A number of years ago, American intellectual and human rights advocate Noam Chomsky put forth the idea that in western society the powers that be manipulate the media in order to "manufacture consent." That is, they get people to focus on meaningless information or to focus on information that furthers their cause in order to keep the masses under control.
When looking at media coverage, certain aspects of Chomsky's message appear to be true.
The most poignant example occurred during the Cold War. In the late 1970s, the horrendous genocide occurring in Cambodia was very well reported. We all knew about the crimes being committed by the communist Khmer Rouge. What we did not know, however, was that not far away in East Timor, a very similar genocide was taking place. What was different was that this was being carried out by Indonesia, an American ally.
Chomsky points out that mainstream media coverage of this atrocity was almost non-existent for nearly 25 years. It was not until Indonesian president Suharto began to fall out of the graces of western leaders in the late 1990s that there was any significant coverage, little of which drew attention to the fact that Suharto had been supported in his efforts by his allies for many years.
After the Cold War, the trend to ignore significant global issues continued. In 1994, we were glued to our televisions watching the O.J. Simpson trial, yet we largely ignored the genocide happening in Rwanda.
Even with the growth of the internet and the freedom it allows us to find alternate news sources, we continue to focus on issues that are of little consequence, issues that simply fill our minds with insignificant information and make us complacent. It would appear that Chomsky is correct.
What is interesting, however, is that many people in the news media vehemently deny that there is any overt control put upon them to "manufacture consent." This has certainly been my experience as a freelance columnist. I have found editors quite happy to publish my material if I what I provide is thought provoking and well written. At times my topics are controversial and become a source of debate; but, open and respectful discussion is in itself one of the primary goals of freedom of the press.
So then why is so much more written about the lifestyle of the Kardashians than about their efforts to draw attention to the dangers of the denial of genocide in their ancestral homeland of Armenia?
Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that there is more of a market for trivial information that disguises itself as news than there is for information that is potentially world changing. Perhaps the news media is simply responding to the fact that in order to survive, especially in today's digital age, they have to give people what they want.
The argument that the media is simply responding to market demand does not necessarily disprove Chomsky's theory, but it does draw attention to the fact that we need to focus on education.
If this is indeed the case, the most important thing to teach our children is that we become what we think about. To be better people, we need to focus not only on our goodness, but also on our responsibility to become our very best. To make the world better, we need to focus on the real challenges that lie before us and join with others in a spirit of harmony in bringing this about.
Do we want a world of mediocrity and complacency, or do we want a world of positive change? Ultimately, this is the decision that each one of us has to make every day.