How media legitimize pre-emptive war?

The Propaganda Model

Over the course of history we have seen media align itself with state propaganda, and most intensely so at the time of war. Propaganda is very powerful tool in the legitimization of war. In 1988 Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky introduced the propaganda model in their book Manufacturing Consent – The Political Economy of the Mass Media. This model describes how “raw news” go through a set of five “filters” before actually being presented in the media as news. The model argues that the media behavior and decisions are constrained and influenced by the profit-driven system it is a part of.

The first filter concerns the size and concentration of ownership to elite groups or individuals with common interests, such as maximizing income and the desire to maintain a high social status. The concentrated size allows or substantial amounts of media control.With the limited media control, there is a big chance that any negative information regarding these corporations or individuals will be filtered or disregarded and not published at all in attempt to secure financial interests. In the U.S. today, six companies controls 90% of the media. As a comparison, in 1983 the media was owned by 50 different companies. The mainstream media has become more and more profit-driven and their goal seems to be maximizing audience number. This is especially important for the media’s main funders and the media’s most important source of income, the advertisers, whose interests constitutes the second “filter”.

The third “filter”, sourcing, is about how the media gather information. The media is dependent on a steady stream of news. One of these providers are official, powerful sources, that are usually seen as credible; this is their job, they know what they are talking about. However, that does not automatically mean that they are telling the truth. It is easy for the media to fall for this, because it is an cheap and easy way to get news. Also journalists are not suppose to be expressing their personal opinions. Instead they choose which “experts” to quote. In doing so they get to express their meaning implicitly.

One thing the media strives to avoid is negative feedback and is effective when it come from powerful sources, this constitute the fourth filter and is called flak. There are mainly three sources of flak, pressure from the government, pressure from corporations and pressure from media monitoring groups.

The final filter in the propaganda model is about creating an common, external threat or enemy. This is a scare tactic used to stigmatize or damage individuals or corporations by portraying them as a threat or any enemy. As was done with Saddam Hussein after the 9/11-attacks. Oliver Boyd-Barret also argues that there is a sixth “filter”, which to him it seems that Herman and Chomsky has purposely avoided. This is about “the direct purchase of media influence by powerful sources, or the ‘buying out’ of individual journalists on their media by government agencies and authorities.” (Boyd-Barret, 2004)

The spectacle of terrorism

The spectacle of terrorism is largely constructed around fear and terror, legitimating a sovereignty, which resides to a large degree in “the power capacity to dictate ‘who may live and who must die”” (Giroux, 2006). The spectacle politicize through a theatrics of fear and shock, mostly through the power of images. Giroux (2006) argues that the spectacle mediated through new image-based technologies, “emerges as a central force in shaping antidemocratic social relations forged in a culture of fear and death and also in legitimating the very connection between terrorism and security”.

According to Giroux (2006), “the mythic threat of terrorism and violent crime provides the state with the legitimating power to increase its security and

militaristic directions.” Even shopping mall have been turned in to possible terrorist targets.

Premedation – avoiding shock and surprise

According to Grusin (2010) having seeing Hollywood-movies such as The Independence Day (1996) or Armageddon (1998), we were already premediated to the images of huge skyscrapers collapsing. However there is a difference between those kinds of images depicted in cinema and those depicted on television, meaning that the cinematic depiction did not shock or traumatized people as opposed to how the the televisual depiction did. Grusin writes how Mary Ann Doane argues that it is in fact the televisual framing that formed the model of catastrophe. “Doane sees real-time, liveness, and instantaneity as key elements of televisual catastrophe, which works by interrupting predictability and reassurance of regularly scheduled programming. The live coverage of catastrophe on television functions both to generate anxiety and to suppress it” (Grusin, 2010, p.15). Further Grusin explains how one can maintain an almost constant low level of fear. The way future disasters and catastrophes are repeatedly premediated, “[it] guards us against the recurrence of a media trauma like 9/11” (Grusin, 2010, p.15).

The media (especially American media) is very concerned with keeping a low level of anxiety among the (American) public. It is the immediacy that the event of 9/11 brought that has caused the media to constantly premeditate the future. Grusin argues that there is no desire for experiential immediacy “but rather a fear of such immediacy, of the kind of extreme moment of immediacy or transparency that the 9/11 produced” (Grusin, 2010, p.16) Grusin argues that the premediation of the Iraq war helped explain why television coverage of the war did not produce the kind of shock or outrage that had been produced by other recent televised wars, like the US-led Gulf War of 1991.”The emergence of premediation among print, televisual, and networked news media, I suggested, was a response to the overwhelming shock and trauma of the events of 9/11;

premediating the future represented an attempt to protect the media public from the immediacy of another 9/11”.

