Archives for category: Media

Jan Resseger reviews here a new book that explains the full-blown triumph of plutocracy. Trump is the culmination, not the cause. Wealth and power are now concentrated, more than ever, in the hands of a small minority, and Trump has persuaded his followers that plutocracy works for them!

She begins:

For ten years Jacob Hacker, the Yale political scientist, and Paul Pierson, the Berkeley political scientist, have been tracking exploding economic inequality in the United States. In this summer’s book, Let Them Eat Tweets, Hacker and Pierson explicitly identify our government as a plutocracy. And they track how politicians (with the help of right-wing media) shape a populist, racist, gun-toting, religious fundamentalist story line to distract the public from a government that exclusively serves the wealthy. In a new article published in the Columbia Journalism Review, Journalism’s Gates Keepers, Tim Schwab examines our plutocracy from a different point of view: How is the mainstream media, the institution most of us look to for objective news, shaped increasingly by philanthropists stepping in to fill the funding gaps as newspapers go broke and news organizations consolidate?

In their 2010 classic, Winner-Take-All Politics, Hacker and Pierson present “three big clues” pointing to the tilt of our economy to winner-take-all: “(1) Hyperconcentration of Income… The first clue is that the gains of the winner-take-all economy, befitting its name, have been extraordinarily concentrated. Though economic gaps have grown across the board, the big action is at the top, especially the very top… (2) Sustained Hyperconcentration… The shift of income toward the top has been sustained increasingly steadily (and, by historical standards, extremely rapidly) since 1980… (3) Limited Benefits for the Nonrich… In an era in which those at the top reaped massive gains, the economy stopped working for middle-and working-class Americans.” Winner-Take-All Politics, pp. 15-19) (emphasis in the original)

Hacker and Pierson’s second book in the recent decade, the 2016 American Amnesia explores America’s loss of faith in government, our massive forgetting about the role of government regulation and balance in a capitalist economy: “(T)he institution that bears the greatest credit often gets short shrift: that combination of government dexterity and market nimbleness known as the mixed economy. The improvement of health, standards of living, and so much else we take for granted occurred when and where government overcame market failures, invested in the advance of science, safeguarded and supported the smooth functioning of markets, and ensured that economic gains became social gains.” (American Amnesia, p. 69)

In their new Let Them Eat Tweets, Hacker and Pierson no longer avoid the label. They now call America a full blown plutocracy: “This is not a book about Donald Trump. Instead, it is about an immense shift that preceded Trump’s rise, has profoundly shaped his political party and its priorities, and poses a threat to our democracy that is certain to outlast his presidency. That shift is the rise of plutocracy—government of, by, and for the rich. Runaway inequality has remade American politics, reorienting power and policy toward corporations and the super-rich (particularly the most conservative among them)… The rise of plutocracy is the story of post-1980 American politics. Over the last forty years, the wealthiest Americans and the biggest financial and corporate interests have amassed wealth on a scale unimaginable to prior generations and without parallel in other western democracies. The richest 0.1 percent of Americans now have roughly as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent combined. They have used that wealth—and the connections and influence that come with it—to construct a set of political organizations that are also distinctive in historical and cross-national perspective. What makes them distinctive is not just the scope of their influence, especially on the right and far right. It is also the degree to which the plutocrats, the biggest winners in our winner-take-all economy, pursue aims at odds with the broader interests of American society.” (Let Them Eat Tweets, pp. 1-2)…

But there is another hidden element of the power of plutocrats. Philanthropies led by the wealthy make charitable gifts which subtly shape news reporting itself. And the subject here is not merely Fox and Breitbart and the other right-wing outlets. Tim Schwab’s important report from the Columbia Journalism Review is about one of America’s powerful plutocrats, Bill Gates. Schwab explores, “a larger trend—and ethical issue—with billionaire philanthropists’ bankrolling the news. The Broad Foundation, whose philanthropic agenda includes promoting charter schools, at one point funded part of the LA Times’ reporting on education. Charles Koch has made charitable donations to journalistic institutions such as the Poynter Institute, as well as to news outlets such as the Daily Caller, that support his conservative politics. And the Rockefeller Foundation funds Vox’s Future Perfect, a reporting project that examines the world ‘through the lens of effective altruism’—often looking at philanthropy. As philanthropists increasingly fill in the funding gaps at news organizations—a role that is almost certain to expand in the media downturn following the coronavirus pandemic—an unexamined worry is how this will affect the ways newsrooms report on their benefactors.”

