The Establishement: NPR, Obama, Corporatism, Parties

I was listening to NPR, as usual, while at work. I think it was during Diane Rehm’s show that I was listening to some guests talk about federal debt and related issues. From what I was hearing, I became so frustrated that I turned it off and nearly vowed never to listen to NPR again.

So, what annoyed me so much?

I’ve become increasingly exasperated with all mainstream media/news (NPR being as mainstream as it gets) and mainstream politics. Everything in the mainstream has been pushed so far right that it’s almost entirely disconnected from the reality of average Americans. Listening to the mainstream media, you wouldn’t even be able to guess how liberally progressive most Americans are (especially relative to most mainstream reporters, pundits and politicians) on the very issues the mainstream media ‘reports’ on. So, where is the liberal bias in the media? Since newspapers have a business section, why don’t papers still have a labor section as they had a half century ago?

My frustration with NPR, in particular, has been growing. About a month ago, I wrote about an example of NPR’s status quo bias. That example was more about a general cultural bias, although one that favored the capitalist ‘management’ paradigm. Last night’s example was more egregious.

The guests seemed to be the average type of person one expects in the mainstream. I realize that means they are, therefore, to the right of the average American, but still I was shocked by how far right they were. They didn’t seem to be right-wingers and yet they were stating far right positions as if they were centrist.

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Let me give some examples.

Here is one that that I’ve noticed again and again. On NPR (and most of the mainstream media), you will rarely hear anyone admit that social security has never and will never contribute to federal debt, although interestingly I’m finally starting to hear it more in the mainstream (years after having heard it in the alternative media).

In fact, even most Washington Democrats like Obama have (for most of the recent years of debate) been unwilling to admit this either, despite it supporting the position they claim to advocate. Obama has the bully pulpit and could push the progressive agenda of protecting the social safety net. He did recently finally admit that social security has nothing to do with the debt, but then he followed that we still need to reform social security because now is the best time to do so. Why does he, after admitting the Republicans have been lying to and deceiving the public, then throw the Republicans a bone by telling them they have an open field to attack social security? He basically promises Republicans that he won’t defend the very cornerstone of progressivism.

The rhetoric that social security has anything to do with the debt is a right-wing talking point, but importantly it has been the talking point of all mainstream media and politics. I even heard Diane Rehm, in the past, talk about this as if it were an indisputable fact. I’ve heard it so many times that I can’t remember how often I’ve heard someone in the mainstream say that if we are going to get serious about balancing the budgets then we’re going to have to talk about social security.

This far right position is the centrist position of the mainstream, even though the vast majority of Americans disagree with this position. Of the mainstream media, only certain people on MSNBC will question this right-wing talking point and call out those who state it as a fact. But the most mainstream of the mainstream media (NPR, CNN, etc) will rarely if ever follow MSNBC’s example. What is odd is that MSNBC gets labeled as far left. Really? Left of what? Almost everything, including the American public, is left of the right-leaning mainstream.

New Poll Confirms Country is Clearly Progressive
Cenk Uygur

When asked what’s the first thing they would do to balance the budget, Americans had an unmistakably clear answer — raise taxes on the rich. It came in number one by a mile, with a whopping 61 percent.

If that wasn’t progressive enough, cutting defense spending came in number two, with 20 percent.

And if all of that wasn’t clear enough, when asked about cutting Medicare, only 4 percent were in favor of it. Only 3 percent wanted to cut Social Security as a way to balance the budget.

Here is another right-wing talking point I heard last night. One guest said that the American public thinks the government is too big. Bullshit! That is fucking propaganda, corporate propaganda at that. Here is some data that shows actual views of the American public (from my post: US Demographics & Increasing Progressivism):

America: A Center-Left Nation

It is one of the most fundamental ideological divides between the left and the right: Conservatives purport to believe that government should be as small as possible and favor market‐oriented solutions to social problems; progressives, on the other hand, see government playing a more vital role in meeting basic social needs, including infrastructure, economic security, education, and health care. As the most recent National Election Study (NES) data demonstrate, clear majorities of the public recognize the importance of a well‐run and well‐funded government to their lives and to the security and prosperity of the country, and, indeed, want it to do more.

On all three of the following measures, the public has moved in a more progressive direction. The number saying the government should be doing more things increased by 9 points from the 2004 study, the number saying government has gotten bigger because the problems have gotten bigger increased by 3 points, and the number saying we need a strong government to handle today’s economic problems increased by 5 points.

Public Opinion Snapshot: The Weakness of Conservative Opposition to Health Care Reform
By Ruy Teixeira

In recent polls, more of the public opposes than favors the health care reform bills in Congress. Conservatives would have you believe that the opposition plurality in these polls is a result of public distaste for a big government takeover of our health care system. Not so. In a December CNN poll, a total of 55 percent either favored the Senate health reform bill outright (42 percent) or opposed it at this point because its approach to health care isn’t liberal enough (13 percent). Just 39 percent said they opposed the bill because its approach to health care was too liberal.

