Dale Tavris — World News Trust
Oct. 7, 2009 — Much has been said by progressives in recent years to the effect that the Republican Party is heartless and the Democratic Party is spineless. I will agree that the Republican Party – its elected politicians, that is – is heartless.
Characterizing the Democratic Party as spineless is a somewhat more complicated issue. I am a very non-judgmental person, and I don’t like to characterize them as such. Let’s just say that not many of them are up to the monumental task set before them of standing up for decency and the American people, while simultaneously trying to hang on to their jobs and influence.
That the American public is aware of the problem is amply demonstrated by abysmal Congressional job approval ratings over the past several years. Shortly before Democrats consolidated their control of Congress in the 2008 elections, Congressional job approval had dropped into the teens, plunging as low as 12% approval (to 79% disapproval). Since then Congressional job approval has improved somewhat, rising into the high 30s by May 2009, but now is again down into the 20s.
So why on earth do we keep electing these people? Clearly, our system – that is, our democracy – has become seriously dysfunctional. Although the vast majority of Americans strongly disapprove of their Congress, a good majority of them approve of their own Congresspersons. That is only because of the vast sums of money that are injected into our political process. By contributing vast sums of money to politicians who show an eagerness to support the corporate agenda of the rich and powerful, two evil results are accomplished simultaneously: 1) Those politicians are “persuaded” to support the agenda of those who shower money upon them; and 2) That same money, used to spread disinformation, confuses voters to the point where only the most astute are aware of the anti-people agenda pushed by their elected representatives.
Corporate control of the media adds substantially to the problem. And they don’t even have to pay for that. Through their control of the media they distort reality to persuade many Americans that Congressional Democrats are way left of center, when in fact they are right of center. There are many Americans whose opinions are to the left of most Congressional Democrats, and yet they are led to believe that their interests are better represented by far right Republicans.
One of the most unfortunate results of corporate control of the media is that even Congressional Democrats who can’t be bought are afraid to stray too far from the corporate line, for fear of being lambasted by the corporate media. That kind of attitude is often seen as “lacking spine”. And perhaps it is to some extent.
THE DOUBLE STANDARD
The “double standard” is perhaps the primary mechanism by which the corporate media pushes its agenda on the American people. There are way too many Americans who think that something is legitimate “news” just because the media talks about it incessantly. Similarly, we are led to believe that issues that are not covered by the corporate media are not worthy of our attention – for example the toxic effects of corporate control of the news media. Here are some examples of how the corporate news media applies a double standard in the way it deals with liberals, progressives, and the powerless on the one hand, as opposed to how it deals with the powerful.
Accountability for crimes
ACORN, an advocate organization for low- and moderate-income families that helps people register to vote and provides a variety of other social services, has long been a favorite target for right wing and corporate media attack. Republicans, with abundant help from the corporate media, have made a great big deal out of occasional individual misbehavior by some ACORN employees. One of the most well known incidents was the submitting of fraudulent voter registrations by some ACORN employees, in an attempt to defraud ACORN itself into paying them more money. Republicans made this incident into a conspiracy of widespread “voter fraud”, though it had nothing to do with voter fraud, since the fraudulent registration forms could not be used to allow voters to vote more than once.
Thus Republicans, with much help from the corporate media, made “voter fraud” into a widely publicized issue in our country, claiming that Democrats regularly engage in it, though it is quite rare. By contrast, Republican operatives perpetrated the illegal purging of tens of thousands of mostly Democratic voters in Florida in 2000 and hundreds of thousands in Ohio in 2004, providing the margin of “victory” in both of George W. Bush’s presidential runs. Yet, the “mainstream” news media hardly covered these attacks on American democracy.
Because of recent apparent malfeasance by a few ACORN employees in giving improper tax advice in the course of a sting operation, Congress voted by large margins to defund ACORN. Yet by comparison Congress routinely turns their backs on much worse malfeasance on the part of powerful corporations. For example, consider Blackwater USA, the mercenary corporation that contracted with the Bush administration to provide “diplomatic security” in Iraq. On September 16th, 2007, Blackwater forces protecting a U.S. State Department official opened fire on an Iraqi vehicle. The incident was described in The Nation by Jeremy Scahill:
Yet little was done about this, and our government has continued to dole out huge amounts of money to Blackwater ever since. So, let’s ask ourselves which is a more serious crime: filling out a few fraudulent forms in order to make a little extra money, or killing 28 civilians in a country that we’re supposed to be protecting? In my opinion, the latter is at least a hundred times more serious than the former. Yet our media makes a great big deal out of the former while barely mentioning the latter. Where is the sense of proportion?
