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Michael Winship: Media Reformers, It's The Economy

(Photo by Robin Holland)

Below is an article by JOURNAL writer Michael Winship. We welcome your comments below.

Media Reformers, It's The Economy
By Michael Winship

Last weekend’s National Conference on Media Reform in Minneapolis was a freewheeling, articulate, committed gathering of activists, policy wonks and everyday citizens dedicated to the idea that there can be no real democracy without a media democracy – independent reporting from diverse communities free of the interference and spin of government and big business. Perhaps nowhere else can you witness an FCC commissioner like Michael Copps get a rock star standing ovation worthy of Mick Jagger or hear the words, “Common carrier rules are hot!”

Some 3500 assembled to participate in panels and hear a range of speakers that included my colleague Bill Moyers, Senator Byron Dorgan, Center for Internet and Society founder Lawrence Lessig, Naomi Klein, Louise Erdrich and Dan Rather. Participants grappled with mobilizing grass roots movements around such hot button issues as continuing, big media consolidation and net neutrality – two words perhaps more elegantly phrased as “Internet freedom” – keeping cyberspace open and accessible to all, regardless of income. As Moyers has pointed out, neutrality sounds too much like Switzerland, and as my colleague Patric Verrone, president of the Writers Guild, West, says, the notion of fighting for neutrality seems oxymoronic. So, “Internet freedom” it is.

Marty Kaplan, director of the University of Southern California’s Norman Lear Center, told those gathered they were a crowd that “may not color inside the lines but sure can connect the dots.” Yet as perceptive and informed as attendees were, sadly absent from the weekend’s energetic dialogues was any significant discussion of this country’s economy, the vast gap between rich and poor, the way gross inequality in such desperate times is being largely ignored by the media, our candidates and the progressive movement.

“The economic crisis is just not that compelling or sexy to the many progressives who are stirred into action by every ugly utterance by Bill O’Reilly,” media activist and journalist Danny Schecter writes. “… Cheering on political personalities or mounting one more issue oriented e-mail campaign is certainly easier than confronting the economic and power imbalances caused by the structural conflicts in our economy.”
Schecter goes on to quote an executive with the Cincinnati-based Fifth Third Bank, who describes our current situation as, “A CRISIS OF BIBLICAL PROPORTIONS.” The exec elaborates: “I’m not talking New Testament biblical; I’m talking Old Testament hellfire and brimstone. This is the worst credit crisis we’ve ever seen.”

Thirty six and a half million Americans – one in eight Americans, one in six children – that we KNOW of, because there are no good ways to really measure – live below the official federal poverty level, $20,000 a year for a family of four. Half of us – half! – will have gone through a year or more of poverty by the time we turn 60.

In contrast, behold the woeful case of Alan Schwartz, former CEO of the now defunct investment bank Bear Stearns. As that company nosedived last year, subprime mortgage hedge funds crashing in flames, Schwartz relinquished his usual annual bonus, which meant that his total compensation for 2007 and the prior four years was a piddling $141 million. Poor guy had to rent out his 7800 square foot house in the New York suburbs and squat at his new, $28 million Manhattan apartment; his seven-acre home in Greenwich, Connecticut; and his Colorado condo. Just a couple of weeks ago, shareholders approved Bear Stearns’ merger with JP Morgan, which received $30 billion in taxpayer-funded, federal loan guarantees to take over what little was left.

John McCain says the fundamentals of the economy are strong but admits it’s a subject he doesn’t know a lot about. He counts among his economic advisors Carly Fiorina, fired chief executive of Hewlett Packard, where you’ll recall she was accused of breathtaking mismanagement and street-bully tactics. Of her role in the McCain campaign, Jeffrey Sonnenfeld of the Yale School of Management told The New York Times, “You couldn’t pick a worse, non-imprisoned C.E.O. to be your standard-bearer.”

Among McCain’s other top advisors are John Green and Wayne Berman, who received $720,000 in lobbying fees from Ameriquest Mortgage, one of the noteworthy, predatory lenders in the country’s mortgage mess. As the New York Daily News reported this past spring, Ameriquest, which has since been bought out by Citigroup, “was forced to settle suits with 49 states for $325 million. More than 13,680 New York homeowners got taken for a ride by the company, records show.”

