There’s no business like show business (except new business)

Sam Smith

The other evening I saw a report on a case in which the NSA was found to have tapped the phones of several lawyers and a governor. It was scary, troublesome and convincing.

The only thing was that it wasn’t real.

It was an episode in the TV series, The Good Wife

As I watched it, though, I realized that while the specifics had been invented, the story was a better description of the hazards of the NSA’s blatant contempt for the law and the Constitution than I had seen on any TV news show.

Over on Fox and MSNBC, the so-called news anchors and their guests had been obsessing over some nut named Cliven Bundy of whom the nation had been blissfully ignorant until a few days earlier and already knew just about every useful fact about him.

These days the news media treats some stories as if they were dough it wants to turn into thin crust pizza. It beats, twirls and flips them into the air endlessly. Meanwhile NSA, climate change, and the war on public education continue unbothered by serious attention or hard questions.

Just count the stories you’ve heard more than enough about: the Korean ferry, George Zimmerman, Chelsea Clinton’s pregnancy, the missing Malaysian plane. As Jon Steward noted, “Why don’t we strap some wings to Wolf Blitzer and just let him loose?”

It’s not that these stories don’t deserve coverage; they just don’t deserve obsession. There was even speculation, on one hand, as to whether Chelsea Clinton’s baby was a plot by her mother to grab attention for her campaign, and, on the other hand, whether Chelsea might run for president some day.

The goal, it would seem, is to distract us from anything that might actually affect our lives, say like the fact that California is totally in drought. Instead the media creates little resorts of fantasy where viewers or readers can lounge comfortably on their beach chairs and – until it’s too late to do anything about it – pretend that reality doesn’t matter.

There are, to be sure, co-conspirators, including the GOP, the most reactionary party since Post-Reconstruction, and the Democrats, who have dumped progress achieved by the New Deal and Great Society and now spend their time endlessly recounting the blatantly obvious faults of the opposition instead of providing some decent alternatives.

The media – at least the good part of it – used to see its assignment as one of introducing truth into the political stage show. As a reporter, you might like something but you didn’t join its public relations department. Today – with Fox and MSNBC perhaps the worst offenders – the media merely redundantly piles its views on top of those of the cause it favors.

And it’s not necessarily even a matter of ideology or belief. It seems to come more from a fear of drifting out of, and a desire to be part of, the mainstream system responsible for its advertising, jobs and stories.

Thus we find ourselves spending more time on the character of Edward Snowden than on the integrity of NSA. And more on the probable life expectancy of Hillary Clinton rather than on known facts of her past years such as her being the only First Lady to come under criminal investigation,  to have three of her close business associates end up in prison,  and nine of her major backers and/or fundraisers convicted of, or pleading guilty to, crimes.

And more about the racism of George Zimmerman and Cliven Bundy than about the ethnic effects of the war on public education.  And more on a sunken ferry than on rising sea levels due to climate change. And so on.

The rise of Barack Obama is a painfully useful example. In 2009, we reviewed some of the facts that were available about him during the primaries but overwhelmingly ignored by the media and by liberals. He had:

  • Aggressively opposed impeachment action against Bush
  • Had argued that conservatives and Bill Clinton were right to destroy social welfare,
  • Supported making it harder to file class action suits in state courts
  • Voted for a business-friendly “tort reform” bill
  • Voted against a 30% interest rate cap on credit cards
  • Had the most number of foreign lobbyist contributors in the primaries\
  • Ws even more popular with Pentagon contractors than McCain
  • Was the most popular of the candidates with K Street lobbyists
  • Was named in 2003 by the rightwing Democratic Leadership Council named Obama as one of its “100 to Watch.” After he was criticized in the black media, Obama disassociated himself with the DLC. But his major economic advisor, Austan Goolsbee, was still the chief economist of the conservative organization.
  • Supported the war on drugs
  • Supported the crack-cocaine sentence disparity
  • Supported Real ID
  • Supported the PATRIOT Act
  • Supported the death penalty
  • Opposed lowering the drinking age to 18
  • Lent his support, as Paul Street of Z Mag noted, ” to the aptly named Hamilton Project, formed by corporate-neoliberal Citigroup chair Robert Rubin and other Wall Street Democrats to counter populist rebellion against corporatist tendencies within the Democratic Party.”
  • Endorsed US involvement in the failed drug war in Colombia.
  • Voted for a nuclear energy bill that included money for bunker buster bombs and full funding for Yucca Mountain.
  • Came in at 48th in the ranking of senators by the League of Conservation Voters
  • Supported federally funded ethanol and was unusually close to the ethanol industry
  • Promised to double funding for private charter schools, part of a national effort to undermine public education
  • Supported the No Child Left Behind Act
  • Favored expanding the war in Afghanistan
  • Supported Israeli aggression and apartheid
  • Favored turning over Jerusalem to Israel
  • Wouldn’t rule out first strike nuclear attack on Iran
  • Opposed gay marriage
  • Opposed single payer healthcare
  • Supported restricting damage awards in medical malpractice suits
  • Wanted to expand the size of the military
  • Called the late Paul Wellstone “something of a gadfly”
  • Said “everything is on the table” with Social Security.

It is almost as though politics has come down to two choices: Republicans who openly are not on our side and Democrats like Obama and Clinton who pretend to be, but aren’t either.

And it’s not just the negative realities that get blocked out. It’s their possible cures as well. How often have you seen or read stories (outside of journals like this) about alternative systems of voting, state banks, publicly owned Internet and cable systems, a negative income tax, cooperatives, restorative and community justice, a shorter work week, time banks, a guaranteed income,  or usury limits on credit cards, just to name a few.

There’s a real world out there and real possibilities. But don’t expect major media to tell you about it. Too often, they join the problem and become just more political show business

Guess I’ll just have to keep watching The Good Wife..

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