The Stories That Cannot Exist

January 17th, 2015 · 1 Comment · campaign finance reform, Congress, economy, financial coverage, health care reform, journalism, regulation

By Arthur Alpert

All hail Nick Estes’ Op Ed column in the January 9 issue of the Albuquerque Journal. We won’t see its like for a long time.

Under the rubric, “Yes, we DO know how to fix the economy”, Estes took syndicated columnist Robert Samuelson to task for writing the reverse. Estes explained:

“The economics profession has known for 80 years that a big increase in government spending and tax cuts targeted at the middle class will boost a bad economy out of the doldrums.”

Estes’ assertions are widely accepted by mainstream economists, so you would expect lots of similar articles.

Which would be silly. The Journal publishes essays like Estes’ maybe four or five times a year.

To the extent the Journal’s opinion pages represent a marketplace of ideas, it’s a specialty emporium where 99 percent of the shelf space goes to two brands of rightist economics – conservative and libertarian, the latter renamed to escape the bad odor attached to “laissez-faire” by the Great Depression.

Thus, as we’ve often pointed out, the frequent presence of essays from the Rio Grande Foundation, an outpost of the Koch brothers’ network, and its alumni, as well as other Koch-financed sources including (but not limited to) the CATO Institute and Heritage Foundation.

The Journal’s most often published syndicated voices also promote conservative or laissez-faire economics. Think Will, Krauthammer, Thomas, Hanson, Goldberg.

And then there’s the omnipresent Samuelson, sort of in the Establishment conservative camp, patently of infirm intellect.

Some marketplace.

My point today is not, however, the imbalance but its import. For the Journal’s tilt on the opinion pages dovetails with its imposition of its political agenda on news coverage. The editors ignore or minimize or lack the passion to pursue a swathe of stories affecting readers’ lives. At the risk of understatement, tilted opinion and news is a disservice.

Before I get to the “show-and-tell,” can we agree there’s no science of economics?

“Political economy” is an old term that’s worth reclaiming. The “political” reminds us that economics is infused with human interests and fallibility; it’s not meant to be partisan. In fact, my sole quibble with Estes is that he fingers Republicans for resisting the Democrats’ superior economic solutions. That’s too simple. There are differences of degree, but both major parties include anti-Keynesian voices, both accept big money from Corporate America and both aim to please the powerful.

Ah, but I’ve stumbled into a big obstacle. The Albuquerque Journal resolutely refuses to countenance what I just wrote, that Corporate America’s big money wields power over both parties. And that, as you shall see, determines its news judgments.

We begin with Jesse Eisinger’s Jan. 14 ProPublica story headlined “Obama Stands At Crossroads On Financial Reform”.

If the Obama administration had taken a different stance, he argues, financial reform would have been stronger.

Eisinger notes the banks have “pushed for delays, lobbied allies in Congress to repeal aspects of Dodd-Frank, worked over regulators to make the rules as loose as possible and threatened legal challenges and filed lawsuits” to frustrate reform.

And here’s his crux:

“During all of these fights, the banks have had a stalwart ally holding back greater reform: Establishment Democrats. Such Democrats, the Robert E. Rubin wing of the Democratic Party, opposed moves to break up the big banks after the 2008 global crisis. These stalwarts prevented a reinstatement of the Glass-Steagall separation of commercial and investment banking.”

Of course, they did, allied with almost all the Republicans.

Which is why, Eisenger explains, “The American public got a law of incremental tinkering with existing rules. Dodd-Frank is the Clement Attlee of legislation: a modest law with much to be modest about.”

(Clement Attlee? Eisinger must be old. Like me.)

Besides supporting a world-view the Journal will not countenance, Eisinger’s piece also reaches a level of sophistication in reporting and analysis that’s rare in our statewide daily. Why so?

Because, I surmise, such reporting would subvert the Journal’s narrative – the world is dualistic, divided into Donkeys and Elephants and that’s all there is.

This fairy tale totally omits Corporate America or its political efforts.

And it’s in service to that view that the Journal refuses to report on how our political economy works or provides minimal coverage or the very incurious kind.

Here, tersely, are a few of those stories:

• Western Europe, which took to heart the economic prescriptions of the Journal’s rightist economic commentators, is for that reason close to its third recession. The U.S., where stimulus spending somewhat diluted austerity, is recovering.

