Volume , Number 0
Crime & Punishment
American Journalism: A Class Act
The United States in the â€¦
Stephen R. Shalom
Patriotism Is An Olympic Event
Differing Agendas in South Asia
Bryan g. Pfeifer
Bryan g. Pfeifer
Psychiatric Medications, Illicit Drugs, & â€¦
Martin Glaberman: 1918-2001
There are no articles.Culture
There are no articles.Features
Ruth hubbard and Stuart newman
There are no articles.
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American Journalism: A Class Act
Like most people, American journalists are apt to look at the very rich with awe. These days, in a society eager to condemn the Enron debacle, we might want to conclude that decent standards ultimately prevail. But media censure comes down hard on financial mismanagement, flagrant skullduggery, and collapse; not on zeal to keep maximizing profits and riches. Unless they appear to be headed for prison, frontrunners in money-mania derbies are good bets to remain media heroes. For years, Enron's leader Ken Lay's acquisitions dazzled many reporters and media consumers.
Insatiable greed is unlikely to cause bad press—journalists often cite enthusiasm for boosting “net worth” as evidence of exemplary character—as long as they don't get busted for breaking major laws.
Coronated as virtual geniuses at a frenzied pace during the dot-com boom, quite a few investors and executives were quickly “worth” hundreds of millions or even more. These “brilliant tacticians” of the business world were profiled in countless splashy news reports.
Such profuse adulation of the rich exists side-by-side with occasional media trashing of individuals as overly piggish or personally flawed. A Newsweek cover story, headlined “Rhymes With Rich,” raised eyebrows in August 1989 for its harsh treatment of hotel mogul Leona Helmsley. But—far from faulting her for being a billionaire in a country with millions of destitute people—the article took Helms- ley to task for instances of personal unkindness.
The current Enron scandal has already touched on many important issues. But if the firm had kept scrupulous accounts instead of cooking the books, it might still be considered a model corporate citizen. While Enron was riding high on Wall Street, national media coverage was generally favorable, as the company gorged itself on electricity privatization—heralded as “reform” and boosted by political influence-leasing from California to India.
In 1993, Enron wrangled an agreement with India's state government of Maharashtra for a 695- megawatt plant. “The Enron project was the first private power project in India,” Arundhati Roy wrote in her book Power Politics. Lots of cash lubricated the fix.
“Enron had made no secret of the fact that, in order to secure the deal, it had paid out millions of dollars to ‘educate' the politicians and bureaucrats involved in the deal,” Roy recalled. For India, the size of the scheme was unprecedented: “Experts who have studied the project have called it the most massive fraud in the country's history.” The project's gross profits were set to exceed $12 billion.
Not that such massive gouging bothered U.S. media. On the contrary. For the journalistic mainstream, privatization—whether in Western India or Northern California—was beneficent. Ken Lay and the rest of Enron's smart guys were ahead of the curve.
Reverence for the super-rich pervaded America's “newspaper of record” during the recent World Economic Forum events in Man- hattan. Several dozen New York Times articles breathlessly described chic interactions among top investors, business executives, and government officials. Much was made of their notable willingness to acknowledge that the world they endeavor to run has not been going too well. Moving toward more enlightened self-interest, they recognized that global social problems merit deep concern.
Meanwhile, the Times reported in a number of stories, thousands of protesters were in the streets, demanding economic justice. Those articles included snippets of quotes with photos of creative-looking puppets and posters carried by demonstrators.
Naturally, people who have fundamental problems with corporate agendas shouldn't expect much in-depth or sympathetic news coverage in U.S. mass media. So major outlets told us little about 40,000 activists who converged on Porto Alegre, Brazil, for the second annual World Social Forum.
In contrast to a year ago, when the New York Times managed one paragraph on the World Social Forum, this time the paper printed three news articles about the gathering. But in this case, the Times accounts of the event appeared with ascending levels of disparagement. By the time the paper got to its February 7 wrap-up story, the world's second historic grassroots summit in Brazil was “more than anything a campaign stop for the country's coming presidential election.” In the end, the Times reported, “little of substance was accomplished.”
The Washington Post, which published a substantive news story about the World Social Forum a year ago, its journalistic eyes were on Manhattan. The Post made a few passing references to WSF—a brief wire-service dispatch and a single sniping sentence under a New York dateline, reporting that in Porto Alegre a “world conference on progressive alternatives to global capitalism has drawn 14,000 delegates and thousands of hangers-on.” Z
Norman Solomon is a syndicated columnist. His latest book is The Habits of Highly Deceptive Media.