By Robert Reich
The ambitious social and climate legislation now working its way through Congress will be enacted in some form. But its agonizing journey to date reveals the rotten job done by the media that’s supposed to inform Americans about our democracy.
Last week, the New York Times described the delay in House Democrats’ approval of the infrastructure bill as caused by a “liberal revolt.” On Saturday it reported that Biden had “thrown in” with his party’s “left” rather than its “center,” thereby “leaving his agenda in doubt.”
This is pure rubbish. There was no “liberal revolt” and there’s no standoff in the party between a leftwing fringe and a larger center. The vast majority of Democratic lawmakers in both the House and Senate support Biden’s agenda. The only “doubt” comes from two Democratic senators, Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema and West Virginia’s Joe Manchin.
Passage of the infrastructure bill was held up in the House last weekend because Sinema and Manchin wouldn’t negotiate the size of the social and climate bill that was supposed to be attached to it.
The media describes Sinema and Manchin as “moderates” but they’re to the right of the rest of the party. If they’re “moderates,” does that make most Democratic lawmakers “extremists?” And why does the media continue to characterize them as “pragmatic” when, as Joan Walsh of The Nation points out, “it’s actually the progressives who have compromised; they are the pragmatists.”
You can see the same bias in how Biden’s social and climate bill is being described. The media almost never mentions what’s in it – a slew of extraordinarily popular items including childcare, pre-K, community college, paid family leave, child tax credits, and measures to slow climate change. Instead, almost the sole media focus is on how much it would cost. “Biden’s 3.5 trillion package” is the standard description.
Even this is wrong because the $3.5 trillion is spread over 10 years, making it $350 billion per year – about half of what we spend each year on national defense.
To make matters worse, the media’s focus on the bill’s cost ignores the larger costs of not passing it. Millions of people without childcare, for example, can’t join the labor force – costing the economy tens of billions each year. Young people who can’t afford community college end up costing the economy vast sums in terms of lost productivity and whatever public assistance they may need down the line. If we don’t slow climate change, we’ll be spending hundreds of billions more per year dealing with worsening wildfires, floods, and droughts. If we don’t begin to reverse widening inequality, half of America won’t be able to buy the goods and services the economy produces. Talk about costs.
These biases in the mainstream media aren’t the result of intentional decisions among publishers, editors and writers to favor the status quo over progressive change. They simply reflect the dominant views of the American establishment, as seen mainly through the lenses of New York and Washington. The establishment supports the status quo and puts a high burden of proof on those seeking fundamental change because it is the establishment.
Yet as a result, the mainstream media is doing a rotten job informing America about one of the most important pieces of legislation to come along in decades, at a time in our nation’s history when fundamental change is badly needed.
What do you think?