• U.S. inflation, greatly feared by the Journal’s favorite economic commentators, remains tame. In fact, some fear deflation. How many years ago did the Journal report Rep. Pearce’s apocalyptic warnings about runaway prices? The Journal has never held Mr. Pearce or deluded friends to account.

• A new battle over Social Security will mark the 114th Congress. The House passed a rule last week that critics say could hasten a crisis on the disability side of the program, allowing Republicans to use a threat of benefit cuts as leverage in negotiations. See Talking Points Memo, Jan. 14 and Dean Baker, Jan. 8, 2015.

Journal news coverage won’t raise that possibility, I promise.

• Right-to-work legislation is supposed to make New Mexico more attractive to potential businesses. Maybe, but a site selector told ABQ Business First Dec. 31 that may be “old thinking.’”

The Journal is writing reams on right-to-work but thus far, nothing questioning its virtues. Nor has it wondered about its relevance in a state with just four percent of the private work force unionized. Nothing, either, on what right-to-work has wrought elsewhere.

Journal editors seem as passionate about reporting on right-to-work as they were for digging into the behavioral health audit story.

• If the U.S. House has its way, Wall Street will be continue to lay big bets with our money knowing we’ll pay when they lose. In the vote to ease post-crisis regulations, 29 Democrats joined Republicans to give banks more time to enjoy derivatives and collateralized loan obligations and in privacy. See Jonathan Weisman’s account in the NY Times, Jan. 14.

• Meanwhile, insider trading rages in the markets, per Robert Reich’s Blog December 18, 2014. And Joe Nocera (Dec. 29, 2014, N.Y. Times) believes the courts are making it impossible to prosecute.

• After Wall Street imploded, the feds sued and now S&P, the ratings company that stamped “good stuff” on dirty securities marketed by slimy US banks and mortgage companies, may be about to settle. See the Jan. 12 N.Y. Times Deal Book story by Ben Protess.

• “The median net worth of a member of Congress was $1,029,505 in 2013 — a 2.5 percent increase from 2012 — compared with an average American household’s median net worth of $56,355. Once again, the majority of members of Congress are millionaires — 271 of the 533 members currently in office, or 50.8 percent. Open reported that Jan. 12.

Not saying they’re bad people, just that it seems newsworthy.

• Speaking of affluence, in a column on the carried interest tax loophole, Reich rips the culpable parties, Democratic and Republican.

I read it in the Dec. 31 issue of the new (news-driven) ABQ Free Press, not the Journal. ***

• Prescription drug prices are too high because, “Companies are taking advantage of a mix of laws that force insurers to include essentially all expensive drugs in their policies…no matter how little it helps or how much it costs.” So writes Peter B. Bach, MD and director of the Center for Health Policy and Outcomes at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in the Jan. 24 N.Y. Times.

Perhaps so, but there are other reasons including the outmoded patent system, about which the Journal is silent.

And the pharmaceutical industry still rakes in the dollars they earned by writing a provision of the Part D law banning Medicare from bargaining for discounts. Since this gift to Big Pharma swelled the budget deficit, real conservatives rebelled but the GOP leadership ran roughshod over them.

The Journal never blew the whistle on then Senator Domenici or then Representative Wilson.

I have a million more, but you get the idea. New Mexico’s largest daily does its best to spike stories contradicting its agenda.

If you believe Democrats and Republicans debate to find what’s rational and moral, that no powerful forces exist to bend both parties to their selfish interests and that there’s no class conflict in the good old US of A – with the possible exception of those losers carping about inequality – the stories I’ve cited, well, they cannot exist.

And if they do, it’s the editors’ duty to look away.

Of course, if you believe those things, you are a person of faith. This may be admirable but should disqualify you for the news business. Journalism is the product of doubt and at its best, doubt of the powerful.

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One Comment so far ↓

  • Gerard Bradley

    Nice article except for recycling Winston Churchill’s slur on Clement Attlee. After serving in the WWII wartime cabinet, as prime minister Clement Attlee went on to design the postwar British welfare state, including the National health Service. Churchill made some great speeches but I don’t think that outweighs cheerleading for the Boer War, the Gallipoli fiasco during WWI (the Australians and New Zealanders won’t ever forget that), putting Britain into a prolonged recession by going back on the Gold Standard in the 1920s- I could go on. To say nothing of his role in fighting Irish independence.

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