Government is Good

If we are asked about this issue in the abstract, 45% of us say we want “a smaller government providing fewer services,” and 42% say that we want “a bigger government providing more services”– a pretty even split. But then when people are asked about specific policy areas, much larger numbers of people say they support expanded government services. For example, almost three quarters of Americans say they want to see more federal involvement in ensuring access to affordable health care, providing a decent standard of living for the elderly, and making sure that food and medicines are safe. And over 60% want more government involvement in reducing poverty, ensuring clean air and water, and setting minimum educational standards for school. These are hardly the answers of a people who want drastically smaller government.

Here is my third NPR example. On last night’s show, a caller asked: Does Obama genuinely believe in the far right positions he keeps giving into or is it that he has no room to negotiate further to the left? I can’t remember if one of the guests ever gave a direct answer, but the implied answer was that it was the latter. I do recall specifically that a guest described how Obama is playing on Republican’s turf which is what implies that it isn’t Obama’s turf.

I, of course, disagree. Obama is playing on mainstream Washington turf (i.e., right-wing and corporatist) because Obama is bought by the same corporate interests as Republicans. They are all serving the same master(s). It’s not that they are mere puppets. Rather, anyone who doesn’t dance with the one who brought them won’t dance for long. If you don’t play according to corporate rules, you won’t get corporate funding nor get a cushy corporate lobbyist job when you leave office. It’s just a sad fact of life that people are easily corrupted by money, power and fame. Also, we all tend to act according to the interests of those who are similar to us. Politicians tend to be wealthy and so it’s no surprise that they tend to share the interests of the wealthy.

Obama doesn’t fight strongly against Republicans because his own position is much closer to the Republican position than is his position to that of the American public. I don’t know to what degree he agrees with Republicans, but my point is even on those issues he doesn’t necessarily strongly disagree. For God’s sake, Obama is even against gay marriage, a staunch Republican position. Are most Americans against gay marriage? No.

Gay Marriage Opponents Now in Minority

poll from CNN this week is the latest to show a majority of Americans in favor of same-sex marriage, with 51 percent saying that marriages between gay and lesbian couples “should be recognized by the law as valid” and 47 percent opposed.

This is the fourth credible poll in the past eight months to show an outright majority of Americans in favor of gay marriage. That represents quite a lot of progress for supporters of same-sex marriage. Prior to last year, there had been just one survey — a Washington Post poll conducted in April 2009 — to show support for gay marriage as the plurality position, and none had shown it with a majority.

As we noted last August, support for gay marriage seems to have been increasing at an accelerated pace over the past couple of years. Below is an update to the graph from last year’s article, which charts the trend from all available public polls on same-sex marriage going back to 1988.

On a related note, another staunch Republican position is the Tough On Crime policy of which the War On Drugs is an extension. The American people think Marijuana should be legalized, something conservatives have always seen as dangerous to society.

Marijuana Legalization: Poll Suggests Public Support Growing

Data compiled by the Pew Research Center and drawn primarily from the General Social Survey has found a consistent trend towards supporting legalization of marijuana for recreational use, but no poll so far has shown a majority in favor.

In a poll released Tuesday by CNN, 41 percent of American adults said they favored legalizing marijuana, while 56 percent opposed. Another poll, conducted early last month by the Pew Research Center, found 45 percent of adults supporting legalization and 50 percent against it.

[ . . . ] Demographic trends show that the movement to embrace legalization will likely continue: Both recent polls reveal younger respondents as the most likely supporters. In the Pew poll, the majority of 18-29 year olds (54 percent favor/42 percent oppose) and a slim plurality of 30-49 year olds (49 percent support/47 percent oppose) said marijuana use should be legal. In the new CNN poll, about as many respondents under 50 said they supported legalizing marijuana (49 percent) as opposed it (50 percent).

Who does Obama agree with, the American people or the Republicans? The Republicans, of course.

Other issues that Obama didn’t support the majority public opinion and instead ‘compromised’ with Republicans:

