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  • Writer's pictureNicoletta Fagiolo

Edward S. Herman, Fourth power in the name of truth

Professor emeritus of finance at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, public intellectual, political economist and medias specialist Edward S. Herman, most known for having co-authored with Noam Chomsky[i] the classic Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, on the use of propaganda news throughout the 20th century media, died on 11 November 2017 at the age of 92.

Rolling Stone writer Matt Taibbi in his obituary dedicated to Herman described Manufacturing Consent as “a kind of Bible of media criticism for a generation of dissident thinkers,”[ii] underlining how it is needed more than ever today.

In 1970 Herman wrote a small booklet Atrocities in Vietnam: Myths and Realities were he explains how war propaganda makes use of what he coined as “atrocities management”: propaganda to divert attention away from U.S.-organized and approved violence, and onto that of its enemies. The demonization of the other is an essential ingredient: the U.S. establishment and the media depicted the indigenous National Liberation Front (NLF, "Vietcong") as “sinister killers ("terrorists"), when in fact the terror of the U.S. and its local and foreign proxies was worse by a very large factor. “[iii]

In a recent interview Edward S. Herman explained the birth of Manufacturing Consent linking it to his background in banking, regulatory financial systems and corporate control as well as the work he had done on conflict of interest in the banking sector. This exposed him early on to study the structural power and institutional aspects of media. Herman’s 1981 book Corporate Control, Corporate Power - which was an update of Adolf Berle and Gardiner Means 1932 book, The Modern Corporation and Private Property- then led to Manufacturing consent which traces back to his “economist studies of industrial structure, because it's really a structural analysis of the media.”[iv]


Ownership, advertising, sourcing, flack (negative feedback) and anti-communism are analytical figures of the propaganda model when Manufacturing Consent was published in 1988. The model was applied in their writings to debunk self-serving geo-political strategies from the U.S. aggression in Vietnam, Central, South America and the Caribbean, Israeli oppression of Palestinians, Indonesian massacres in East Timor, the Yugoslav wars, the U.S. war in Iraq, and mass murders committed through proxy wars in Africa: Sudan, Rwanda and today’s on-going war in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Twenty years after its first publication in 1988 Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman note that flak has very likely become more important as a constraint, as government has become more aggressive in punishing media deviations from the official line. Instead the system of propaganda known as the Cold War, or anti-communism has since “morphed into an array of substitutes. But the structural role that anti-communism and its successors have played, namely the provision of an Enemy or the Face of Evil, remains as relevant as ever.”[v] The case studies in the second edition were expanded to include the media’s treatment of the Mexican financial meltdown of 1994-1995; protests against the World Trade Organization, World Bank, and International Monetary Fund in 1999 -2000, and the chemical industry and its regulation.

Edward S. Herman also ran Lies of Our Times (LOOT), a political magazine published between January 1990 and December 1994. Chomsky remembers it was a great magazine. LOOT detailed the inaccuracies of articles published by the New York Times and other mainstream press.

The propaganda model, Herman argues, was also used in the Yugoslav war to justify NATO intervention: “With perfect timing, on May 27 Arbour announced the indictment of Milosevic, based on data about alleged Serb killings provided by U.S. intelligence but otherwise unconfirmed. This enabled Albright to note that the indictments “make clear to the world and the publics in our countries that this [NATO policy] is justified” (May 27, 1999), facilitating further bombing—and further NATO violations of international law.”[vi] Such a gross misrepresentation of the patterns of violence on the ground lead to a dangerous lawfare, which Herman exposed in his book The Trial of Slobodan Milosevic. In The Dismantling of Yugoslavia, A Study in Inhumanitarian Intervention (and a Western Liberal-Left Intellectual and Moral Collapse) Herman and Peterson point to the supportive role played by liberals and leftists who, ignoring the geopolitical context, upheld “a tsunami of lies and misrepresentations in whose wake the world is still reeling.”[vii]

Edward S. Herman last book, written in 2014 together with journalist David Peterson, Enduring Lies, The Rwandan genocide in the Propaganda System, 20 years later, focuses on what he considered the most misrepresented series of major events over the past twenty years. They provide hard facts that counter the standard account of the Rwandan ‘genocide.’

