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Updated: 8 hours 32 min ago

Facebook Protects Nazis to Protect Ukraine Proxy War

February 3, 2023 - 5:13pm


Good news! Neo-Nazis are no longer dangerous, says Facebook (Kyiv Independent, 1/19/23).

Meta, the parent company of Facebook, announced on January 19 that the company no longer considers Ukraine’s Azov Regiment to be a “dangerous organization.” The far-right paramilitary group grew out of the street gangs that helped topple Ukraine’s president in the US-backed 2014 coup. Originally funded by the same Ukrainian oligarch that backed President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s rise to power, Azov was on the front lines of civil war in Eastern Ukraine, and was later fully integrated into the Ukrainian national guard.

The main outlet to report on this move was the Kyiv Independent (1/19/23), a Ukrainian newsroom closely linked to Western “democracy promotion” initiatives. These ties are reflected in its coverage of Facebook’s move. Take the description of the Azov Regiment:

The group has sparked controversy over its alleged association with far-right groups—a recurring theme used by Russian propaganda.

The “association” with “far-right groups” has been far more than “alleged,” and is well documented and openly acknowledged by members of the organization. Even the use of “far-right” downplays the fact that they have regularly been seen sporting Nazi symbols and even making Nazi salutes. NATO was forced to apologize after tweeting a photo of the regiment, circulated as part of public relations for the war, in which a soldier was wearing a symbol from the Third Reich (Newsweek, 3/9/22).

The danger of white-supremacist military units used to be widely acknowledged in corporate media (Time, 1/7/21; see FAIR.org, 5/18/22).

Even the logo of the Regiment is a variant of a popular Nazi symbol. Another Nazi symbol affiliated with Azov was printed on the Christchurch, New Zealand,  shooter’s jacket as he opened fire on multiple mosques in 2019.

The founder of the regiment once asserted (Guardian, 3/13/18) that Ukraine’s mission was to “lead the white races of the world in a final crusade…against Semite-led Untermenschen.”

Even the US Congress, who was funding the Ukrainian military years before the war, acknowledged the regiment’s neo-Nazi affiliation. In 2018, it passed a law restricting those funds from going to Azov fighters (The Hill, 3/27/18). However, officials on the ground acknowledged that there was never any real mechanism preventing the aid from reaching Azov (Daily Beast, 12/8/19).

The Kyiv Independent article was republished in the US press by Yahoo News (1/19/23)—with a note appended with a link to the Independent’s Patreon fundraising account.

The Washington Post (1/21/23) also reported on the move, suggesting that the “Azov Regiment” is now separate from the “Azov Movement,” since the Regiment is now formally under the control of the Ukrainian military. The Post, which called the Regiment “controversial,” did not criticize Meta’s move, and instead highlighted Mykhailo Fedorov, Ukraine’s minister of digital transformation, who praised the decision.

The tech news site Engadget (1/21/23) noted that “the change will allow members of the unit to create Facebook and Instagram accounts.”

Backing NATO PR

The emblem of the 2nd SS Panzer Division (left) compared with those of the Azov Battalion (center) and Azov Regiment (right) (FAIR.org, 10/6/22).

This isn’t the first time that the platform’s policies were used to promote US public relations objectives. In February 2022, Facebook announced that it would carve out an exception to its policy against praising white supremacy to accommodate the Azov Regiment (Business Insider, 2/25/22). In March 2022, Facebook announced it would allow posts calling for violence against Russians within the context of the invasion (Intercept, 4/13/22). This included allowing users to call for the death of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and even Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.

Facebook encouraged even more ethnic hate against Russians by relaxing policies on violent or hateful speech against Russian individuals. Materials reviewed by the Intercept (4/13/22) showed that Facebook and Instagram users were now allowed to call for the “explicit removal [of] Russians from Ukraine and Belarus.” In sharp contrast with its policy against allowing graphic images of the victims of Israel’s attacks on Palestine, the platform began to allow users to post such images from Russia’s invasion (Intercept, 8/27/22).

All of this has contributed to the normalization, or even embrace of neo-Nazis in the US. Early in the war, Western media uncritically promoted an Azov publicity event while making no mention of the group’s Nazi ties (FAIR.org, 2/23/22). In October, the New York Times (10/4/22) wrote a laudatory article about “Ukraine’s celebrated Azov Battalion” that completely ignored the group’s Nazi ties (FAIR.org, 10/6/22). An Azov soldier with a Nazi tattoo was even welcomed to Disney World by liberal icon Jon Stewart (Grayzone, 8/31/22).

All of this comes as US media promote ostensible concern about the growth and influence of the far right at home. This blind spot is especially egregious, given the numerous accounts of US white supremacists going to Ukraine to train with the Azov Regiment in preparation of a new US civil war (Vice, 2/6/20).

Featured image: Photo of an Azov memorial service featuring flags with the SS’s wolfsangel symbol, used by Engadget (1/21/23) to illustrate its story “Meta Takes Ukraine’s Controversial Azov Regiment Off Its Dangerous Organizations List.”

The post Facebook Protects Nazis to Protect Ukraine Proxy War appeared first on FAIR.

Oil Lobby Prompts Right-Wing Media to Save Whales—From Wind Power

February 3, 2023 - 3:15pm


Republicans and right-wing commentators suddenly want to save the whales—and much of the news media is buying it.

As a humpback whale was found on the shore at Brigantine, New Jersey on January 12—the seventh dead whale to wash up on a New York or New Jersey beach since December 5—local Republicans rushed to blame it on offshore wind development projects.

The New Jersey Monitor headline (1/17/23) leaves out crucial information that’s in the lead: “no evidence shows [wind farm construction] caused the [whale] casualties.”

“Not even the whales can survive [New Jersey Gov.] Murphy’s Energy Master Plan,” lamented the Jersey GOP on Twitter (1/18/23). The partisan account linked to a story in the New Jersey Monitor (1/17/23) with the alarming headline “Debate Grows Over Offshore Wind, as Whale Deaths Mount.” The article began by laying out that debate—”environmentalists put out dueling calls to continue or curtail offshore wind work”—before including an important clarification about wind farm construction and the whale deaths: “no evidence shows it caused the casualties.”

The project in question is the recently approved 1,100 megawatt wind project that Danish company Ørsted is expected to build off the New Jersey coast this year. It is projected to power more than half a million homes by 2025. Pre-construction activities, including probing the seabed with a metal rod to test the nature of the soil, have begun.

According to federal National Marine Fisheries Service reports (2/22/18, 4/4/18, 5/4/18) this method of surveying, known as cone penetration testing or CPT, had little noise impact and has not been found to injure marine mammals. A representative from Ørsted told FAIR that the company is not currently using acoustic tests such as sonar in these surveys off the East Coast, and wasn’t in December, either. Ørsted did use acoustic surveys in the early stages of its project, which ended in September 2022.

‘Whales paying the price’

Suddenly Fox News‘ Jesse Watters (1/11/23) cares about whales—when they can be used to make a case against wind power.

That didn’t stop Fox News’ Jesse Watters (1/11/23) from professing outrage. “Something unusual is happening to these whales,” he said:

Maybe this has something to do with it: New Jersey is actively preparing to build massive wind farms right off the coast. And the whales are paying the price, probably. These experts are saying these projects are killing these whales.

In case you missed the point, the report was accompanied by all-caps chyrons with messages like “WIND SURVEYING IS KILLING OUR WHALES,” “OCEAN WINDMILLS ARE THE PROBLEM” and “WINDFARMS ARE UGLY AND THEY KILL WHALES.”

This is from the same Jesse Watters who just two months ago (11/29/22) brought a lobsterman on to condemn Whole Foods for pulling lobsters from its stores due to the risk lobster fishing gear poses to whales. He has also spent much of his career working to discredit the climate movement and dismiss activists as hysterical (Mediaite, 8/5/19; Jesse Watters Primetime7/7/22, 9/7/22; Media Matters, 7/21/21, 2/2/22, 10/18/22). But now, suddenly, Watters is a whale conservationist.

The “expert” Watters brought onto his January 11 show was Mike Dean (mistakenly identified as Mike Davis), affiliated with Protect Our Coast NJ, a right-wing nonprofit that has accepted fossil fuel money, disguised as a pro-ocean environmental group (Intercept, 12/8/21). On his Twitter feed, Dean expresses opposition to climate science, and regularly retweeting climate denial posts (Media Matters, 1/12/23).

“The industrial wind companies are out there pounding the seabed with sonar,” Dean incorrectly claimed. “Common sense would tell you that’s what killed these whales. That’s the only new thing going on out there right now.”

Unusual mortality events

CNN (1/20/23) quoted a NOAA official: ““There are no known connections between any of these offshore wind activities and any whale strandings, regardless of species.”

Your “common sense” should take a few other facts into account. First, whale deaths on the Jersey coast have not been isolated to this past December and January. A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration spokesperson said they’re part of a larger spate of “unusual mortality events” the agency has been documenting since 2016, predating these recent wind farm projects (AP, 1/9/23). NOAA Fisheries recorded 17 unusual mortality events of endangered right whales on the East Coast in 2017, and 10 in 2019. It counted no dead right whales in 2022, and one so far in 2023. Humpback whale “unusual mortality events” on the East Coast ranged from 34 in 2017 to 10 in 2021.

Meanwhile, some factors unrelated to wind farms are new: The Port of New York and New Jersey has been the nation’s busiest in recent months, as labor disputes and congestion routed many ships from the West Coast (Post & Courier, 1/13/23).

Also new: The Marine Mammal Stranding Center and NOAA noted that there currently are a high number of large whales in the Mid-Atlantic, due to high numbers of fish they eat remaining in the waters. A 2018 Rutgers study found that warming oceans may be sending crustaceans and numerous fish species further north during the winters. Increasing populations of menhaden—small fish that whales feed on—have also been documented off the mid-Atlantic coast (CNN, 1/20/23).

Sonar, which uses low-frequency noise to detect objects, can potentially interfere with whale navigation (Science.org, 3/21/22). But it’s hardly new. It’s long been in use on the ocean floor by the US military, which often uses it in training missions. Sonar and seismic testing are also used to find oil and gas deposits under the sea bed. Sonar used for wind energy construction surveying is expected to have a much lower sonic impact than the seismic air guns used in fossil fuel exploration (CNN, 1/20/23).

Causes of whale deaths

Contrary to Fox News‘ Tucker Carlson (1/13/23), experts say the leading cause of whale deaths is not Joe Biden.

Leading causes of deaths for whales include ship strikes and entanglement in commercial fishing gear. In fact, the Marine Mammal Stranding Center, along with scientists from the Atlantic Marine Conservation Society, Mystic Aquarium and Marine Education Research and Rehabilitation Institute, performed a necropsy on the whale found in Brigantine, and determined that a ship strike most likely caused its death, though the investigation is not complete.

According to NOAA, which recently published an FAQ (1/20/23) about its ongoing research on “interactions between offshore wind energy projects and whales on the East Coast,” thus far no whale deaths have been linked to offshore wind development.

Skepticism over the ethics, business practices and environmental impacts of a large international company like Ørsted is healthy. But so is listening to scientists. Erin Meyer-Gutbrod, an assistant professor at the University of South Carolina’s School of the Earth, Ocean & Environment, told the Post & Courier (1/13/23) that so far, scientists don’t know much about how offshore wind farm construction will affect right whales, but that her main concern is ship traffic during construction—not sonar before it.

“Meyer-Gutbrod worries that exaggerated claims about wind energy may distract from implementing evidence-based policies that can be a life raft for the species,” the article said.

The distraction is exactly the point for fossil fuel shills and their Fox cheerleaders. Fox’s Tucker Carlson (1/13/23) lamented that, instead of blaming offshore windmills for whale deaths, “the federal government is harassing the people who need the least harassment: commercial fishermen and lobstermen on the East Coast.” In reality, as of 2020, entanglements with commercial fishing gear, along with ship strikes, had “killed or seriously injured at least 31 right whales…since 2017 alone,” according to the National Marine Fisheries Service.

‘Stop offshore wind’

NJ.com (1/13/23) says these “calls to stop offshore wind work” come from “climate groups, like Save LBI and the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association.” Save Long Beach Island gets legal support from a right-wing fossil fuel–backed think tank (Distilled, 1/5/23); the LICFA is, of course, not a climate group but a commercial fishing association.

But rather than correcting misinformation, local and national papers often amplified false and misleading claims from Fox, Republican politicians and pseudo-environmental fossil fuel–backed groups.

