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Media Bias 101 March 4, 2009

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Current Events, Dwight Furrow's Posts.
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Over the past week or so, I’ve come across a variety of news articles that clarify why right wing ways of framing issues continue to influence the public

On Sunday, the  LA Times ran an article claiming that California taxpayers are getting fewer services for their tax dollars.

Reporting from Sacramento — Middle-class Californians have long griped about paying more taxes than they might pay elsewhere, but for decades this state could boast that it gave them quite a bit in return. Now that contract is in doubt….But at a time when taxes are about to rise substantially, the services that have long set this state apart are deteriorating. The latest budget cuts hit public programs prized by California’s middle class particularly hard — in some cases at the expense of preserving a tattered safety net for the poor — following years of what analysts characterize as under-investment….

But as Robert in Monterey from the Calitics blog points out:

the most obvious point goes almost totally ignored – that tax cuts have reduced the ability of government to provide for basic services. Since that isn’t part of this article, the effect is to mislead readers into thinking government is misusing tax dollars, and thus winds up reinforcing right-wing frames.

The Sunday TV talk shows were all over Obama’s budget proposals that would reduce taxes on over 90 percent of the population and increase taxes on around 2 percent of the population.

But as Matt Yglesias observes:

Flipping through the Sunday talk shows, it’s striking to see how uniformly wealthy media celebrities think it makes sense to characterize this is a “tax increase” or “raising taxes” and to leap immediately to a discussion of what the impact of these “higher taxes” will be. I think that the majority of people whose taxes are set to go down might be more interested in learning about the impact of lower taxes.

There was a time when news reporters were poorly paid blood hounds tracking down every stray lead in order to speak truth to power. (at least that was the carefully cultivated image)  Today’s news analysts are over-paid millionaires, pretending to be “just folks” whose main job is to keep people entertained while they have their pockets picked.

Finally, there was the infamous rant on CNBC by Rick Santelli. Backed by cheering traders on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange to whom he gestured and said “This is America”, Santelli complained that the president’s housing plan rewarded “bad behavior” and suggested creating an Internet Web site to allow Americans to vote on whether they wanted to subsidize “losers’ mortgages.” He called for a Chicago tea party next July: a taxpayer’s revolt against the budget policies of the Democrats. Much of the media portrayed Santelli’s rant as a spontaneous outpouring of populist anger against the “socialist” tendencies of the Obama administration.

The spectacle of wealthy stock traders, who after all got us into this mess, ranting about the “undeserving” poor is so commonplace as to be no longer in itself remarkable, although it is rich in irony. We have spent trillions of taxpayer dollars bailing out Wall St. stock traders, while Obama’s plan to help homeowners comes to a comparatively paltry 75 billion.

What is remarkable is evidence that this was not a spontaneous outpouring of populist anger but a carefully crafted media event orchestrated by the rightwing PR machine.

Playboy magazine is reporting (from The Big Picture) that:

What we discovered is that Santelli’s “rant” was not at all spontaneous as his alleged fans claim, but rather it was a carefully-planned trigger for the anti-Obama campaign. In PR terms, his February 19th call for a “Chicago Tea Party” was the launch event of a carefully organized and sophisticated PR campaign, one in which Santelli served as a frontman, using the CNBC airwaves for publicity, for the some of the craziest and sleaziest rightwing oligarch clans this country has ever produced. Namely, the Koch family, the multibilllionaire owners of the largest private corporation in America, and funders of scores of rightwing thinktanks and advocacy groups, from the Cato Institute and Reason Magazine to FreedomWorks. The scion of the Koch family, Fred Koch, was a co-founder of the notorious extremist-rightwing John Birch Society.”

The evidence (albeit a bit circumstantial):

“Within hours of Santelli’s rant, a website called ChicagoTeaParty.com sprang to life. Essentially inactive until that day, it now featured a YouTube video of Santelli’s “tea party” rant and billed itself as the official home of the Chicago Tea Party. The domain was registered in August, 2008 by Zack Christenson, a dweeby Twitter Republican and producer for a popular Chicago rightwing radio host Milt Rosenberg—a familiar name to Obama campaign people. Last August, Rosenberg, who looks like Martin Short’s Irving Cohen character, caused an outcry when he interviewed Stanley Kurtz, the conservative writer who first “exposed” a personal link between Obama and former Weather Undergound leader Bill Ayers. As a result of Rosenberg’s radio interview, the Ayers story was given a major push through the Republican media echo chamber, culminating in Sarah Palin’s accusation that Obama was “palling around with terrorists.” That Rosenberg’s producer owns the “chicagoteaparty.com” site is already weird—but what’s even stranger is that he first bought the domain last August, right around the time of Rosenburg’s launch of the “Obama is a terrorist” campaign. It’s as if they held this “Chicago tea party” campaign in reserve, like a sleeper-site. Which is exactly what it was.

CNBC purports to be a news organization. If this story is true, staging a “news event” with intention of deceiving people who think they are watching a real event is an outright lie.

If the progressive movement is to survive and return America to prosperity we will have to find ways of marginalizing the so-called “mainstream media” which can no longer claim to be a venerable institution.

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