As Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky explain in Manufacturing Consent, which stories do and do not receive coverage in the commercially-dominated U.S. news media can be very accurately predicted based on whether or not they can pass through five institutional “filters.” To make it onto the air, a story has to have these five qualities: 1) compatibility with corporate capitalist priorities, 2) advertising and advertiser friendliness, 3) origination in “respectable” sources, 4) low likelihood of provoking right-wing flak, and 5) not incompatible with red-baiting.
But, as Herman and Chomsky also observe, making the news is but half the story. There are a whole slew of sorting rules for what happens to stories once they do pass through the filters and reach a broadcast. One of the most important of these sorting rules is a corollary of the fifth filter: anti-communism. This is the rule that says any news that, when plainly and simply reported, may suggest that socialism might be possible and/or could have some good features must be copiously bathed in propagandistic qualifying adjectives.
No better or more worrying proof of this “adjectival denial” rule lies in CNN’s coverage of Evo Morales’ landslide victory in Bolivia’s presidential primaries. Morales, an Amaru Indian and leader of the Bolivia’s wonderfully-named Movement Toward Socialism party, won more than 50 percent of the vote in what was supposed to be merely round one of the national elections. No serious fraud has been alleged, as even the Bush Administration has acknowledged.
So what has CNN been saying about this? Yesterday, it called Morales “the apparent president-elect” of Bolivia. Why the word “apparent”? Isn’t a president-elect in a clean landslide election just a president-elect? Well, yes, of course — except when the president-elect is a socialist. Then, the president-elect becomes an “apparent president-elect.”
The reason for this seemingly subtle smear is not hard to assess: Socialists don’t win clean elections, do they, friend?
To make this lie worse, in one edition of its Morales-smear story, CNN called Hugo Chavez “Venezuela’s self-proclaimed revolutionary leader”! Yes, see children, a fellow who has not once, but twice won his own landslide clean elections is a “self-proclaimed” leader.
All this propaganda is small-scale, turning on a few carefully inserted words. But its likely impact should not be dismissed. By perpetuating capitalism’s age-old slanders against the idea of putting people before profits, such verbiage not only constitutes a dire threat to the long-suffering ordinary people of Latin America, but it also perpetuates apathy and hopelessness here in the belly of the beast. Bolivians and Venezuelans are the ones who are busy writing a new chapter in the shining story of democracy. In a world living on borrowed social and ecological time, CNN wants your head to stay down in the sand.
Michael Dawson works for pay as a paralegal and sociology teacher in Portland, Oregon. He is presently writing a book, Automobiles Ueber Alles: Corporate Capitalism and Transportation in America, forthcoming from Monthly Review Press.