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The Rise of Weaponized Flak in the New Media Era

Beyond the Propaganda Model


Brian Michael Goss

The Rise of Weaponized Flak in the New Media Era presents the first book-length examination of flak as a form of political harassment, authored by a seasoned researcher on political discourse and mass media. Flak against news media was a component of the Edward Herman-Noam Chomsky seminal "Propaganda Model." However, in the thirty years since the model was introduced, flak has become an increasingly significant and prevalent sociopolitical force in its own right, in large part for the proliferation of new media platforms. Flak is not simply good faith or tough criticism. Rather, flak discourses and actions go on attack for the purpose of delegitimizing, disabling, and even criminalizing political foes, however tendentiously. The book presents cross-disciplinary appeal for students and scholars of mass media, new media, political science, and sociology—as well as for anyone concerned with today’s sociopolitical environment.

Given the book’s seminal examination of the topic, the introductory chapters in Part I extensively map out flak’s current forms and delineate similarities and distinctions from scandal and activism. Newly-minted terminology is introduced to flesh-out contemporary flak (for example, flak-in-discourse, boutique flak, phantom flak).

The balance of the book is organized around case studies of flak mills (Part II) and flak issues (Part III). In particular, Part II drills down into the flak discourses and techniques of dedicated flak mills that characterize themselves as, respectively, journalistic and think tank organizations. Part III of the book features case studies of flak around elections and universities in the United States.

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1 1988/2016: from pac and flak to hack and flak


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1988/2016: from pac and flak to hack and flak

Introduction: Remembering 1988

The year 1988 witnessed two events of considerable interest to the study of flak as a sociopolitical force.

The first event was the publication of Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent in which the authors introduced their propaganda model. In presenting their structuralist account of the behavior of news media in the contemporaneous United States, Herman and Chomsky’s objective was to illuminate “a propaganda system at work where the media are private and formal censorship is absent” (1988, p. 1); a system far more supple and decentered than the then-terminally ill Soviet system. Herman and Chomsky were interested in how a force that steers the conduct of news workers is exerted without evident force for having been embedded within a framework of robust formal freedoms.

In explaining the paradox, Herman and Chomsky (1988) posit five systemic filters that condition the performance of news workers and the resultant news narratives. In their account, the filters behave in concert to palpably but un-coercively bring news into alignment with powerful (capitalist, nationalist) interests. Herman and Chomsky characterize news as filtered from the ←3 | 4→start through oligopolistic ownership patterns. Thereafter, news is conditioned by commercial imperatives (transacting the delivery of an audience to advertisers in exchange for revenue), sourcing patterns (massively tilted toward elite information brokers) and unswerving ideological opposition to the communist Other (recall that this was 1988...

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