Thursday, February 12, 2009

While Journalists Risk Their Lives Across the Planet, the US Mainstream News Media Continues to Misinform & Misdirect on the Economic Crisis

George Orwell, author of 1984 and Animal Farm, was also a BBC journalist

The global economic crisis has become the biggest near-term U.S. security concern, sowing instability in a quarter of the world's countries and threatening destructive trade wars, U.S. intelligence agencies reported ... "Time is our greatest threat. The longer it takes for the recovery to begin, the greater the likelihood of serious damage to U.S. strategic intrests," the report said. ... There have been anti-government protests in Europe and the former Soviet Union, and growing economic strains in Africa and Latin America ... Reuters, 2-12-09

While Journalists Risk Their Lives Across the Planet, the US Mainstream News Media Continues to Misinform & Misdirect on the Economic Crisis

By Richard Power

The Obama administration has indeed brought change to Beltwayistan. It was poignantly evident at President Obama's first news conference.

The symbolism was subtle but profound. The President called on the Huffington Post for a question, and Ed Schultz was seated next to Helen Thomas in the front row.

The message within that symbolism was direct and simple: "Thank you, and your help is still desperately needed."

Because although change has come to the White House, it has not come to the US mainstream news media (yet).

Oh, there are a few beacons of reality on TV, but they are a precious few: Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow are carrying Edward R. Murrow's torch into the 21st Century on MSNBC, and Jack Cafferty continues to personify common sense (even when I don't agree with him) in the midst of CNN's vapidity.

Meanwhile, throughout the world, professional journalists and citizen journalists alike risk their lives to speak truth to power:

Chinese bloggers are defying censorship efforts and taking delight in ridiculing the state television station CCTV. ... The problem for CCTV is that the blaze that burned down part of its new headquarters was its own fault. ... Embarrassed CCTV officials tried to censor coverage of the fire, but thanks to the millions of Chinese users on the Internet, the story got out anyway. Members of the public armed with camera phones, text messages, and email filled the void. One blogger, Wang Xiaofeng, wrote that "Even though the fire was up to their eyebrows, they were still trying to hide the truth... in this breaking news, the official media was defeated by the citizen media." Radio Netherlands, 2-11-09

In Latin America, the Middle East and Southeast Asia, journalists are becoming increasingly vulnerable to physical violence as a result of their work, says a U.S.-based media watchdog in a new report ... Last year, at least 41 journalists were killed and more than 100 lived behind bars, according to the 341-page [Committee to Protect Journalists] CPJ report, "Attacks on the Press in 2008". Inter Press Service, 2-10-09

If there is another Tiananmen Square protest and massacre, it will be streamed, real time, wireless, over the World Wide Web, on open source platforms, in clear text, with simultaneous translation, and it will not be so easily spun or so quickly forgotten.

But in the USA, the US mainstream news media persists in pushing an agenda of misinformation and misdirection on the most urgent issues:

[A] Media Matters for America review of the Sunday talk shows and 12 cable news programs from January 25 through February 8 found that during 139 1/2 hours of programming on Sunday mornings and weekday afternoons and evenings, of 460 total guest appearances in discussions about the economic recovery legislation and debate in Congress, only 25 were made by economists — a mere 5 percent. Think Progress, 2-12-09

So it is imperative that the alternate news media, especially the blogosphere and progressive talk radio, continue to deliver the truth.

Thom Hartmann, whose daily Air America radio show is a national teach-in on history, politics and economics, has been doing an extraordinary job of providing context and continuity.

Recently, economist Ravi Bhatra, a frequent guest, suggested progressives not be too frustrated with the Obama administration for its adherence to the ideas of Larry Summers, Larry Geithner and others who are part of the problem.

Bhatra said this is not the time for new ideas, because no matter what is done it is going to get much worse before it gets better, and that if the Obama administration were to try new ideas now those ideas would just get blamed for the inevitable bottoming out.

Now you are not going to hear that on the network news show next Sunday morning, or from the nightly cable news anchors or their panels of talking heads either.

But you can listen to Hartmann for free on the Internet, you can tune in on the air waves if you are fortunate to have a progressive station in your area, or you can subscribe to Air America's premium service and download the podcast.

And then of course there is the indefatigable Amy Goodman.

Here is an excerpt from a very insightful interview she recently did with another worthy economist, Jamie Galbraith:

AMY GOODMAN: Professor James Galbraith is still with us, economist, University of Texas. His book, The Predator State. Explain the bailout and what you think should happen today.
JAMES GALBRAITH: Well, the crucial question is, on what terms does the Treasury plan to guarantee or to repurchase or to otherwise deal with the bad assets that the banks have? These assets are mortgage-backed securities. They are securities derived from subprime loans that were made in an atmosphere of regulatory laxness and complicity and fraud, basically, during the Bush administration, which came to take over the system of housing finance and to infect it with assets which nobody trusts, which nobody can value. And nobody really knows what’s in the files, what’s on the loan tapes of those—that underlie those securities. So the question that I think we need to ask is, before we issue a public guarantee, does the Treasury of the United States plan to conduct a meticulous audit of the assets that underlie the securities that they’re expecting to take off the banks’ books, so that we, the taxpayer, can have an idea of what, if anything, these securities are worth?
And the problem is that when you—the little bit of checking that has been done appears to reveal that a very large fraction of these securities contain, on the face of it, misrepresentation or fraud in the files. And so, we are looking at an asset which nobody, no outside investor doing due diligence on behalf of a client for whom they have some responsibility, would touch. And that is the issue. That’s the problem.
If that is indeed the case, then I think it’s fair to conclude that the large banks, which the Treasury is trying very hard to protect, cannot in fact be protected, that they are in fact insolvent, and that the proper approach for dealing with them is for the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation to move in and take the steps that the FDIC normally takes when dealing with insolvent banks.
And the sooner that you get to that and the sooner that you take these steps, which every administration, including the Bush administration, actually took in certain cases—replacing the management, making the risk capital take the first loss, reorganizing the institution, guaranteeing the deposits so that there isn’t a run, reopening the bank under new management so that it can begin to function again as it should have all along as a normal bank—the sooner you get to that, the more quickly you’ll work through the crisis.
The more you delay and the more you try to essentially prop up an institution whose books have already been poisoned, in effect, by this—the practices of the past few years, the longer it will take before the credit markets begin to function again. And as I said before, the functioning of the credit markets is absolutely essential to the success of the larger package, of the stimulus package and everything else, in beginning to revive the economy.
Democracy Now, 2-10-09

For an archive of Words of Power posts on Economic Insecurity, click here.

For Words of Power's archive of posts on Corporate News Media Complicity, Power of Alternative Media, Propaganda & Freedom, click here.

Richard Power's Left-Handed Security: Overcoming Fear, Greed & Ignorance in This Era of Global Crisis is available now! Click here for more information.

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