Connect with us

Culture & Media

Finding Scandal in Print’s Back Pages




People who hate government get a lot of aid and comfort from America’s news media, which tend to give big business a party pass when it comes to incompetence and corruption. While any government agency – from Congress to your local school board – is fair game for attacks, business institutions usually come under an investigative spotlight only if the news story has already generated a lot of public heat.

For example, when the government released its report on Shell’s behavior in the Arctic, newspapers put it among the top news stories. Similarly, when the City of Los Angeles brought suits against a couple of the nation’s biggest banks for systematic lending abuses, this made the front section, although not the front page. Likewise, when an oil company paid $5.15 billion to clean up environmental contamination, it was big news.

For the not-so-big stories about corporate screw-ups, you must read the business pages. I read them because we – as workers and as consumers — live in a country and an era driven by an economy of inequality and dominated by huge financial institutions. People must know what’s going on, who’s benefiting from it and how those arrangements get entrenched. When a light is thrown into the murky shadows of corporate practices, communities and advocates and individuals can demand accountability. To make change, we need to know.

Here are a few examples corporate bad behavior you may have missed unless you read the “B” section:

  • A million workers earning the federal minimum wage make what just 165,200 Wall Street folks got in bonuses in 2013 – $26.7 billion
  • To settle claims that it fraudulently sold faulty mortgages to other lenders, Bank of America agreed to pay $9.3 billion
  • Caught doing the same, JPMorgan Chase paid $13 billion, plus an additional $4.5 billion to the unnamed firms that bought the bonds
  • Corporations have taken control of Big Science, including major research laboratories at state universities supported by taxpayers
  • Corporations have narrowed the ratio between investment and shareholder returns by a factor of 15 since the 1970s
  • Caterpillar – which busted its union – has hidden billions in profits offshore
  • Health insurers are presenting consumer information to prospective clients that is so complex it confuses buyers

All of these stories together don’t add up to the miles of copy written about the most recent discoveries of inefficiency at the VA. In fact, they represent only the few pieces that caught my eye and that I’ve clipped in the past few months. They ought to be common knowledge, but instead the media show us only the tip of the iceberg. The bulk below the surface goes unreported, and the stories that are presented usually provide no context. For example, from the Caterpillar story you would never know that a while back the company spent most of a decade breaking its union. The piece gives the impression that the company’s hiding of billions offshore was a one-off aberration, when in reality the company has been increasing its profits by one nefarious tactic after another for a long time.

If these stories were drummed into our heads day in and day out, as, say, Fox News has pounded its viewers with the supposed failings of Obamacare, people would demand new laws to protect consumers and workers — as well as investors. They would demand transparency, mandate it and make it work. Instead, the media barely cover a few stories and we remain uninformed and left wondering why our big economic institutions keep biting us from behind.

Continue Reading




Top Stories