“Murphy & Wind Companies Ignore US Navy Report; Sonar Can Kill Whales” shouted a headline at the Downbeach Buzz local news site (1/17/23).

“Six Dead Whales Wash Up in a Month. Stop Offshore Wind for Investigation, NJ Groups Say,” was a headline at Advance PublicationsNJ.com (1/9/23). The piece opened with the drama of a dead whale:

Tire tracks in the sand marked the burial ground of a massive humpback whale Monday. The dead 30-foot female whale washed up ashore Saturday and two days later lay buried underneath, leaving behind a decaying rotten smell.

It followed this up with quotes from Clean Ocean Action, a conservationist group opposed to this wind project, offering a clear suggestion of where readers’ sympathies ought to lie.

The story did go on to debunk as false or unsubstantiated the groups’ major claims: that the whale deaths were “unprecedented,” that offshore wind were authorized to “hurt or kill more than 157,328 marine mammals.” But that wasn’t enough to shift the piece’s anti–wind power framing.

Other groups cited included right-wing and fossil fuel-friendly Protect Our Coasts NJ (whose politics the site did not identify), the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association and Defend Brigantine Beach—a Facebook group with some members sharing the aforementioned Watters and Carlson segments.

A few days later, the online paper (NJ.com, 1/13/23) was back with “Seventh Dead Whale Washes Up at Jersey Shore. Calls to Stop Offshore Wind Work Grow.” The article “balanced” statements from the Marine Mammal Stranding Center and NOAA against statements from two Republican politicians and Clean Ocean Action.

NY1 and NBC4 New York both published an AP piece (1/9/23) that led with accusations and claims made by the groups critical of the wind farm, waiting until the seventh paragraph to begin to reveal that each claim was unsubstantiated or debunked by the piece’s expert sources.

Consequences of CO2

This coverage, seemingly more interested in elevating conflict than clarity, misses why wind and other renewable energies are needed in the first place: our world’s unsustainable addiction to fossil fuels—the largest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions leading to climate change (IPCC, 2018). Never mind that we may run out of them by the end of the century.

At least a quarter of CO2 released by the burning of fossil fuels is absorbed by the ocean, acidifying the water and threatening sea life. CO2 in the air causes algal blooms that lower oxygen levels in the water. Wastewater from fracking often contains substances like arsenic, lead, chlorine and mercury that can contaminate ground and drinking water.

And this is if all goes as planned. The Center for Biological Diversity estimates that the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill harmed or killed nearly 26,000 marine mammals, along with 82,000 birds of 102 species, about 6,000 sea turtles and “a vast (but unknown) number of fish… oysters, crabs, corals and other creatures.”

Humans aren’t exempt from the damage either, of course. A 2021 Harvard study (2/9/21) found that “more than 8 million people died in 2018 from fossil fuel pollution.”

“Enjoy the View While It Lasts” was NBC10‘s headline (6/17/22) over a story that admits that wind turbines would appear “about an eighth of an inch in size” from the perspective of viewers on the beach.

And the fossil fuel industry is smart. Exxon knew about climate change and its own role in it since 1977, and subsequently spent millions on misinformation campaigns (Scientific American, 10/26/15). It used pseudo-science to cast doubt on the climate change science it knew to be true (NPR, 10/27/21), and to undermine the feasibility, efficiency and profitability of renewable energy (ASAP Science, 9/9/20).

We can’t blame individuals for being confused by clandestine fossil fuel industry lies—they’re designed to be confusing!

Before the sudden concern for whales, opposition to wind farms off the coast of the Jersey Shore was based on a not-in-my-backyard attitude from residents who didn’t want their ocean views altered, and who were concerned about the subsequent effect on tourism (Philadelphia Inquirer, 2/15/21).

“They will not be able to look out on the horizon and dream,” one woman was quoted.

“Enjoy the View While It Lasts,” declared an NBC 10 Philadelphia headline (6/17/22) last summer. Note that the wind farm in question will be approximately 15 miles out to sea.

‘Non-scientific’ and ‘dangerous’

At a January 17 news conference covered by NJ.com (1/17/23), climate activists said blaming these whale deaths on offshore wind energy was “baseless,” “non-scientific” and “dangerous.” The outlet quoted Jennifer Coffey, executive director of non-profit Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions:

I think anytime anyone uses the guise of science without actually looking at the data to further their own agenda is dangerous, and when we’re talking about combating climate change the stakes could not be higher.

If local Republicans want to voice their dissatisfaction with Governor Murphy, they’re entitled to do that. But news media’s complicity in using feigned concern for dead whales to shield residents’ fiscal conservatism and fossil fuel interests undermines genuine environmental activism and ignores our planet’s desperate need for clean energy.

The post Oil Lobby Prompts Right-Wing Media to Save Whales—From Wind Power appeared first on FAIR.

Shelby Green and Selah Goodson Bell on Utility Shutoffs & Profiteering

February 3, 2023 - 10:40am



Bailout Watch et al. (1/30/23)

This week on CounterSpin: Powerless in the United States: How Utilities Drive Shutoffs and Energy Injustice is an ongoing project from the Center for Biological Diversity, the Energy and Policy Institute and Bailout Watch. It tracks utility service disconnections and corporate profiteering—because, it turns out, they’re flip sides of a coin.

You and I may think that in disastrous weather conditions (with no signs of stopping), and a pandemic and low wages and a hike in prices, it’s a time to acknowledge workers’ sacrifices and support them. Silly us. Actually, it’s a moment for powerful companies to raise prices on consumers—not to recoup losses, but just to raise profits, as their shareholder speeches will proudly reveal—and why would that gouging stop at life-saving vaccines or medicines? Why not also shut off the power to the homes of struggling families? Seriously, why not? If Wall Street will reward you for it, and corporate media won’t call you out or even seriously, humanistically report on what you’re doing? Or even easier, one might think, argue for the basic transparency that would allow that reporting?

Electric utilities have disconnected US households more than 4 million times since the beginning of Covid, preceding the Russian war on Ukraine. At the same time, shareholder payouts went up by $1.9 billion, increases that could have paid those households’ bills five times over.  Our guests’ work illustrates how energy bills take up more and more of families’ earnings, and how the actions of corporations take a tough, in some cases life-threatening situation, make it worse, and then hand it off to their allies in the press corps, who they know will present it as “business as usual if regrettable,” but, above all, nothing worth looking in to or talking about seriously.

Our guests aren’t just complaining; they have ideas about what’s needed to address the situation. Shelby Green is research fellow at the Energy and Policy Institute. Selah Goodson Bell is energy justice campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity. We’ll hear from both of them this week on the show.

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Plus Janine Jackson takes a quick look at press coverage of the police killing of Tyre Nichols.

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The post Shelby Green and Selah Goodson Bell on Utility Shutoffs & Profiteering appeared first on FAIR.

You Don’t Stop Police Killings by Calling them ‘Fatal Encounters’

February 2, 2023 - 4:18pm


It’s hard to find words after yet another brutal police killing of a Black person, this time of 29-year-old Tyre Nichols in Memphis, Tennessee, captured in horrifying detail on video footage released last week. But the words we use—and in that “we,” the journalists who frame these stories figure critically—if we actually want to not just be sad about, but  end state-sanctioned racist murders, those words must not downplay or soften the hard reality with euphemism and vaguery.

The New York Times (online 1/27/23) writes of the “enduring frustration over Black men having fatal encounters with police officers.”

Yet that’s exactly what the New York Times did in recent coverage. In its January 28 front-page story, reporter Rick Rojas led with an unflinching description of the brutal footage, noting that Nichols “showed no signs of fighting back” under his violent arrest for supposed erratic driving.

Yet just a few paragraphs later, Rojas wrote: “The video reverberated beyond the city, as the case has tapped into an enduring frustration over Black men having fatal encounters with police officers.”

People get frustrated when their bus is late. People get frustrated when their cell phone’s autocorrect misbehaves. If people were merely “frustrated” when police officers violently beat yet another Black person to death, city governments wouldn’t be worried, in the way the Times article describes, about widespread protests and “destructive unrest.”

By describing protest as “destructive,” while describing state-sanctioned law enforcement’s repeated murder of Black people as “Black men having fatal encounters with police officers,” the Times works to soften a blow that should not be softened, to try to deflect some of the blame and outrage that rightfully should be aimed full blast at our country’s racist policing system.

That linguistic soft-pedaling and back-stepping language was peppered throughout the piece, describing how police brigades like the “Scorpion” unit these Memphis police were part of are “designed to patrol areas of the city struggling with persistent crime and violence”—just trying to protect Black folks from ourselves, you see—yet they mysteriously “end up oppressing young people and people of color.” Well, that’s a subject for documented reporting, not conjecture.

The New York Times (2/1/23) doubles down on its new euphemism for “killing.”

When a local activist described himself as “not shocked as much as I am disgusted” by what happened to Tyre Nichols, the Times added, “Still, he acknowledged the gravity of the case”—as if anti-racist activists’ combined anger, sorrow and exhaustion might be a sign that they can’t really follow what’s happening or respond appropriately.

Folks on Twitter (1/28/23) and elsewhere called out the New York Times for this embarrassing “Black people encounter police and somehow end up dead” business, but the paper is apparently happy with it. So much so that the paper came back a few days later with an update (2/1/23), with the headline: “What We Know About Tyre Nichols’ Lethal Encounter With Memphis Police.”

In it, Rojas and co-author Neelam Bohra wrote in their lead, “The stop escalated into a violent confrontation that ended with Mr. Nichols hospitalized in critical condition. Three days later, he died.”

Journalism school tells you that fewer, more direct words are better. So when a paper tells you that a traffic stop “escalated into a violent confrontation that ended up with” a dead Black person, understand that they are trying to gently lead you away from a painful reality—not trying to help you understand it, and far less helping you act to change it.

ACTION ALERT: You can send a message to the New York Times at letters@nytimes.com (Twitter: @NYTimes). Please remember that respectful communication is the most effective. Feel free to leave a copy of your communication in the comments thread.

The post You Don’t Stop Police Killings by Calling them ‘Fatal Encounters’ appeared first on FAIR.

Independent Media Need You to Get the Word Out on Social Media

February 1, 2023 - 9:34am


“Liking” a post on social media might not seem like a high-impact action. But nonprofit media groups actually depend a great deal on their readers’ online engagement.

When people like, comment, share and click on the links of independent media posts on a site like Facebook, it tells Facebook‘s algorithm that this is content it should show to others. This increases the amount of people the post will reach. Without these engagements, it is safe to assume that Facebook would show these posts to hardly anyone. More than simply co-signing their content, engaging with posts on social media is a meaningful way of supporting journalism organizations you are sympathetic to by ensuring the organization reaches a larger audience.

To examine the impact of social media engagement, FAIR conducted a study of its effect on our own posts on Facebook. FAIR counted the engagements and total people reached of three of its Facebook posts for each month between November 2020 and October 2022 as of November 1, 2022. These posts were of varied types, including articles, CounterSpin transcripts and promotions.

We found a clear relationship between the amount of engagement and the number of people the post reached: For every one engagement, there were 10 people reached.

Only a slim fraction of its audience engages with FAIR’s posts in the form of reactions (as in a “like” or “heart” reaction), comments, shares or clicks. This fraction of those who engaged changed depending on if the post was an article, a transcript or a promotion.

FAIR found that the more people engaged with its posts, the more people the posts reached. This finding supports existing public knowledge that a post’s reach depends heavily on engagement.

It’s important that left-leaning social media users take this relationship into account, because right-wing digital actors have proven far more effective at manipulating the algorithms of social media sites (Science, 4/9/20). For all the accusations that social media sites are run by “woke mobs,” there’s actually an overrepresentation of right-wing media on social platforms.

And because journalists often rely on these platforms to assess which stories should be told and how they should be framed, the online right has exerted significant influence over what stories corporate media decides to cover (Data and Society Research Institute, 2017). This overrepresentation of right-wing views in corporate media makes it all the more important that an organization like FAIR, working to expose corporate media bias, gets its message across on social platforms.

FAIR’s study found that, on average, only 2.7% of the people reached by one of FAIR’s posts will “like” it. Promotional content like fundraising pitches fared even worse, with only 1.6% of people reached liking these posts.

It’s easy to understand why this might be. Who truly likes fundraising pitches, anyway? And unless you are extremely well off, you can’t be expected to contribute to every fundraising drive for every nonprofit you support. So you might think the best thing to do is just to keep scrolling. To “like” a fundraising post without donating might seem hypocritical, right?

