MANUFACTURED CONSENT: Manufacturing Susan Rice!


What David Gregory said: What is “manufactured consent?”

The term originated with Walter Lippmann, then ran through a 1988 book by Noam Chomsky and Ed Herman. To see the way the practice works, consider what David Gregory said on yesterday’s Meet the Press.

This is the last morning on which we plan to feature the attacks on Susan Rice. But below, you can see what Gregory said about Rice on yesterday morning’s program.

Last Wednesday, Rice made a public statement defending the way she described the attacks on the Benghazi consulate. On yesterday’s program, Gregory asked Republican attack dog Peter King to comment on Rice’s remarks.

Obviously, Gregory’s highlighted comment wasn’t made in good faith. Obviously, David Gregory doesn’t believe the representation which follows. In what follows, he was taking part in the process called the manufacturing of consent:
GREGORY (11/26/12): So you mentioned the volatility in the world. Let's talk about the volatility in Libya that has led to a lot of political questions at home over the fate of Susan Rice.

The U.N. ambassador was on this program and others talking about the fact that it seemed to be more spontaneous—the attack on the consulate at Benghazi, and this has been thoroughly litigated.

She responded to those who said that she willfully misled the public by saying it was a spontaneous incident rather than what we know it was now, and that was an attack on our consulate. These were her comments on Wednesday. I'll play them and get your reaction:

RICE (videotape): As a senior U.S. diplomat, I agreed to a White House request to appear on the Sunday shows to talk about the full range of national security issues of the day, which, at that time, were primarily and particularly the protests that were enveloping and threatening many diplomatic facilities. When discussing the attacks against our facilities in Benghazi, I relied solely and squarely on the information provided to me by the intelligence community. I made clear that the information was preliminary and that our investigations would give us the definitive answers.

GREGORY: Do you accept that, Congressman?
Obviously, Gregory’s highlighted comment wasn’t made in good faith. Gregory doesn’t believe the highlighted account of Rice’s comments.

Just look at what Gregory said! Speaking with the attack dog King, Gregory gave a very strange account of Rice’s remarks from September 16.

According to Gregory, Rice came on Meet the Press and said the attack on the consulate “was a spontaneous incident rather than what we know it was now, and that was an attack on our consulate.”

Obviously, Gregory doesn’t believe that. Judging from what Gregory said, you would think that Rice had somehow denied that the events in question were “an attack on our consulate.” You would think that we have only learned that fact in the months since Rice appeared, but that she had somehow denied that claim on those Sunday programs.

According to Gregory, we now know that the September 11 attack was an attack on the consulate. But Rice said something different back then—she said it was “a spontaneous incident.”

None of that makes any sense. Obviously, Rice never denied that the attack was an attack on the consulate. Just as obviously, an attack on a consulate could be some sort of “spontaneous incident.” If that’s what Rice actually said, no contradiction was involved in what she said.

Gregory’s logic doesn’t make sense—and his facts are basically wrong. Why then did he make this peculiar statement?

A naive observer might assume that Gregory simply misspoke. Almost surely, that observer would be wrong.

Why did Gregory make this peculiar statement? Through the process known as manufactured consent, your press corps elites have all agreed to tell a very shaky story about Rice’s conduct that day. Your elites have greed that it must be said:

It must be said that Susan Rice misspoke on those Sunday programs.

Why have press corps elites agreed to advance this claim? Crackpots led by John McCain have pushed and pushed on this matter. In the face of this hurly-burly, press elites have agreed to pretend that the GOP’s claim makes some sort of sense.

In fact, the GOP’s claim doesn’t seem to make much sense; it’s very hard to explain what Rice did wrong on those Sunday programs. But when the press corps agrees to advance a claim, all major players know the rules—the narrative must be advanced.

Almost surely, Gregory offered that strange account because it was the best he could manage. It’s hard to produce a coherent account of what Rice did wrong on those Sunday programs. But Gregory has agreed that he must pretend.

Hence, that peculiar account.

Obviously, Rice didn’t deny that the attack was an attack on our consulate. But how about this? Did she even “say it was a spontaneous incident?”

Actually, no, she didn’t say that—not if you know how to read. David Gregory does know how to read—but he also knows what he must do when his guild manufactures consent.

Below, you see what Rice said on Meet the Press on September 16. We will highlight one key word, although there are several others:
GREGORY (9/16/12): Can you say definitively that the attacks on our consulate in Libya that killed Ambassador Stevens and others there, security personnel—that was spontaneous? Was it a planned attack? Was there a terrorist element to it?

RICE: Well, let me tell you the best information we have at present. First of all, there is an FBI investigation, which is ongoing, and we look to that investigation to give us the definitive word as to what transpired.