Those of us who have been following public education policy over two decades know that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has invested in policy itself—funding think tanks like the Center on Reinventing Public Education—which brought us “portfolio school reform” charter school expansion—which led to Chicago’s Renaissance 2010— which led to Arne Duncan’s bringing that strategy into federal policy in Race to the Top. We know that the Gates Foundation funded what ended up as an expensive and failed small high schools initiative, and, after that failed—an experiment with evaluating teachers by their students’ standardized test scores—and later experimenting with incentive bonuses for teachers who quickly “produce” higher student scores. We remember that the Gates Foundation brought us the now fading Common Core. And we remember that Arne Duncan filled his department with staff hired directly from the Gates Foundation.

I urge you to read it all. It’s important!

Veteran journalist John Merrow poses the ethical dilemma of the journalist: if you see a child drowning, do you save the child or take a great photo? He says, you act as a citizen and save the child.

Thus, he criticizes Bob Woodward for saving his tapes of Trump lying about the severity of COVID. Woodward saved them for his book, knowing that the book would make lots more money than an article that released the tapes. Telling the truth months ago might have saved lives, so Trump and Woodward are both complicit in the coverup.

More than 190,000 Americans have died of the coronavirus. The United States leads the world in infections, and the virus is still claiming lives. Soon, it will exceed 200,000.

Today is the premiere of, American Pathogen, a 30-minute documentary puts on record Trump’s historic mishandling of the Coronavirus pandemic. The message is clear: this tragedy was avoidable.

Watch it here (and share!) – AmericanPathogen.com.

Send it to your friends and spread the message: Vote 2020!

Last night, while watching the PBS Newshour, I watched a segment about the demise of local journalism. The author of a new book on this subject—Ghosting the News: Local Journalism and the Crisis of American Democracy— Margaret Sullivan of the Washington Post, warned about the danger to democracy when citizens are uninformed about local and state issues and get their news only from national sources. When asked if there was any hope for the future, she spoke about the rise of state and local websites.

One of the best of them is Capital & Main, based in Los Angeles, which just won 17 awards at the 62nd annual Southern California Journslism awards.

Capital & Main has posted excellent articles on education and has been vigilant about the abuses committed by errant charter schools and the charter industry. I have posted many of their excellent articles here and am delighted to see that the online journal received the recognition it deserves.

I salute Danny Feingold, the publisher of Capital & Main, for his tireless efforts to keep the new local journalism alive and excellent. He and the journal provide a great service to the community. Not just local news, but heat investigative reporting and fearless independence.

Leonie Haimson writes here about Bill Gates and his successful efforts to buy positive media coverage for himself and the projects he funds.

She read the excellent investigative research on Gates’ strategic funding of influential media outlets by Tim Schwab.

She writes:

Reporter Tim Schwab just had a must-read piece in the Columbia Journalism Review about how the Gates Foundation provides grants to news outlets such as NPR, BBC, NBC, Al Jazeera, ProPublica, National Journal, The Guardian, Univision, Medium, the Financial Times, The Atlantic, the Texas Tribune, Gannett, Washington Monthly, Le Monde, the Seattle Times, and many others. These outlets frequently provide favorable coverage of the Foundation and its grantees, and potential conflicts of interest are too rarely admitted by these outlets.

Haimson goes on to describe in detail her own efforts to persuade the New York Times to acknowledge that one of its regular columns, called “Fixes,” is written by two journalists who are funded by Gates. “Fixes” has repeatedly praised Gates’ programs without identifying their conflict of interest.

She writes:

One of the media organizations Schwab discusses, Solutions Journalism, has received $7.6 million from the Gates Foundation since 2014 to write articles suggesting practical solutions to social problems and train other reporters to do so as well. Since then, as Schwab points out, SJ has repeatedly produced stories praising projects and companies that are Foundation grantees and/or have received personal investments from Bill Gates himself.

Solutions Journalism was founded by David Bornstein and Tina Rosenberg in 2013 and they continue to run the organization and receive six figure salaries as CEO and VP for Innovation respectively…

Bornstein and Rosenberg also have a regular column in the NY Times called “Fixes”, which according to Schwab has run at least 15 favorable stories promoting the work of the Gates Foundation by name, without any mention that the columnists are funded by the Foundation as well.