Please don’t think that way! It is actually a free method of putting that fundraising pitch in front of someone who might be more willing to contribute this time around.

The bottom line: If you are interested in helping nonprofit organizations like FAIR to help get their word out on social media, and countering the right’s digital influence, it’s worth interacting more with posts you think others should see.

The post Independent Media Need You to Get the Word Out on Social Media appeared first on FAIR.

Goldilocks Wants to Eat the Poor

January 31, 2023 - 4:06pm


The 19th century English fable Goldilocks tells the story of a young girl who breaks into the home of three bears and eats their porridge. Luckily, they have three different bowls ready for consumption: One is too hot. One is too cold. The other is just right.

Naturally, in setting monetary policy, the Federal Reserve wants to be like Goldilocks. But its concern is not porridge; it’s the US economy. How does it want it? Not too hot. Not too cold. Just right.

The main way that the Fed adjusts the economic temperature is by setting interest rates: By raising the cost of borrowing, the Fed slows down the economy, depressing wage gains and often increasing unemployment.

In her search for equilibrium, Goldilocks has a friend in corporate media. The search for the just-right interest rate, one that will punish workers—but no more than necessary, trust us!—is cheered by supposedly objective reporters at outlets such as the New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal.

‘Weirdly narrow measure’

The latest numbers would suggest Goldilocks—and her media friends—are getting what they want. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ latest Consumer Price Index (CPI) data, released January 12, showed prices rose by 6.5% in December from a year earlier. As the BLS’s news brief (1/12/23) noted, “This was the smallest 12-month increase since the period ending October 2021.” Meanwhile, the unemployment rate has remained low, dropping to 3.5% in December.

Reacting to the new inflation numbers, the liberal economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman (Twitter, 1/12/23) quipped, “At this point the case for rate hikes has a real one-eyed-bearded-man-with-a-limp feel—you have to use a weirdly narrow measure to still see an inflation problem.” He and Dean Baker, a progressive economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, both pointed to the annualized CPI rate over the past three months—how much prices would rise in a year, if the recent trend continued. This measure sat below 2%, which they touted as strong evidence for pausing rate increases.

“Given the latest data, it would be irresponsible for the Fed to create much higher unemployment deliberately,” inflation doves were saying four months ago (Project Syndicate, 9/12/22).

Progressives have in fact been advocating a pause on rate hikes for quite some time. Dean Baker, for instance, called for a pause back in September 2022 in a piece he co-authored with the Nobel Prize–winning economist Joseph Stiglitz (Project Syndicate, 9/12/22). In November, the AFL-CIO blasted rate increases, declaring:

The Fed seems determined to raise interest rates, though it openly admits those rates could ruin our current economy as unemployment remains low and people are able to find jobs.

Others, such as progressive economists James Galbraith and JW Mason, have opposed rate hikes since the beginning (Nation, 2/18/22; Slack Wire, 3/2/22).

These progressives believe the porridge may already end up too cold. In particular, they are concerned about the effects that higher interest rates will have on workers, given higher interest rates’ habit of depressing wage gains and hiking unemployment. After all, monetary policy is known to operate with “long and variable” lags; as Krugman has written, “I sometimes think of the Fed as trying to operate heavy machinery in a dark room—while wearing heavy mittens.” So it’s unclear how much of the effect of increased interest rates has already shown up in inflation numbers.

As Raphael Bostic of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta put it in a recent article (11/15/22), “A large body of research tells us it can take 18 months to two years or more for tighter monetary policy to materially affect inflation.” With inflation already falling for six months straight, why risk further rate increases?

‘Gentler path’

Good news, everybody! But not good enough to imagine no longer raising interest rates (New York Times, 1/12/23).

This opposition to interest rate increases is almost entirely ignored in corporate media coverage of inflation data. After the CPI numbers came out on January 12, for instance, the coverage at a number of prominent outlets effectively omitted arguments in favor of pausing interest rates.

Take the New York Times. In an article (1/12/23) released the same day as the CPI numbers, reporter Jeanna Smialek observed:

For the Fed, the report confirms that the slowdown in price gains that officials have long expected is finally coming to fruition. That could help policymakers, who have begun slowing the pace of interest rate increases, feel comfortable moving even more incrementally.

After referencing the Fed’s step down to a 50 basis point (half a percentage point) increase in interest rates in December, after four consecutive 75 basis point hikes earlier in the year—the fastest pace of rate hikes in decades—Smialek wrote:

Now, policymakers have made it clear that they are contemplating an even more modest quarter-point change in February. The fresh inflation data probably bolsters the case for that gentler path, which will give officials more time to see how their policies are playing out in the economy and how much more is needed.

Though the word “probably” is thrown in as a hedge, it’s hard to miss the tacit endorsement of a “gentler path.” This path, of course, does not involve heeding the advice of progressives and abandoning further rate increases, but rather raising rates by a smaller amount than uber hawks might like to see. Smialek elaborated on her reasoning further down the page:

The new report did little to suggest that the problem of rapid price increases has been entirely solved, which is why central bankers are still expected to push borrowing costs at least slightly higher and leave them elevated for some time to wrestle price increases under control.

The idea that the problem of inflation no longer requires rate hikes is not entertained here. Meanwhile, as mentioned above, the foremost economics columnist at the Times tweeted that same day that “you have to use a weirdly narrow measure to still see an inflation problem.”

It takes this article until the third to last paragraph to finally dig up someone opposed to further rate hikes. But this dissenter is not consulted about his dissent; instead, he’s quoted discussing the financial markets’ optimism about a coming dovish turn in Fed policy.

‘Families desperate for signs’

The Washington Post (1/12/23) writes that “American families have been desperate for signs that…the economy, especially the labor market, will continue to stabilize.” Given that “stabilize” is used here as a euphemism for workers accepting lower wages, is this really something US families are “desperate” for?

At the Washington Post, Rachel Siegel’s coverage (1/12/23) of the CPI report was no better. Siegel discussed the Fed’s likely path forward, writing, “Central bankers haven’t finished yet, and they’ve signaled two or three more increases in the coming months.” She did point to the likelihood of a pause in hikes soon, noting:

The obvious risk is that the Fed might slow the economy so much that a recession starts. If history is any guide, that could happen this year as the full effect of high rates takes hold.

But that’s as close as you get to dissent in her piece.

Throughout Siegel’s article, the Fed’s monetary tightening is framed as a noble quest to help besieged Americans overcome their inflation woes. From the second paragraph:

Inflation is still well above normal levels, and the economy remains vulnerable to shocks that could send prices back up. But officials and American families have been desperate for signs that the Federal Reserve’s fight against inflation is working and that the economy, especially the labor market, will continue to stabilize in 2023.

A stabilized labor market, in this case, is one in which power has shifted back towards employers after a rowdy period of worker mobilization. Not sure workers at companies like Amazon would be a big fan of that sort of stability. But I can think of someone who would like it. (Hint: his name rhymes with Beff Jezos.)

The piece ends with a quick profile of Mikhail Andersson, the owner of a New York tattoo parlor. Siegel reports that inflation has taken a toll on Andersson’s company. But, she notes, “Andersson has seen a pickup in business since the year began, possibly driven by customers who got gift cards or cash over the holidays. He hopes the trend sticks.” Will you look at that! The Fed is here to save the day.

‘Fed can’t end yet’

The Wall Street Journal (1/12/23) offers the fact that “unemployment is now 3.5%” as a reason “why the Fed can’t signal an end to interest rate increases yet.”

The Wall Street Journal piled on to the heap with three brutally biased pieces on the CPI numbers. One (1/12/23), by Gwynn Guilford, had as its fourth paragraph:

The figures added to signs that inflation is turning a corner following last year’s surge. They also likely keep the Fed on track to reduce the size of interest-rate increases to a quarter percentage point at their meeting that concludes on February 1, down from a half-percentage point increase in December.

No criticism of this path is included. Its likelihood is merely stipulated, its detractors left to the side.

Similar to the Washington Post piece, the article concludes with a quick profile of an American who was negatively impacted by inflation. However, the article does mention that the man, a recent homebuyer, was hurt by higher interest rates as well. So I guess that’s balance.

One of the other pieces in the Journal (1/12/23), by Greg Ip, starts by observing, “Signs are emerging that most of the surge through 2021 and the first half of 2022 was actually transitory—as Federal Reserve officials first thought.” But Ip quickly adds, “This doesn’t mean the inflation battle is over.”

Ip makes his position perfectly clear towards the end of the piece: “Unemployment is now 3.5% and consumers expect 4.6% inflation in the coming year, according to the University of Michigan. This is why the Fed can’t signal an end to interest rate increases yet and the risk of a recession can’t be dismissed.” No argument for a rate pause is entertained.

Finally, in a third piece (1/12/23) titled “Inflation Report Tees Up Likely Quarter-Point Fed Rate Rise in February,” the Journal addressed head on the debate over how much to raise interest rates. “How about not at all?” was not an option. The article started by noting:

Fresh data showing inflation eased in December are likely to keep the Fed on track to reduce the size of interest rate increases to a quarter-percentage-point at its meeting that concludes on February 1.

It then set the frame of debate with the following paragraph:

Fed officials have kept their options open on whether to raise rates by either a quarter percentage point or a half percentage point at their next meeting, saying that the decision would be strongly guided by the latest data about the state of the economy.

So 25 points or 50 points, take your pick. Where’s the dissent from rate-hiking mania? Nowhere.

Marketplace has been another offender in the rate-hiking madness. Its segment (1/12/23) on the CPI data on January 12 concluded cheerily, “The Fed has plenty of reasons to reduce the speed of its interest rate hikes.” Abandon them altogether? No, no, no. Don’t mention that!

Not the Fed’s gauge

While the CPI numbers got prominent coverage at corporate outlets, the inflation gauge actually used by the Federal Reserve to set its inflation target received less attention. The Fed’s preferred measure is the Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE) Index, the latest numbers from which were released on January 27 by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. According to the Brookings Institution (6/28/21):

Because its formula uses updated data, the PCE is believed to be a more accurate reflection of price changes [than the CPI] over time and across items. Over time, the two measures tend to show a similar pattern, but the PCE tends to increase between 2/10ths and 3/10ths less than the CPI.

That the PCE could provide a more accurate image of inflation, as well as a less alarming one, does not persuade corporate outlets to foreground it in inflation coverage. The opposite, in fact: January’s PCE numbers got fairly sparse coverage in corporate media.

“A closely watched measure of inflation” (New York Times, 1/27/23)—but not that closely watched: While the latest CPI figures were reported on page A1 of the print edition (1/13/23), the PCE numbers ended up on the business page (1/28/23).

At the New York Times, the main article discussing the PCE numbers (1/27/23) registered as a two-minute read, while the other (1/27/23) focused primarily on consumer spending data. At the Wall Street Journal, the headline (1/27/23) folded the PCE release into a story about consumer spending: “Consumer Spending Fell 0.2% in December as Inflation Cooled.” And at the Washington Post, coverage of the numbers was outsourced to an Associated Press wire (1/27/23).

Why might coverage of the PCE numbers pale in comparison to coverage of the CPI data? On the one hand, the answer is rather straightforward. As the BLS puts it in their CPI FAQ, “The CPI is the most widely used measure of inflation.” Moreover, it comes out earlier than PCE data.

On the other hand, though, a disproportionate focus on CPI numbers paints a frightening picture of inflation that would be tempered by a focus on PCE data. The CPI index showed a 6.5% annual increase in inflation in December, whereas the PCE clocked in at 5%. And if the PCE index is what the Fed is actually talking about when it discusses bringing inflation down to a 2% target, wouldn’t it make sense to put PCE data front and center?

Reading the coverage of inflation numbers at corporate outlets brings to mind the old Noam Chomsky quote: “One reason that propaganda often works better on the educated than on the uneducated is that educated people read more, so they receive more propaganda.” Someone who consistently reads outlets like the Times, Post, or Journal (or listens to a show like Marketplace) may not even think to question the idea that rates ought to be raised. The idea that pausing rates could be a reasonable position has been bludgeoned out of their minds by the relentlessly biased framing of the debate by corporate outlets.

Meanwhile, Goldilocks doesn’t seem to care that her porridge may end up cold. Maybe that’s not even what she plans on eating anymore. “Eat the rich?” ponders Goldilocks. “Nah, eat the poor.” And corporate media asks, “Why not?”

Featured image: From Leonard Leslie Brooke’s The Story of the Three Bears.

The post Goldilocks Wants to Eat the Poor appeared first on FAIR.

