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Elections 2010: a case of media malpractice


Media coverage of mid-terms a case of journalistic malpractice 
The incessant predictions of a Republican landslide on Nov. 2 are so pervasive that they are becoming almost a self-fulfilling prophesy. 

Much less apparent from media coverage is the likelihood of the most plutocratic election in US history, with uncharted, undisclosed amounts of corporate cash flooding the political system and drowning out the voices of progressive candidates and voters. The torrent of corporate money is providing invariably pro-corporate, conservative Republican candidates with a massive funding advantage in the range of 7-1 to 9-1, Howard Fineman reported in MSNBC. 
But the potential washing away of democratic pillars has attracted only passing media attention outside Washington, DC and New York. 
The prospect of an election dominated by huge donations from a relatively small circle of wealthy conservative and corporate donors carries with it the opportunity for these campaign contributors to further re-shape government policy to intensify the polarization of income and wealth in America. The Nov. 2 elections, with vast implications for the future distribution of government benefits and burdens, comes at time when the richest 1% of Americans already earn 23.5% of all annual income. 
Yet rather than offering analysis of  the increasingly hollowed-out structure of American democracy or the implications for ordinary citizens, coverage has been The constant repetition that likely voters are solidly leaning toward the Republicans is heartening news to GOP partisans and demoralizing to potential Democratic voters, whose turnout fluctuates much more than the Republicans' voters, who tend to be of higher income and quite rightfully, expectant that their views will be implemented if Republicans win. 
But there are a number of other important ways that mainstream media coverage is currently serving the Republican cause. 

  • DELVING BEYOND DISAPPOINTMENT WITH OBAMA

Disappointment with the Obama Administration's slow progress in stemming the recession is treated by the corporate media as inevitably leading to dissatisfied voters punishing the Democrats and rewarding the Republicans. Voting for Republicans is treated as a natural, predictable, and, therefore, even a sensible response to insufficient progress. 
After all, major media tell us, we have a two-party system and power moves back and forth between them dependent on their performance in office. 

But the analysis goes no deeper. Virtually non-existent are polls that probe more deeply and ask voters how they expect the Republicans–whose policies include Wall Street de-regulation, tax cuts for the rich, offshoring of jobs, repeal of many elements of the new healthcare reform act, and denial of unemployment and healthcare benefits to the long-term jobless –will improve their lives and hasten an end to the Great Recession.

While pro-Republican polls are endlessly cited, unexamined is the paradox that an overwhelming majority of voters believe the Republicans are more loyal to corporate interests rather than those of the average citizen. A recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll: NBC News/Wall StreetJournal poll asked whether each party is more concerned about large corporations or average Americans.  MSNBC reported the results, which are particularly startling given that likely voters are leaning strongly Republican: 41 percent said Democrats care about large corporations, 45 percent said average Americans, 68 percent said Republicans care about large corporations, 22 percent said average Americans. 

Nor has there been much in-depth exploration of public reaction to a relentless pattern of deliberate, reflexive obstructionism adopted by the Republicans in response to every major initiative by Obama and the Democrats. Following in the footsteps of Southern segregationists who used the filibuster to repeatedly block civil rights legislation, the filibuster strategy has been expanded to be a key part of the Republican arsenal to stop legislation reflecting majority sentiment in both houses.
Political scientist Barbara Sinclair's studies show that even in the 1960s, she finds, “extended-debate-related problems” — threatened or actual filibusters that now require 60 votes in the Senate for action on a bill — affected just 8 percent of major legislation. But by the 1980s, filibusters affected to 27 % of key bills. percent. However, once the Democrats regained control of Congress in 2006, the Republicans' deployment of the filibuster–via threats or actual filibusters–soared astronomically to 70 percent. Since 2009, the frequency of filibusters has set new records. Since Obama's inauguration, the House has passed 420 bills on which the Senate has noted voted.

Yet despite the persistent pattern of filibusters by Republicans, the Obama Administration is often faulted by pundits for failing to capture the support of utterly intransigent Republicans.  
 
 
TEA PARTY: GRASS-ROOTS POPULISM, TOP-LEVEL COLLABORATION WITH CORPORATE AGENDA 
The consistent depiction of the Tea Party as the authentic, unalloyed expression of grass-roots rebellion, anti-government sentiment and "economic populism" remains remarkably superficial.  The typical media portrayals of the Tea Party fail both to reflect the existence of considerable grass-roots support for government intervention to preserve US production jobs and the growing coalescence of Tea Party, Republican, and corporate agendas at the highest levels. 

