Media Rants by Tony Palmeri
From the July 2012 issue of the SCENE
Public relations experts might recognize the “Four Estates” image as part of a brilliant branding campaign. Like polluting corporations pitching “green” public personas, so called representative democracies living in the pocket of the one percent articulate their elite servitude as acting for “the people.” The shortsighted economic policy decisions of the last generation, from corporate free trade agreements to banking deregulation to trickle down taxing, were framed by their supporters as supreme victories for the masses. With victories like those, Citizen Jane and Joe don’t need crushing defeats.
The branding of coopted governmental bodies as peoples’ champions is not a recent phenomenon. Not new too is mainstream media’s refusal to play an effective role in exposing the sham populism of said governments. Yes of course we can all name some conscientious public officials and mainstream media personnel dedicated to telling the truth; but those worthy exceptions invariably face marginalization and thus prove the rotted system is the rule.
It’s time to rebrand government and mainstream media for the 21st century. During the lead up to last month’s Father’s Day, I got to thinking that Western governments and the media providing cover have for some time taken on the characteristics of Deadbeat Dads. Deadbeat Dads avoid responsibility, scapegoat others for their own failings, and are often pathological liars. The worst won’t even pay for their kids’ socks absent a court order. Yet if you talk to a deadbeat dad he’ll express undying love for and loyalty towards the very people he hurts the most.
In this era of “austerity” in the US our Three Estates (Executive, Legislative, Judicial) now pontificate about deadbeat policies as if on some kind of grand moral crusade. Remarkably but not surprisingly, the Fourth Deadbeat goes along for the ride.
Let’s explore the deadbeatism of each Estate:
THE DEADBEAT PRESIDENCY: FDR’s New Deal and LBJ’s Great Society were quite modest social welfare programs by global standards, but reflect rare examples of American presidents expending political capital on the people at large. Modern presidents spend trillions of dollars on dubious national security adventures and then tell us that we’re spending too much on social programs. Today when presidents dare propose new entitlements (e.g. Bush’s prescription drug expansion of Medicare, Obama’s health care reform), private corporations have to make out like bandits. Dad has to take care of Big Pharma and Big Insurance before meeting his family obligations.
***Chief Justice John Roberts' recent majority opinion upholding the thrust of the Affordable Care Act (i.e. "Obamacare") has been interpreted by many as an affirmation of Roberts' independence. However, a careful reading of his opinion suggests that far from distancing himself from the right leaning judges, his opinion was entirely consistent with the rightward drift of the Court. See Jonathan Adler's "Lose the Battle, Win the War?" for a cogent explanation of the opinion.
THE FOURTH DEADBEAT: The 18th century Whig Edmund Burke understood that a vigorous press could, through sheer force of giving people the unvarnished truth, provide the spark necessary to overturn corrupt and coopted governments. Commercial media long ago stopped serving that role, choosing to enable rather than challenge the three deadbeats.