‘We Can Pay for What We Decide to Pay For’ - CounterSpin interview with Michael Mechanic on defunding the IRS

January 30, 2023 - 4:03pm


Janine Jackson interviewed Mother Jones‘ Michael Mechanic about defunding the IRS for the January 27, 2023, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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Simon & Schuster (2022)

Janine Jackson:  ”But can we afford it?” is Big Media’s core debate question—when the “it” is housing for the homeless or universal healthcare or infrastructure maintenance. We may need it, but alas we, it turns out many times, can’t afford it.

Taxes, of course, are a core way that society pays for things, but as prevalent as is the premise that the country lacks the resources to do things that majorities cry out for—that other industrialized countries do—if anything, louder is the same corporate media’s cry that taxes are too high. And maybe that, come to think of it, is the cause of people suffering.

Those of us who aren’t so wealthy we forget how many houses we own, or mad that people living in boxes don’t pay the state to justify their existence, those of us who think the point to living in a society is shared costs and shared benefits—well, we have a central stake in tax policy, but not so central a place in corporate media’s conversation about it.

Michael Mechanic has been writing about tax policy and its impacts for years. He’s senior editor at Mother Jones, and author of the book Jackpot: How the Super-Rich Really Live—and How Their Wealth Harms Us All, out from Simon & Schuster.

He joins us now by phone. Welcome to CounterSpin, Mike Mechanic.

Michael Mechanic: Good to be here.

ProPublica (10/2/19)

JJ: Let’s set up the most current events with a little backstory. I’m thinking about ProPublica, in 2019, reporting that, first of all, the IRS audits the poor—people claiming the earned income tax credit, where average recipients make less than $20,000 a year—that the IRS audits them comparatively more than they do the affluent.

MM: That’s right.

JJ: But then, the salt for that wound is that when Congress asked the IRS why it audits the poor more than the wealthiest—”where the money is,” as Willie Sutton might say—the IRS response was that, well, it’s easy to audit the poor, and it’s really hard to audit the wealthy. And it just doesn’t have enough money or enough people to audit the wealthy, so it just isn’t going to.

Well, their priorities are a separate matter from their budget, of course, but underfunding of the IRS is still a reality. And there was some effort to respond to that, right, in the Inflation Reduction Act. But then what happened there?

MM: Well, the money has been approved by Congress. It’s close to $80 billion over 10 years, and that money should bring the IRS up to where it needs to be. But what happened is, the IRS had a relatively flush budget back in the ’80s, early ’90s, and starting with the Republican Revolution in 1994, with Newt Gingrich taking over the House, Republicans started a concerted attack on the IRS, and chipped away at it over the years.

And especially after 2010, when the Republicans regained the house during the Obama years, they really went after the IRS.

New York Times (10/5/17)

And there were these dog and pony show hearings, drummed-up stuff about the IRS going after conservative groups, which was true, but they were sketchy groups. And also they were going after liberal groups, too—you just didn’t hear much of that at the time.

And what they managed to do is just hack away the IRS budget. They cut it by about 20%, 25%, and they also cut the enforcement budget, more specifically. So the IRS lost a big chunk of its workforce, and most notably, it lost the experts that are required to unravel these incredibly complicated tax returns of sophisticated partnerships and businesses and corporations, and very, very wealthy individuals who have really smart lawyers on their payroll, who are all pushing the envelope of tax avoidance. There’s a lot of gray areas of what’s legal and what’s not.

And when you don’t have the manpower, this stuff is daunting, and you really need sophisticated tax lawyers—who can get paid more, incidentally, in the private sector, right? So the IRS lost a lot of its top guns, and that left it knee-capped and unable to address these wealthy returns, and you saw this soaring of avoidance.

JJ: Right. Like my colleague Jim Naureckas says, cheating on taxes is a luxury only the rich can afford. And that’s certainly exacerbated when the IRS and their enforcement are under-resourced.

MM: Right. Because you have to get caught, and even if they do catch you and call you in, they bring you into this sort of special tax court, which most people have never heard of.

It’s essentially where this very, very top tier of the richest people in America do their litigation with the IRS. And it seems to be somewhat friendly to them, because they win in a lot of cases.

And there’s also an appeals process. If they lose in the tax court, they appeal it and appeal it. And it might cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees, but they could save millions in the process.

JJ: Exactly. As opposed to low-income workers who, ProPublica noted, once they were audited—which involved pulling in a lot of documentation that many folks didn’t have—once they were audited, 68% of them were less likely to claim the earned income tax credit in the future, compared to those who weren’t audited. And 14%, they were less likely to file taxes at all.

In other words, poor people, once they go through this auditing process, which is cheaper and easier for the IRS to do, they leave money on the table out of fear.

MM: Right. It’s absolutely true that if you look at the audit rates, it’s always higher on the very bottom, and it used to be pretty high on the very top. Under Obama, I think, 2010 was the year it peaked, and it was basically one in four people who reported adjusted income of over $5 million a year were getting audited—as they should be, because there’s just a lot of cheating that goes on at that level. So you really got to watch carefully what people do.

But as far as the poorer people, a lot of people do claim credits that—you know, they’re not sophisticated people. They don’t have help, or some shoddy tax preparer on the corner tells them they can do this, when they can’t really.

And so there’s also a high rate of audits there, and it’s almost automatic for the IRS. Whereas with these wealthy people, they will do this calculation: How likely are we to be able to get extra money, apart from what we put into our investigation? Which is a bad way of doing it, really, right? It’s the transactional way of thinking about it.

But they do, as an institution, kind of have to think that way: Can our budget justify this? And if it doesn’t, they’ll say, well, let’s just let it pass. Not worth going after Donald Trump’s tax expenses.

JJ: Right. Didn’t the Inflation Reduction Act, to bring us back, didn’t it include some effort to beef up the IRS’s capacities in this regard?

MM: Yeah, that was the point of it. It was almost $80 billion; about $47 billion, $46 billion of that went to enforcement. And there was some footnote in one of the reports, saying that this money will allow the IRS to maintain a workforce of 87,000 people.

Well, the Republicans picked up on that, and started saying “87,000 new IRS agents,” which was completely wrong, and they knew it. The total workforce of the IRS right now is probably around 80,000 people, and they really made it sound like they were going to double the workforce, and hire all these guys to come after middle-class taxpayers and poor taxpayers.

And it was nonsense. What that 87,000 is, is over 10 years of attrition: people leaving their jobs, having to replace them with new people. It would support that workforce, right? But it’s not new agents. And it also included everything from IT guys to the people who answer the phone when you call and need help on your taxes, which has been a big problem.

But see, not only is the IRS strapped with enforcement, an average taxpayer calls the place, can’t even get through when they have problems. So that’s been a real issue, and that makes people hate the IRS even more than—you know, nobody likes the IRS, nobody likes paying taxes. I think a lot of people say, “I believe that we should pay taxes and support the common good.” But personally? everybody hates it.

ProPublica (6/8/21)

JJ: Exactly. And partly because of the opacity and the disconnect between what they feel they’re paying for, and then the responsiveness that they’re seeing. And then, of course, partly because of the very obvious unfairness that folks see, in terms of very wealthy individuals and very wealthy corporations who benefit a lot from social goods. When it comes to tax time, somehow they weirdly owe and pay nothing.

MM: Yeah, I was saying this is why the Republican Party has been basically trying to make it sound like all this funding is going against ordinary taxpayers, when, in fact, the main thrust of it was to beef up its top-notch enforcement and go after the wealthier taxpayers, from which they think they can recoup a lot more taxes already owed.

JJ: But now we’re looking at what listeners will have heard described as the Family and Small Business Taxpayer Protection Act, which is ostensibly a response to this resourcing of the IRS that the Inflation Reduction Act was going to introduce.

Whether or not it has a chance, we are in fact looking at it. So what might listeners have read about this Family and Small Business Taxpayer Protection Act, about what it would do, as compared to what you see it actually doing, should it come to pass?

MM: What it does is repeal almost all of the money that was allocated for the IRS in the Inflation Reduction Act—it’s like $72 billion out of the $80 billion, it takes back—and it takes back all the enforcement funding.

It takes back funding for oversight for the inspector general of the Treasury for taxation, that actually in 2020 came out with a report on high-income non-filers, which was, I think, embarrassing to some people, basically showing that there’s a lot of very wealthy people that just aren’t even paying. And not only that, the IRS didn’t have the capacity to even go after a lot of them.

Essentially, they want to gut what just happened. The new funding that was given to the IRS, they want to gut it, take it back.

But even just the name of the thing, “Taxpayer Protection Act,” it goes right with the rhetoric of, “The IRS is the bad guy that’s going to come after you.” And it’s easy for people to get riled up about this. And they do. The Republican rhetoric has led to all these crazy TikTok videos and social media posts by militia types, saying, “Yeah, I got your tax refund right here,” showing their guns, and the IRS has gotten all kinds of threats.

Mother Jones (1/4/23)

What this law actually does is make it easier to cheat on your taxes. It doesn’t protect taxpayers. As I put it in my piece, it protects tax cheaters. There are some middle-class people, yeah, they will be audited, but it’s a relatively small amount.

They talk about, they’re going after small businesses. Well, small businesses in America, the way they’re defined, could be quite large. “Small” and “medium-sized” businesses, we’re talking about, in some cases, billion-dollar businesses. Businesses with 500 employees. This is all smoke and mirrors, in a way.

It is interesting; in your intro, you talked about affordability, and that’s talked about quite a bit, but I would almost argue that affordability is beside the point, because we can pay for what we decide we want to pay for. It’s all about priorities—I mean, if you look at our military budget, etc.

But it’s a game that the politicians play. We can afford what we decide to afford, and it all has to do with how much we ask people to pay. So if you slash taxes, of course you’re going to have a bigger deficit. And the Republicans, they’re so against running deficits and the national debt; at least when the Democrats are in power, they complain and complain about the national debt. They never complain about it when the Republicans are in power, which is just kind of interesting.

But then they put forth proposals like this one, the Taxpayer Protection Act, that would actually make the debt worse.

There’s a disconnect there. It’s all politics.

JJ: Absolutely. And that is my point, is that whatever the budget, the priorities are always the bottom line. And then, big picture, I think some folks respond to this whole overarching story about tax cheating as, well, it’s all a game and it’s over my head. Or even, well, it’s OK, because someday I’ll be a billionaire, and I’ll want to hide it from the taxman too.

But to me, it does come back to a big role that I think news media play, which is not just in exposing hidden realities of the way codes work, against who actually pays, against who pays relative to what they bring in.

But I do think that newspapers tell folks a lot about where their interest lies, and also tell them about whether change is even possible. I wonder what you think about the role of reporting in explaining the situation to people, and maybe showing them what levers for change they have.

MM: If you are interested in reading it, there’s actually quite a lot written on this stuff. I mean, I write about it all the time. The New York Times writes about it. ProPublica has done fabulous work on this, really great investigative work showing how people game the system.

And I think what you said earlier, about this ethos that, well, I could get there someday and have these advantages, and so I wouldn’t want to take them away from people. That’s part of this mythical American ethos of mobility that really doesn’t exist. I mean, it’s not real for most people.

We have always fetishized, in America, the rags to riches stories. And in my book, I cite this example where Bono from U2, who is Irish, is talking to Larry King, the former CNN interviewer, and he says, here in America, you look up at the guy in the mansion on the hill and you say, someday I could live in that mansion. And in Ireland, we look up at the guy on the hill and say, someday I’m going to get that bastard.

So in America, we really do have a different way of viewing our wealthy people. Sure, we gripe about them, but there’s always this idea, hey, I could make it. And it’s an unrealistic fantasy.

Mother Jones (3/23/21)

JJ: Dorothy A. Brown also who teases out different impacts of tax policy on Black people, for example—which is also a distinction lost in this kind of coverage that we’re talking about.

But she says that she gets pushback, when she talks about disparate impacts of tax policy on different people: “Well, there’s nothing in the tax code about race.” And which, to the extent that that’s true, it’s because that data isn’t collected.

And so I think the same sort of thing can be said about reporting. If I never read about the way tax policy affects different groups differently, well, then I may never actually consider that. I might not think about that. And the idea that there’s an “us” that’s regular folks, and tax policy hits us all equally, and then there’s rich people, and we can think about the way tax policy hits them.

I just feel that journalists, and I know you’ve cited examples, but I feel that journalism in the main could do a better job of situating the role of taxes as a societal resource, and of tax collection, as, like, who it comes from, and who is able to just scurry away from it again and again and again.