But putting together the best information that we have available to us today, our current assessment is that what happened in Benghazi was, in fact, ***initially*** a spontaneous reaction to what had just transpired hours before in Cairo—almost a copycat of the demonstrations against our facility in Cairo, which were prompted, of course, by the video.

What we think then transpired in Benghazi is that opportunistic extremist elements came to the consulate as this was unfolding. They came with heavy weapons, which, unfortunately, are readily available in post-revolutionary Libya, and that escalated into a much more violent episode.

Obviously, that's our best judgment now. We'll await the results of the investigation, and the president has been very clear—we'll work with the Libyan authorities to bring those responsible to justice.
Over and over, in various ways, Rice told Gregory that this was a preliminary assessment. But please note: She only said that, according to the current assessment, the events at the consulate began as “a spontaneous reaction to what had just transpired hours before in Cairo.”

(That’s what “initially” means.)

She said the events began in a spontaneous way—but as she continued, she said that something else happened after that. After that, she said “extremist elements” armed with “heavy weapons” came to the consulate and produced “a much more violent episode.” On two other programs, she said that these extremists “hijacked” ongoing events.

How “spontaneous” was the conduct of these “extremists?” Gregory didn’t ask, and Rice didn’t say, as you can see from that transcript—if you know how to read.

Were those extremists motivated by the video? Was their violent conduct a spontaneous, same-day reaction to the anti-Muslim video? Or was their attack preplanned in some major way? For example, was it designed to coincide with September 11?

Concerning all these points, Rice wasn’t asked, and Rice didn’t say. And she kept reminding Gregory that she was only giving him “our best judgment now.”

It’s hard to build a rational case against those statements by Rice. But by now, everyone has agreed that the press will pretend that Rice said something wrong that day.

It’s hard to form a coherent account of what was wrong with Rice's statements. So Gregory did the best he could. He lobbed an incoherent softball, and King went on the attack.

This is manufactured consent—a process by which career pseudo-journalists agree to tell a certain tale, no matter how far they must stretch facts and logic to do so. Gregory’s account of Rice’s alleged mistake was especially incoherent. But others have helped manufacture consent about Rice in the past week.

This blog post by Ta-Nehisi Coates make remarkably little sense. But at one point, Coates says Rice’s statement on September 16 was “deceptive.” We’ll look at this post tomorrow.

In this segment from yesterday’s program, Chris Hayes defers to Eli Lake’s claim that Rice “contradicted” the state of intelligence on September 16. Rice’s presentations didn’t contradict the intelligence—but The Puppy agreed not to say so.

(Why was the hapless Lake even allowed on this program? To review Hayes’ earlier groaners concerning Rice, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/21/12.)

Last Wednesday, the Washington Post ran this strange news report about an attack on Rice mounted by ninety-seven GOP solons. In his report, Ed O’Keefe couldn’t come up with a coherent account of Rice’s alleged misstatement. But so what! He offered a fleeting puddle of piddle, pretending that things were in order.

One day later, the New York Times published this Reuters account of Rice’s statement in her own defense. Its account of Rice’s statement on September 16 is basically incoherent.

This is the look of manufactured consent. This is what news reporting looks like when professional journalists agree as a group that they must advance, or defer to, a plainly bogus story.

By now, all news orgs have agreed to pretend that Rice said something wrong that day. It’s hard to say what she said that was wrong—but that doesn’t slow the process.

When consent is manufactured, even defenders of Rice, like Coates and Hayes, will seem to act as part of the process. Chomsky explained this general process way back in 1988. That’s why Chomsky has been banished from the major mass media.

Tomorrow, we’re moving on to a new central topic. But we'll look at that post by Coates, and at that segment by Hayes.

In the end, Coates and Hayes each defended Rice. But oh, what kind of defense is this, which goes from bad to worse?


  1. No, please stick with Rice for another month...we will need to hear more about how she is not misleading anyone about Kagame, Rwanda, M23 and the Congo...just repeating some talking points.

    1. Hey, criticize Rice all you want for what she said/did with regards to the Congo in the 1990s, but what does that have to do with Benghazi?

    2. I'm no fan of Susan Rice and I jumped on both her and Bob a week or two ago (she told some disgusting lies denying any evidence for Israeli war crimes in the 2009 Gaza War), but it is interesting how the MSM chooses what is important. In Rice's case they go after her when she probably wasn't lying, on an issue where it is hard to see any coherent way to attack her, because Republicans are doing it, and they ignore all the BS that any high-ranking American diplomat spouts as part of the job. Nobody in the MSM cares if Rice lies about actual consequential issues involving human rights. They only care about fake ginned up controversies.

      Again, I don't have much sympathy for Rice. It's how the media functions that is interesting and Bob is right about that.

  2. It's not the 90's. It's now.

    Nobody (outside of the Howler, anyway) believes her statements on current war in the Congo.

  3. The term "Manufactured Consent" was the exact one running through my head as I continued to see the press push a bogus story.

