Journalists Commit Malpractice in Mid-Term Coverage


The incessant predictions of a Republican landslide on Nov. 2 were so pervasive that the 60-vote Republican gain in the House and six in the Senate became almost self-fulfilling prophesies. 

The forecasts of a Republican victory so dominated the corporate media that they essentially rationalized voting against the Democrats as a natural, predictable and effective way of registering anger over the ineffectiveness of anti-recession efforts thus far.

Almost entirely absent from coverage were the policies at stake. There was barely any discussion of the consequences of voting for the Republicans and their program of lower taxes and smaller government were rarely discussed.

Now with a commanding majority in the House, if the Republicans succeed as pledged in blocking any major government programs such as a stimulus plan or a major infrastructure-rebuilding plan that would boost employment and spending power, then every apparent route out of the recession is essentially blocked:

CONSUMERS CAN’T SPEND: With the official unemployment rate stuck at 9.6% (and former New York Times reporter David Cay Johnston calculating that the real figure is more like 22%) and wage-cutting more prevalent at any time since the Great Depression, most consumers lack the spending power to re-ignite the economy.

CORPORATIONS WON’T SPEND: As Nobel-Prize winning economist Paul Krugman writes (NYT, 10/31/10), “ those parts of the private sector not burdened by high levels of debt see little reason to increase spending. Corporations are flush with cash — but why expand when so much of the capacity they already have is sitting idle? …Nobody in the private sector is willing to fill the hole created by the debt overhang.”

In this context, the all-season Republican formula of major corporate tax breaks will fail to generate purchases of new equipment and hiring of new workers. Corporate America is already sitting on a pile of $1.5 trillion in cash, so it hardly needs more financial inducements to invest. It needs paying customers, but the widespread wage-slashing and continuing offshoring of America’s production base are drying up US consumer demand.

Further attacks on consumer spending may come in the form of Republican opposition to extended unemployment benefits, as Republicans like Sen. John Kyl of Arizona argued “continuing to pay people unemployment compensation is a disincentive for them to seek new work.”

Thus, it is hard to visualize exactly how the demands of angry Americans for jobs will be satisfied with the Republicans controlling the House. Despite the positive experience of government spending lifting the US out of the Great Depression, cutting unemployment from 25% in 1932 to 10% in 1935, the Republicans are declaring their all-out opposition to any more government spending aimed at curing the recession.

The coming political gridlock and economic stagnation could have been more widely foreseen if the major media had given even a superficial examination of the Republicans announced plans and helped the citizenry to decode the carefully-constructed yet utterly basely narrative on the economy. The rational for “smaller government” and lower taxes” was encapsulated in this simple narrative:

If we cut taxes, we will cut the deficit. It will also mean a smaller government with less intrusion into our healthcare and the rest of our lives. If the government has less to spend, then it will spend less and stop padding the government payroll.

This myth is a Trojan Horse designed to conceal tax cuts for the richest 2% which are due to run out at the end of this year. In fact, continuing the tax cuts for families earning more than $500,000 will add considerably to the deficit, as the Washington Post noted 9/15/10. The Republicans want to “permanently extend an array of expiring tax breaks that would deprive the Treasury of more than $4 trillion over the next decade, nearly doubling projected deficits over that period unless dramatic spending cuts are made.”

As for federal jobs, they have already declined by several hundred thousand under Obama, as Paul Krugman has reported.

The scale of the proposed Republican tax cuts will essentially deprive the federal government of much of the funding it needs to operate to carry out the most basic services. This will be particularly devastating at a time of continuing high unemployment, 50 million uninsured people needing healthcare, and a US infrastructure — highways, bridges, schools, hospitals, etc. — that are in severe need of repair and updating.

Along with failing to examine the implications of Republican plans, the corporate media has taken casually the most plutocratic election in US history, with uncharted, undisclosed amounts of corporate cash flooding the political system and drowning out the voices of progressive candidates and voters. The torrent of corporate money is providing invariably pro-corporate, conservative Republican candidates with a massive funding advantage in the range of 7:1 to 9:1, Howard Fineman reported on MSNBC. Crucial to this vast enhancement of the normal corporate advantage in campaign contributions was the January Citizens United Supreme Court decision, which declared that corporations are persons with the same right to contributed unlimited amounts of money.