Michael Mechanic: “You read very little about taxation as a good thing. It’s always the attacks on taxation, and the reporters act as stenographers.”

MM: There’s also—you read very little about taxation as a good thing. It’s always the attacks on taxation, and the reporters act as stenographers. And I even saw the New York Times the other day, quoting 87,000 new—well, they didn’t say “agents,” but they said new “employees.” And the fact is, if you say you have a business, you have a hundred employees and 20 quit, and you hire 20 more, well, are those new employees? Technically, they’re new, but you’re just bringing your workforce up to speed, right? And that’s what this 87,000 number is.

So whenever you call them new people, you’re kind of missing…. I was like, come on New York Times, you should know better than that.

JJ: Yeah. And it sounds as though they’re putting in new folks to do some sort of ideological mission and that’s not really—we’re talking about a federal agency trying to do its job.

MM: You know what’s interesting? I read about this in Michael Lewis’ book, The Fifth Risk. There are actually some federal agencies that are banned by statute from publicizing what they do, and their victories, and how they help people. The reason those laws exist is because somebody in Congress doesn’t want them to be able to tell their victories, because they want people to see government as this bad thing.

And the government ends up playing  all sorts of crucial roles that we never even hear about because of this. I think the IRS is in that realm. I mean, I’m not sure about that, but you don’t see many positive stories about the IRS, in which you actually hear from people within it, because to most of us the IRS is this big, windowless giant, that’s kind of evil and doesn’t have real human beings in it.

JJ: It just brings me back to a kind of misunderstanding that is allowed about the way that the IRS actually works, but then also the way that taxes actually work, and that government actually works. And I guess it brings me back to the beginning of, we have a conversation about how we as a society can’t afford certain things, we can’t pay for certain things, and that exists, that sort of scarcity, lifeboat mentality exists, alongside a situation where people understand that we have incredibly, obscenely wealthy people.

And I look to journalists to connect that disconnect, and tax policy is one way that they could do it.

MM: Yeah. I will admit that at some points when I’m writing, I fall victim to that same thinking, of the affordability thinking. And I’ve had people call me on it, people who are really obsessed with this issue, say, hey, you should read this and this.

But to some degree it’s really true. When I talk about the tax code to people, I say it’s really a moral document. It’s a list of our society’s priorities, what we ask people to pay and what we give in return, and to whom. And the way it’s been structured, for quite a long time, is to give more to people who already have, to the people with passive capital.

Say you have $20 million in excess of your house and your needs, and you put that in the stock market. That’s passive capital. And so you make a lot of money off that, you’re taxed at a much lower rate than the money you get from a paycheck, from working.

And people try to rationalize this in various ways. And one of the things I hear people say is, well, you have to incentivize investment, blah, blah, blah. And I say, what are they going to do with that money? Are they going to keep it under their mattress if you raise the tax rates? I don’t think so.

Biden wanted to raise the capital gains tax rate, which is what you pay on those profits from an asset you buy and then later sell. He wanted to raise it to the same rate as ordinary wages, and that would have been part of the Build Back Better thing. And of course that whole thing just didn’t fly.

New York Times (9/19/21)

The New York Times actually did some great reporting on this, about the revolving door between the wealth management finance world and the Treasury Department.

And so you have people coming in and out of that industry, and that industry lobbies heavily to keep all these tax advantages for the wealthy, and so it’s very hard to get rid of them. Then they leave government, they go back to the firms, they get rewarded for it.

In my reporting, I’ve come across a lot of so-called progressive, extremely wealthy people, and they say, “Hey, I think we should be taxed more, and I’ll say that publicly.” And there are even some groups that exist calling for changes in policy to make the tax code fairer to everyday people, and to tax the wealthy at greater rates.

But then, on the backside, these people are enlisting the wealth industry to manage their money. And the wealth industry is lobbying to keep those advantages. So you’re having it both ways. You get to be the good guy, and you’re helping the bad guys.

JJ: I want to end just there, where we’re talking about human beings, because that’s actually at the front end and the back end of all of this. So we will continue this conversation going forward, but for now, I’d like to thank you very much.

We’ve been speaking with Mike Mechanic; he’s senior editor at Mother Jones and the author of the book Jackpot: How the Super-Rich Really Live—and How Their Wealth Harms Us All. Thank you so much, Mike Mechanic, for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

MM: I really appreciate you having me.


The post ‘We Can Pay for What We Decide to Pay For’ appeared first on FAIR.

To US Papers, Iranian Weapons Far More Newsworthy Than Those Made in USA

January 27, 2023 - 3:29pm


One official enemy’s arms sales to another official enemy are frequently highlighted in headlines (New York Times, 9/25/22).

Russia’s use of Iranian-made drones in the Ukraine war has garnered substantial attention in flagship US news outlets like the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post. These papers’ first references to the matter came on July 11. Between then and the time of writing (January 24), the publications have run 215 pieces that mention Ukraine and the words “Iranian drones,” “Iranian-made drones,” “drones made in Iran” or minor variations on these phrases. That’s more than one mention per day over six-and-a-half months.

The fact that some of Russia’s drones are made in Iran is not only frequently mentioned, but is often featured in headlines like “Iran to Send Hundreds of Drones to Russia for Use in Ukraine, US Says” (Washington Post, 7/11/22), “Ukraine Warns of Growing Attacks by Drones Iran Has Supplied to Russia” (New York Times, 9/25/22) and “Russia’s Iranian Drones Pose Growing Threat to Ukraine” (Wall Street Journal, 10/18/22).

Drones are, of course, just one type of weapons export among many, and US-made armaments have not received similar coverage when they are implicated in the slaughter of innocents.

US-made bombs in Gaza

Middle East Eye (5/18/21): “The US has agreed…to give Israel $3.8bn annually in foreign military financing, most of which it has to spend on US-made weapons.”

One example is Israel’s May 10–21, 2021, bombing of Gaza. According to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Israeli military killed approximately 245 Palestinians, including 63 children, and “totally destroyed or severely damaged” more than 2,000 housing units:

An estimated 15,000 housing units sustained some degree of damage, as did multiple water and sanitation facilities and infrastructure, 58 education facilities, nine hospitals and 19 primary healthcare centers. The damage to infrastructure has exacerbated Gaza’s chronic infrastructure and power deficits, resulting in a decrease of clean water and sewage treatment, and daily power cuts of 18–20 hours, affecting hundreds of thousands.

Israel’s attack was carried out with an arsenal replete with US weaponry. From 2009–20, more than 70% of Israel’s major conventional arms purchases came from the US; according to Andrew Smith of the Campaign Against the Arms Trade, Israel’s “major combat aircraft come from the US,” notably including the F-16 fighter jets that were bombarding Gaza at the time (Middle East Eye, 5/18/21). As the Congressional Research Service (11/16/20) noted six months before the attack on Gaza, Israel has received more cumulative US foreign assistance than any other country since World War II:

To date, the United States has provided Israel $146 billion (current, or non-inflation-adjusted, dollars) in bilateral assistance and missile defense funding. At present, almost all US bilateral aid to Israel is in the form of military assistance.

I searched the databases of the Times, Journal and Post for the equivalent terms I used for the Iranian drones used in Ukraine, and added analogous terms. In the one-month period beginning May 10, just 15 articles in these papers mentioned Israel’s use of US weapons, approximately half as many stories as have been published on the Russian use of Iranian-made drones each month.

‘Strongly backing’ attacks on Yemen

Rather than making a top journalistic priority of the question of whether their readers’ own government contributed to the slaughter being reported on, the New York Times (1/21/22) waits until the 23rd paragraph to bring it up.

A grisly case from the ongoing Yemen war is another worthwhile comparison for how Iranian weapons exports and their US counterparts are covered. On January 21, 2022, the US/Saudi/Emirati/British/Canadian coalition in Yemen bombed a prison in Sa’adah, killing at least 80 people and injuring more than 200. The US weapons-maker Raytheon manufactured the bomb used in the atrocity.

In coverage from the month following the attack, I find evidence of only two articles in the three papers that link the slaughter and US weapons. A New York Times story (1/21/22) raised the possibility that US-made bombs killed people in Sa’adah:

It was unclear whether the weapons used in the airstrikes had been provided by the United States, which in recent years has been by far the largest arms seller to Saudi Arabia and the [United Arab] Emirates, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, which monitors weapons transfers.

The one piece that explicitly pointed to US culpability in the Sa’adah massacre was an op-ed in the Washington Post (1/26/22) that referred to “ample evidence showing US weapons used in the attack.” Thus the Wall Street Journal didn’t consider US  participation in a mass murder that killed 80 people to be newsworthy, and the Times and Post evidently concluded that US involvement merited minimal attention. The Post (1/21/22) even ran an article that misleadingly suggested the US had ceased to be a major factor in the war:

The United States once strongly backed the Saudi-led coalition. But President Biden announced early last year that Washington would withdraw support for the coalition’s offensive operations, which have been blamed for the deaths of thousands of civilians. The Trump administration had previously halted US refueling of Saudi jets operating against the Houthis. Some members of Congress had long expressed outrage over US involvement in the war, including weapons sales to Saudi Arabia.

Yet mere weeks before Sa’adah killings, Congress signed off on a Biden-approved $650 million weapons sale to Saudi Arabia (Al Jazeera, 12/8/21). That means Washington is still “strongly back[ing]” the coalition, notwithstanding the hollow claims that such weapons are defensive (In These Times, 11/22/21).

‘Expanding threat’

David Ignatius (Washington Post, 8/24/22) refers to drones that explode when they hit a target as “suicide drones.” Are missiles that explode when they hit a target committing suicide?

The coverage of Iran’s weapons exports and the US’s also diverges in terms of the analyses that the outlets offer.

David Ignatius told his Washington Post (8/24/22) readers to “beware the emerging Tehran/Moscow alliance.” In the periods I examined, there is a marked shortage of articles urging readers to “beware” the Washington/Tel Aviv or Washington/Riyadh alliances, despise the bloodshed they facilitate.

The Wall Street Journal (10/28/22) contended that

Russia’s expanding use of Iranian drones in Ukraine poses an increasing threat for the US and its European allies as Tehran attempts to project military power beyond the Middle East.

The article went on to say that “the Western-made components that guide, power and steer the [Iranian] drones touch on a vexing problem world leaders face in trying to contain the expanding threat.” The piece cited Norman Roule, formerly of the CIA,

warn[ing] that the combination of drones and missiles one day might be used against Western powers. “This Ukraine conflict provides Iran with a unique and low-risk opportunity to test its weapons systems against modern Western defenses,” Mr. Roule said.

The US weapons that helped lay waste to Gaza and snuff out dozens of prisoners in Sa’adah are barely presented as having harmed their victims, and not at all as an “increasing” or “expanding” threat to rival powers such as Russia or China, or to anyone else.

‘Malign behavior’

A co-author from the “United States Institute for Peace” (Washington Post, 12/6/22) suggests sending “US military escorts” into an active war zone. What could go wrong?

In the New York Times (11/1/22), Bret Stephens contended that the Biden

administration should warn Iran’s leaders that their UAV factories will be targeted and destroyed if they continue to provide kamikaze drones to Russia, in flat violation of UN Security Council Resolution 2231. If Tehran can get away with being an accessory to mass murder in Ukraine, it will never have any reason to fear the United States for any of its malign behavior. Every country should be put on notice that the price for helping Moscow in its slaughter will be steep.

Of course, the UN charter does not give individual countries the right to attack other nations they perceive as violating UN Security Council resolutions. And needless to say, the Times, Journal and Post do not say that US responsibility for mass murder in Palestine and Yemen means that weapons factories in the US should be “targeted and destroyed” by a hostile power. Nor do they suggest that the US should be “put on notice” that there will be a “steep” “price for helping” Tel Aviv or Riyadh in their “slaughter.”

William B. Taylor and David J. Kramer argue in the Post (12/6/22) that Iranian drones are among the few “Russian weapons that work,” and that the US needs to “provid[e] Ukraine with missile defense, anti-drone and antiaircraft systems.” None of the articles I examined said that anyone should give military hardware to the Palestinians or Yemenis for protection against US-made weapons.

If these outlets’ concern about Iranian arms exports to Russia were about the sanctity of human life, there wouldn’t be such a gap between the volume and character of this coverage compared to that of US weapons piling up corpses in Palestine and Yemen. Instead, corporate media have focused on how official enemies enact violence, and downplayed that which their own country inflicts.

Featured image: Collage of Washington Post, New York Times and Wall Street Journal headlines by Kat Sewon Oh.


