Biggest Story Of The 21st Century

…coming out of the United States Congress.  At least so far.  And for my money unless and until things get serious with some asteroid or some other doomsday scenario pans out, nothing is going to take its place.

Yet the only really informative coverage this story – the financial crisis and banking scandal – is getting is from the Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi.

Sometimes the media pick up on a story and play it big.  Huge, even.  The Army-McCarthy hearings of the 1950’s, the Watergate hearings of the 1970’s, the Iran-Contra hearings of the 1980’s, the Clarence Thomas hearings of the 1990’s.  The media were riveted, even if not everyone else was, but a lot more people paid attention because that’s what the media was doing.  Historically this is, of course, the power of the media: to “shape” public opinion.  Some would say “create” public opinion, which they can kind of do, too.  Or at least they used to.  Although in the latter case in can often backfire.  The media never really got what it was out for in the Iran-Contra affair or the Clarence Thomas matter.  They had toppled president Nixon in 1974.  They haven’t repeated that kind of feat since.

Part of the problem, I think, is narcissism, which has increased among the media elite just as it has increased culturally in general.  Being self-referential and self absorbed, the media can’t tell the difference bewteen a story that is really important and a story that takes on the semblance of importance just because they consider it to be important.  That was at least part of the reason president Reagan survived the Iran-Contra scandal whereas the Watergate scandal – grounded a two bit petty crime by comparison – toppled Nixon:  the media went all out, thinking Watergate history was going to repeat itself.  The public saw Oliver North‘s testimony in huge numbers and were no longer convinced that the relentless media narrative had the heroes and villains properly identified in the script.

In any case, the financial crisis represents a new anomaly:  a huge, nay incredibly huge story with the potential to topple presidents and federal reserve chairmen and even the federal reserve itself – in other words, change everything in political terms – and it’s basically being ignored.

The great thing about Taibbi – well, one great thing among many – is that when you read his stuff you know that the lazy media explanation about their utter incompetence here – namely that such stories have “no legs” because they’re “too complicated” for the simple minded public to understand – is a detestable lie.  Just read Taibbi’s stuff.  He has a talent for telling the story, but he’s not the only talented writer working for major media companies.  They could easily play this story up successfully if they wanted to.  The point is, they don’t want to.  I know the reasons, but I’m not going to go into that right now.

The point, for present, is that you should follow the financial crisis on Taibbi’s blog and a few others that I have linked to on the blogroll.  And of course here on this blog, too.  Because that’s another reason the media failed in the Iran-Contra scandal, and failed in the Clarence Thomas hearings, and haven’t really made any similar attempts since:  the landscape has changed, their power has waned, the internet came along and now it’s a lot more difficult – maybe impossible – to marshall public opinion the way they could 40 years ago.

That’s probably a Good Thing.  And it provides an opportunity for someone like me and other bloggers to perform an important service for the public, even if they’re paying no attention (at present) and many of them don’t want to hear.  I needn’t remind many of the readers here that this has often been the case with stories that later turn out to be huge.

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5 Comments

Filed under financial crisis, Media incompetence/bias

5 responses to “Biggest Story Of The 21st Century

  1. I’m paying attention.

    Is it time to re-introduce my version of a Constitutional amendment that would place a legal firewall between corporation and state similar to the separation of church and state?

    I appreciate your concern for judiciary corruption and can’t find a direct connection to the current political structure responsible for it. I was hoping you could find the multitude of indirect connections that would make an iron-clad case for corporate interference in the entire legislative process, especialy as it pertains to the courts and their political appointments. Your call. here it is again:

    28th Amendment
    “Corporations are not persons in any sense of the word and shall be granted only those rights and privileges that Congress deems necessary for the well-being of the People. Congress shall provide legislation defining the terms and conditions of corporate charters according to their purpose; which shall include, but are not limited to: 1, prohibitions against any corporation becoming so large its failure would pose a threat to national security or harm the general economy; 2, prohibitions against any form of interference in the affairs of government, education, and news media; and 3, provisions for civil and criminal penalties to be suffered by corporate executives for violation of the terms of a corporate charter.”

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  2. Min

    I think that one reason that the media (The Washington Post, that is) succeeded in bringing down Nixon was precisely because it was a petty crime: a burglary and cover-up. Crimes of state, such as the Iran-Contra affair, are different. Nixon had to declare, “I am not a crook.” Being a crook was beneath the dignity of the office. Another reason is that the burglary went to court. Without Judge Sirica putting pressure on the burglars, Nixon would probably not have gone down. And even so, it took the tapes. And Mean John Dean.

    You suggest that the media wanted to take Reagan down. I dunno. Reagan was quite popular, and still is. But the media helped Thomas. When he cried, “High tech lynching!” they cheered. “The man scored a touchdown! Yay!”

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    • Hi Min.

      Can’t really go along with you here entirely. With Nixon there was a long history and the unrelenting desire to get even for Alger Hiss by the eastern intelligentsia, so there was more political cover going after him.

      And Nixon was an unappealing figure. That was quite a contrast with Reagan, and to that extent I will agree with you. I think you have a point, too, that the nature of the crimes were different, and that the security state apparatus was actually a kind of powerful constitutency favoring the Iran-Contra crimes (or irregularities as the case may be).

      In any case there is no question in my mind, at least, that the press smelled blood in the water in Iran-Contra and frenzy-fed accordingly. But they overestimated themselves, and miscalculated the effect that a very effective witness like North, with a uniform and lots of medals, would have. They might have gotten Reagan if it had not been for North’s virtuoso performance.

      Now in many ways I am no fan of Thomas as a jurist. But I have to say it would not be fair to characterize the media as anything other than extremely hostile to him and his nomination. Indeed they had more recent history with killing the Robert Bork nomination. There may have been a few outliers among the commentators who expressed some begrudging admiration for the tactical effectiveness of the “high-tech lynching” comment, but overall the press was uniformly opposed to Thomas. And they almost got him: he squeaked through, as I recall.

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  3. Min

    Well, I did not follow the Thomas nomination closely. I was not impressed with what I saw of Anita Hill, but at the same time I was not impressed with Thomas’s response. I figured that something had probably been going on, but who knows what? It was the High Tech Lynching defense that made Thomas lose complete credibility with me. Obvious bullshit.

    But the response of the media was that it was a brilliant stroke, demolishing his detractors by playing the race against a Black woman. (That’s not exactly how they put it, of course. ;)) What prominent media reporter, editor, or pundit called it bullshit?

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