Thursday, October 01, 2009

"Treacherous Pens and Tongues": The News Media Is Driving Me Crazy, by Jack S

The following is a story suggestion sent to Dan the siteowner of Angry Bear by commenter Jack S. Dan still has it under reveiw and he Jack and I agreed to put it up here to at least get the discussion going.

Dan. You know how my personal take has been that the media, the news media in particular, is a primary agent in the obfuscation of all significant political and economic issues. "Treacherous pens and tongues," as the man once said. That man was describing the manner by which the populace is kept dumbed down on important issues and often led to a conclusion opposite to their own best interests. This morning the New York Times gives us yet more bold evidence of its own role in this process, and subtle they can be at the NY Times. Two articles on the front page of the print edition are striking, both for what is said and for what is left glaringly off the page. Maybe you can use this on AB.
First, (ed: from the NYT) Senators Reject Pair of Public Option Proposals

In print there is an accompanying photo of the panel (the on-line photo only shows a dejected(?) Sen. Schumer) with Sen Grassley front and center. The caption contains a part of the following quote, "But Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the senior Republican on the committee, said a government insurance plan would have inherent advantages over private insurers. “Government is not a fair competitor,” Mr. Grassley said. “It’s a predator.” He predicted that “a government plan will ultimately force private insurers out of business,” reducing choices for consumers." The caption repeats the government as predator remark. There is no further comment on Grassley's comment. It is just out there, front page caption and all with no discussion of the self contradiction of the remark. The predatory nature of government, as Sen Grassley sees it, is given front and center prominence. What is the government if not Grassley and company? How are the rules of government decided if not in the Congress? Yet Grassley is permitted to make a baseless claim which distorts the debate, and the news media gives him the soap box to stand tall on.

Second, and here we have an interesting distinction between the on-line and print editions, there is the presentation of the story concerning the cash flow problems at the FDIC. In print the headline reads, "BANKS TO RESCUE DEPLETED F.D.I.C.: Plane to Protect Deposits as Failures Increase." On-line, same story and author different lead in, "Banks To Prepay Assessments
To Rescue F.D.I.C." Not quite the same emphasis, but still the same "rescue" scenario. The banks are rescuing the FDIC? Is that not ass backwards? Has not the FDIC rescued the depositors of the banking industry? Who is the rescuer in this story, and why is the NY Times highlighting and implying the good will of the banking industry that created this mess of failures to begin with?

As noted, "treacherous pens and tongues" intent on obfuscation and deception. Here is the whole quote,
"The people must therefore be instructed"
The obstacles to their enlightenment?
"The paid journalists who mislead the people every day by shameless distortions."
"What conclusion follows?"
"That we ought to proscribe these writers as the most dangerous enemies of the country and to circulate an obundance of good literature."
He means journals written in support of the revolution.
He goes on to summarize:
"When will the people be educated?"
"When they have enough bread to eat, when the rich and the government stop bribing treacherous pens and tongues to deceive them and instead identify their own interests with those of the people."

Jack S


Bruce Webb said...

As to predation.

I used to work in land use and planning in a State (Washington) with a very strong property rights tradition. Which led us to settle on one fundamental principle: subsequent legislation and regulation should not be allowed to overturn an established land use except in limited cases where life safety issues were involved. For example if you were adding on to your house that was built prior to the introduction of Building and Fire Codes we could not as a permit condition force you to upgrade the existing rooms to meet the Unified Building Code or the State Energy Code, those didn't touch on life/safety. Nor could we force you to make alterations in the existing structure even if the rooms did not meet Fire Code, but we decided that we could force you to put battery operated smoke detectors in existing bedrooms, that being such a minimal intrusion on your established use that life/safety trumped the general rule.

What does this have to do with Jack's question? Well I suggest that insurance companies and their supporters in Congress are working off the same principle, once a private company has established a use, in this case an existing market, that attempts to modify that use amount to an illegal 'taking' which in turn can be seen as 'predatory'.

If it seems odd to allow a private interest to trump public welfare well it is equally odd that my County allows a truck repair facility to continue operations in a flood plain immediately adjacent to a river that is critical habitat to six species of fish that are not only endangered but critically important to our regional economy. One bad fluid spill from that repair shop and the result could be seriously bad. But stopping that operation would be a 'taking' requiring full monetary compensation and the Country didn't have the money or the will.

Personally I think applying this principle to health insurance is bowing too deeply to the sacred concept of property rights. For example that truck repair shop has to be operated in a way that it doesn't actively damage the health of its neighbors, you can argue that current insurance company operations are doing that, particularly when they simply cut people off. But it is not crazy for them to believe they have an established use and the right to maintain that. Horribly selfish and misguided perhaps but not crazy.

Jack said...

As noted in the post, my first concern is not with the details of Grassley's absurd comment, but with the manner in which the news media present the details, the words spoken and not further described nor analysed. The media claims not to have the responsibility to analyse, but that they do when the analysis meets the immediate need of the presenting outlet.