The post To US Papers, Iranian Weapons Far More Newsworthy Than Those Made in USA appeared first on FAIR.

Michael Mechanic on Underfunding the IRS

January 27, 2023 - 10:39am


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This week on CounterSpin: If repeated messaging about how we “can’t afford” public goods but we should always be “cutting taxes” isn’t discordant enough, corporate media’s guiding yet unspoken theory has some corollaries—one of which is that because wealthy people pay large (if not proportionate) amounts of money in taxes, they should get policies that reward them, including those allowing them to keep, and grow, their extreme wealth and its concomitant power. That’s how we wind up with congressional Republicans’ efforts to claw back the attempts the administration made to actually help the IRS start to audit the notoriously tax-avoiding wealthy. The message from many politicians and their media amplifiers: Cheating on taxes is a luxury only the rich can, or should be able to, afford.

We know come April there will be a swell of “news you can use” stories about how to save a dime or two on your taxes. We get a bigger picture story this week from Mother Jones senior editor Michael Mechanic, author of Jackpot: How the Super-Rich Really Live—and How Their Wealth Harms Us All.

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As Unions Gain 273,000 Members, Media Opt for Gloomy Headlines

January 26, 2023 - 2:43pm


The Washington Post (1/19/23), owned by anti-labor billionaire Jeff Bezos, put a downbeat spin on unionization numbers.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics last week issued numbers that included how many US workers were union members. The numbers showed that while the number of union members increased by 273,000, to a total of 14.3 million, their share of the overall workforce decreased, from 10.3% to 10.1%.

These numbers are obviously a mixed bag, so deciding whether to frame them positively, negatively or neutrally is a deliberate editorial decision. In this case, several media organizations opted for the harshest interpretation of the data, framing this only as a loss for unions:

  • Union Membership Fell to Record Low in 2022, Bureau of Labor Statistics Says (NBC News, 1/19/23)
  • Union Membership Dropped to Record Low in 2022 (Politico, 1/19/23)
  • Union Membership Hit Record Low in 2022 (Washington Post, 1/19/23)

Others nodded to the increased labor enthusiasm, but still centered the negative numbers:

  • US Union Membership Rate Falls to All-Time Low Despite Organizing Efforts, Data Shows (Reuters, 1/19/23)
  • Union Membership Drops to New Low Despite Organizing Wave (The Hill, 1/19/23)
  • US Union Membership Rate Hits All-Time Low Despite Campaigns (Associated Press, 1/19/23)
  • Union Membership Rate Hits Record Low Despite Votes at Apple, Amazon, Starbucks (Wall Street Journal, 1/19/23)

Though not false, the headlines do paint an incomplete picture. Organized labor didn’t decrease in size; rather, it was non-unionized labor that grew at a quicker rate.

Outlets like AP (1/19/23) chose a frame that stressed the futility of organizing.

The Economic Policy Institute put out a brief on the numbers that painted a far less sour picture about the state of labor. For example, it cited a Gallup poll from last year that showed that at 71%, public approval of unions is at its highest levels since 1965. Recent data show that between October 2021 and September 2022, petitions to form a union increased by 53%.

EPI noted that there are also a large number of workers who would join a union if they could. According to Gallup’s polling of non-unionized workers, 20%–35% of them have moderate to extreme interest in joining a union—some 25–45 million people, or roughly two to three times the number currently unionized.

Though it wasn’t reflected in their headlines, many of the above stories included the raw-number increase and at least some of the data showing record-breaking pro-union sentiment. Headlines, however, set the tone for both the reader and the national conversation.

Grappling with the apparent contradiction between public enthusiasm for unions and the declining proportion of unionized labor, EPI found that much of the disconnect comes from a labor law regime that favors employers—and a government that poorly enforces the laws that do exist. According to one 2019 study, “employers are charged with violating federal law in 41.5% of all union election campaigns.” Worse still, these numbers don’t include the violations that are tolerated or ignored altogether.

None of the pieces cited above connected their dark picture of unionization to this rampant criminality, shielding employers from scrutiny.

The society-wide benefits and popularity of unions are well understood—especially by the news industry workforce, which has undergone its own wave of labor militancy. Painting unnecessarily dour pictures does little to push public discourse in a positive way.

Featured image: NBC News (1/19/23)

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If You Won’t Sacrifice Workers to Fight Inflation, You’re Off the Op-Ed Page

January 25, 2023 - 6:33pm


Inflation surged in the spring of 2021, hit a 40-year-high rate of 9.1% in June 2022, and was still running at a historically high 6.5% at year’s end. Coverage of inflation has surged along with this rise in prices, with the volume of inflation coverage reaching levels not seen since the 1980s. One analysis (CAP Action, 12/22/21) found that in November 2021, CNN and MSNBC gave inflation roughly double the combined coverage of “jobs, wages and healthcare.”

Despite the New York Times‘ warning (11/8/22), Democrats lost a respectable nine seats in the House and actually gained a Senate seat.

Inflation has, unsurprisingly, taken center stage in the public consciousness. Voters in a pre-midterms poll (Data for Progress, 10/27/22) ranked it as their top issue by a solid 15 percentage points. The New York Times (11/8/22) noted that polling before the vote revealed “the highest level of economic concern headed into a midterm election since 2010, when the economy was coming out of the worst downturn since the Great Depression.” And exit polling put inflation at the top of the list of issues for voters.

Meanwhile, a debate has been raging over all things inflation: How high will it go, how long will it last, what should be done? Call it the Great Inflation Debate. Central to this debate has been the role of the Federal Reserve, the nation’s central bank, and what it should do, if anything, to quell the phenomenon.

Many on the left, so-called “inflation doves” (e.g., Nation, 2/18/22; In These Times, 9/22/22; Chartbook, 10/26/22), have been highly critical of the Fed’s reliance on interest rate hikes—which notoriously work by “weakening workers’ bargaining power and forcing them to accept lower wages” (Slack Wire, 3/2/22)—as a response to price increases. More conservative “inflation hawks,” by contrast, have called for aggressive monetary tightening (i.e., substantial rate hikes) to silence the inflationary threat.

The opinion sections of media outlets would seem a natural place to host this debate. Doves on one side, hawks on the other. Now rumble! After all, what is an opinion section for, if not a wide-ranging debate that exposes readers to varied perspectives on a pressing issue?

Unfortunately, opinion sections at corporate news outlets are notorious for their failure to include progressive voices. As the Columbia Journalism Review (5/8/18) pointed out in 2018, despite the growing prominence of the left in politics, left-wing thinkers have remained poorly represented on major op-ed pages. The “virtually nonexistent” presence of socialists at these outlets contrasts sharply with readers’ calls for more left-wing voices and the popularity of socialism with the American public—recent polling shows over a third of Americans have a positive view of socialism (FAIR.org, 10/9/20).

The Great Inflation Debate offers yet another example of this marginalization of left-wing voices. At the Washington Post and New York Times, two of the most widely read establishment newspapers, the opinion sections have fallen short in providing readers with exposure to progressive voices on inflation. In one case, the failure has been abysmal. In the other, it’s been merely painful.

Hawks and hawks and hawks, oh my!

Larry Summers went full Bond villain as he declared from a tropical beach (Vice, 1/10/23), “There’s going to need to be increases in unemployment to contain inflation.”

The award for abysmal failure in the field of political balance goes to the Washington Post, where hawks reign supreme. Top hawk is Larry Summers, treasury secretary under Bill Clinton and devout neoliberal, whose inflation takes have been prominently featured on the Post’s opinion pages (2/4/21, 3/17/22, 12/19/22), including in pieces by the editorial board (3/20/21, 9/21/22) and other columnists (6/13/22, 12/14/22). Summers has morphed into an almost cartoonish villain over the course of the Great Inflation Debate, in one recent instance requesting a dash of unemployment while comfortably reclined, hands clasped, by a tropical beach.

Up until recently, when Summers (12/19/22) endorsed the Federal Reserve’s “approach of stepping more gingerly,” his op-eds for the Post have been appallingly hawkish. He was already declaring “tightening” as “likely to be necessary” back in May 2021 (5/24/21) and has consistently called for interest rate hikes over the last year (e.g., 3/15/22, 4/5/22, 10/31/22). Even after the Fed raised the cost of borrowing in March 2022 and signaled its determination to do so again six more times before the end of the year, Summers (3/17/22) reprimanded it for being insufficiently hawkish, stating, “I fear the economic projections of the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) represent a continuation of its wishful and delusional thinking of the recent past.”

A core complaint of Summers’ is that the labor market is too tight, a polite way of saying that workers have become too empowered. Ironically, in the summer of 2020, not long before his descent into inflation hysteria, Summers had penned a piece for the Post titled “US Workers Need More Power” (6/28/20). Less than a year later, Summers (5/24/21) fretted, “Higher minimum wages, strengthened unions, increased employee benefits and strengthened regulation are all desirable, but they, too, all push up business costs and prices.” You see, he wants to help workers. But you know what really helps workers? Higher unemployment.

‘The power to quit’

Other Post columnists have not been much better. Jennifer Rubin (6/1/22) has invoked the specter of inflation to lambast Biden’s plan for student debt cancellation. Catherine Rampell (7/12/22) has complained about pesky state lawmakers’ plans for boosting residents’ incomes to shield them from inflation, dubbing these plans “actively harmful in the fight against inflation.” In the same article, she criticized student debt cancellation for its (negligible) inflationary impact and endorsed hiking interest rates instead. Rampell (7/5/22) has further lamented the Biden administration’s tendency to side with labor instead of pursuing policies that would hurt labor but would “modestly reduce pricing pressures.”

The Washington Post‘s Sebastian Mallaby (6/15/22): “To get inflation under control, the Fed will almost certainly have to cause a recession.”

Sebastian Mallaby (6/15/22, 7/15/22) has called for aggressive rate hikes in response to inflation, lauded Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell as “courageous” following his conversion to tight monetary policy, and argued that due to the high pace of wage growth, “the Fed will almost certainly have to cause a recession” in its fight against inflation. Henry Olsen (5/12/22) has taken abnormally high inflation as an opportunity to advocate cuts to Social Security and Medicare, and, like Summers, has worried (2/10/22) that the Fed’s rate increases won’t be large enough to reverse the low unemployment that “giv[es] workers the power to quit and seek better pay and working conditions elsewhere.”

Megan McArdle has provided some dissent in her columns. In one article from May (5/29/22), she stated the obvious:

It is, of course, bad to lose 8% of your purchasing power to inflation. But it’s even worse to lose a hundred percent of it to unemployment—and the collective suffering of those who lose their jobs is arguably much greater than the pains of households strained by inflation.

She concluded the piece by “wonder[ing] whether [it]’s possible” to “stabilize inflation and then lower it gradually” rather than causing a recession.

In other columns (5/16/22, 9/21/22), however, McArdle has dismissed the idea that corporate profiteering has contributed to inflation as a “conspiracy theory,” and has stopped short of sharp criticism of the Fed, opining that “it’s hard to blame them” for “tightening the screws.”

EJ Dionne, a self-proclaimed “inflation dove,” has likewise dissented from the cacophony of hawks at the Post, expressing in a recent column (12/14/22) his disappointment that the Fed has not signaled a pause in rate hikes. He nevertheless made sure to salute Larry Summers for correctly predicting a rise in inflation.

‘Imposing economic pain’

If columnists are mere mortal combatants, the editorial board might be seen more as a deity, descending from time to time to proclaim the victory of Reason and Justice. For the Post, Reason and Justice assume the earthly form of a hawk. Though the editorial board (8/27/20) approved of the more dovish turn at the Federal Reserve back in 2020, the rise of inflation has led the board to widen its wings and unleash its talons.

The Washington Post‘s first example of a “bad proposal” (4/15/22): “Democratic accusations that companies are driving inflation by price-gouging don’t pass the logic test.” This from a paper whose owner raised the price of Amazon Prime 17% after posting a $14 billion quarterly profit.

The board was already preparing for a more hawkish turn in the spring of 2021, just as inflation was about to take off. In a March editorial (3/20/21), the board commented:

Everything depends on the Fed’s timely willingness to use its anti-inflation tools, even if it means imposing economic pain. We must hope both that the central bank never faces such a test of independence, and that it passes if it does.

The board went full hawk in early 2022, with a February editorial (2/16/22) declaring, “It is time for the Fed to get aggressive.” By April, the board’s impatience was palpable (4/15/22):

We have been urging a long-overdue half-point increase in interest rates for months. The Fed finally seems ready to take this decisive step at its May meeting…. But more bold moves will likely be needed later this year.

