Welcome to the second installment in the ongoing series “Propaganda in action”. In each installment, I analyse a current event’s coverage through multiple media outlets in the West to uncover the hidden, systemic propaganda in our speciously-free media. (For the original installment on Pinochet’s death, click here).
As Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman note in their “propaganda model”, what characterizes propaganda in the West is not so much that what gets covered are lies. For the most part, journalists are honest people who want to do good in life and in their employment. Rather, our experience with propaganda is centred around sins of omission. Let’s explore with reference to the media’s coverage of the Hershey corporation’s closure of its Canadian flagship plan in Smiths Falls (just outside of Ottawa).
Here’s what the Canadian media – even the supposedly “left-wing media” (and even that supposed bastion of socialism: the CBC) – had to say about the closure.
#1) The CBC
This story on the plant closure demonstrates several levels of propaganda very much in line with Chomsky and Herman’s propaganda model.
Firstly, the story is told almost exclusively from the perspective of management. The corporation, or its spokesperson, Kirk Saville, is given a total of precisely 100 words. The union, or its spokesperson, Henry Gadhan, is given just 19 words.
Secondly, nowhere in the article is it mentioned that the Hershey factory is the primary employer of the small town of less than 10,000 people. Moreover, nowhere in the article is it mentioned that this move will essentially destroy not only the city’s primary industry, but will destroy the property value of anybody who lives there.
Thirdly, nowhere is the corporation’s reasons for relocating to Mexico given. In fact, even the new location for Hershey’s factory (Mexico) isn’t given at all.
#2) A Channel News
This article is in some ways better and in some ways worse than the CBC article.
On the one hand, this article does mention that 1500 jobs are going to be lost.
But on the other hand, it failed to mention the union, it’s spokesperson or its reaction to the whole story all the while giving time to management. It also failed to mention the kiss of death that this move brings to Smiths Falls. Lastly it also failed to mention the corporation’s reasons for relocating to Mexico.
#3) The Globe and Mail
Like the A Channel story, this story does mention employee numbers, however this story claims that only 500 jobs will be lost.
Also like the A Channel story, this story gives space for the corporation’s spokesperson without also giving any time to the union, its spokesperson or any employees.
This story quotes Premier Dalton McGuinty who claims to have phoned the corporation but gave up after he discovered that, as he says, “They just don’t seem to be particularly receptive to that [keeping the plant open in Canada].”
Again, nowhere does the story quote the reasons for the plants closure and nowhere is the ruinous impact on Smiths Falls homeowners or the community discussed.
This article starts off from the perspective of the townspeople and the workers. In fact the first quote of the story even goes to a union representative.
This story goes on to note that the plant will be moved to Mexico. The story also notes that the closure will be “devastating” to Smiths Falls, admitting, in the final sentence of the story that there will be a net loss of about 1500 jobs.
However, when it came time to discuss the the reasons why this plant closed down, the story shifts to Conservative MP Scott Reid’s account:
“He wouldn’t link Smiths Falls’ woes to the expansion of free trade in North America.
“‘There have been positive and negative impacts. I don’t think they affect small towns more or less than larger places, per se,’ he said.”
So there you have it folks. That’s Scott Reid’s account. We may not know what caused it, but whatever it was, it sure wasn’t NAFTA because, I presume, under his reasoning, small towns don’t get screwed any more than big towns do.
#5) The Ottawa Sun
Like the CTV story, this story deserves praise for portraying the public and specific labourers – although it does noticeably go to the trouble of interviewing a plant worker tell personal (but touching) stories while avoiding any mention of the union or its representatives. In fact both times the word “union” appears in the entire story are when the word is uttered by the corporate spokesperson Kirk Saville fawning over the corporation’s plans to “move forward” and co-operate in keeping the union informed.
Second, the story somehow comes up with the figure that 800 jobs will be lost – a figure not found in any other news story from any other news outlet – and thus grossly under-represents the actual number of net jobs that will be lost.
Third, interestingly,, nowhere in the story is it written that the corporation decided to close the plant or that it was the corporation which caused this to happen. The events are thus portrayed without a causal actor which reduces the author to speaking of the situation as merely a chain of unfortunate events like a freak weather phenomenon destroying a trailer park. In fact, since the only reporting of the corporation in the story is about its plans to co-operate and communicate with all, the corporation comes off appearing to be helping the employees deal with this situation rather than as the cause of the suffering in the first place.
Fourthly, once again no reason is given as to why the corporation made the decision to close the plant down.
So what does this tell us? Well, clearly there are variants within the styles of propaganda that we get. So on the so-called”left” of the spectrum, we have CTV and the CBC at least acknowledging the existence of a union and/or quoting its spokesperson (albeit at a far lesser rate than the corporate spokesperson).
In the center, we have A Channel and the Globe and Mail which aren’t even bothered to give the labour side of the story by omitting to quote from any union representatives or union members. Thus, the only side of the story we are given is the management side.
And then, on the far right of the spectrum, we have the Ottawa Sun which treats the whole event like a natural disaster without discussion of causality, the union, union representatives and actually makes the corporation look like it is the one helping employees through this difficult time rather than as the cause of this situation in the first place.
So, ladies and gentlemen, that is the variety we have between our “left wing” news and our right wing news in the West.
What is interesting is that not one story discussed a reason for why the factory decided to close down this plant which had been in operation for over 40 years and which, several employees noted, the corporation had recently spent not insignificant capital upgrading the machinery.
The only mention of NAFTA – an agreement whose stated purpose is to increase the flow and mobility of capital in order to do exactly this – was to assure us that it wasn’t a factor in the corporation’s decision.
There was no mention that it’s the nature of capitalism to be legally required to constantly seek legal, sustainable and growing income for the corporation and thus, the corporation’s feduciary responsibilities as a publicly-traded company require it do harm its employees in such manners. In fact, the only time when harm is mentioned in any of these stories, it is intensely personal. In one story, in fact, the decision is attacked, not as management increasing its profits while harming employees and not as a natural consequence of capitalism – but rather as a “stupid decision”; a miscalculation.
In the Soviet Union, the newspaper Pravda got very good at exposing incompetent comissars or incompetent managers who made “stupid decisions”. If they didn’t order or produce enough tractors which resulted in food shortages, this was permitted to be blamed on such individuals. But never, in any of the Soviet publications, was the legitimacy or efficacy of their form of state capitalism allowed to be questioned.
In the West, the only difference is that, instead of a juridical structure censoring this sort of discussion as in the USSR, we have economic and ideological structures which function to censor our press. We, like the USSR, are permitted (depending on which publication we read) to attack the intelligence of the corporate management or deride them as “stupid”. But never will the media question the unpleasant aspects of the capitalist system – even aspects which are so uncontroversial that Adam Smith noted them. These facts would be openly available and discussion in 5 of the leading publications would have turned at least briefly to them…. in an open society.