The Internet has opened up an infinite number of outlets for news, analysis, and commentary, an almost perfectly competitive intellectual marketplace. Anyone can start a blog, write an e-book, post on social media, or put up a video, podcast, or song, and millions have. They take their chances on how many will read, watch, or listen, but nothing stops them from putting their voices out there.
The old media—TV, radio, newspapers, and magazines—have tried, with varying degrees of success, to incorporate the new media into their businesses. However there is a Grand Canyon-sized gap between the mainstream media (MSM) and the best independent Internet sites concerning the stories covered, the questions asked, and the courage and integrity displayed.
The MSM is dominated by six mammoth corporations (Comcast, News Corp, Disney, Viacom, Time Warner, and CBS), whose combined market share is around 90 percent. Any company the size of these companies is going to run into another behemoth—the federal government. It controls and influences much of American life; gathering and reporting the news entails constant interaction with it. Politicians, congressional and executive branch staffs, and bureaucrats can make or break a news organization. They are the gatekeepers and the organizations must preserve their access. The financial stakes are enormous. The executives running the big six, and their highly paid news, propaganda, and opinion deliverers, whether Internet, print, or broadcast, are members in good standing of the 1 percent. It strains credulity to believe that stories are not chosen (or killed), written, presented, and promoted with an eye towards currying favor.
The penalties for not toeing the line can be severe. Rating agency S&P just paid $1.5 billion in fines, ostensibly for mis-rating certain mortgage securities before the financial crisis, although other ratings agencies gave the same ratings to the same securities. S&P’s has publicly insisted the real motive for the government’s suit was its downgrade of US government debt in 2011. It had to disavow that retaliatory motive in its settlement with the Department of Justice, but the lesson is clear to anyone with half a brain, which would include big media executives.
Helpful, from the government’s standpoint, is that most of the MSM share its ideology. For years conservatives have disparaged “the liberal media.” The more accurate term is “the statist media,” which includes most of the conservative media. The same Fox News talking heads who rail against Obamacare one night champion US military involvement in the Middle East the next. The only differences among the big six are which forms of statism they endorse. The Democratic organs cheer for more government programs, taxation, regulation, and redistribution. The Republican mouthpieces plump for bigger defense budgets, more foreign wars, and more domestic surveillance. They both tout party lines, the only difference is which party’s.
Just the tip of the iceberg of what the MSM does not ask or cover, versus what shows up on the Internet, amply confirms the MSM’s lap poodle status. Take economic statistics. Almost every day, some agency of the government reports statistics. There is a cottage industry of Internet sites that take them apart (see SLL’s blogroll, especially Zero Hedge and David Stockman’s Contra Corner), often within an hour or two of their release. Their conclusion is usually either that the positive statistics are not as good or the negative statistics are even worse than the headlines. There is an anti-government bias at work, but when do the MSM ever go behind the headlines and question the statistics, even that part of the MSM devoted to business, finance, and economics?
Taking the declining unemployment rate at face value, the MSM have, for the last few years, insisted that the US economy was hitting escape velocity, often defined as 3 percent annual growth in real (inflation adjusted) GDP, and consequently interest rates would have to rise. The US economy has not hit that 3 percent number in nine years and interest rates have not risen, but that’s the consensus call for 2015, too. The vagaries of the Labor Department’s seasonal adjustments and new business birth-death model, grist for the financial blogosphere, may be too much abstruse statistical deep-diving for the MSM, but the labor force participation rate, which is at multi-decade lows and which flatters the unemployment rate by reducing the numerator, is not (you are not counted as unemployed if you are not in the work force). It is reported every month with the unemployment rate. If it had stayed at its historical norm, the unemployment rate would be in double digits, a fact well known to regular readers of the economic blogs, but rarely reported in the MSM.