But the potential washing away of democratic pillars has attracted only passing media attention outside Washington, D.C., and New York. 

The prospect of an election dominated by huge donations from a relatively small circle of wealthy conservative and corporate donors carries with it the opportunity for these campaign contributors to further re-shape government policy to intensify the polarization of income and wealth in America. The Nov. 2 elections, with vast implications for the future distribution of government benefits and burdens, arrived at a moment when the richest 1% of Americans already earn 23.5% of all annual income. 

Yet rather than offering analysis of  the increasingly hollowed-out structure of American democracy or the implications for ordinary citizens, coverage has been dominated by information on the polls.

In addition, there are a number of other important ways that mainstream media coverage is currently serving the Republican cause. 

Delving Beneath Disappointment

Disappointment with the Obama administration’s slow progress in stemming the recession is treated by the corporate media as inevitably leading to dissatisfied voters punishing the Democrats and rewarding the Republicans. Voting for Republicans is treated as a natural, predictable, and, therefore, even a sensible response to insufficient progress. 

After all, major media tell us, we have a two-party system and power moves back and forth between them dependent on their performance in office. 

But the analysis goes no deeper. Virtually non-existent are polls that probe more deeply and ask voters how they expect the Republicans — whose policies include Wall Street de-regulation, tax cuts for the rich, offshoring of jobs, repeal of many elements of the new healthcare reform act, and denial of unemployment and healthcare benefits to the long-term jobless — will improve their lives and hasten an end to the Great Recession.

While pro-Republican polls are endlessly cited, unexamined is the paradox that an overwhelming majority of voters believe the Republicans are more loyal to corporate interests rather than those of the average citizen. A recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll asked whether each party is more concerned about large corporations or average Americans. MSNBC reported the results, which are particularly startling given that likely voters are leaning strongly Republican: 41% said Democrats care about large corporations, 45% said average Americans, 68% said Republicans care about large corporations, 22% said average Americans. 

Nor has there been much in-depth exploration of public reaction to a relentless pattern of deliberate, reflexive obstructionism adopted by the Republicans in response to every major initiative by Obama and the Democrats. Following in the footsteps of Southern segregationists who used the filibuster to repeatedly block civil rights legislation, the filibuster strategy has been expanded to be a key part of the Republican arsenal to stop legislation reflecting majority sentiment in both houses.

Political scientist Barbara Sinclair’s studies show that even in the 1960s, she finds, “extended-debate-related problems” — threatened or actual filibusters that now require 60 votes in the Senate for action on a bill — affected just 8% of major legislation. But by the 1980s, filibusters affected 27% of key bills. However, once the Democrats regained control of Congress in 2006, the Republicans’ deployment of the filibuster — via threats or actual filibusters — soared astronomically to 70%. Since 2009, the frequency of filibusters has set new records. After Obama’s inauguration, the House passed 420 bills which never came to a vote in the Senate.

Yet despite the persistent pattern of filibusters by Republicans, the Obama Administration is often faulted by pundits for failing to capture the support of utterly intransigent Republicans.

Tea Party Populism, Corporate Agenda

The consistent depiction of the Tea Party as the authentic, unalloyed expression of grass-roots rebellion, anti-government sentiment and “economic populism” remains remarkably superficial. The typical media portrayals of the Tea Party fail both to reflect the existence of considerable grass-roots support for government intervention to preserve US production jobs and the growing coalescence of Tea Party, Republican, and corporate agendas at the highest levels. 

First, the economic populism of rank and file Tea Partiers does not translate into the knee-jerk anti-government sentiment into which media accounts have lumped it. 

The Tea Party indeed contains some strong elements of economic populism, but these sentiments are very different from those of Tea Party spokesmen like Dick Armey, a strong advocate of “free trade” and lobbyist for foreign governments including Mexico and Saudi Arabia. The economic populism of the Tea Partiers’ grass roots are directed against the off-shoring of US jobs to low-wage sites like Mexico and China.  