First, the economic populism of rank and file Tea Partiers does not translate into the knee-jerk anti-government sentiment into which media accounts have lumped it. 

The Tea Party indeed contains some strong elements of economic populism, but these sentiments are very different from those of Tea Party spokesmen like Dick Armey, a strong advocate of "free trade" and lobbyist for foreign governments including Mexico and Saudi Arabia. The economic populism of the Tea Partiers' grass roots are directed against the off-shoring of US jobs to low-wage sites like Mexico and China.  

Remarkably, nearly three-fourths of Tea Party members actually favor a government-driven policy to maintain and create production jobs in the US. Ironically, this position sounds very much to the left of the "industrial policy" direction rejected in the 1980's and 1990's by conservative Democrats who have continued to occupy the top economic positions within the party and the Clinton and Obama administration. 

As labor journalist Mike Elk notes: 
Seventy-four percent of self-described Tea Party Supporters would support a "national manufacturing strategyto make sure that economic, tax, labor, and trade policies in this country work together to help support manufacturing in the United States," according to the poll, put out by the Mellman Group and the Alliance for American Manufacturing. Likewise, 56 percent of self-described Tea Party Supporters "favor a tariff on products imported from other countries that are cheaper because they came from a country that does not have to comply with any climate change regulations in the country where the products were made." 

GROWING COALESCENCE 
But this sentiment against off-shoring and for government adopting a national manufacturing strategy has merited little attention given the growing bond between Tea Party leaders–who, except for Rep. Ron Paul, are enthusiastic backers of off-shoring US jobs.–  the Republican Party, and corporate groups. In recent weeks there has been a virtual merger of the Tea Party and Republican hierarchies as they seek to mold a successful coalition for Nov. 2.  

This has been facilitated by vast sums of undisclosed money (enabled by the plutocracy-breeding  Citizens United Supreme Court decision in January) coming from sources like the billionaire Koch brothers (whose oil and chemical operations have incurred numerous safety and environmental violations), the US Chamber of Commerce (including its foreign operations which include foreign-based corporations), and American Crossroads GPS. While much of the party's financial sources are still being uncovered, as Frank Rich notes,
[I]t’s clear that some Tea Party groups and candidates like Sharron Angle, Paul and O’Donnell are being financed directly or indirectlynot just by the Koch's … but by a remarkable coterie of fellow billionaires, led by oil barons like Robert Rowling (Forbes No. 69) and Trevor Rees-Jones (No. 110). Even their largess may be dwarfed by Rupert Murdoch (No. 38) and his News Corporation…  
 
Given that Mexican corporations contributed $25 million to the effort to win passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement from which they benefited richly, it is reasonable to expect that foreign corporations are devoting extensive funds to the US Chamber of Commerce account for the Nov. 2 elections. According to the Think Progress liberal blog, contrary to claims by the Chamber, the business group appears to have no means of separating legal donations from US corporations from illegal campaign donations from foreign corporations, and the funds both US-chartered and foreign firms seem to be commingled in the Chamber's 501 6 (c) account. 

In 2004 the group promoted a report titled "Jobs, Trade, Sourcing, and the Future of the American Workforce," that unsurprisingly discovered "little hard data to support fears about outsourcing and claims of an impending exodus of U.S. jobs overseas." Chamber CEO Tom Donahue declared:
"The bottom line [is that] outsourcing has made the manufacturing process more efficient and productive, which has helped consumers and our overall economy. Outsourcing allows manufacturers to buy components from a vast array of suppliers, lowering costs for the manufacturer who is able to pass on the savings to consumers."

Donohue, during an appearance on CNN in February 2004, was even more forceful in advocating the offshoring of US jobs:
"[T]here are legitimate values in outsourcing — not only jobs, but work — to gain technical experience and benefits we don't have here, to lower the price of products, which means more and more of them are brought into the United States, used, for example, I.T., much broader use than it was 10 years ago, [to] create more and more jobs."

The long-term Chamber agenda was concisely explained by Jon Vogel, a Democratic campaign official “The Chamber has an agenda, and it’s aimed at promoting outsourcing of American jobs."

But less than two weeks out from the election, relatively few Americans have been exposed to the massive influx of undisclosed funds, the motives of those donors, or the predictable effects on the voice and living standards of working Americans.

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