The MSM scratch their heads about the perpetually weak economy, but never publicly ask if something might be wrong with the unemployment statistics. If they really wanted to know why the strong recovery they keep heralding never comes, in addition to going beyond the headline unemployment rate in the employment report, they would look at the recent record highs in the number of people on food stamps and disability (perhaps even ask if the government creates incentives for people to stay out of the labor force), stagnant middle class incomes, record numbers of adult children living with their parents and the associated record level of student debt, and auto sales juiced by junk financing, just as housing sales were juiced by junk mortgages before the housing bubble burst. The inescapable conclusion: the economy is nowhere near as strong as government statistics and the stock market indicate, and in fact is quite weak. Not until the market crashes will that become mainstream news
Another story the MSM virtually ignores, although it’s huge and keeps getting huger, is the national debt. For several decades, entitlement spending and debt service have been increasing faster than economic growth; they consume an increasingly large share of the federal budget. This year, if President Obama’s budget is passed, mandatory spending on entitlements plus interest on the debt will soak up 99 percent of tax receipts. The rest of government will be debt financed. Obama’s budget will not be adopted in its entirety, but even Republicans’ so-called fiscal rectitude will only knock that spending figure down to perhaps 97 percent of tax receipts. The percentage number is not as important as the overall trend. Entitlement spending and debt service are swallowing up the budget and tax receipts, and those trends will only get worse as the baby boomers draw on old age entitlements.
A demographic and debt crisis is nigh, but the MSM is filled with stories about ending the sequester, new infrastructure spending, and bumping military budgets. They’re building sand castles on the beach as a 100 foot tsunami rolls in offshore. Entitlements have to be reformed one way or the other—benefits cut, programs eliminated, or funding increased—or the government debt to GDP ratio will continue to climb. Even with a money-creating central bank monetizing that debt, sooner or later the bill comes due, although that notion is often derided in the MSM. The noose is starting to cinch, and that’s with generational low interest rates. Rising rates would lead to financial asphyxiation. Much of the developed world is in the same bind, which compounds the problem. Google “entitlement reform,” however, and you’ll find a few articles from the foundations that have been sounding the tocsin for years, and an occasional politician paying lip service, but hard-hitting MSM articles are nowhere to be found. Unless the financial crash comes before 2016 (not an insignificant possibility), expect the MSM to ignore it in its election coverage, although after the election the new president will almost certainly be forced to confront it.
No, we’re told, defense budgets must be increased, supposedly, to fund the ever-expanding war on terrorism and protect US “interests.” The easy, obvious question the MSM never asks: is our war on terrorism increasing or decreasing the terrorist threat? Intuitively, “success” in a battle of that war could increase, rather than decrease, local hostility towards the US, especially when, as they sometimes do, the US military or intelligence kills innocent non-combatants (see “The More We Kill, the More We Have to Kill,” SLL, 2/3/15). As the MSM rolls out maps showing spreading al Qaeda and ISIS domination across the Middle East and northern Africa, a graph of square miles dominated versus cumulative US involvement, as measured by money spent and troops committed (especially for special operations, see “The Golden Age of Black Ops,” SLL, 2/3/15) would show a line with an upward slope. In other words, terrorist domination has increased with our involvement. Correlation is not necessarily causation, but nobody in the MSM even asks if it might be.
Not everything that comes out of the government and its mainstream media arm is false or wrong, just a substantial portion (see “Trust Us,” SLL, 1/12/15). However, we’re not living back in the pre-Internet stone age where that’s all that was available. If you’re trying to figure out what’s going on in the world, not availing yourself of the Internet and other alternative media is like poking out one of your eyes. There are stories of which you know nothing, “facts” you accept as truth that have been exposed as lies, and interpretations of events that incisively undercut those bleated on mainstream editorial pages or by TV talking heads. Given the trends in civil liberties, use the free and open Internet while you have it. It is disturbing that a number of Internet-based bloggers and organizations decided to shoot themselves in the foot by supporting increased government involvement in the Internet, under cover of the Trojan horse known as “net neutrality.” However, that’s the subject for a future SLL post.
A LOT OF TRUTH IN ONE NOVEL
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