Media and the Economic Crisis
After three decades of rigorous class war — waged most relentlessly and effectively from the top down — we're now in the midst of a protracted requiem for "the middle class." It's a media mass (cue the funereal organ music) for that ill-defined class, conducted by the same news outlets that were cheering the financial-services system for a long time before the housing bubble lost air and edifices of credit came crashing down.
Now, watch the cable news, and the anchors are grasping at straws. Everyone can see that the economic crisis is breathtakingly severe, deep and wide. As it happens, the dynamics of official response are notably similar to the kind of momentum that set the agenda for the invasion of Iraq six years ago: Officials lay out the plan, plenty of media spin ensues, and Congress goes along with it.
Early into this fall, when the crisis swiftly went from bad to very bad to even worse, the Word came down from the top of the U.S. government's executive branch. And the Word was, under the circumstances, understood by most of the media oracles to be Good.
In a kind of cant of numerology, the magic figure was suddenly 700 billion. With those dollars to be devoted to a bailout — soon to be more favorably called a rescue — the long road to recovery could be located and then traveled.
Beginning in mid-2002, it took several months for congressional leaders to join with the president and most pundits to conclude that an invasion of Iraq was necessary to thwart a dictator with weapons of mass destruction. We were told that certain experts could be trusted, while those offering different conclusions got short shrift.
The process was swifter this fall. Under enormous media pressure, legislators fell in line to do something — and that "something" was in essence the plan put forward to frame the public discourse by the Bush administration.
A few news accounts actually pointed out that the Bush plan was unconvincing to a wide range of economists.
Indeed, just days after a re-do in the House on Oct. 3 rammed through the $700 billion Wall Street bailout and sent it to the White House for Bush's signature within hours, it became clear that the measure was not stopping the slide on Wall Street. And the measure appeared to hold out little realistic promise of unfreezing the credit markets, the ostensible main reason for the humongous bailout in the first place.
Already, in retrospect, the $700 billion measure has all the earmarks (pardon the expression) of a monumental scam of truly historic proportions. For aiding and abetting this massive transfer of wealth upward in American society, we should give full credit to the nation's punditocracy.
For instance, liberal and conservative columnists at The New York Times were livid in the days after the House of Representatives initially balked at approving the bailout on Sept. 29. On successive days, they denounced the recalcitrant members of the House.
None was more bitterly caustic than pundit David Brooks. On Sept. 30, under the headline "Revolt of the Nihilists," he castigated the House members who had voted against the bailout — vilifying them for rebuffing "the collected expertise of the Treasury and Fed."
A week later, the measure so yearned-for by the nation's multitudes of pundits had already been law for a few days, the stock market was continuing to tank and the credit crunch was no less crunchy. Meanwhile, this is what the same David Brooks wrote in his column of Oct. 7: "At these moments, central bankers and Treasury officials leap in to try to make the traders feel better. Officials pretend they're coming up with policy responses, but much of what they do is political theater."
Now he tells us.
Norman Solomon is author of "War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death." The book has been adapted into a documentary film of the same name. For information, go to: www.WarMadeEasyTheMovie.org.
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