Check out the extensive commentary in the same NY Times on the presentation by Rep Alan Grayson of the "Republican Health Care Plan" on the House floor,

Grayson was priceless, but he had great material to work with compiments of the GOP. The new coverage of the issue he created focused on his potential censure not the validity of his presentation. As an aside it was noted that Grayson was unconcerned
about possible voter backlash against him. In his won words,
"Mr. Grayson said he didn’t think that this fight would hurt his chances at re-election. “It improves them,” he said. “People like elected officials with guts who say what they mean.” The rest of the Democratic Congressional caucus should take a tip from Rep.
Alan Grayson. He seems to be one of few that will speak his mind and speak truth to power, even if in a jocular manner.

sammy said...

Jack S,

Both of those statements are entirely reasonable. Let me explain.

1) The Public Option is predatory.

The government has a significantly lower cost of funds than private companies, with no investors or bondholders to satisfy. It can therefore underprice its product.

The government has to "approve" all new insurance plans. Therefore it is a rule-maker, can limit the players, and is also a competitor. This is not a fair game.

In addition, the government proposes to tax insurance companies to subsidize customers of the Public Plan.

This does not mean the government will necessarily be predatory, but it certainly has all the means at its disposal, and is a legitimate concern.

2) Banks are bailing out FDIC.

The FDIC does not bail out banks. When a bank goes under, shareholders typically lose everything, and very often bondholders and other creditors do too. FDIC bails out the depositors under $250K.

THe FDIC is apparently running out of cash and so is approaching banks and "asking" that they prepay 3 years of premiums to accomodate its own obligations. It is if your landlord approached you and said "due to my financial problems with some of my properties, I need to alter your contract with me and ask you prepay 3 years of rent." If you do so, you would be "bailing him out."

sammy said...

Hi Bruce,

Good luck with your new blog! If I'm not welcome here, just let me know!

Jack said...

What you're leavinig out of the FDIC situation is that the funds are being depleted as a result of the banking industrys' own misguided investment behavior. No, the FDIC does not bail out the banks. It protects the banks' depositors who have been ill served by the unreasonable behavior of the bankers.

Predatory? No. Responsible government serving the needs of the citizens? Yes. And exactly how does Grassley see himself in all of this? Is he not a member of the government's governing body? Grassley is a fine representative of business. He was
elected by the people who expected him to represent their interests. The real predators are the health insurance executives who spend an inordinate amount of money and time finding ways to deny coverage to their insured customers. Try reading the stories of those who thought they had and discovered that they didn't when they needed it most. It being health insurance coverage.

I hope that yuou won't be cluttering this site with your toprtured logic in defense of anything that's good for business, but only for business and not the consumers that the businesses are supposed to be serving.

Bruce Webb said...

Thanks Sammy. Anyone is welcome who isn't spinning.

And the blog isn't new exactly, I brought it online in Nov 2004 as a Social Security resource to refer back to in commenting elsewhere. This is just the first time I tried to post to it daily and to broaden its focus.

sammy said...

Thanks I'll stop by.

Jack: I see you still haven't added anything to your smackdowns except the recitation of lib talking points.

Rdan said...


I noticed at Digby and here that healthcare legislation is still on your mind.

The historical information and interpretation can add a wonderful context to all these issues. I am glad you and Jack published will draw readers if you want and are ready. Let me know...if the link is premature, let me know too.

run75441 said...

Hi Bruce:

I had read some of your posts (here) the other day and found them to be quite interesting. I have always enjoyed reading history and your rendition of it takes it to a new level for me. Still pretty much the student though.

Your top comment has to do with a "takings" per say. A local government can not change the zoning of a property thereby restricting the landowner from utilization of the land from its prior zoned usage. Going from commercial zoning to a residential usage could be considered to be a "takings" as the land owner/developer has lost the ability to build his property at a level where he could profit more from it. The opposite action would give the land owner and/or developer a positive. I believe this is covered under the 5th Amendment. I am not an attorney either; but, I believe this was first ruled on under Penn Central Transportation Company versus New York City. This ruling established certain parameters on what governs a takings; minimal economic impact, minimal interference with investment backed expectations, and impact on public health, safety, and welfare. There are probably nuances to this; but again, I am not an attorney.

