Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Obama and the Establishment press, Week 8

I fear the Apocalypse is nigh. Because I find myself halfway agreeing with one of Kathleen Parker's columns. Specifically, Frayed Thread in a Free Society Washington Post 03/15/09. She actually seems to have formed at least a glimmer of an idea that the business problems of the newspaper industry may have something to do with the declining quality of their reporting.

Matthew Cooper analyzes the origin of a piece of standard press corps wisdom in The Media's Meme: Obama's Too Distracted TPMDC 03/09/09. That one has been popular the last couple of weeks or so.

Then there's Tom Friedman of the New York Times, supposedly our most influential columnist. (Not to be confused with the even more clueless Dean Of All The Pundits David Broder.) Friedman's general quality of judgment was vividly illustrated by his enthusiastic support of the Iraq War. He saw the war as providing the opportunity for the US to pursue a Suck.On.This strategy for the Arab Middle East.

In his own column This is not a test. This is not a test. New York Times 03/10/09, he discusses the fact that the economy is in a pretty big mess. I don't know if his wife is still a billionaire; the stock market crash may have diminished her fortune to a few hundred million. But at least her husband has noticed that there's a serious economic crisis.


He provides this vision of what would lead to success"

All this will require leadership of the highest order — bold decisions, persistence and persuasion. There is a huge amount of money on the sidelines eager to bet again on America. But right now, there is too much uncertainty; no one knows what will be the new rules governing investments in our biggest financial institutions. If President Obama can produce and sell that plan, private investors, big and small, will give us a stimulus like you’ve never seen.

Which is why I wake up every morning hoping to read this story: "President Obama announced today that he had invited the country’s 20 leading bankers, 20 leading industrialists, 20 top market economists and the Democratic and Republican leaders in the House and Senate to join him and his team at Camp David. 'We will not come down from the mountain until we have forged a common, transparent strategy for getting us out of this banking crisis,' the president said, as he boarded his helicopter."
Yep, you got it! Bipartisanship! The Holy Grail of the pundits, the be-all and end-all of the priesthood of High Broderism.

It's pretty obvious he doesn't consider labor leaders essential to that conversation. Given his habit of eagerly reporting his insightful conversations with taxi drivers in exotic locations around the world, I'm surprised he didn't list taxi drivers as essential participants, though.

The Beltway Village considers Tom Friedman a prophet of the miracles of globalization. But what he has to say in this column is little more than boilerplate. We "need to let markets clear", the prophet of globalization tells us. Which probably sounds profound to most of the Village, though all it means is that we need the recession to end and the economy to start growing again. Duh!

Of course, if you try to absorb his elaboration of that point, you probably can't get even that out of it. This notion in that elaboration at least deserves credit for being creatively bizarre: "You need to let failed companies, or homeowners, go bankrupt, unlock their dead capital and reapply it to thriving entities."

Apparently in the world of corporate-globalization fans, "dead capital" is a concept that has meaning. Or at minimum is a slogan among themselves. In this 2000 article, Citadels of Dead Capital: What the Third World must learn from U.S. history, Hernando de Soto (yes, that's his name) defines "dead capital" as "assets that cannot be used to their fullest". He also defines "tomahawk rights" but I won't go into that. If the concept of "dead capital" has any real economic meaning, I certainly can't say what it might be. For De Soto, it seems to mean resources not controlled by corporations or the very wealthy unproductive capital. In Friedman's column "dead capital" seems to mean houses owned by poor people, among other things.

In any case, Mr. "Suck.On.This" thinks that the real solution to the crisis is to get some CEO's together with some like-minded Democrats, Republicans and academics and agree on a "bipartisan" solution. Remember that "bipartisan" in VillageSpeak means "Democrats agreeing to do what Republicans want to do." Friedman has evidently been so absorbed in moaning "dead capital" that he hasn't noticed that the Republicans are following a full-blown wrecker strategy on the economy and have no intention of putting together "bipartisan" solutions, except maybe by the Village definition of that concept.

Jamison Foser has a very good piece on The media's deliberate stupidity at MediaMatters 03/13/09. He talks about the fondness of the media for repeating Republican talking points about how some obscure program in an appropriations bill should sound ridiculous on the face of it. Explaining at some length that a much-abused program related to honeybees actually has quite a significant economic reason for it to be considered, he explains how the major news media apply the Beavis and Butthead approach to reporting news:

Now, you can't expect most Americans to know this. Most Americans don't give much thought to bees beyond hoping they don't get stung by one. And that's fine: The life cycle and migratory patterns of bees, and their resultant effects on avocado and cucumber growth, are fairly obscure subjects. We can't, and shouldn't, expect the typical American to know about or act upon these things. After all, there are a lot of obscure but important things that, as a nation, we need to know about and act upon. We can't know about and act upon them all individually; it's literally impossible.

That's another of the reasons we have a government: to know about and act upon the things we cannot know about and act upon individually. It's one of the reasons we watch television and read newspapers, too: They have the resources that we lack to learn about important but obscure things, and the ability to educate us. (This is where some defenders -- and critics -- of the news media will remind me that the media's job isn't to educate the public, much as I might wish it was; their job is to make money. To that I say: How's that working out? Maybe it's time to try a more serious approach.)

Instead, they treat it all like one big joke. Why? Because John McCain told them to - and the national news media have long served as Ed McMahon to McCain's Johnny Carson. McCain posted a few uninformed wisecracks about earmarks on his Twitter account, and the nation's political reporters unquestioningly repeated his cheap shots verbatim, as though their role in life is to simply bellow "HA! You are correct, sir!" whenever Johnny makes a joke. [my emphasis]
They "treat it all like one big joke". That's good description of how our high-end, "quality" press approach the news these days. It should be a national embarrassment that actual comedy shows like Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert often provide better news coverage than the alleged news programs. It should be. But our press corps doesn't seem to be at all embarrassed by it.

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