letter to someone:
I think you have a distorted view of the reality of the public forum in the US. You write, "I think it should be pretty clear that there's a wide range of intellectual opinion in the US, including Chomsky himself.", in an attempt to refute Chomsky's argument that "in the bourgeois democracy of the US, the American elite only maintains its legitimacy through a kind of self-brainwashing which differs from Soviet totalitarianism only by being more subtle and more effective."
You overlook the point (and Chomsky himself has said this) that what is critical is what most people get a chance to hear. Basically if most of the people are fooled most of the time, that is not a desirable system. THAT is the problem. And the fact that there is a "wide range of intellectual opinion" is not meaningful to what influences the public if the public does not get the practical chance to hear from that wide range. By this I mean it does people no good that there is a book somewhere that contains information if people are unaware of it and have a distorted idea of what it says. (if they even knew about it to read it) What is presented is a narrow range to most people by a media that is owned by rich and powerful people.
You write "As an aside, I would also suggest that anyone who wants to be well-informed about international politics should switch off their TV." I agree that mainstream TV is a poor tool to educate oneself. But that is because of the ownership and control. Here is where I think you miss the point because you write, " Even the best-intentioned TV news director isn't capable of presenting the complexities of international politics on TV." I disagree, I have seen shows about many topics on TV about complex issues. The problem is the issues that the rich and powerful prefer the public not get a chance to hear get left off the table. This is called "playing the game". Those selected to present the news either think the way the bosses want or pretend to, otherwise they don't have a job. Even the best-intentioned TV news director is intent on getting paid. Going against what the owners want isn't the way to maintain job security. Advertisers pay the bills and bosses cater to their viewpoints and waht they think is their viewpoints.
I actually talked to someone who said they worked in the media. (they didn't want to give their name, think about that.) I asked him why mainstream TV didn't have Chomsky as a guest to explain his views about 9/11. The guy claimed that Chomsky was a "poor speaker", that he wasn't "good" on TV. So that was why he was invited as a guest on TV. I didn't agree with his claim but said that even if "Chomsky is a poor speaker", Chomsky's ideas could have been explained on TV. I said that they managed to communicate the complex idea about how the WTC had collapsed and that was accomplished even without in the architect explaining it himself. I made the point that Chomsky's points could be presented without Chomsky having to speak them if he is "such a poor speaker". The guy quickly walked away! The thing is people in the media "play the game" and they do it as people that internalized the beliefs or they fake it.
You can see the bias by what isn't reported. There are many dramatic examples, Chomsky has pointed many out. If you want a really good book about Chomsky's thinking, get Understanding Power. You can get it at my web site http://www.RepresentativePress.org A good example is that not one mainstream reporter pointed out that Bush lied about America was attacked on 9/11. No one mainstream reporter has reported that the U.S. backed the coup that installed the Baath party and gave names of peole over to the Baath party to be killed. These are dramatic examples.