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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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6 “indoctrination,” “persecution,” “control”: flak goes to college


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“indoctrination,” “persecution,” “control”: flak goes to college

Central European University “has been forced out [of Hungary]. This is unprecedented. A U.S. institution has been driven out of a country that is a NATO ally. A European institution has been ousted from a member state of the EU.

—Central European University President and Rector Michael Ignatieff (quoted in Central European University Newsroom, 2018, para. 3)

Introduction: School’s Out

Central European University (CEU) was founded in 1991 in the aftermath of the revolts against command socialism and the Soviet Union. Originating with funds from Hungarian-born George Soros, a longtime magnet of furious right-wing flak, (cf., Emery, 2018; Goss, 2013, pp. 159–164), the avowed mission of the campus has been to advance classical liberalism and democracy in the post-Soviet epoch. As professor and public intellectual Cas Mudde observes of his time at CEU earlier in his career, the campus is a “uniquely international, world-class university which [has] attracted talented faculty and graduate students from across Europe and the world” (2018, para. 2). According to CEU’s web page, the campus can boast three programs rated in the top 50 globally (Central European University, 2019) and is also the ←161 | 162→region’s most successful applicant for European Union research grant funds (Central European University, 2018, para. 3).

The shuttering of the highly regarded campus in Budapest can be called flak against an organization. Fidesz, the hard-right party of Hungarian President Viktor...

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