One of the most important purposes of a free press is to provide a nation’s citizens with accurate information. Yet our corporate media routinely remains silent in the face of blatant lies spouted by right wing politicians in the full knowledge that they won’t be called to account for their lies. That isn’t professional neutrality. It’s simply a shirking of their responsibility.
When the Bush administration led us into war in Iraq, many of its arguments for war were obvious lies, while none of them were supported by any credible evidence. Yet our corporate media maintained silence on these lies at best, or supported them at worst. For example, on September 7, 2002, Bush claimed that a new U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report stated Iraq is six months from developing a nuclear weapon – though no such report existed. Isn’t that something that should have been of interest of the American public? Shouldn’t Bush’s lie have been a major scandal? Yet, our corporate media said nothing about this blatant lie to lead us into war. What would they have they said if a Democratic president told a lie like that?
When Republicans try to scare the American people away from supporting a public health insurance option, they rant about government “death panels”, rationing of health care, denying American citizens their choice of doctor, and taking over the health care industry. Why don’t the “mainstream” media ever step in to clarify for the American people that health care is currently severely rationed by the health insurance industry and that the public option is an option, not a mandate? Isn’t it important that Americans have that information clarified for them? What is a free press for, if not to provide our citizens with the knowledge they need in order to make informed political decisions?
Then there was the consistent effort by the “mainstream” media in the run-up to the 2000 presidential election to paint Al Gore as a liar, though it never did document a single Al Gore lie, while missing numerous opportunities to show George W. Bush for the liar that he was – and is. When Cokie Roberts, a supposedly neutral “mainstream” talking head, was asked why the media utterly failed to expose George Bush’s lies during the 2000 election campaign, she replied “The story line is Bush isn’t smart enough and Gore isn’t straight enough. In Bush’s case, you know he’s just misstating as opposed to it playing into a story line about him being a serial exaggerator”. And that’s what today’s “mainstream” journalism is all about: “story lines” – created by the corporate media to serve their own purposes.
Handling of presidential candidates
Tim Russert and the show that he moderated, Meet the Press, have long been regarded as being representative of mainstream journalism at its finest and most professionally neutral. But consideration of how he treated the 2004 presidential candidates puts the lie to that idea.
George W. Bush appeared on Meet the Press on February 8th, 2004, desperate for some good press in support of his presidential re-election campaign, following the exposure of his lies about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq by chief U.S. weapons inspector, David Kay. Bush chose Russert for that task, and Russert didn’t disappoint him. Anothony Lappe describes the interview in his book, “True Lies”:
In that same interview, in response to Russert’s asking if he would authorize the release of his military records to settle the question of whether or not Bush was AWOL from the National Guard, Bush answered “Yes, absolutely. We did so in 2000, by the way.” Russert, regarded as one of the most well prepared journalists on television, must have known that that was a bald faced lie. Researcher Marty Heldt had previously publicly made clear that his efforts to obtain information on Bush’s military records through the Freedom of Information Act had been rejected. But Russert just let that slide.
In stark contrast to Russert’s handling of George W. Bush, when he interviewed Howard Dean, then frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination, on June 22nd, 2003, he did everything he could to destroy him.
Pulling out a highly partisan analysis of Dean’s tax plan, Russert asked Dean, “Can you honestly go across the country and say, “I’m going to raise your taxes 4,000 percent or 107 percent and be elected?” Then Russert erroneously informed his viewers that Dean’s teenage son had been indicted for stealing beer. And later, when Dean was unable to answer Russert’s question about the exact number of men and women currently serving in the U.S. military, Russert went after him like a pitbull, lecturing him, “As commander in Chief, you should know that.”
And who could forget the “Dean Scream”, which buried Dean’s presidential candidacy once and for all. Picking up Dean’s fiery oratory directly from his microphone, which tuned out a room full of thousands of people screaming and cheering, the way it was presented
Pillorying selected politicians for failing to tow the corporate line
Senator Richard Durbin made the “mistake” in 2005 of telling the American people about Bush administration torture before our corporate media was ready to hear about it – or rather at a point in time when they thought that they might be able to keep the whole sordid affair under wraps. Durbin said in his speech:
hundreds of times to TV audiences across the country made Dean sound like some kind of a madman.
