By now you’re probably familiar with this news-show concept: Find an issue, have a TV host sum it up and then bring on two people to argue the pros and cons. Sounds fair, doesn’t it? And it is – if the people involved don’t have an ax to grind. You might expect the host to be without ties to the parties involved in the issue under discussion. And you might expect the pros and cons to be presented by people with special knowledge but without a special interest in the outcome of the debate.
But all too often, that’s just not how it goes. Let’s pick a host at random – say Andrea Mitchell of MSNBC (photo at right). She sits there calmly discussing the economic meltdown, asking loaded questions, without disclosing that her husband is former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan. At least she had the grace to smile when a guest responded to a question about the inside workings of the Fed by saying, “Oh Andrea, you know the answer to that better than I do!”
OK, let’s pick David Gregory, also an MSNBC “talking head.” During programs dealing with the housing crisis, I never heard him disclose that his wife was the legal counsel for Fannie Mae. She just resigned her position in September, after the scandal-plagued mortgage giant was taken over by the government. (Gregory and wife, Beth Wilkinson, are shown in photo below.)
I won’t bring up Fox News because the so-called commentators on Fox are so blatantly partisan that everybody knows what their bias is. I mean, come on! Karl Rove? Mike Huckabee? With Fox, there is no need of a disclaimer. You and I already know the network is the propaganda outlet for the Republican Party.
I could go on and on… For example, did you know there’s a Web site floating the possible candidacy of CNN loudmouth Lou Dobbs as Governor of New Jersey? But suffice it to say many of the people you see on TV news shows have behind-the-scenes ties to the people they talk about. I don’t see how they can discuss issues impartially when their financial and social lives are inextricably linked to the people and issues they are discussing.
The situation is even worse when it comes to the guests they select. A favorite source of comment is the Heritage Foundation. Sounds impressive, doesn’t it? You will hear the foundation described as “a conservative think tank.” And it is – if by think tank you mean propaganda machine. You can expect only one kind of thinking from the Heritage Foundation – far right apologia.
Joseph Coors of the famous brewing dynasty and Richard Mellon Scaife (photo below) funded the project back in 1973. Just in case you don’t know about those two billionaires, let me provide a brief sketch. According to Chip Bartlett in his introduction to “The Coors Connection,” the Coors family is a highly-organized force for social change. “The change they support with their time and money is a return to Darwinian political and economic morality framed by the unrestricted demands of market and capital,” Bartlett wrote. “They also fund a right-wing sector of Christian fundamentalism who seek to replace democratic pluralism with what they call ‘traditional family values’ but which, in fact, is an authoritarian, gender-based social order.”
And Scaife? You remember him! He funded those attacks against Bill Clinton during the Whitewater and Monica Lewinsky scandals. He also purchases large quantities of right-wing books to push them up the bestseller lists. In addition to the Heritage Foundation, he pours money into such right-wing organizations as the American Enterprise Institute, Judicial Watch, and the Cato Institute. People for the American Way (a liberal think tank) estimates that Scaife’s foundations have channeled in excess of $340 million to right-wing groups over the last 30 years.
The “Heritage Foundation” receives large donations from such overseas sources as the South Korea government. With that kind of backing, I am not surprised that its representatives find arguments in favor of letting America’s domestic car manufacturers expire.
The point of this blog is that conflicts of interest are so widespread in the presentation and discussion of news that our only defense these days is – as the old saying goes – to believe half of what we see and none of what we hear.