Edward S. Herman (1925-2017)

RIP Edward Herman, who co-wrote a book that’s now more important than ever


We need a new ‘Manufacturing Consent’

Edward Herman, the co-author (with Noam Chomsky) of Manufacturing Consent, has died. He was 92. His work has never been more relevant.

Polls show Trump would win a repeat of last year’s election – a year later, we are dumber, and more divided, than ever

Manufacturing Consent was a kind of bible of media criticism for a generation of dissident thinkers. The book described with great clarity how the system of private commercial media in America cooperates with state power to generate propaganda.

Herman’s work was difficult for many to understand because the nature of the American media, then and now, seemed at best to be at an arm’s length from, say, the CIA or the State Department. Here is how the book put it:

“It is much more difficult to see a propaganda system at work where the media are private and formal censorship is absent.”

The basic thesis of Manufacturing Consent was that propaganda in America is generated through a few key idiosyncrasies of our (mostly private) system.

One is that getting the whole population to buy in to a narrative requires the sustained attention of the greater part of the commercial media, for at least a news cycle or two.

We don’t censor the truth in America, mostly. What we do instead is ignore it. If a lone reporter wants to keep banging a drum about something taboo, like contracting corruption in the military, or atrocities abroad, he or she will a) tend not advance in the business, and b) not be picked up by other media.

Therefore the only stories that tended to reach mass audiences were ones in which the basic gist was agreed upon by the editors and news directors of all or most of the major media companies.

In virtually all cases this little mini-oligarchy of media overlords kept the news closely in sync with the official pronouncements of the U.S. government.

The appearance of dissent was permitted in op-ed pages, where Democrats and Republicans “debated” things. But what readers encountered in these places was a highly ritualized, artificially narrow form of argument kept strictly within a range of acceptable opinions.

Herman and Chomsky stressed the concept of worthy and unworthy victims. In Manufacturing Consent, written during the Cold War, the idea was expressed thusly: One Polish priest murdered behind the Iron Curtain earned about a hundred times as much coverage as priests shot in Latin America by American-backed dictatorships.

The Polish priest was the worthy victim, the Latin American priests unworthy.

So Americans learned to be furious about atrocities committed in Soviet client states, but blind to almost exactly similar crimes committed within our own spheres of influence.

The really sad part about the Herman/Chomsky thesis was that it didn’t rely upon coercion or violence. Newspapers and TV channels portrayed the world in this America-centric way not because they were forced to. Mostly, they were just intellectually lazy and disinterested in the stated mission of their business, i.e., telling the truth.

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Edward S. Herman: Master of dissent (1925–2017)


One of the greatest and sweetest media critics ever, Edward S. Herman, has passed away. Ed was the main author of Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, written with Noam Chomsky—the 1980s masterwork that exposed how elite US media typically function as propaganda organs for US empire and militarism.

In 1984, when I was part of a lawyers’ delegation monitoring an “election” in death squad-run El Salvador, I remember a gaggle of progressive attorneys at the Salvador Sheraton tussling with each other to get their hands on a shipment of hot-off-the-press copies of Demonstration Elections, Ed’s devastating book (with Frank Brodhead) on the US “staging” elections as PR shows to prop up repressive puppet regimes, from the Dominican Republic to Vietnam to Salvador.

He also wrote or co-wrote such classic works of political and media criticism as The Political Economy of Human Rights (with Chomsky); The Real Terror Network; Beyond Hypocrisy: Decoding the News in an Age of Propaganda; and The Global Media (with Robert McChesney).

A longtime friend and supporter of FAIR, he wrote “By Any Means Necessary: The Ultra-Relativism of the Wall Street Journal Editorial Page” (9–10/95) and “Good and Bad Genocide: Double Standards in Coverage of Suharto and Pol Pot” (9–10/98) for FAIR’s magazine Extra!.

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Edward S Herman: Scholar whose radical critiques of US media characterised the fake news caricatured by Trump


Noam Chomsky, co-author of ‘Manufacturing Consent’, told The Independent Herman was an ‘inspiration’ to those following in his footsteps in media studies, ‘exposing hypocrisy and lies’

In 1973, during the final throes of the Vietnam War, publisher Claude McCaleb was summoned to the office of William Sarnoff, his boss at Warner Communications in New York. According to McCaleb, an incensed Sarnoff attacked him for one of the works he was about to publish, calling it “a pack of lies”. Sarnoff announced that the book would not be released, and ordered the destruction of the Warner catalogue listing it.

The book was Counter-Revolutionary Violence: Bloodbaths in Fact and Propaganda, a blistering critique of US foreign policy in Vietnam and elsewhere. The authors were Edward S Herman and Noam Chomsky, neither of whom cared to ingratiate themselves with America’s media elite.

Herman, who has died aged 92, would never attain the fame that befell his frequent co-author Chomsky. But he gained widespread recognition in financial academia for his illuminating studies of power and money, and on the radical left for his persistent deconstruction of the propagandistic filters through which mass media perceive, and present, the world.

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Thank you, Ed Herman


Edward S. Herman died on November 11, 2017, at the age of 92. Fortunately, it was a peaceful death for a supremely peaceful man. In all he did, Ed Herman was a tireless champion of peace.

Ed Herman could be considered the godfather of antiwar media critique, both because of his own contributions and because of the many writers he encouraged to pursue that work. Thanks to his logical mind and sense of justice, he sharply grasped the crucial role and diverse techniques of media propaganda in promoting war. He immediately saw through lies, including those so insidious that few dare challenge them, such as the arrogant presumption by the U.S. War Party of the “right to protect” and the “need to prevent genocide”, to justify the oxymoronic “humanitarian war”.

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