The role of the social media

Giroux argues how, in developed countries, the screen culture dominates much of our everyday life and that “the audio-visual mode has become our primary way of coming in contact with the world and at the same time being detached (safe) for it” (Giroux, 2006). As most people might realize, most of us care a lot more about what is happening in our back yard or in our neighborhood, than what is happening out there in big world so far, far away. Still with the kind of technology we have today, we can get even closer to conflicts without being in any kind of risk.

Because of all the premedation it now takes ever increasingly spectacular images in order for us to react, or to consider a matter a public concern. There is a certain degree of normalizing shock, “in which shock becomes the structuring principle in creating certain conditions of reception for the images and discourses of terrorism and fear”(Giroux, 2006). As Grusin (2010) explains in the example of the photographs from the Abu Ghraib prison, even though we new there were similar practices elsewhere, it did not become a public concern until we actually saw the horrible “holiday snapshots”. And as Giroux puts it “They [the media] have also ushered in a new regime of the spectacle in which screen culture, and visual politics create spectacular events just as much as they recorded them”(Giroux, 2006, p.17)

According to Grusin the “social networks exist for the purpose of premediating connectivity, by promoting an anticipation that a connection will be made”. That is to say that whether it is when you update your Facebook status, you tweet, you check your email or that your phone alerts you that you got a new message, it is not about the specific connection, but “it is connectivity itself that one anticipates”(Grusin, 2010, p.128). Social media also play an important role in what Giroux call the “war of images”, where this war is not only shaped by the state and it’s politic; “to reinforce the reckless polarities between terrorists and victims”, but it is also being utilized by terrorist groups, and non-state actors. While the Bush administration used “shock and awe” to spectacularize violence,

and “encourage the fantasies of empire and the illusion of the American triumphalism packaged as a victory of civilization over barbarism”(Giroux, 2006), the insurgents use the social media to spread videos and their doctrines of fear, and recruit new members for their cause.


In the many ways the media legitimize pre-emptive war and other conflicts, using fear as a key element of persuasion, seems to be very effective in convincing the public and gain support for such conflicts. As in the words of Mary Kaldor “rather than politics being pursued through violent means, violence becomes politics. It is not conflict that leads to war but war itself that creates conflict” (Giroux 2006, p.18)

We also see a tendency in increasingly normalizing violence and gruesome images, as Giroux argues “it is ironic that the spectacle of terrorism appears perfectly matched for the U.S. media constantly in search for higher ratings”. At the same time Grusin (2010) argues ” In the security environment after 9/11, surprise is often something to be afraid of or prevented rather than to be desired or sought after. The proliferation of premediated social networks of people and things foster an anticipation of security rather than shock or surprise”. In other word, we like to view the spectacular images but we do not want to be the motives, we do not want to be surprised.



  •   Grusin, R. (2010). Premediation: Affect and Mediality After 9/11. Great Britain: Palgrave Macmillan
  •   letNOAMspeak (2008, July 24). Noam Chomsky – ‘preemptive war’. Retrieved 22.01.2014 from
  •   talkingsticktv (2006, October 5). Interview – John Strauber – The Best War Ever. Retrieved 25.01.2014 from
  •   Lutz, A. (2012, June 14). These 6 Corporations Control 90% Of The Media In America. Business Insider, Inc. Retrieved 26.02.2014 from he-media-in-america-2012-6
  •   Boyd-Barret, O. (2004) Judith Miller, The New York Times, and the Propaganda Model. Journalism Studies, Volume 5, Number 4, pp.435-499. Retrieved 26.02.2014 from ep=rep1&type=pdf
  •   Krugman, P. (2013, January 29) Incestuous Amplification, Economics Edition, The New York Times. Retrieved 26.01.2014 from on-economics-edition/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0
  •   Pillar, P.R. (2011, September 14). The Iraq War and the Power of Propaganda. The National Interest. Retrieved 26.01.2014 from
  •   Cox, G. (Last updated 2012, December 19) ON PREMEDIATION – Interview with Richard Grusin. Retrieved 26.01.2014 from
  •   Giroux, H.A. (2006) Beyond The Spectacle of Terrorism – Rethinking Politics in the Society of the Images. Retrieved 26.012014 from

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