People in the old Soviet Union watched state-run television but knew that what they were watching was propaganda. In the United States, the story is different. For decades people have watched CBS News or CNN, channels that are hardly distinguishable from formalized state TV, and taken it prima facie with the belief that it’s independent and rigorous.
Or as gonzo Rolling Stone columnist Matt Taibbi put it in his latest book, Hate Inc: “Most Russians at least had the decency to not believe this stuff in private. But Americans swallow similar absurdities on a regular basis.” The unique case of the propagating and manipulating US corporate media and its submissive viewers dominate the pages of Hate Inc.
With Hate Inc, Matt Taibbi has written what he set out to write: a sequel to Manufacturing Consent (1988), the classic exposé of our modern media state. But Taibbi leaves the theories to Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman in favor of his raging prose, biting analysis, and magazine reporting. Hate Inc. started as The Fairway and was originally published in segments on Substack. In October, Hate Inc. will be in whatever bookstores still exist, and while the mainstream might ignore its success, it will be rightly seen by some crowds as a must-read.
Taibbi defends his choice in the epilogue to have “liberal” MSNBC host Rachel Maddow on the cover with Fox News’ Sean Hannity. “The two characters do exactly the same work,” he writes. “The Rachel Maddow Show and The Sean Hannity Show have become Crossfire for the new generation. In this updated version of fake political combat sold as theater, the pugilists never meet in the ring.”
Chomsky himself points out that although newspapers, for example, are full of facts, these facts don’t change the nature of corporate media. “They’re all doing it within an ideological framework, which reflects the dominant hegemonic common sense,” Chomsky explains. Hate, the underlying theme of this book because of its relevance in our media and discourse, is one of these ideological trappings.
There’s a realization in Hate Inc. that we don’t need to manufacture consent in today’s world. The media executives have already done that work. Taibbi writes: “Today we bomb people basically nonstop and it never makes the news. The average American had no idea that we were at war in seven countries last year.”
Because “now more than ever, most journalists work for great, nihilistic corporations whose editorial decisions are skewered by a toxic mix of financial and political considerations,” Taibbi reminisces and advocates for a time when there was a freer press, with less censorship and fewer monopolies, a time when the media didn’t sell hate and wasn’t reality TV; and a time when there were more reporters on the beat like his dad, Mike Taibbi, who were committed to the people’s stories and the ethics of investigative journalism.
What readers or news junkies pick up while consuming the news are the toxic pieces we have left behind—and they’re almost always the stories the one percent want us to tell. News junkies follow the news because it’s hard not to. It’s an addictive product, seducing viewers and selling them things like hate. As Taibbi says, “Hatred is the partner of ignorance.”
But according to Taibbi, consuming the news doesn’t make us experts. How can you blame us? The world is complex and the media is set up so that we don’t understand these complexities.
While the media sells hate, this book doesn’t. It won’t make you feel warm or optimistic, but there are more than punchlines and progressive critiques at its core. It will push and console one’s political soul. I had fun reading it and I learned a thing or two—something that’s hard to do in this media climate.
Eventually, Taibbi reflects on how the post-Vietnam War period was rife with debates over journalism and not war. I hope we don’t make the same mistake in this era of conflict. This book should be thoughtfully critiqued, but it shouldn’t bring the attention back to Taibbi and his book. It should turn our collective ammunition toward the corporate media and the troubling world around us.