Thursday, October 16, 2014

US mass media: The Dumbing Down Machine.

by Richard Mellor
Afscme local 444, retired

The capitalist economic machine is in a bit of a funk in too many areas to go in to here but it is interesting to think about the language the strategists of capital use in their journals.  They use very different language in the mass consumption papers aimed at the general public, than they do in the serious theoretical journals they produce for their own class. But even these journals are careful to not use language that is too forthright when it comes to certain details.
I have been reading about the concern the US capitalist class has about the global growth slowdown particularly with regard to China and the Eurozone as these are major trading partners for US capitalism. These developments have strengthened the US dollar but that threatens US economic growth as it makes exports more expensive.  Then I read in this Wednesdays Wall Street Journal that oil prices are “plunging” due to the glut exacerbated by the “torrent of new crude that is flooding the market” thanks to the US hydraulic fracturing boom. This in turn threatens global stability wherever that may reside as instability appears to be the norm.  And massive bombing of the Middle East, which has become a US tradition, does not seem to be producing results which is nothing new. What we have here folks is a class based, unplanned system of production in decay.

As I read the reports, it’s clear that the few thousand folks who make the decisions that affect our daily lives are stuck between a rock and a hard place.  Huge amounts of money have been pumped in to the economy with little to show for it except massive debt, so that avenue is limited.  The other option is further cuts, but there’s real danger there also. Wages and benefits in the private sector have been decimated over the past period and some 400,000 public sector jobs have been eliminated since the crash.  Social services have also been savaged, but the crisis they are in is forcing them to deepen this assault on workers, the middle class and the poor. The term they use for this is “reforms”.

What do they do?  The bloodletting, to use their own term, has meant, “The public’s willingness to take harsh medicine also has been diminished…” the Wall Street Journal writes.  “Harsh medicine” that’s a very clinical way of putting it.  And no one is ever really “willing” to have the food taken from their table surely.  What they really mean is that patience is running thin.

The statement also reveals something else about the mindset of the 1%.  Unlike those who bow to the almighty power of the class that rules and contemptuously rejects the idea that the US working class will fight back or attempt to resolve the crisis we are facing, the strategists of capital are well aware that major clashes are in the wings as the class conflict becomes more pronounced.  It is their fear of social unrest that holds them back to any extent at all but the crisis of the system forces them to place the US working class on rations as we have said many times in the past. But they don’t like being hemmed in and it’s causing some strain between the bankers and the body politic.

Insecurity and doubt about the future which is the reason workers are cautious about spending their hard earned cash if they have any at all, is the same reason capitalists won’t invest in production.  But insecurity will intensify as will hording as the global crisis deepens.  While capital spending has had its moment’s it’s clear the capitalist class is unsure opportunity will knock in the future as far as profits go as these comments from the Business Roundtable’s CEO Economic Outlook Report indicate:

“While some U.S. economic indicators are improving moderately, the results from our survey of CEOs seem to reflect an underperforming U.S. economy held back by policy uncertainty and growing conflicts around the world… The U.S. economy continues to perform below its potential.”

The bankers have already done too much one banker tells the WSJ and that has let the politicians off the hook, has allowed them to “avoid making politically tough decisions that would boost growth potential.”. He feels the bankers have done enough and now it’s the politician’s turn.  The decisions he is talking about are structural reforms. Remember, for the wageworker, the term “reform” when the bosses’ use it is not a good one. The politicians need to pass legislation that would encourage investment the bankers say, this would mean lowering corporate tax rates, and any other obstacles to profit making, so other reforms include “overhauls to labor laws and other regulatory changes” the WSJ adds. We know what that language means, weaken or eliminate union or legislated safety laws and any regulations that hinder capital flow and accumulation.  The Journal admits that such laws are hard to “enact quickly” if at all. This is due to the pressure the politician faces from the working class, they are much closer to that pressure than the banker who doesn’t have to get elected every couple of years or so and they are acutely aware that the anger and hatred of the rich resides not very far beneath the surface of US society.  What it lacks most of all is organized expression.