The board has maintained this aggressive posture as the Fed has come in its direction on interest rate policy. In a September editorial (9/21/22), the board noted that future rate hikes “will hurt, slowing growth and weakening the labor market. Unfortunately, there is no other good option.” In November, the board (11/1/22) made clear its perfect willingness to accept a recession in exchange for lower inflation. Along the way, it has repeatedly argued (6/1/22, 7/30/22, 10/22/22) against student debt cancellation due to its presumed inflationary impact.

Jeff Bezos, the multi-billionaire founder of Amazon who has owned the Post since 2013, is undoubtedly more than pleased with the near-universal hawkishness found on the Post’s op-ed pages. Amazon has been facing a worker insurgency since early in the pandemic, which has led to the first successful unionization of an Amazon warehouse, despite intense pressure from management to back down (In These Times, 5/23/22). The aggressive interest rate increases that the Fed has implemented, and that the Washington Post editorial board and many Post columnists have cheered, will have the predictable and intentional effect of weakening workers’ bargaining power. No doubt the Post’s columnists and editorial board are not consciously trying to serve Bezos’ interests, but if they were, they couldn’t do a much better job.

Bezos, in fact, has publicly expressed approval of one of his op-ed writer’s being on-message, retweeting a column by Catherine Rampell (5/16/22) that denounced the “demagogic rhetoric” of blaming “Corporate Greed” (in scare caps) for inflation—what she mocked as the “greedflation theory of the world.” (Defending herself against charges that she was carrying water for her boss, Rampell tweeted—5/18/22—”If Post writers are secretly channeling Bezos’s beliefs, we’re doing a terrible job at it, since our policy views are all over the map.”)

This came after Bezos involved himself in a public spat with the Biden administration over its call for heightened corporate taxation as a response to inflation. As Jacobin (5/23/22) put it:

If you were looking for a digital era version of Citizen Kane behavior, this is it—and it not so coincidentally comes right after President Joe Biden hosted Amazon Labor Union organizers at the White House.

The Washington Post is not exactly expected to be a friend of labor. But, as inflation has surged, it is nevertheless jarring just how anti-labor the Post has revealed itself to be. Democracy may die in darkness, but workers die in Amazon warehouses (Jacobin, 1/9/22; Popular Science, 9/2/22).

Doves…with claws

Yes, says Paul Krugman (New York Times, 8/23/22): “There don’t seem to be any realistic alternatives.”

The New York Times has taken a decidedly more moderate stance towards the inflation question. The editorial board has shied away from the bellicosity of the Post, primarily outlining its take on the proper response to inflation in one piece (4/29/22) from April 2022. This editorial, gravely titled “The Courage Required to Confront Inflation,” conceded, “It is time to raise rates.” However, the piece called for “a more measured approach,” and warned against “moving too quickly to confront inflation, or raising rates too high.”

The Times’ relative moderation on the inflation question is reflected in the writings of its op-ed contributors. The most prominent voice in the opinion section has been Paul Krugman, a Times staple who has supplied worthy dissent on important issues such as austerity in the past. Yet Krugman’s unwillingness to step too far left is obvious from his past criticisms of progressives, and it shows up once again in his editorials on inflation.

After his over-optimism in 2021 that inflation would resolve fairly quickly of its own accord, Krugman tacked right in his prescriptions in 2022. In a piece from January 2022, Krugman (1/21/22) pronounced, “it’s time for policymakers to pivot away from stimulus…. The Federal Reserve is right to be planning to raise interest rates in the months ahead.” But he cautioned, “As I read the data, they don’t call for drastic action: The Fed should be taking its foot off the gas pedal, not slamming on the brakes.”

Much like Summers, a central concern of Krugman’s has been the tight labor market. In one of his most recent columns on inflation (12/26/22), he wrote, “My concern (and, I believe, the Fed’s) comes down to the fact that the job market still looks very hot, with wages rising too fast to be consistent with acceptably low inflation.”

The tightness of the labor market has led Krugman to reject more progressive alternatives in the fight against inflation. For instance, in a column from August (8/23/22), he invoked the high level of job openings in his rejection of price controls. He concluded: “There are many good things to be said about a hot economy and tight labor markets, and we’ll miss them when they’re gone. But there don’t seem to be any realistic alternatives.”

Perhaps the most frustrating thing about Krugman is that his knack for remarkable clarity in dissent from the mainstream is matched by a firm commitment to resisting the most radical conclusions. Krugman, in stark contrast to commentators like Larry Summers, has vociferously defended the Biden administration’s economic recovery policies, despite their contribution to inflation. Hailing the swiftness of the Covid recovery, Krugman (1/6/22) wrote in early 2022, “accepting inflation for a while was probably the right call.” In another column (2/3/22) from around the same time, he observed, “The costs of unemployment are huge and real, while the costs of inflation are subtle and surprisingly elusive.”

Yet as inflation reached higher, Krugman’s claws came out. In March of 2022, he wrote (3/21/22):

Now, excess inflation suggests that recent US economic growth has been too much of a good thing. Our economy looks clearly overheated, which is why the Federal Reserve is right to have started raising interest rates and should keep doing it until inflation subsides.

So, while Krugman is willing to ask whether a war on inflation is really worth the pain, his answer affirms the orthodoxy, workers be damned.

‘Too low for too long’

The New York Times‘ Peter Coy (8/26/22) recanted his dovish views on inflation: “It’s clear now that the Fed erred by keeping interest rates too low for too long, allowing inflation to get excessively high.”

After Krugman, the most frequent contributor to the Great Inflation Debate at the Times has been Peter Coy, who has provided somewhat more dissent than Krugman on inflation policy. For instance, in a column from March 2022, when Krugman (3/21/22) was advocating a series of rate hikes, Coy (3/16/22) featured an economist, David Rosenberg, opposing further rate hikes after the March one, the first since before the pandemic. Rosenberg provided a rare critique of Paul Volcker, the legendary Federal Reserve chair who slayed inflation in the 1980s (partially by sending the labor movement to the morgue): “‘People tend to forget that in the early 1980s Volcker was reviled,’ Rosenberg said. ‘And no one really knows if inflation was going to fall anyway.’”

In June, Coy (6/17/22) evinced “concern about the Fed’s newfound aggressiveness” and noted, “There are other reasons to think the US economy and inflation are beginning to cool off, even without extreme measures by the Fed.”

His concern has been complemented by an openness to alternative ideas. In October, for example, he recommended cost-of-living adjustments to help protect people against inflation (10/14/22). More recently, in a column (1/4/23) on class conflict and inflation, he displayed interest in incomes policy, which would involve wage and price controls.

Yet even Coy has revealed claws. Though he has been skeptical of rate hikes, he has nevertheless yielded to their necessity. In August, he wrote (8/26/22), “It’s clear now that the Fed erred by keeping interest rates too low for too long, allowing inflation to get excessively high.” That such a blunt instrument, one that has the predictable and intentional effect of weakening workers’ power, obviously must be used in the context of the current inflation is not in question among the Times’ foremost participants in the Great Inflation Debate.

Besides Krugman and Coy, both regular Times columnists, a spattering of other commentators have been awarded spots in the Times’ op-ed pages. Mike Konczal and JW Mason, progressive economists affiliated with the Roosevelt Institute, published a piece (6/15/21) in the summer of 2021 that criticized reliance on interest rate hikes as a response to a surge in demand, and warned:

There is a real political danger that policymakers will be pressured into seeing an economy with more worker power as something to be reined in, under the rationale of avoiding dangerous overheating.

A Times opinion newsletter (12/16/21) from late 2021 featured skeptics of rate hikes, with Eric Levitz noting, “Raising rates could actually make things worse,” and Adam Tooze commenting, “A broad monetary policy squeeze may be a high cost, low return proposition.” The Times has also run a more recent piece (10/4/22) by Tooze pointing out the substantial dangers that Fed policy poses for the global economy. Another notable progressive invite has been Ro Khanna, a California congressmember, who took to the Times (6/2/22) last summer to argue for a more holistic approach to lowering inflation.

There have been a number of other Times editorials written by progressives over the course of the Great Inflation Debate, but while left-wing voices are certainly more common at the Times than the Post, they do not receive serious amplification. There is no major columnist at the Times who has, over the past year and a half, not only written regularly on inflation but outlined a genuinely leftist response, one that does not involve deliberately throwing people out of work in order to reduce labor costs. While the Post may be a caricature of a hawk, the Times more resembles a dove…with claws.

Remember the left wing

James Galbraith (Nation, 2/18/22) points out that “since most American jobs are in services, those wages are also prices”—and that “suppressing wage increases for low-wage American workers is reactionary.”

Corporate outlets may have clipped their left wing, but that does not mean leftists have been silent. In reality, they have been significant participants in the debate over inflation—outside the Post and Times. The economist James Galbraith, for instance, outlined a compelling case against interest rate hikes in the Nation (2/18/22) back in February 2022:

Suppressing wage increases for low-wage American workers is reactionary. And it’s a result that can be achieved only by gouging those workers and their families on their debts and then cutting off their bargaining power over their jobs.

Galbraith urged his audience to recognize that progressive transformation of the economy

will put pressure on the price level. The “inflation” to come is just a condensed reflection of this reality. And the idea that “inflation is the Fed’s job” is just a way of denying that reality while dumping the unavoidable costs of adjustment onto American workers, their families, the indebted and the poor.

Rejecting the idea that the Fed should hurt workers to lower inflation, Galbraith advocated progressive remedies to high prices, including the redirection of resources toward more socially beneficial uses, the de-financialization of the economy, control of healthcare costs through Medicare for All, rent control and selective price controls.

A casual reader of the Times or the Post would almost certainly find this line of reasoning shockingly alien. But they would likely be quite familiar with the argument for interest rate hikes. Repetition has made the thought of weakening worker power seem commonsensical, while exclusion makes the idea of strengthening worker power sound radical.

Opinion sections at these outlets just so happen to prioritize views that line up with the interests of their owners’ class and against those of the poor. What readers get is not a real debate; instead, it’s indoctrination.


The post If You Won’t Sacrifice Workers to Fight Inflation, You’re Off the Op-Ed Page appeared first on FAIR.

‘The Cry Is “Lumumba Lives”—His Ideas, His Principles’ - CounterSpin interview with Maurice Carney on Patrice Lumumba

January 24, 2023 - 11:00am


Janine Jackson interviewed Friends of the Congo’s Maurice Carney about the assassination of Patrice Lumumba for the January 20, 2023, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

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Patrice Lumumba

Janine Jackson:  CounterSpin listeners will have heard a number of tributes to Martin Luther King Jr. this past week—a few searching, many shallow. Importantly, the King holiday usually includes attention to his assassination, as well as to his life and work, though even the best reports, if we’re talking about corporate media, fail to draw the straightest lines between the two.

This week also marks the anniversary of another assassination, that of Patrice Lumumba, the first elected prime minister of the post-independence Democratic Republic of the Congo. Elite media appear to find that 1961 murder harder to pave over, and easier to just ignore.

But thinking about it, learning about it, involves the same sort of challenges to the US role in the world, and how racism shapes that role—lessons that we very obviously still need to learn.

We’re joined now by Maurice Carney, co-founder and executive director of the group Friends of the Congo. He joins us by phone from Washington, DC. Welcome back to CounterSpin, Maurice Carney.

Maurice Carney: Thank you. Thank you, Janine. It’s my pleasure to be back with you.

JJ: I will ask you to begin where we have in the past, with a reminder to listeners about January, 1961, and the circumstances of Patrice Lumumba’s assassination. How was the US involved, but also why was the US involved?

(PublicAffairs, 2008)

MC: Yes, the United States was directly involved. In fact, Janine, the United States State Department released declassified documents a number of years ago, in the last seven years or so, and those declassified documents revealed that the operation in the Congo on the part of the United States and its Central Intelligence Agency, the covert operation, was the largest in the world at that time, in terms of financing.

And the chief of station, Larry Devlin, chief of station of the CIA in the Congo, he wrote a book entitled Chief of Station, Congo, and he laid out why that the United States felt that Congo was important, and that it remained in the sphere of influence of the United States.

Larry Devlin said, in essence, that if we did not overthrow Lumumba, not only would we have lost the Congo, we would’ve lost all of Africa.

So Devlin centered the Congo as a part of US overall foreign policy, strategic policy for the African continent. So the overthrow of Lumumba was vital to the United States.

