This is the News: The Propaganda Model and the Ego Model

You may have noticed, while reading The Guardian, Le Monde, the New Statesman, the Independent or the New York Times, that the overwhelming majority of news articles and comment pieces implicitly support the totalitarian market system, focus on the side-show of democracy we are allowed in our free time and refuse to explain the context of the isolated conflicts and catastrophes they report on.

No mention is ever made in the corporate press of the fundamental cause of conflict, the origin and nature of history, the best way to experience the centre of the universe while making love, how another person can really be known, what death has in common with asking a girl out, how to be free of worry, what to do if you accidentally find yourself trapped in a prison, school or office, why things don't go haywire anymore, what the coming world catastrophe has in common with cellular biology, why a beautiful shoe will always be beautiful, how to enhance empathy, why we have placed birth and death in the hands of experts, what trees have in common with improvised theatre, why mystery and irrational generosity are illegal, the secret connection between modern art and corporate wealth-maximising and what all this has in common with formality, play, metaphor, the oldest meaning of the word god, the colour of Tuesday and why we smile when we meet a friend. Finally no mention is ever made of the reason why these, and thousands of other illuminating topics, never find their way into the pages of the news-media; why the reader has to look elsewhere for a beginner's guide to democratic mind control...

The Propaganda Model

There are two ways that truth is prevented from entering the media. The first, more well known, is described by Chomsky and Herman’s propaganda model in Manufacturing Consent, their 1988 study of corporate bias in the liberal media. Truth, they explained, is not edited out of the news directly, through threats, censorship and conspiratorial pressures, but indirectly, through structural filters which unconsciously reward those who have repeatedly demonstrated they can unconsciously censor themselves.

In order to reach positions of power and responsibility, successful and established journalists (like members of parliament, head teachers at good schools, and senior managers at wealthy companies) have to either:-

a) serve long apprenticeships (demonstrating that they are subservient ’team players‘) 
b) succeed at the ‘best’ universities (demonstrating subservience to teacher-syllabus authority)
c) have ‘connections’ (demonstrating one comes from a family or a circle of intimates which adheres to corporate or postmodern values) or
d) be wealthy (conferring useful skills, a useful arrogance and an establishment-friendly ideological view of the world). Ideally all four.

Such people unconsciously adhere to systemic filters which frame, emphasise, omit and transform facts in order to serve system and self. These system-serving filters ensure that success is only conferred to those journalists who:-

1. do not criticise their newspaper or television company
2. do not criticise the corporations that own the newspaper or fund it through advertising
3. source their information principally from agents of power and figures of authority (think tanks, government sources, councillors, lawyers, etc.)
4. bend to legal, financial or publicity threats, complaints and criticisms from established power and
5. who have an ideological belief in ‘free markets’, ‘anti-terrorism’, ‘full employment’, ‘defence’ and ‘democracy’. Individuals or parties within government can be criticised, and the left-liberal press occasionally allows slightly more dissenting voices to criticise corporations, but the entire system and its core values cannot be brought into question.

In other words it is the nature of the system (or the market) which forces dissent out of the news. But this is only half of the story.

The Ego Model

Adherence to systemic filters is an unconscious process. Consciously the news reporter believes he is telling the truth, reporting facts and providing a professional service. Unconsciously he is motivated by ego. In other word, the news is first framed, edited and guided by five self-serving psychological filters.

Subtler and more fundamental than systemic filters, and largely ignored by dissident news-critics, the ‘ego model’ has a much wider reach, affecting not just straight news reporting, but also comment, analysis, creative output, book reviews and cultural commentary.

To avoid the threat of ‘non-self’ instilled at birth the insensitive self seeks to ally itself with ‘like-minded’ people in organisations that best serve its egoic purposes and then, again quite mechanically, or unconsciously, sets up defensive ‘ego filters’ which maintain cohesion of the group. These reward people who:-

1. are unable to critically and honestly view their own self-personality and its emotional possession.
2. do not criticise the role parental, pedagogical and societal conditioning plays on the development of the isolated personality.
3. source information from other mental-emotional selves.
4. bend to groupthink, the assumed emotional reality of society and the unspoken threats to security, self-esteem and power that the workplace uses to keep students and workers in line and who are: -
5. restless, insensitive, essentially uncreative, and have an ideological belief in hope, time, emotional autonomy, the cult of specialisation, the relativity of moral-aesthetic truth and belief itself; relative, understandable, self-based experience. Terms related to selfless experience, like death, truth, life, love, now, silence or God, are never used, unless in familiar relative terms.

The Context is Never Newsworthy

What the propaganda and ego models have in common (with each other and with intelligent critiques of other institutions, notably school) is a refusal to put stories in context. This is particularly important for newspapers which serve our totalitarian system (as opposed to a totalitarian leader or party) as reporters, justified by the excuse of not taking sides, are expected to ignore the bigger social picture in favour of an avalanche of facts, reports, graphics and so on. This effectively occludes the corporate / ego system in which these facts and opinions sit. But context denial is, in the deeper sense, vital everywhere and at all times. It is not just a career killer to talk intelligently about love, death and truth, but a sure route to total social exclusion.


With only those reporters and writers who have internalised the values of the corporate media and who have shown a disinclination to explore self-threatening topics being promoted, the newspaper can control the output of news, silence dissenting voices and present a picture of reality that appeases system and self; while preserving the illusion of hard-hitting free speech, and without ever having to tell individuals what to say; only those individuals who are likely to say what the boss wants to hear will ever get hired or promoted.

These individuals will respond to the above analysis, or any serious challenge to the overall system (such as those offered by MediaLens, Noam Chomsky, Julian Assange and company) in predictable career-friendly ways:

1. Ignore it.
2. Focus on one isolated detail of the critique (i.e. your whole thesis is wrong, because you made a single error).
3. Pour scorn and make irrelevant personal slurs (a favourite these days is ‘I bet you’re fun at the pub’ although accusations of racism, sexism and being a hippy are common too).
4. Accuse the source of the critique of 3 (the ‘you hate me’ approach, taken by teenagers and Zionists).

You can see all of these tactics displayed in my exchanges with Michael White, editor of The Guardian and one of its star columnists, George Monbiot.

Good News

One day - and the day is coming - there will be a genuinely alternative, genuinely independent news source. It will not be merely dissident, merely novel or merely factually accurate; it will be radical, original and true. This news will report on atmospheres. It will explain history simply and accurately. It will give people the words to express their subtlest sensations and observations. It will rescue stranded subjects and make a sailable boat of them. It will prepare the reader for death. People who never read newspapers will read it. It will give useful guidance on griplessly, planlessly plunging into the unknown. It will uncover inconvenient historical and political facts and link them together into a startlingly simple whole. It wlll lightly disturb like a good story should; bringing up hidden things from waters long untroubled. It will send the reader into the wilderness with the right fires. It will be smoothly flick-through-able and magnetically curl-up-with-able. It will give useful guidance on chess-piece design, Argentinian waltz and improvised theatre, It will provide toys for home-schoolers. It will return the reader to the real world, after she puts the paper down, with something everything more vivid burning in her bellymind.

And, needless to say, it will sell nothing.

Further Reading:
Newspeak in the 21st Century (and various reports): Medialens
Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman
The Rise of Professional Journalism: Robert McChesney and John Nichols
Why Are We the Good Guys? David Cromwell
Hidden Agendas (and various articles): John Pilger