The press (especially television news) informs our collective response and thought about our world, and the day-to-day events in our world, far more than most of us realize. Martin Bashir, on the ABC program Nightline, recently said, “It’s been described as the most serious financial crisis since the Great Depression. And it brings with it grave dangers for all American families.” And almost daily we hear the television media, and sometimes the print press, remind us that we are on one of the worst recessions in decades. And just a few days ago (June 20), David Faber, on the NBC’s Today show, referenced “the recession . . . [and] these tough economic times.”
The same day Faber spoke on NBC, and millions watched and listened to his dark report, the first-quarter Gross Domestic Product was revised upward once again to 1 % growth. Let me put this very simply—there is no hard evidence that we are in a recession. None. I am not saying there are not people being hurt economically right now. I am not saying everything is great, at least compared to the “boom” we underwent for some years. But we are NOT in a recession! A recession has been defined, for some years now, as two consecutive quarters of negative economic growth. Do you know how many negative quarters we’ve had during these “dark” times? Zero! Nada.
Growth has slowed. The housing market was hyper-inflated and is now correcting itself, again to the harm of some people. Many of these people should never have bought homes as they did in the first place, some of which is their fault. More of the blame belongs on the lending agencies themselves, who were trying to take advantage of the people. What has increased, across the board, is energy and food prices.
We are all hurt by these problems and this provides an important issue for real solutions, namely our very real energy crisis. Personally, I believe there is a real energy crisis and have said so for some years. We have talked around it, discussed it every four years since Jimmy Carter was president, and done next to nothing to solve it. The primary reason seems to be the special interests that plague our Congress. If you want to blame someone blame the Congress and then put the pressure on them to come up with solutions that both increase production and conserve energy. While you are at it tell them that more taxes will not solve this problem either. (Even Europe knows better. Look at the cheap energy the French get because they were willing to invest in nuclear power!) You should also tell them to support the pursuit of new forms of energy that are realistic and cost-effective. Only someone with a decided agenda, including a school child, can figure out the big picture of how we could solve this very big problem. The solution will not be easy to swallow but it can be done.
John Stossel commented in a recent opinion column on a study done by the Business and Media Institute (BMI) that found that ABC, NBC and CBS regularly “hyped similarities to the Great Depression.” BMI took the economic news coverage by the Washington Post, The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal from October 28 to November 3, 1929, the week of the market crash, and compared it with the coverage of ABC, NBC and CBS this year from March 13-19. The conclusion: “The difference between how the 1929 and 2008 media handled a crisis was profound—with modern journalists hyping every event.” Concluded John Stossel, “Today’s coverage is much more alarmist.”
Amity Shales, in her highly praised book on the
Great Depression, The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression, said that by November of 1933 unemployment was 23%. Today it hovers around 5%, a figure that all parties agree is normally acceptable, though never completely desirable. Shales says it well: “This downturn [our present one] is to the Depression as a drizzle to Katrina.”
I have to ask: "Why are reporters so careless with the facts?" I do not know, since I am not able to discern their personal thinking, but I can make an educated guess. Most reporters are trained to find problems and then to inject their opinions on the public-at-large. Let me give you but one historical example.
In 1984, after President Reagan had blown-out Walter Mondale in the presidential election by winning 49 states, James Reston, a respect dean of the press corps, mourned the failure of the press to influence the outcome of the election. Said Reston, “Among the losers in this presidential election campaign you will have to include the nosy scribblers of the press. Not since the days of H. L. Mencken have so many reporters written so much or so well about the shortcomings of the President and influenced so few voters. . . . Most Washington reporters were on to his evasive tactics, easy cheerfulness, and unsteady grasp of the facts. They did not hesitate to point out his deficits, person and fiscal, condemn his windy theorizing, and mock his zigzag contortions, but Mr. Reagan had the photographers and television cameramen for allies and proved that one picture on the nightly news can be worth a million votes.”
Today’s press is much the same except that now most of the television media has signed on to the Reston agenda and can choose to show us what they want and withhold what they would rather we didn’t see. Case in point—the war in Iraq. It has been clearly documented that coverage of the war has declined seriously in recent months. Is it coincidence that this has happened just as all the reports and progress markers put in place by the Congress itself say that we have made significant progress. I would argue that the press was against the war, as were many honest and good people, but now that the outcome looks better than they had hoped for they would rather downplay the success. This is not a mad right-wing conspiracy theory. The facts presented by various non-partisan studies of the media support this conclusion. The problem is that most of the media will never tell you that the serious studies that have been made reveal their bias. Why should they?
I am not one to “blame the press” for all of our social ills. I am, however, fully aware of how they can make the story fit their agenda, just like all partisans can do. The press, and television news reporters, have a decided opinion and where once they kept it to themselves now they are open campaigners for their causes. This is one reason why I will miss Tim Russert.
I knew Tim leaned in a liberal direction but I also knew that he would pursue the truth ruthlessly. We lost much more than an icon with his death. We lost a real man who told the real truth and went wherever the story would take him.
My solution. I skim my local paper, watch no television news unless a breaking story warrants it, and read almost nothing from the mainstream press. I use the Internet, like so many of you, and I particularly like Real Clear Politics, an unbiased source for all the news on the political front.