularly in Latin America, where the leading academic specialist on human rights in the region concludes that U.S. aid "has tended to flow disproportionately to Latin American governments which torture their citizens, ... to the hemisphere's relatively egregious violators of fundamental human rights." This was prior to the Reagan administration, with its dedicated commitment to terror and torture.

[p. 70]

Adjuncts of Governments

As is well known, choice of sources can shield extreme bias behind a fašade of objectivity. A study organized by media specialist Lance Bennett of the University of Washington investigated the distribution of attributed news sources for the month of September 1985 in the New York Times and the Seattle press. In Times coverage of El Salvador, over 80 percent of the sources were supportive of the government of El Salvador; 10 percent were drawn from the opposition. In Times coverage of Nicaragua, the pattern was reversed: more than two-thirds of sources selected were hostile to the government of Nicaragua, under 20 percent were from that government. The local media were similar. In fact, despite the apparent difference, the two patterns reflect the same criterion of source selection: in both cases, the primary sources were the U.S. government and its allies and clients (the government of El Salvador, the Nicaraguan political opposition and the contras). The study observes that in both countries, "the vast majority of Central Americans, the ordinary peasants, urban dwellers, workers and merchants, are virtually mute in U.S. news coverage of their lives." They account for 9 percent of attributed news sources, of which one-third are "U.S. individuals."

The study suggests that the reasons for these discrepancies may lie in the tendency to rely on "easily available `official' sources" and other such "institutional factors." That is plausible, but one should not be misled. Opposition sources are, of course, easy to find in Nicaragua, where they operate freely and openly despite government harassment, while in El Salvador and Guatemala, most were murdered by the U.S.-backed security forces or fled; a nontrivial distinction that the media manage to suppress, indeed to reverse. In coverage of Afghanistan, the Kremlin is a more "easily available" source than guerrillas in the hills, but coverage is radically biased in the other direction (as it should be). Similarly, great efforts have been made to report the war in Nicaragua from the point of view of the contras. Reporting from the point of view of the Salvadoran or Guatemalan guerrillas, or the Viet Cong, has been next to nonexistent, and important sources that exist are often simply suppressed. The same is true of publication of refugee studies, which typically reflects political priorities, not ease of access. The "institutional factors" are doubtless real, but throughout there are conscious choices that flow from doctrinal needs.

Spence found the same tendencies in his study of news reporting on Nicaragua in early 1986. Top priority was given to the U.S. government. Ranking second were the U.S. proxy forces. The contras received 727 column inches as compared to 417 for the Nicaraguan government, a discrepancy that was increased by 109 inches devoted to the U.S.-backed internal opposition in Nicaragua, overwhelmingly those who had refused to participate in the 1984 elections as the U.S. government had demanded. There were extensive reports of the concerns of the businessmen's association COSEP, harassment of the U.S.-funded journal La Prensa, one of whose owners was issuing thinly veiled calls for contra aid in Washington at the time, and other abuses. Coverage of the U.S. clients was largely favorable; only one of thirty-three stories on the contras focused on human rights abuses, and there were a few other references to atrocities that were by then reaching a remarkable scale. Like the State Department and Congress, the media preferred what human rights investigators described as "intentional ignorance."

[pp. 77-78]


Noam Chomsky.
Necessary Illusions: Thought Control in Democratic Societies.
CBC Massey Lectures. House of Anansi, Toronto, ON, Canada, 1989. http://www.zmag.org/chomsky/ni/

David Pritchard 2007-12-10