The largely accepted version that has been in the limelight for over 20 years defines the events as a genocide against Rwanda’s Tutsi minority perpetuated by hard line Hutus close to then Habyarimana government. The Tutsi genocide was halted by Kagame’s Tutsi-dominated, armed wing of the rebel Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) - today’s ruling party- when it declared military victory over the government forces in July 1994.

Herman and Peterson argues that there was no genocide, instead this word was instrumentalized to obfuscate the international US UK proxy war which began with the invasion of northern Rwanda from Uganda on 1 October 1990. A forty-five months long war ensued.

They remind us that in contrast to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait just two months before, which was countered in the United Nations Security Council by the same-day demand that Iraq withdraw its forces immediately, the UNSC did not authorize an observer mission in Rwanda till June 1993 by which time the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) rebels has occupied much of northern Rwanda and had displaced up to one million Hutu farmers.

This standard model of the Rwandan ‘genocide’ has today “entered into the establishment history books and promulgated within the field of genocide studies, in documentaries in the official history at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, and even proclaimed for on high by the UN security Council in April 2014”[viii]. On 16 April 2014 the UN Security Council in a session devoted to the prevention and fight against genocide passed a resolution which acknowledged the International Criminal Tribunal of Rwanda (ICTR) judicial notice of genocide against Rwanda’s Tutsi minority, condemning who would question the events as deniers. “We do not believe that the Security Council has ever been used in this manner previously (i.e. to issue the proclamation about the truth of an historical event), comment Herman and Peterson. “ [ix]

“I know that he was bitterly attacked, and that he and David Peterson regularly responded in detail”, says Noam Chomsky.[x] We're not genocide deniers. We just want to uncover the truth about Rwanda and Srebrenica was one such article written for the Guardian in July 2011.[xi]

Edward Herman reminds us that conveyors of misinformation are structural to the propaganda model. The dominant interpretative framework for much of the reporting on Rwanda was established as early as 1993 through baseless papers by the NGO Human Rights Watch, as well as the United Nations. The report was drafted having spent two hours in the RPF-held area and two weeks in all in Rwanda. World renown legal scholar William Schabas, a Canadian member of the 1993 commission report, issued a press release at the time that bore the title “Genocide and war crimes in Rwanda.”

Herman writes: “In fact, what Kagame’s Tutsi-dominated RPF overthrew was a multiethnic, power-sharing, coalition government; what Kagame imposed was a Tutsi-dominated dictatorship; and what Kagame turned Rwanda and the whole of Central Africa into was a rolling genocide that is still ongoing— but it is true that he is a shining “star” in the Western firmament and its propaganda system.[xii]

Dissenters from the largely accepted official version are not only attacked as genocide deniers but are also hardly given any access to mainstream media. In Enduring Lies Herman and Peterson reveal that over a ten year period (2004-2014) no less than 14 out of 20 dissenters had zero byline access to express their perspectives on Rwanda 1994.

Herman and Peterson expose the position of son in law of Secretary of State James Rubin, Philip Gourevitch, author of We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families, one of Kagame’s prime apologists, concerning the dying refugees in eastern Congo: “As for the much larger Hutu refugee camps in Zaire-DRC Gourevitch descends to the outrageous. Many of the refugees did not deserve refugee status –they were “ fugitives fleeing criminal persecution” in Kagame’s newly liberated Rwanda and all of us who payed taxes in countries that payed the UN refugee agency were feeding them”. Worse he complains, “breeding more Hutu was Hutu Power policy” at these camps, thus they did not deserve refugee entitlements”, Herman and Peterson conclude “ this is possibly the sickest performance of the many apologists for a real genocide.”[xiii]

Watching the harrowing images shot by independent Austrian filmmaker Hubert Sauper, Kisangani Diary [xiv], on the ground at the time, who filmed the dying Rwandan Hutu refugees, one can understand Herman’s disgust. The Democratic Republic of Congo has seen millions of people die since 1996 and there is no end in sight. The enduring lies have contributed and continue to contribute to fuelling the crisis.

