Here is an MSNBC feature on locksmiths who cheat people who call them in emergencies when they are locked out of their homes. This news piece follows a tried and true formula for creating a good memorable story: It vividly exposes an unscrupulous practice, and then turns the camera on the perpetrators as they try to slink away. To tell the complete story, the producers included the fact that there are honest people in the trade (in this case, honest locksmiths); locksmiths can make a living while giving people a fair shake.
Why, then, don’t networks treat all of those who lie, cheat and steal with comparable scrutiny? What I have in mind are Wall Street Banks, telecoms, fossil fuel industries, healthcare insurers, the defense industries and other powerful entities who have purchased Congress and then made certain that industry reform is impossible. These industries have driven out competition and/or figured out how to freely feed out of the public trough. They’ve been gouging consumers, directly and indirectly, in ways that make the crooked fees charged by locksmiths look like chump change. Consider this recent article by Matt Taibbi, illustrating how big banks are cheating taxpayers.
Consider also how Barack Obama’s promise of an expanded industry of energy conservation and sustainable energy production would be a centerpiece of his Administration. Though he has done some good things, has also opened up large tracts of Western lands to coal mining and providing much more funding to nuclear and fossil fuel than to green alternatives. This is one of many of Obama’s broken promises– somehow, indefinite warmongering against undefined enemies is somehow much more important that having a sustainable economy back home. And even after “health care reform,” people who had health insurance are struggling mightily to pay uncovered medical bills, many of them tipping over into bankruptcy. Payday lenders run rampant across the country. A few months ago, telecoms almost succeeded in destroying what is left of net neutrality.
These sorts of thing don’t just happen; powerful people are consciously making these terrible decisions, and they (including most of our politicians) are motivated by money, not public service.
I fear that one of the main reasons we are cleaning up these industries is that too many Americans are math challenged — they suffer from innumeracy. And most Americans would flunk a basic test on American civics and history. Foxes run rampant in the American hen house. One would need to spend some serious time thinking about the effects of lack of competition in order to appreciate how much the public is being fleeced, but Americans are highly distracted with TV and other forms of entertainment. Another hurdle is that big media is owned by big companies and serves big industries by selling them commercials. Thus, we don’t see constant aggressive journalism illustrating how the public is being ripped off by many (by no means all) big businesses.
Don’t expect the journalism to get better, especially for the reasons outlined by John Nichols of Free Press. Expect things to get worse, in light of the fact that this week the FCC proposed a new set of rules that would unleash a wave of media consolidation across the country. If the agency’s proposal sounds familiar, that’s because it’s nearly identical to rules the FCC proposed during the Bush administration. This proposal is especially scandalous for the reasons stated here.
An additional hurdle to getting these stories out is to make them simple and memorable stories, but this is quite a challenge. These industries have successfully complexified themselves–it now takes “experts” (including teams of lawyers) to understand how these industries function. Ordinary people don’t have much of a chance of even articulating how and why they are getting ripped off, much less understanding what can be done to fix the problems. Complexity is not an accident–it is a tactic. Consolidating the mass media isn’t simply happening–it is a tactic of big business to maintain control, as are recent attempts to give private businesses the power to shut down internet domains without a court order.
There is no incentive for the mass media to excoriate those behind any of these proposals. There is little to no incentive for big media to descend on those behind these movements as though they were crooked locksmiths. If only.