Remarkably, nearly three-fourths of Tea Party members actually favor a government-driven policy to maintain and create production jobs in the US. Ironically, this position sounds very much to the left of the “industrial policy” direction rejected in the 1980s and 1990s by conservative Democrats who have continued to occupy the top economic positions within the party and the Clinton and Obama administration. 

As labor journalist Mike Elk notes: 

“Seventy-four percent of self-described Tea Party Supporters would support a ‘national manufacturing strategy to make sure that economic, tax, labor, and trade policies in this country work together to help support manufacturing in the United States,’ according to the poll, put out by the Mellman Group and the Alliance for American Manufacturing. Likewise, 56% of self-described Tea Party Supporters ‘favor a tariff on products imported from other countries that are cheaper because they came from a country that does not have to comply with any climate change regulations in the country where the products were made.’” 

Growing Coalescence

But this sentiment against off-shoring and for government adopting a national manufacturing strategy has merited little attention given the growing bond between Tea Party leaders — who, except for Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), are enthusiastic backers of off-shoring US jobs — the Republican Party, and corporate groups. In recent weeks there has been a virtual merger of the Tea Party and Republican hierarchies as they sought to mold a successful coalition for Nov. 2.  

This has been facilitated by vast sums of undisclosed money (enabled by the plutocracy-breeding  Citizens United Supreme Court decision in January) coming from sources like the billionaire Koch brothers (whose oil and chemical operations have incurred numerous safety and environmental violations), the US Chamber of Commerce (including its foreign operations which include foreign-based corporations), and American Crossroads GPS. While much of the party’s financial sources are still being uncovered, as the New York Times’ Frank Rich notes,

“[I]t’s clear that some Tea Party groups and candidates like Sharron Angle, Paul and O’Donnell are being financed directly or indirectly not just by the Koch’s ... but by a remarkable coterie of fellow billionaires, led by oil barons like Robert Rowling (Forbes No. 69) and Trevor Rees-Jones (No. 110). Even their largess may be dwarfed by Rupert Murdoch (No. 38) and his News Corporation…”

Given that Mexican corporations contributed $25 million to the effort to win passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement from which they benefited richly, it is reasonable to expect that foreign corporations are devoting extensive funds to the US Chamber of Commerce account for the Nov. 2 elections. According to the Think Progress liberal blog, contrary to claims by the Chamber, the business group appears to have no means of separating legal donations from US corporations from illegal campaign donations from foreign corporations, and the funds both US-chartered and foreign firms seem to be commingled in the Chamber’s 501(c)(6) account. 

In 2004 the group promoted a report titled “Jobs, Trade, Sourcing, and the Future of the American Workforce,” that unsurprisingly discovered “little hard data to support fears about outsourcing and claims of an impending exodus of US jobs overseas.” Chamber CEO Tom Donohue declared:

“The bottom line [is that] outsourcing has made the manufacturing process more efficient and productive, which has helped consumers and our overall economy. Outsourcing allows manufacturers to buy components from a vast array of suppliers, lowering costs for the manufacturer who is able to pass on the savings to consumers.”

Donohue, during an appearance on CNN in February 2004, was even more forceful in advocating the offshoring of US jobs:

“[T]here are legitimate values in outsourcing — not only jobs, but work — to gain technical experience and benefits we don’t have here, to lower the price of products, which means more and more of them are brought into the United States, used, for example, I.T., much broader use than it was 10 years ago, [to] create more and more jobs.”

The long-term Chamber agenda was concisely explained by Jon Vogel, a Democratic campaign official “The Chamber has an agenda, and it’s aimed at promoting outsourcing of American jobs.”

But given the superficial poll-fixated coverage of mainstream media, relatively few Americans were exposed to the massive influx of undisclosed funds, the motives of these secret donors, or the predictable effects on the voice and living standards of working Americans.

Roger Bybee is a Milwaukee-based writer and publicity consultant. He edited The Racine Labor weekly for 14 years. Email

From The Progressive Populist, December 1, 2010

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