Herman writes on the conveyors of disinformation in this on-going crisis: “they are actually opposing the misallocation of responsibility for genocide in Rwanda and apologetic for a second and larger genocide in the Democratic Republic of Congo.”[xv]

In the forward to Edward S. Herman and David Peterson 2010 Politics of genocide, commenting on the contemporary vulgar politicization and misappropriation of the term ‘genocide’ Noam Chomsky writes: ”perhaps the most honourable course would be to expunge it from the vocabulary until the day, if it ever comes, when honesty and integrity can become an “emerging norm.”[xvi] Noam Chomsky draws a parallel between the 16-century doctrine of discovery in the European conquest of the Caribbean and later North America, with the present day doctrine of “the responsibility to protect”. Comparable to the riches of the Americas in the 16 to 18 century is today’s Democratic Republic of Congo.

Experts in Caribbean history, the first theatre of European expansion as well as the fulcrum of the modern capitalist system, are only today uncovering 525 years of enduring lies through archaeological findings, DNA testing as well as more recent historical research, thus debunking the “myth of extinction” which accompanied the doctrine of discovery, justifying the racialization as inferior of millions of people in the name of empire. The reappropriation of a truer historical identity for the native Caribbean people is happening 525 years after the fact. Do we have to wait till 2519 to see the true history of Rwanda 1994 and the Democratic Republic of Congo emerge in the limelight?

A clue Herman left us to seek out fake news in his last article Fake News on Russia and Other Official Enemies The New York Times, 1917–2017: “mainstream media fake news is especially likely where a party line is quickly formed on a topic, with any deviations therefore immediately dismissed as naïve, unpatriotic, or simply wrong.” [xvii]

Edward S. Herman’s message for those who pursue real news as opposed to fake news is about getting the story right first. That entails reading 40,000 pages of the Milosevic trial, as he did, before expressing an opinion. A ‘fourth power’ that would make a regular use of the propaganda model as an analytical tool, would be a blueprint for a better world.

[i] Edward S. Herman co-authored four books with Noam Chomsky: Counter-Revolutionary Violence: Bloodbaths in Fact & Propaganda (1973), The Political Economy of Human Rights, Volume I: The Washington Connection and Third World Fascism (1973); The Political Economy of Human Rights, Volume II: After the Cataclysm: Postwar Indochina and the Reconstruction of Imperial Ideology (1979).

Other books include: Richard Du Boff and Edward Herman, America’s Vietnam Policy: The Strategy of Deception (Washington, D.C.: Public Affairs, 1966); the Real Terror Network; The Global Media (with Robert McChesney); The "Terrorism" Industry (1990) ; Beyond hypocrisy : decoding the news in an age of propaganda : including A doublespeak dictionary for the 1990s; Triumph of the Market (1995); with Philip Hammond, Degraded Capability: The Media and the Kosovo Crisis (Pluto, 2000); The Trial of Slobodan Milosevic (Michael Barratt Brown, Edward S. Herman, David Peterson) (2004); The Politics of Genocide (2010) and Enduring Lies (2014) among others.

[ii] Matt Taibbi Edward Herman, Who Co-Wrote a Book That's Now More Important Than Ever 13 November 2017

[iii] Edward S. Herman, Atrocities Management,

[iv] Edward S. Herman, interview with Paul Jay, the real news, 1 July 2012

[v] Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman interviewed by Andrew Mullen, Propaganda Model after 20 Years: Interview with Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky, Westminster Papers in Communiction and Culture, November 2009

[vi] Edward S. Herman, The Milosevic Trial, Part 1, April 1 2002, Zedcommunications

[vii] Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, The Dismantling of Yugoslavia (Part I), Monthly Review, Volume 59, Issue 05 (October)

[viii] Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, Enduring Lies, The Rwandan genocide in the propaganda system, 20 years later, the real news books, 2014op. cit. p 9

[ix] Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, Enduring Lies, op. cit. p.67

[x] Noam Chomsky, email to author, Novembre 2017.

[xi] Edward Herman and David Peterson, We're not genocide deniers. We just want to uncover the truth about Rwanda and Srebrenica, The Guardian, 11 July 2011

[xii] Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, The Politics of Genocide, The Monthly Review Press, New York City, 2010. p 63

[xiii] Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, Enduring Lies, op.cit. p 70

[xiv] Hubert Sauper, Kisangani Diary 1998

[xv] Edward Herman and David Peterson, Enduring Lies, op.cit. p 73.

[xvi] Noam Chomsky, forward to Edward S. Herman and David Peterson, The Politics of Genocide,op. cit. p. 12


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