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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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3 “we are those experts”: heartland institute and the think tank as flak mill


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“we are those experts”: heartland institute and the think tank as flak mill

Of course, not all global warming alarmists are murderers or tyrants […]

—Heartland Institute (2012, quoted in Hickman, paras. 6–7)

Introduction: A Hot News Story

The two-minute news segment from 2014 looks like many other ostensibly balanced news reports (Heartland Institute, 2014). Specifically, the Fox News segment recites the climate change paradigm in voice-over, backed by a montage of shots of forest fires and droughts. The narration then pirouettes to the arrival of good news; to wit, a report that suggests more carbon in the air is not at all bad and, in any event, human activity has a negligible impact on ground temperatures. After describing these claims as the work of a scientific panel convened by Heartland Institute, the segment executes a sound bridge to a bearded man, earnestly proffering the sweeping conclusions of a hip new wisdom: “corrupted” academic journals cannot be believed on climate change due, he claims, to what he diagnoses as their ethical failings around alleged financial and peer pressures.

The bearded man and ostensible arbiter of scientific truth is Joseph Bast, then president of Heartland Institute. The message of the Fox News segment message in which Bast prominently features is chimerical indeed; while there is little climate change to speak of, the segment suggests, Bast simultaneously posits a heat-driven boon for agriculture that is feeding “billions” of people...

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