The fear of social unrest as a response to events that are beyond their control is fueling the warmongering and sabre rattling we are hearing and reading about every day in the mass media. The fear of foreign hordes is always a good diversionary tactic; We must put our differences aside and unite to save the homeland, we must all make sacrifices, is the clarion call.

Rep. Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican running for US Senate tours the state in fatigues touting his military background.  He warned about Islamic State long before, “….the beheading of two American Journalists captured our attention.” the WSJ states. But why has the beheading of two people “captured our attention?  US allies like the Saudi’s behead people all the time. I’m sure drone warfare has beheaded a few children as well.  Why doesn’t the slaughter of civilians with the assistance of US taxpayer money whether it be in Iraq, Afghanistan or Palestine “capture our attention” in the same way?

Because it’s not reported in the same way.  We all know that surely.

The thousands of US deaths due to lack of health care could capture our attention if the owners of the media wanted it to, but like the alcoholic, better place that in the denial file otherwise people might find need to correct it.  Then there is the homelessness or the many millions who lost homes thanks to the bankers.  We don’t hear too much about the victims of Hurricane Katrina these days as this disaster, far more destructive than the September 11th attacks, was home grown, was market driven.  We don’t see what goes on in the nation’s torture chambers within prison walls.  We are not privy to the goings on in the boardrooms of the major corporations.  The numerous cop shows on TV are always about cops arresting and humiliating poor working class people, demoralized people who have lost hope or lost their way. Yet the biggest thieves wear suits, are well educated, and occupy the boardrooms of the major corporations and the halls of Congress.

Ownership of the mass media by the ruling class is not confined to the US of course.   But when we talk of global capitalism, we are in the belly of the beast here.  There has never been a national mass party of the working class in the US. Organized labor has been tamed over the past 40 years and with the suppression of attempts by some sections of labor to halt the capitalist offensive in the 1980’s with national strikes at Greyhound, the year long Hormel strike, Eastern Airlines and others suffering defeat due primarily to a powerful combination of the bosses’ and the labor hierarchy, we have seen years of declining strike activity.

But the US media is the most tightly controlled and censored of all the advanced capitalist economies.  In all countries, the nation’s history is written by the ruling class; it is their history that is dominant.  The victor writes the history as they say.  But nowhere is it so pronounced and the media so controlled as in the US.

In a recent study conducted by the
European Journal of Communication, that compared media in some countries in Europe with ours here in the US, in particular, a public service media model as opposed to the market model, the authors point out that: “Comparison shows that public service television devotes more attention to public affairs and international news, and fosters greater knowledge in these areas, than the market model. Public service television also gives greater prominence to news, encourages higher levels of news consumption and contributes to a smaller within-nation gap between the advantaged and disadvantaged.”

There are obviously other factors, American workers spend about two months a year longer at work than workers in most other advanced capitalist economies, the nation is somewhat isolated and apart from other nations for example.  But these findings should come as no surprise to Americans.  The study points out that PBS here in the US which is not really a public service at all (it even has ads now) has less than 2% of the US audience. It finds that in countries like Finland and Denmark the, “core assumption” is that the public must be “adequately exposed” to public affairs programming, “..if they are to cast informed votes, hold government to account and be properly empowered.”
Coverage of US politics in the media is nothing but slagging off the opponents in 30 second sound bites. It’ turns us off by the millions.

Of the US mass media the authors write that US regulation is, “Increasingly light touch.”, and that , “American media is essentially entrepreneurial actors striving to satisfy consumer demand.” And surely after watching the evening news which might open with a thunderstorm that felled trees on a home, four murders and a gang rape and other demoralizing details, we would agree with the study when it claims that the media scene in the US has reached a stage where. “News organizations have increasingly turned to soft journalism exemplified by the rise of local television news programs centered on calamities and accidents”,  just about hits the nail on the head.
These are my thoughts for the day. Until later that is.

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