The Propaganda Model at Work in the 2016 Presidential Election by Seth Young

Nearly thirty years ago professors Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman introduced the concept of the Propaganda Model, in their book Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media (Chomsky & Herman, 1988). In Manufacturing Consent the authors state that propaganda is used as a means of thought control in a democratic society (Chomsky & Herman, 1988). The Propaganda Model, according to Chomsky and Herman, is made of five filters that heavily affect what news the general public receive. These filters are ownership, funding, sourcing, flak, and fear.

After even a brief examination of the media coverage of the 2016 presidential election, it becomes abundantly clear that the propaganda model is still in effect. This is seen most clearly in the media’s coverage of Bernie Sanders’ campaign. Perhaps the most obvious filters in use are flak and fear. Bernie Sanders has been labeled a “radical” by many mainstream news outlets. The radical aspect of Bernie Sanders they are referring to is simply his openly socialist views. By simply dismissing Sanders as a presidential candidate on the ground that he is too radical is a clear example of the both the fear and the flak filter.

Ownership, funding, and sourcing are certainly at play in the media’s coverage of Sanders’ campaign as well. Despite his numerous recent victories at the polls, Bernie Sanders is still receiving significantly less media coverage than Hillary Clinton. This is largely due to the ownership filter. Among Hillary Clinton’s campaign donors is Time Warner, a multinational media conglomerate that owns (among other things) CNN.

Just a few weeks ago hundreds of Bernie Sanders supporters organized a protest outside of CNN in Los Angeles. CNN’s response was to ignore them and the event went largely uncovered by other news outlets.

The funding and sourcing filters could perhaps explain the media’s constant coverage of Donald Trump. Donald Trump’s campaign seems to be compromised of him making increasingly appalling and racist comments. Despite the dangerous and uniformed nature of his politics Trump continues to gain media coverage. The funding filter states that the news that sells will be given far more attention than the news that doesn’t. The sad reality is that coverage of Trump sells. The sourcing filter goes hand in hand with the funding filter. Sourcing states that news will be filtered by lack of resources to fully cover every story. Since coverage of Trump is more dramatic (hence – popular) than coverage of Sanders, the mainstream media will spend more of their resources ensuring Trump is the lead story so they can maximize their profits.

There is, however, a silver lining. While the propaganda model is still in full effect with mainstream media, the internet has become a major asset for spreading the truth. Take, for instance, the riots in Ferguson, Missouri of 2014 following the police brutality that occurred there. There was media blackout during these events and it was only made public from citizens posting the news themselves using online sites like Twitter and Facebook. There are numerous other cases of police brutality that have gone widely unreported by the mainstream media that only receive attention from brave citizens taking to the internet to make the situations known.

The internet has also been instrumental in the spread of more alternative news outlets. Before the internet it was very costly for alternative news sources to get started, and even more costly to stay in business without falling victim to the propaganda model’s ownership and funding filters. By using the internet alterative news outlets such as Democracy at Work, ZNet, Truthout, and Project Censored can flourish without having to change their message. Despite the propaganda model’s tyrannical hold on mainstream media, the internet has now made it easer than ever for the general public to find the truth from alternative news.



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Seth Young is a student at Diablo Valley College in Contra Costa County, CA, where he is majoring in Sociology. He is also an author, having written the novel Death of No One in Particular.


About Bruce Lerro

Bruce Lerro has taught for 25 years as an adjunct college professor of psychology at Golden Gate University, Dominican University and Diablo Valley College. He has applied a Vygotskian socio-historical perspective to his five books: "From Earth-Spirits to Sky-Gods: the Socio-ecological Origins of Monotheism, Individualism and Hyper-Abstract Reasoning", "Power in Eden: The Emergence of Gender Hierarchies in the Ancient World" (co-authored with Christopher Chase-Dunn), "Social Change: Globalization from the Stone Age to the Present", "Lucifer's Labyrinth: Individualism, Hyper-Abstract Thinking and the Process of Becoming Civilized", and "The Magickal Enchantment of Materialism: Why Marxists Need Neopaganism". He is also a representational artist specializing in pen-and-ink drawings. Bruce is a libertarian communist and lives in Olympia, WA.

View all posts by Bruce Lerro →

One Comment on “The Propaganda Model at Work in the 2016 Presidential Election by Seth Young”

  1. Thank you for outlining Manufacturing Consent and how it applies to this year’s election cycle.

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