In this rich study of news reporting on American foreign policy, the dissident scholars argue that, rather than being aggressive watchdogs of the public interest and adversaries of the government, dominant news outlets (New York Times, Washington Post, wire services and major TV networks) are "effective and powerful ideological institutions" (306, Chomsky), that "serve to mobilize support for the special interests (wealthy investors, corporations and the military/industrial complex primarily) that dominate the state and private activity" (xi, Chomsky). To put it another way, the news media serve as propagandists or public relations specialists, for the rich and powerful. And, by doing so, they allow the "special interests" to manage public opinion in much the way prominent newspaper columnist Walter Lippmann and other leading intellectuals described it in the 1920s and 1930s. In fact, Herman and Chomsky's title is a variation of the term "manufacture of consent" (158) coined by Lippmann in his influential book Public Opinion.
To support their arguments, Herman and Chomsky first sketch out a "propaganda model" that describes the political and economic (market) forces that largely, though not entirely, govern the editorial behavior of major news media organizations. These forces ensure that the news media will voluntarily censor inconvenient facts and, instead, report biased information (propaganda) about U.S. policy without being overtly coerced into doing so by state authorities. Secondly, the authors apply the model to U.S. media coverage of major foreign policy events of recent decades including the wars in Southeast Asia in the 1960s and 70s and American involvement in Central America in the 1980s. At the heart of the model are five filters through which the "raw material of news" must pass through before the "cleansed residue" is ready to be passed on to the public. The five filters of the mass media, as laid out by the authors and paraphrased by me, are: (1).