When you read some of the graphic descriptions of what has occurred here – I almost hesitate to put them in the record, and yet they have to be added to this debate. Let me read to you what on FBI agent saw. And I quote from his report:
If I read this to you and did not tell you that it was an FBI agent describing what Americans had done to prisoners in their control, you would most certainly believe this must have been done by Nazis, Soviets in the gulags, or some mad regime – Pol Pot or others – that had no concern for human beings….
It is not too late. I hope we will learn from history. I hope we will change course. The president could declare the United States will apply the Geneva Conventions to the war on terrorism. He could declare, as he should, that the United States will not, under any circumstances, subject any detainee to torture, or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. The administration could give all detainees a meaningful opportunity to challenge their detention before a neutral decision maker.
Such a change would dramatically improve our image and it would make us safer. I hope this administration will choose that course. If they do not, Congress must step in.
This was one of the most courageous speeches by a Congressperson that I’ve ever heard. Durbin was attempting to do what our press is supposed to do – provide information to the American people and to Congress in the hope of stimulating desperately needed discourse and enabling them to make informed decisions. Instead he became the target of such venomous abuse that he was pressured into apologizing for his courageous speech.
“ILLIGITIMATE” AND “LEGITIMVATE” VOICES
One of the best clues to the state of the media in our country can be ascertained by considering who they present as legitimate sources of news and opinion. In their effort to appear balanced or neutral, they give us political talk shows that pretend to pit conservatives against liberals, but in reality pit fringe right wingers against moderates or those with little or no ideological motivation. When shown side by side with fringe right wingers, most normal people appear liberal by comparison. Those who are actually liberal, on the other hand, are largely marginalized – treated as if they have little or no legitimate role in our national political dialogue:
This weekend I glanced at my TV and saw in quick succession Michael Moore, Eliot Spitzer and Paul Krugman talking to me about serious political issues. For a brief moment – probably less than a second – I thought “Wow, this is great”. Then I realized that this was not a “mainstream” TV show. It was “HBO on Demand”, with an episode of Comedy Central, hosted by Bill Maher. Well, it may have been comedy, but the issues were far more serious than what you usually get with “mainstream” news. And the speakers were far better qualified to talk to the American people than the hacks we usually see on “mainstream” news.
Yet “mainstream” TV news avoids these kinds of people like the plague. They are considered fringe liberals or not credible for any reason under the sun. You rarely see them on “mainstream” TV outside of MSNBC’s “Countdown” and “The Rachel Maddow Show” And here is why:
Krugman is a Nobel Prize winning economist whose primary interest for a long time has been to persuade our country to pass a viable form of universal health care. He has been unusually forthright and clear in explaining why our country needs it. From his book, “The Conscience of a Liberal”:
Getting universal care should be the key domestic priority for modern liberals. Once they succeed there, they can turn to the broader, more difficult task of reining in American inequality.
And this is what he said about the need for “bipartisanship” when it comes to fighting for universal health care:
To be a progressive, then, means being partisan – at least for now. The only way a progressive agenda can be enacted is if Democrats have both the presidency and a large enough majority in Congress to overcome Republican opposition. And achieving that kind of political preponderance will require leadership that makes opponents of the progressive agenda pay a political price for their obstructionism – leadership that, like FDR, welcomes the hatred of the interest groups trying to prevent us from making our society better.
Oh, heavens! He’s not only acting partisan, but he’s trying to explode the myth that bipartisanship is what makes our country function. No wonder the “mainstream” news media dislikes him so much. So what if three quarters of the American people agree with him on this issue? He’s preaching socialism! He’s a fringe liberal!
Michael Moore is forever trying to question the way our country is run. He produced “Fahrenheit 9/11”, which questioned the way our government handled the worst attack on American soil since Pearl Harbor. And now he’s at it again, with his new film, questioning the very economic system that brought us to our current state of economic inequality. Summarizing his new movie, he said:
I have come to believe that there is no getting around the fact that capitalism is opposite everything that Jesus (and Moses and Mohammed and Buddha) taught. All the great religions are clear about one thing: It is evil to take the majority of the pie and leave what’s left for everyone to fight over. Jesus… told us that we had to be our brother’s and sister’s keepers and that the riches that did exist were to be divided fairly. He said that if you failed to house the homeless and feed the hungry, you’d have a hard time finding the pin code to the pearly gates.
