American Media in 2016: Those Afflicting the Comfortable Need Not Apply

by on January 11, 2016 · 0 comments

in Culture, History, Media, Politics, Under the Perfect Sun

NewsmanBy Jim Miller

Just before the New Year I highlighted Project Censored’s pick for the most underreported story of 2015—the fact that 2016 will be when the top 1% will control half of the world’s wealth).

In that same column I focused on two other largely ignored stories that broke subsequent to Project Censored’s annual report that also underline the perils of domestic and international economic inequality.

The first addresses the end of the American middle class’s majority status and the second examines the disproportionately negative effect that the global elite’s consumption has on greenhouse gas production.

These crucially important news stories should be shaping our national discourse but, unfortunately, they never make it through a sufficient number of what Noam Chomsky calls the corporate news “filters” to make a significant impact.

Indeed in the final weeks of 2015, one of our nation’s most important papers provided a case study in how corporate news is shaped. Last week Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR) posted an interesting piece by Dean Baker that shows the embarrassing (and damaging) consequences of the American media’s blind spot with regard to class. In “Convincing the Young to Blame the Old, Not the Rich,” Baker takes the Washington Post to task for publishing a column by Catherine Rampell devoted to “trying to get young people angry at their parents and grandparents so that they are not bothered by the enormous upward redistribution of income taking place in this country.”

As Baker notes, Rampell begins by chastising college students for spending too much time worrying about racism and sexism when they could be blaming the old for Social Security, Medicare, the Affordable Care Act, debt, and climate change. More specifically Rampell argues that:

“Invincible” youngsters are subsidizing health care for their not-yet-Medicare-eligible elders on the individual insurance market as well. And elsewhere on government balance sheets, spending on the old is crowding out spending on the young. At the state level, politicians have responded to swelling pension obligations by disinvesting from public higher education. These funding cuts have then been offset with massive tuition hikes—which fall to, you guessed it, today’s college students.

Fiscal issues of course aren’t the only way that young people have been done wrong by their elders. The warming of our planet and some politicians’ promises to undermine what small progress has been made to curb climate change also come to mind.

Take that Grampa!

After systematically debunking Rampell’s silly framing for both its factual inaccuracy and its complete blindness to the larger economic picture, Baker points out the obvious fact that it is our growing plutocracy that is most responsible for the sins Rampell lays at the feet of her elders. Baker then concludes his piece by duly noting that it is not really Rampell who is the problem but the larger media landscape she occupies:

The Post and other major news outlets have enormously failed the country in their coverage of global warming, but like the overwhelming majority of people of my generation, I don’t own a news outlet. So if you want to be honest in directing anger, use your next column to tell the world what an awful person your employer is. We look forward to that one.

Perhaps columns like Rampell’s wouldn’t be an issue at all if there were some kind of balance in the American media, particularly when it comes to economic issues, but sadly the game is thoroughly rigged against any kind of systemic analysis of economic inequality and those who are contesting it.

A case in point is yet another example from the Washington Post (perhaps the most important American paper next to the New York Times) with their recent firing of progressive columnist Harold Meyerson. As Jake Johnson reports in Slant, “it appears to be his work on labor that did him in, despite claims by the Post that their recent decision to drop Meyerson’s column was not ideologically motivated.”

Final score: Elder bashing 1, Afflicting the comfortable, 0.

And, while we drift further toward an entrenched oligarchy, this ideologically motivated firing matters a lot because, as Talking Union aptly observed in the wake of Meyerson’s firing:

More than any other columnist for a major U.S. newspaper, Meyerson provided ongoing coverage and incisive analysis of the nation’s labor movement and other progressive causes as well as the changing economy and the increasing aggressiveness of big business in American politics. He was one of the few columnists in the country who knew labor leaders and grassroots activists by name, and who could write sympathetically and knowledgeably about working people’s experiences in their workplaces and communities.

Since Steve Greenhouse retired last year as the New York Times’ brilliant labor reporter, no other major paper has a reporter who covers unions and working people on a full-time basis. Now with Meyerson’s firing, there’s not one weekly columnist who understands the ins and outs of organized (and disorganized) labor.

So it goes in the neoliberal era, as labor reporting from a working class perspective in America’s major media outlets has just become an extinct species. As Johnson puts it:

Meyerson’s firing runs counter to the Republican narrative that the media has been taken over by “liberals” in an insidious plot to uproot conservative values. In reality, writers like Meyerson — those who write from the perspective of the working class and those who understand deeply the obstacles facing American labor — are increasingly being pushed to the margins, while pro-business voices experience no trouble finding a platform.

Thus, in the mainstream corporate media, we are likely to get more and more silly, context-free blather from the likes of Rampell designed to get us all riled up at the wrong people as those benefiting from our increasingly unequal society laugh all the way to the bank.

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