And we say “overthrow” because, in Devlin’s book, it’s really a playbook that he lays out for how the United States moves against democratically elected leaders who are not necessarily inclined to toe Washington’s line.

And that was the problem that the United States had with Lumumba, that he was an African nationalist and a pan-Africanist, one who loved his people, loved the continent, and, as Malcolm X stated, he was the greatest African leader to ever walk the African continent.

And the reason why Malcolm X said that is because he saw that the US couldn’t reach Lumumba, in the sense that they couldn’t corrupt him, they couldn’t entice him to sell out his people for trinkets, just like some of the other Congolese leaders had done.

So the Congo was key, and it’s key for a whole host of reasons that we can share a little later.

JJ: And the idea that the CIA chief of station, Larry Devlin, would use the pronoun “we”—”we” might lose Africa. This is so deeply meaningful in terms of policy narrative, and here’s where media come in to play their role of serving this narrative.

And I know that you’ve spoken in the past about the role that US news media played in working with the CIA and Larry Devlin and other US foreign policymakers to destabilize Congo and Lumumba. Media storytelling carried a lot of weight here.

A painting of Patrice Lumumba by Bernard Safran, commissioned by Time magazine but not published.

MC: Absolutely, absolutely. The narrative is critical. It was a number of years ago we talked about, Time magazine at the time was portraying Lumumba as a monster, basically laying the groundwork to justify his liquidation and removal from power.

We paint this picture of a monster to the global media when covert action is actually implemented by the Central Intelligence Agency, the US government, then folks are going to say, well, oh, he was a monster anyway. So it doesn’t matter if he was democratically elected. Doesn’t matter if he was a legitimate prime minister. He was a bad guy.

And the United States and its media and its people see themselves as the good guy. So if the good guys move in and get rid of the bad guys, then it’s fine.

And this is really an important point, too, Janine, because that narrative, these people who were involved at the time, some of them are really still alive today. They write books and they make films to paint themselves in a positive light, because of their concern of the repercussion of history, when the truth actually comes out, in terms of the dastardly role that they played, in not only removing a democratically elected leader who was subsequently assassinated, but also imposing a dictatorship over the Congolese people, in essence destroying any prospect of a peaceful, democratic, prosperous country in the heart of the richest continent on the planet.

So recounting the story and correcting the history and continuing to tell the story, especially during the commemoration of Lumumba’s assassination, is so vital. It’s so critical, and it’s not something that is stuck in the past, but it’s very, very much relevant for today, because the same forces that were at play in the ’60s to remove Lumumba are at play today in terms of keeping the Congolese from advancing and fully benefiting from the enormous wealth that’s in their country, which is what Lumumba stood for.

He made it clear, in no uncertain terms, that he was going to serve the interest of the Congolese people. He was going to leverage the wealth of the Congo, not only for the benefit of the Congo, but for Africa as a whole.

This basically scared the Western powers, because they thought they were going to lose access to the resources that we’ve learned, over the decades, are vital to a whole range of industries—not only in the West, but global industries.

NPR (12/20/22)

JJ: This is absolutely a story about this very day today, and it’s so important to not think of this as a historical commemoration. But when I looked for coverage, I found pretty much nothing in terms of US media coverage.

But I did find, for example, when I was just looking for references to Lumumba, one of the things I found was the Dutch prime minister’s official apology for that country’s role in slavery and in the trading of enslaved people.

And I wanted to ask the role of these official statements, about apologies, which is not the same thing as a truth and reconciliation conversation, but these official apologies in the context of a general informational void about the specific actions and attitudes that created the phenomenon that now official people are sad about.

And with context to Congo, I just wonder: This is the coverage, this is what media covers, is when a powerful person says I’m officially sorry, and that’s not the kind of coverage we need.

MC: Right. And that’s in line with narratives over the past few years, right? Because, see, even the summer of 2022, you have the Belgian king, who had gone back to Congo. He didn’t apologize for the role that Belgium played in basically plundering and destroying the Congo. But he said he regretted it.

And this apology, regret, it’s really important, because remember, one of the events that shot Lumumba into world attention was his June 30, 1960, inauguration speech, where he laid out in excoriating detail the nature and the scope of the brutality of King Leopold II in the Congo and Belgian colonialism.

CNN (9/10/22)

So we are talking about some 60 years later, where you have the Dutch or the Belgians issuing apologies or regrets, it really doesn’t carry weight for the masses of Africans. And I say that because, if you recall the passing of the queen of England, and if you look at the coverage, you saw that Africans writ large were basically celebrating, and recounting in detail the atrocities that the British colonial power carried out, not only in Africa, but certainly in India and in Asia.

So this apology narrative, Janine, it’s really an elite affair. And the broadcasting of it is sharing the crocodile tears of elites. But if you consult the masses, if you look at the oppressed masses, the working class, you’ll find the type of response that they have, not only to colonialism, but also to neo-colonialism and contemporary capitalists and imperialist exploitation of their lands.

And you’ll find outrage, you’ll find anger, and you’ll find people teeming to demand change of the power relations that exist currently in the world today.

JJ: I know that Friends of the Congo works year round, but that you also use every January 17 to uplift the life and the murder and the legacy of Patrice Lumumba, as well as that of Joseph Okito and Maurice Mpolo, who also died on that day.

And I would like you to talk a little bit about the goals of the action that you do every year, because it’s not just lamentation; it’s about more.

Maurice Carney: “The same forces that were at play in the ’60s to remove Lumumba are at play today in terms of keeping the Congolese from advancing.”

MC: Exactly. Exactly. We commemorate Lumumba to remind the world, not only of the imbalance in the power dynamics between the Western world and the global South, but also to remind people of the principles and ideas that Lumumba lived for and ultimately died: Self-sufficiency, self-determination, pan-Africanism, internationalism, and those principles obtain to this day, and they’ve been embraced by young Congolese in particular, young Africans in general, who are carrying out, building on the legacy of Lumumba.

So the cry is “Lumumba lives,” that is to say, his ideas, his principles. And I was in an exchange with one young Congolese before our commemoration yesterday, and he was sharing that there are a thousand Lumumbas in the Congo today.

So what we try to highlight is the extent to which the current generation has taken up the mantle, and is continuing that pursuit for a self-determined, independent Congo that is inextricably linked to the self-determination and independence of the African continent as a whole.

So that’s why we declare January 17 of each year Lumumba Day, and people go to LumumbaDay.org and they sign up to take action, either get a resolution passed commemorating the day; they can sign up to support the youth who are carrying on the tradition of Lumumba; they can be a part of the current movement in the Congo that is very much as critical today as it was during the time of Lumumba.

So it’s very current, very contemporary, and speaks to the tremendous importance that Congo carries, not only for Africa, but for the world as a whole, being part of the second-largest rainforest in the world, and is vital in the fight against the climate crisis.

And at the same time, Janine, being the storehouse of strategic minerals such as cobalt, which are vital in the pursuit of a renewable energy revolution.

So it’s at the nexus of critical resources that are vital to the future of the welfare of the planet as a whole.

JJ: I just wanted to ask you, if you have another minute in you, about precisely that, that Congo is not a story of the past. Congo is very much a story of the present. And I wonder, if journalists listening to this are looking to connect the history, and the ongoing history of exploitation, to the current exploitation, and are looking for stories as inroads to that, are there particular issues or stories that you would direct an enterprising US reporter who’s looking to get into this; what should they start at?

MC: Oh my goodness. There are so many. And if you’re talking about questions of peace and security, we see the instability unfolding in the Congo as a result of, in large part, US foreign policy and financing and backing proxy leaders in neighboring countries. So peace and security questions.

Congo has suffered the deadliest conflict in the world since World War II. It’d be interesting to see a comparison between the response that we have in Ukraine in the media and what we see in the Congo, wherein as many as 6 million people have lost their lives. But yet the coverage seems to lack in comparison to how Ukraine is covered.

Africa Report (5/17/21)

But if we’re talking about the Green New Deal and climate crisis and renewable energy revolution, you have to talk about Congo. There’s so many stories that you can address in that kind of pursuit: the minerals, cobalt, critical to renewable energy sector; the Congo Basin, which is the second-largest rainforest in the world, and yet it sequesters more carbon than the Amazon itself.

It is the largest repository of peatlands and tropical peatlands in the world, and stores enough carbon that it can address the carbon emissions of the United States for 20 years. So just a tremendous number of stories that can be addressed.

And then you have a situation where you have the Congolese, 70 million of them, living on less than $2 a day, while one billionaire, by the name of Dan Gertler, he makes $200,000 a day from royalties from Congo’s minerals. So the question of poverty, exploitation, plunder, that can be explored by journalists as well.

So there’s just a tremendous amount of stories that can be written around the Congo, because its significance, as I stated earlier, is not just for Africa alone, but for the world, and therefore, it demands the world’s attention, and it demands in-depth, nuanced treatment, not only of Congo itself, but of the Congolese people, and the enormous courage and dignity that they stand on in confronting the challenges that they face.

JJ: We’ve been speaking with Maurice Carney of Friends of the Congo; find their work online at FriendsOfTheCongo.org. Maurice Carney, thank you so much for joining us this week on CountersSpin.

MC: Thank you. Thank you, Janine. It’s my pleasure.


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Renomination of Gigi Sohn Gives Public Another Chance to Be Heard

January 23, 2023 - 3:57pm


Ars Technica (10/26/22) called Gigi Sohn “the tiebreaking vote needed to reverse Trump-era deregulation of the broadband industry [and] restore net neutrality rules.”

Media democracy advocate Gigi Sohn, nominated to the Federal Communications Commission in October 2021 (FAIR.org, 4/19/22, 6/15/22, 10/28/22), still awaits a confirmation vote in the Senate—which means the public still awaits a functioning FCC that can protect its interests.

This month President Joe Biden renominated the highly qualified Sohn, whose confirmation has now been stalled for a record-breaking amount of time. With a 50/50 split in the Senate, Democrats had failed to muster enough support for a vote in the face of strong opposition from deep-pocketed big media corporations like Comcast.

The FCC has been operating without a fifth member for well over a year, which has left it deadlocked with two Democratic and two Republican members. That’s great news for the telecom industry, which is enjoying the FCC’s inability to do things like restore net neutrality (which was implemented under Obama and repealed under Trump), ensure equal access to broadband, prevent further consolidation of big media, and crack down on wireless carriers’ abuse of private user location data.

Sohn’s renomination, and the record-breaking delay on her vote, have been met with virtual radio silence in news media. Only a small handful of newspapers and online news outlets have covered the nomination; FAIR could find no mentions on TV news in a search of the Nexis news database.

In one noteworthy exception, the Mercury News and East Bay Times editorial boards published an editorial (1/19/23) supporting Sohn’s nomination and declaring, “Enough is enough.” In addition to highlighting Sohn’s qualifications, the Silicon Valley-based editors pointed to “the importance of net neutrality” to the tech industry, which depends on “fair, open competition in the content market.”

Verge (11/3/22): “There are really two companies that have been literally financing a campaign to stop the Senate from confirming Gigi Sohn, and those two companies are Rupert Murdoch’s Fox Corporation and Comcast.”

A handful of smaller online publications like American Prospect, the Verge, TechDirt and ArsTechnica are the only non-right-wing outlets to consistently cover the battle over Sohn’s confirmation, despite its importance to every person in this country who watches TV, uses the internet or has a cell phone.

As we pointed out last year (6/15/22), while Fox News had made repeated attacks on Sohn, MSNBC—which has reported on several other blocked Biden nominees—had not mentioned her name on air once since her initial nomination. In the seven months since then, what passes for a left-leaning cable network has still failed to speak Sohn’s name. (MSNBC.com did publish one guest column about digital redlining—10/27/22—that advocated for Sohn’s confirmation to address the issue.) CNN has also been silent on Sohn, though a CNN Business article (CNN.com, 7/19/22) on net neutrality mentioned that “the Senate has yet to confirm Gigi Sohn, Biden’s nominee to fill the fifth and final seat on the commission.”

Cable news isn’t directly regulated by the FCC, whose purview is public, not private, communications infrastructure. But note: Fox News is owned by Rupert Murdoch, who also owns Fox Broadcasting Company; MSNBC is owned by telecom behemoth Comcast, which has been actively lobbying against Sohn (Ars Technica, 1/13/22); and CNN is now owned by fellow telecom giant AT&T.

Media conglomerates will always have armies of lobbyists to make their interests heard at the FCC; the public interest needs to overcome a media blockade to get its representative on the board.

You can contact your senators about the Sohn nomination (or anything else) here.

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