Most Americans believe that a sex scandal was what drummed Eliot Spitzer out of politics. Well, then consider this:
Spitzer had become increasingly public in blaming the Bush administration for the subprime crisis…. On February 14, the Washington Post published an editorial by Spitzer titled, “Predatory Lenders’ Partner in Crime: How the Bush Administration Stopped the States From Stepping In to Help Consumers,” which charged, “Not only did the Bush administration do nothing to protect consumers, it embarked on an aggressive and unprecedented campaign to prevent states from protecting their residents from the very problems to which the federal government was turning a blind eye.”
Then we have some of the most well known talking heads in television, corporatist hacks presented as serious and legitimate journalists. Here is just a minute fraction of the numerous examples to choose from:
Stephanopoulos is touted as a liberal or a moderate. But when he was awarded the privilege of co-moderating one of the 2008 Democratic presidential debates he used the occasion to push the discredited theory of trickle down economics by implying that raising taxes on the wealthy during a recession is bad for the economy, while disguising his lecture as a question. This is one of his “questions” to then Senator Obama:
Tom Brokaw is another one of those talking heads whom our corporate media makes out to liberal or moderate. But when he got a shot at Barack Obama on Meet the Press less than a month before the presidential election, he did a real hatchet job on him in an attempt to derail his campaign, in favor of John McCain. In an interview with Colin Powell, to dampen the effect of Powell’s endorsement of Obama, Brokaw said, “But there will be some who will say this is an African-American… supporting another African-American because of race.” He also castigated Obama for opposing Bush’s “surge” in Iraq. But of all the utterly stupid things he had to say that day, perhaps the stupidest was his criticism of Obama for his trip to Berlin. He used surrogates to lambast Obama’s trip to Berlin:
Nobody could get away with trying to claim that Pat Buchanan is liberal, or even moderate. But the fact that he is time and again presented on TV as someone with an opinion worthy of serious thought shows just how low “mainstream” TV has sunk. How could someone who, in the 21st Century defends slavery be presented as legitimate unless that person is a highly valued tool of the corporatocracy? Here is Buchanan defending slavery:
My oh my! How many people today could get away with defending slavery, and still be considered a “respectable” political celebrity?
To a much greater extent than most Americans realize, our corporate news media is responsible for the perilous state of our democracy in general and the woeful quality of so many of our elected representatives in particular. They relentlessly push there agenda on us, present corporatist hacks as serious journalists, and attempt to marginalize or destroy politicians who dare to question the corporate status quo in our country. Under such a system – a system in which politicians and talking heads are richly rewarded for advancing corporate interests, and in which standing against the corporate agenda puts one at risk of being publicly and relentlessly lambasted or humiliated – is it any wonder that the corporatocracy finds so many lackeys to help them push their agenda?
What a certain website has to say about the Republican Party applies equally well to their corporate masters:
It’s well past tine that the American people and their progressive representatives in Congress clearly recognize the corporate news media for what it is: people hired to advance the interests of the corporatocracy at the expense of the “American people. To the extent that we and our elected representatives recognize them for what they are we will be able to say the things that need to be said. As long as the best of our elected representatives live in fear of crossing the line that the corporate media draws in the sand, they will be unable to represent the people who elected them to serve our country.
That is why Alan Grayson’s recent crossing of that line – and refusing to come back – is so refreshing and inspiring. It is not the least bit surprising that he would get lambasted for daring to accuse Republicans of being responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans by virtue of their long-standing and successful (so far) fight against universal health care. Nor is it the least bit surprising that the Republican Party would pretend that Grayson’s words are qualitatively different and worse than their own claims of “death panels” associated with any Democratic proposal that would provide health care to those who need it.
Well, there IS one big difference between Grayson’s accusations and theirs: Grayson’s accusations are true. And by refusing to back down, maybe he’ll serve as the example that will break down the damn that lets loose a great and continuing torrent of truth against the greedy elites that have subjugated the interests of the American people for so long. As long as we’re not afraid to renounce our oppressors we have hope.