Haimson goes on to document the praise that these columnists have lavished in Gates-funded projects, and their failure to mention criticism. In effect, they operate as a PR team for Bill Gates and his pet projects.

She cites the ethical standards of the Times as well as the organization Solutions Journalism and points out that they don’t meet their own professed standards.

What are Bill Gates’ ethical standards?

It’s rare indeed to read a critical article about how Bill & Melinda Gates use their vast wealth to burnish their image as the greatest benefactors of all time. This article by freelance journalist Tim Schwab, published in the Columbia Journalism Review, documents how the Gates have purchased a larger-than-life portrayal of themselves by strategic investments in the media.

With rare exceptions, the Gates’s have subsidized publications likely to write about them and guaranteed that they would be portrayed favorably. By doing so, they have undermined freedom of the press while assuring favorable treatment for themselves.

Schwab writes:

LAST AUGUST, NPR PROFILED A HARVARD-LED EXPERIMENT to help low-income families find housing in wealthier neighborhoods, giving their children access to better schools and an opportunity to “break the cycle of poverty.” According to researchers cited in the article, these children could see $183,000 greater earnings over their lifetimes—a striking forecast for a housing program still in its experimental stage.

If you squint as you read the story, you’ll notice that every quoted expert is connected to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which helps fund the project. And if you’re really paying attention, you’ll also see the editor’s note at the end of the story, which reveals that NPR itself receives funding from Gates.

NPR’s funding from Gates “was not a factor in why or how we did the story,” reporter Pam Fessler says, adding that her reporting went beyond the voices quoted in her article. The story, nevertheless, is one of hundreds NPR has reported about the Gates Foundation or the work it funds, including myriad favorable pieces written from the perspective of Gates or its grantees.

And that speaks to a larger trend—and ethical issue—with billionaire philanthropists’ bankrolling the news. The Broad Foundation, whose philanthropic agenda includes promoting charter schools, at one point funded part of the LA Times’ reporting on education. Charles Koch has made charitable donations to journalistic institutions such as the Poynter Institute, as well as to news outlets such as the Daily Caller, that support his conservative politics. And the Rockefeller Foundation funds Vox’s Future Perfect, a reporting project that examines the world “through the lens of effective altruism”—often looking at philanthropy.

As philanthropists increasingly fill in the funding gaps at news organizations—a role that is almost certain to expand in the media downturn following the coronavirus pandemic—an underexamined worry is how this will affect the ways newsrooms report on their benefactors. Nowhere does this concern loom larger than with the Gates Foundation, a leading donor to newsrooms and a frequent subject of favorable news coverage.

In Gates-funded articles, the rule seems to be: write whatever you want so long as you don’t criticize Bill or Melinda. Presenting them as saviors of society is good.

Strategic media investments pay off for Bill Gates.

Gates’s generosity appears to have helped foster an increasingly friendly media environment for the world’s most visible charity. Twenty years ago, journalists scrutinized Bill Gates’s initial foray into philanthropy as a vehicle to enrich his software company, or a PR exercise to salvage his battered reputation following Microsoft’s bruising antitrust battle with the Department of Justice. Today, the foundation is most often the subject of soft profiles and glowing editorials describing its good works.

During the pandemic, news outlets have widely looked to Bill Gates as a public health expert on covid—even though Gates has no medical training and is not a public official. PolitiFact and USA Today (run by the Poynter Institute and Gannett, respectively—both of which have received funds from the Gates Foundation) have even used their fact-checking platforms to defend Gates from “false conspiracy theories” and “misinformation,” like the idea that the foundation has financial investments in companies developing covid vaccines and therapies. In fact, the foundation’s website and most recent tax forms clearly show investments in such companies, including Gilead and CureVax.

In the same way that the news media has given Gates an outsize voice in the pandemic, the foundation has long used its charitable giving to shape the public discourse on everything from global health to education to agriculture—a level of influence that has landed Bill Gates on Forbes’s list of the most powerful people in the world. The Gates Foundation can point to important charitable accomplishments over the past two decades—like helping drive down polio and putting new funds into fighting malaria—but even these efforts have drawn expert detractors who say that Gates may actually be introducing harm, or distracting us from more important, lifesaving public health projects.

The PBS Newshour has received millions from Gates and reliably gushes over Bill and Melinda and their munificence.