Barack Obama believes our current economic crisis is “the logical conclusion of a tired and misguided philosophy that has dominated Washington for far too long.” Nonetheless, his economic policy director, Jason Furman, has been a defender of Wal-Mart and was director of former treasury secretary Robert Rubin’s Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution, a group of Wall Street Democrats committed to continuing Bill Clinton’s economic doctrine – i.e., growth based on deficit reduction and free trade.

Until his resignation Wednesday, Obama’s team also included Jim Johnson, ex-Mondale chief of staff and former CEO of Fannie Mae, the government-sanctioned banker that buys and resells loans from other banks and lenders. According to the Wall Street Journal, Johnson, who was leading the search for Obama’s running mate, was given preferential treatment when he received $2 million in personal loans from one of Fannie Mae’s biggest customers, subprime lender Countrywide Financial Services. A front page story in Wednesday’s Washington Post added that Johnson also was “the beneficiary of accounting in which Fannie Mae's earnings were manipulated so that executives could earn larger bonuses. The accounting manipulation for 1998 resulted in the maximum payouts to Fannie Mae's senior executives – $1.9 million in Johnson's case – when the company's performance that year would have otherwise resulted in no bonuses at all, according to reports in 2004 and 2006 by the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight.”

Both candidates need economic advisors untainted by association with corporate interests, folks who know what it’s like to have to live on macaroni instead of meat, to spend sleepless nights in subways or shelters, to let diseases like cancer and diabetes gnaw away at a person’s insides because they can’t afford medicine and doctors. And the media need to tell their stories, not only to make the rest of us aware and stir us to action, but also to validate and empower with Webspace, column inches and airtime the plight of those so afflicted, to bring dignity and gravitas to their predicament. Attention must be paid.

Michael Winship is senior writer of BILL MOYERS JOURNAL.

Please note that the views and opinions expressed by Michael Winship are not necessarily the views and opinions held by Bill Moyers or BILL MOYERS JOURNAL.


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You made some Good points there. I did a search on the topic and found most people will agree.

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If the public had been privy to our Intelligence information, as was Senators Obama, Clinton, and Kerry, we too would have voted to clean out Saddam's nest of Al-Quada operatives. They now have to hide in Syria and caves in Afghanistan. And the Iraqi people are no longer tortured, imprisoned, impaled, boiled in oil - unless Americans like all of that. Oh, I forgot - these people are our citizens by default thanks to our Supremes!

You're on the right track, Winship, and your campaign assessment is correct. I am an Obama voter, but not a supporter. I see in him a reincarnation of Alexander Hamilton, syncophant to the more affluent founding fathers. Have you assessed Penny Pritzger's role in his campaign or thought about the nuclear plants that will result (from our taxation) as a result of his utility ties?
Surely though McCain is more dangerous as he dallies with endtimers and Israel-firsters. Jack Kemp, the carrot dangler, is his most ominous adviser. Kemp is a master of devising bailouts the needy can't quite qualify for, and then repairing the same legislation as a boon to the comfortable. McCain also has increasing ties to the mercenary industry. His record in Savings and Loan, media perks and lobbyist friendships is matched only by his self-forgiveness.
Neither of the guys can cut it in the new fiscal and environmental milieu of "no do-overs." We are likely doomed in every sector because we were obedient too long under a Constitution based on the sacredness of private property accumulation by any means necessary.

"He (Sen.John McCain) counts among his economic advisors Carly Fiorina, fired chief executive of Hewlett Packard, where you’ll recall she was accused of breathtaking mismanagement and street-bully tactics."
Hey, didn't she get a huge severence package, like 25 or 26 million dollars from HP? I wonder if she's "volunteering" for his campaign. :)

wonderful and right on target BUT will the media giants read or pay attention? We must, somehow keep the internet out of the hands of the media giants who just celebrated the life of Tim Russert, pointing out his every effort at truth and fairness while languishing in their own opinions and biases.

Of "Webspace, column inches and airtime", perhaps the most crucial of these is Webspace. Other media have long been privatized, while the current struggle to prevent privatization of the internet languishes in misperception, disinformation and obfuscation that serves the anti-transparent purposes of incumbent power.
Attention MUST be paid to the simple fact that truth is not promotional.

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