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There is nothing surprising about this. It’s just the type of positions that almost all politicians take these days.
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It wouldn’t be extremely different if it was a Republican as president. These positions are mainstream Washington positions, mainstream media positions, mainstream corporate positions. This ‘mainstream’, however, shouldn’t be mistaken as the average or majority position. If we had an actually functioning democracy, the mainstream would reflect the majority position and mainstream politicians would represent the majority of Americans. Instead, we have some type of plutocratic oligarchy, whether corporatocracy/soft-fascism or inverted totalitarianism.
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Obama’s positions on all these issues are the standard positions presented on NPR. But what about the views of the majority of Americans? As someone who has regularly listened to NPR for years, I can say that you will rarely hear reported any of the data I’m sharing here. It’s not a secret. The data I’m sharing even comes from mainstream sources such as Pew. There seems to be a disconnect between info known in the mainstream and the info reported in the mainstream. The most rational assumption to make is that most of the time it’s intentional when incorrect or partial information is reported or when information is entirely ignored. I’ve often wondered if all these mainstream media types are trapped in a media bubble, an echo chamber… but I don’t think that is giving them enough credit. These aren’t stupid and uneducated people.
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It does make me wonder, though. Diane Rehm seems well-intentioned. So why doesn’t she usually challenge her guests when they state misinformation? Why doesn’t she point out what the correct information is? Why does she most often just goes along with the talking points? Could it be that she genuinely is oblivious to all the type of info I’m sharing? Or does she think it’s not her job to help fairly and fully inform her listeners?
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Maybe it’s just the structure of mainstream media. NPR isn’t really all that different from corporate media. The ‘Public’ in NPR is very limited because much of their funding doesn’t come from the public, especially not the government that supposedly represents the national public.
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“As its federal funding came under threat,” U.S. National Public Radio increased its ad sales. “Public-radio stations now count 18% of their revenue from businesses, compared with 11% from the federal government.” Corporate “underwriters” include Clear Channel CommunicationsStarbucks andWal-Mart Stores. “More on-air sponsorships are now weaved into programming breaks rather than lumped at the end of each show,” reports Sarah McBride. “And more minutes per hour are given over to these announcements, a sweetener for all concerned because such underwriting is tax-deductible.” The trend was informed by a 2004 report for 21 large public-radio stations, which found listeners disliked on-air pledge drives, but “weren’t bothered by” fundraising by direct mail or on-air underwriting. NPR ombudsman Jeffery Dvorkin admits that listener concerns “about corporate influence on programming as well as the number of messages” are increasing. [6]

Sponsors include:

In 2005 they received $3 million from the Ford Foundation.

Sarah McBride

As much of the media industry languishes in an advertising slump, public radio is on a tear, scooping up new sponsorship by mimicking the tactics of commercial broadcasters. On offer is public radio’s coveted, gold-plated audience.

But the increase in corporate messages is a delicate marketing strategy, since many of those prized listeners gravitated to public stations looking for the exact opposite: an escape from advertising’s constant hum.

These stories mention single payer. I can find no NPR news reports or other shows which actually focused on single payer or on the movement to achieve it.

Why is NPR refusing to report on what 60% of US citizens and the majority of health professionals want?

NPR’s web site provides lists of foundation and individual major donors but not of corporate sponsors. For that list you need to go to their annual reports. The latest report available on line is for 2005. Health and Long-term Care corporate sponsors in 2005 were:

  • $1 million+: Farmers Insurance Group of Companies, Prudential Financial
  • $500,000 – $999,999: Allianz Life Insurance Company of North America, Allstate Insurance Company, Northwestern Mutual Foundation,
  • $250,000 – $499,999: AARP, The Hartford Financial Services Group, UnumProvident
  • $100,000 – $249,999: Liberty Mutual Insurance Company
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I think part of the mess we find ourselves in can be explained by the party system.
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George Washington explained in detail what he saw as the danger of political parties:

They [political parties] serve to organize faction, to give it an artificial and extraordinary force; to put, in the place of the delegated will of the nation, the will of a party, often a small but artful and enterprising minority of the community; and, according to the alternate triumphs of different parties, to make the public administration the mirror of the ill-concerted and incongruous projects of faction, rather than the organ of consistent and wholesome plans digested by common counsels, and modified by mutual interests.

“However combinations or associations of the above description may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely, in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people, and to usurp for themselves the reins of government; destroying afterwards the very engines, which have lifted them to unjust dominion.”

Like Paine, a danger he saw was that a country could develop divided loyalties and the people would no longer see themselves united in a common cause. This would lead to a weakening of liberty because it would spread mistrust and antagonism. One division he foresaw was geographical where parties would prey upon people’s prejudices and xenophobia. Another division had to do with foreign influences.
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In Washington’s time, this made particular sense as a large part of the population had been born in another country or had close relatives still living in another country. A dangerous possibility was of a citizen who had loyalty divided between two nations. This still can be a danger today, but it’s an even bigger issue with globalization. Businesses (as well as business owners and investors) have less national allegiance once they become transnational corporations which are the very businesses that now have the most influence over our politics.
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The parties have become perfect vehicles for corporate interests. This is particularly problematic considering that mainstream media companies have been bought up by conglomerates that often are transnational. So the parties and the media, NPR included, that reports on them is increasingly influenced by the same global plutocracy.
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Anyway, my frustration is that this entire corrupt system gets blamed on liberals.
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NPR liberal? Obama progressive? In what alternative reality?

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