In 2011, the Seattle Times published an article critical of the Gates Foundation, then two years later received a generous grant to pay for education coverage, and criticism stopped.

NPR receives Gates largesse, and regularly cites Gates as an authority on everything. The most delicious irony is NPR treating Gates—one of the richest men in the world—as an authority on income inequality and poverty. That’s a good one.

Those of us who concentrate on education are aware that everything Gates has funded in a large way has been an abject failure—from his absurd claim that he had knew how to produce and measure good teachers to his huge investment in the Common Core. We won’t hear about those failures in the Gates-funded media.

What I find most puzzling about the Bill and Melinda is their vanity. Their need to be recognized and praised is boundless. I guess no one ever told them that the highest form of philanthropy is to be completely anonymous: to give without knowing who will receive your gift and to give with no expectation of gratitude. The lowest form of giving is the gift where one expects recognition. Sadly, they use their philanthropy to exercise power, to win praise, and to stoke their needy egos.

Robert Mackey of The Intercept reports that the White House plants far-right journalists in Trump’s press conferences and he makes sure to call on them. In the past, these fringe media never had White Gouse press credentials.

He writes:

IN AN APPARENT effort to make his daily news conferences even more like campaign events than they already are, the White House press office has been packing the briefing room with supporters of President Donald Trump from far-right media outlets who can be relied on to toss him softball questions and initiate attacks on his political rivals.

Clearly in on the plot, Trump solicited a question each day this week from one of the guests invited by his press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, to stand at the back of the room — where representatives of One America News, The Epoch Times and Gateway Pundit compromised the health of reporters by violating social distancing and mask-wearing guidelines.

On Monday, Trump called on Chanel Rion, a far-right Republican operative and conspiracy theorist now working as a correspondent for One America News, a San Diego cable channel dedicated to spreading lies about Joe Biden and elderly protesters battered by the police.

Rion gave Trump the opportunity to unleash a familiar riff from his pre-pandemic rallies by suggesting to him that Biden might have been considering President Barack Obama’s former national security adviser, Susan Rice, as his running mate because, “she can best cover up a lot of the Obamagate surveillance crimes that have taken place during your campaign.” Trump responded by accusing Obama and Biden of “probably treason.”

The next day, Rion triggered another familiar Trump diatribe by asking for his take on the resignation of Carmen Best, the first Black woman to lead Seattle’s police force, after the city council voted to cut her department’s budget. “What does this say about our country?” Rion asked Trump. “And what does this say about the Defund Police movement?” The president replied by repeating the lie that Seattle’s Democratic mayor had let “a radical left group, Antifa and others, take over a big portion of the city.”

Nancy Flanagan writes here about why she is sticking with Facebook, despite it multiple flaws.

I was on Facebook for a brief time, then quit. Then resumed, then quit again. What I discovered was that when I quit Facebook, my identity remained there, waiting for me to return. I was reminded of King George III in “Hamilton” singing “You’ll Be Back.”

No, I won’t. It’s addictive, true. But anyone who wants to reach me knows how to get in touch. I don’t need another way to waste time. I have too many already. And I don’t want to direct a penny towards Mark Zuckerberg.

What do you think?

Will you stick with Facebook or did you quit? Or did you never sign up?

John Merrow thinks the White House press corps has failed to ask Trump tough questions. This was true during the 2016 campaign, he says, and its true now.

The recent Chris Wallace interview on FOX was a rare exception. Wallace has facts to challenge Trump’s lies.

But typically he ignores questions and answers questions that no one asks.

He always plays the victim, and a docile press lets him get away with it.

The Wall Street Journal, which has a teacher-bashing, union-hating pro-privatization editorial board, published an editorial warning about the dangers of policing the police.

The editorial included these sentences.

“There’s a case for police reforms, in particular more public transparency about offenses by individual officers. Union rules negotiated under collective bargaining make it hard to punish offending officers, much as unions do for bad public school teachers. By all means let’s debate other policies and accountability in using force.”

So, police brutality is the union’s fault. And killer cops are just like those “bad teachers” whose students don’t get high test scores. Clearly, the WSJ didn’t get the memo about the consistent failure of test-based accountability as a means of evaluating teachers.

Do I detect a false equivalency?

Other nations have police unions and a minuscule number of police killings, compared to the U.S. And since when did low test scores become comparable to a brazen act of crushing a man’s windpipe?