  4. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, McCain is sticking to his guns.

    You know how it is in the Wild West;

    Shoot first and ask questions later.

  5. It must be said, first of all, that Rice is, demonstably, a liar and an equivocator, as is Obama -- the same, of course, being true of everyone in national public office, most of the time and, in some cases, all of the time (Mitt Romney).

    In that light, David Gregory isn't really partisan. He just goes where power goes and where noise goes. Republicans make no end of noise about Rice? Then follow the money.... Scott Brown makes no end of noise about a box Elizabeth Warren checked 30(?) years ago and that's Gregory's first question, on a televised debate -- who cares about global warming, life and death, wealth distribution, civil liberties, foreign policy, etc.

    The trouble here is, those who complain about the Rice coverage aren't holding the media, or politicians, to account for all their *actual* lies and equivocations.

    Which is why you won't find Chomsky commenting on the Rice matter, because it's no more than a side-show, when Rice is allowed to lie, wholesale, on a bi-partisan basis, about U.S. foreign policy, and you don't hear as a much as a bleep from either David Gregory or THD.

    So can one be pardoned, for losing interest?

    1. Mitt Romney is not in national public office, and hasn't been for quite some time...

      Complaining about the coverage is about all we *can* do as private citizens to hold the media or politicians to account.

    2. The problem here is that the Howler is arguing that the media shouldn't hold Rice to account-- When Rice says that we have to wait for the FBI investigation to know what happened in Benghazi, then we just have to wait. Maybe forever. Or maybe just til after the November elections, because Rice certainly throws around the "T" word now when referring to Benghazi.

      Did she get some new talking points? Or was the Howler taken for a ride?

    3. I don't think that's what Mr. Somerby is arguing. He's merely making what should be a non-controversial point -- that if the media are going to report a story, they should do so accurately, rather than acquiescing in bogus political spin. Do you disagree with that?

    4. Anon 2:50

      The problem here is that when all the players are liars, it's impossible to assess exactly what Susan Rice was trying to do. We can't, as it were, give her the benefit of the doubt, because she's a known liar, and her presentation wasn't as ambiguous as TDH wishes it were, notwithstanding the for-profit excesses of our benighted press corps. These people need stories, after all, or they're out of business.

      Is the Obama administration capable of making claims it knows are false or misleading for political gain? Of course. It's done so, many times. That's what make this dispute so hard to adjudicate and, in the end, of so little interest.

      The fact that major TV media is both venal and incompetent (David Gregory, among others, has protested, for example, that the pre- and post-war coverage of the invasion of Iraq was simply sterling, no apology necessary) doesn't of itself make the charges about Rice false. Those claims certainly *could* be true, and her presentation was ambiguous enough to invite that charge.

      For this kind of analysis to work, we need some truth value in the argument. And, unfortunately, you can't go to either Rice or Obama for truth.

    5. Darn. I might have to start signing my name. I said something similar to this upthread.-- "It must be said, first of all, that Rice is, demonstably, a liar and an equivocator, as is Obama -- the same, of course, being true of everyone in national public office, most of the time and, in some cases, all of the time (Mitt Romney)."

      So there are several of us anonymous folk here (or at least two) who are in agreement. Rice is a liar because that's what the job is about--the US is often on the wrong side of human rights issues and so any defense of our policies is likely to involve lying. But the Dick Gregorys of the world don't care about that--they only care about manufactured political controversies regarding issues that don't make any sense.


    6. Donald -- I think that you mean "David" Gregory.

      I'm Anonymous @2:50 p.m. Thanks, Anonymous @ 4:07, for your reply. But I don't really follow it. I'll assume that you're right that Rice "is a known liar" -- I don't believe Mr. Somerby is demanding that she be "given the benefit of the doubt." He's only asking that the media accurately describe what she said, rather than distort it because Republicans are doing so.

      In other words, criticize Rice all you want for what she actually said or did, but it's not really productive to fabricate misconduct by her and then criticize her for that. In fact, that's the sort of thing that lets the media avoid focusing on actual misconduct. I would think that you (and Donald) would want the media to clarify that the criticism of Rice regarding Benghazi is without substance, and instead to report on real issues.


  6. The Republicans have long been invested in the Libyan opposition. That's their tribe. The US consulate was attacked under a Democratic president, in response to a video. The demands to assign blame to the correct tribe would mean constant denial of responsibility on one part, and not on the other. That's coming through as clear as day. Only half of that story is not their tribe -- Susan Rice and the Democratic suits -- the part involving the crude Muslim-phobic film of suspicious origins is therefore meaningless, it happened but it doesn't assign blame correctly. It's very simple why this belief came about, sheer vanity. One could speculate as to the US role in the film, but that would open up the deep state to investigation, something both parties, and therefore their corporate backers, are trained to not do.

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