If insurance companies wish to use the "takings" portion of the 5th Amendment to defend their right to do business as done in the past, I believe they will run into the "public health, safety, and welfare" protection that allows governments to legislate above and beyond private use or business. The government has the protective right to administer the nature in which companies do business in order to protect the public health, safety, and welfare of the people. Healthcare insurance would probably fall under all three. If that protective right of the government is ever changed, we will look like China in a number of years and will revert back to the early 20th and the late 19th centuries in terms of labor and citizen rights and protection.

coberly said...


for my part you are very welcome here. not that i agree with you about much. but i would hate to see an "only people we agree with welcome" policy.

and, lord help me, i tend to agree that liberals are not always more rational than conservatives.

but back to the matter at hand: you are right about government's potential to be predatory, and that it is predatory in fact much of the time.

but unfortunately it is an argument that can always be made. it is also an argument that can be made about ANY competitor who has an "unfair" advantage. it is simply not a useful argument "in general" though it might be politically useful in specific cases... and of course eternally useful for those people who are happy to have a slogan to guide their thoughts.

the health care industry today is predatory on the people. if the people can organize to produce a bigger predator on their side, that's the way it goes.

i am more or less eternally mad at "government" myself. but i hope i am not stupid enough to let that mean i let the local thugs beat me up because the cops would have an unfair advantage over them.

coberly said...

to be a bit clearer, the "takings" argument could be used to render government completely impotent to act in any case whatsoever. there is always someone who can argue that a government rule deprives him of his "right" to continue business as usual.

better that people understand that in general, "acts of government" are just like "acts of nature" or even "acts of god." of course then they would not be so conflicted when they ask the government to rescue them from earthquakes and hurricanes, "taking" money from other taxpayers not themselves affected.

the "takings" argument is a denial of any "right" of people to act as communities. there might be specific cases in which the government action is seen as too arbitrary or "unfair" to be allowed to stand... a decision made by the, gasp, community itself, when it's right hand is called upon to become aware of what it's left hand is doing.

but as a general principle, "takings" is too shallow a concept to be taken seriously by anyone but the "mob" upon which demagogues (of both the right and left) rely.

coberly said...

Jack S

with regard to the press. of course it makes us sick. but the people have no one to blame for being misled but themselves.

we could even start our own press, if we could persuade the people to read it.

but then of course the other side would claim we were misleading the people and call for us to be shut down.

Bruce Webb said...

Run "A local government can not change the zoning of a property thereby restricting the landowner from utilization of the land from its prior zoned usage. Going from commercial zoning to a residential usage could be considered to be a "takings" as the land owner/developer has lost the ability to build his property at a level where he could profit more from it."

Well my County did this all the time, most drastically with the County Wide Rezone of 1996 which implemented the Washington State Growth Management Act. Equally dramatic transitions were occasioned with the 1972 State Subdivision Act. Oregon had similar vast changes with their own Growth Act.

The rule in Washington State is that an exercised land use right is typically grandfathered in but potential land use rights are not protected. Which is why we always got a flood of permit applications right before changes in state law or local zoning, as long as those permit applications didn't expire the potential activity was vested.

I do not believe the matter is settled in the way you suggest. Now Oregon passed an initiative that defined zoning changes as a taking that required compensation for the highest and best use, but this is under challenge as producing absurd results.

The Washington State Growth Management Act mandated that rural areas be zoned for 5 acre minimums and above and urban areas at 4 per acre maximum and the result was that probably a hundred thousand parcels in Snohomish County were flipped overnight on Dec 12, 1996. And people who had not exercised their rights or vested it by application were shit out of luck. I know, I started working for County planning on Dec 13th, 1996 and had to spend my first two years explaining what had just happened.

Jack said...

Welcome. My point is that the established news media has morphed into an organ of the ruling class, though some might argue that it was never otherwise. Yes, we can always write and publish our own opinions and reflections on daily events. The point is not what we can do. We're trying to do that to some extent right here, right now, and maybe this form of media will grow sufficiently to offer a genuine alternative source of information to the general population. The established corporate media has an enormous advantage right now, and the failings of that media need be addressed and discussed openly and loudly.

The use of the air waves is an especially egregious affront to our intelligence as a population. The right to use those air waves is obtained through licensing agreements with the government through the FCC. Is no one at that agency concerned about deceit and deception and only able to recognize risque talk? The airwaves are the property of the nation which the corporate media utilize through licensing. Those licensing agreements have some requirements that go beyond the five dirty word prohibition. When will the FCC go beyond the five dirty words and address the issue of lies and deception.

run75441 said...


It may be from state to stae it varies. In the state I am in, we are very careful not to do so and I am the Vice Chairperson for the Planning Commission in a Township. What governs it is the 5th Amendment, how the state courts view it, ans what the federal courts may do. You may be in a far more liberal federal district than I? 9th Federal District as oppossed to the 6th Federal District? To be safe, think of public safety, welfare, and health. If any of these apply, you are safe. It blows sammy argument out of the water.

Bruce Webb said...

Run far be it from me to give ammo to Sammy but once you carve out exemptions for public safety, welfare and health your purported Fifth Amendment protections shrink to nothing. It is hard to think of any zoning change resricting property rights that could not be presented as advancing one or more of those goals.

Bruce Webb said...

And apropos of nothing again some of my favorite commenters on my side of the discussion and one to date of the more rational members of the opposition being drawn to Jack's contribution feel free to submit more explicitly political/historical posts. Angry Bear is taking a deliberate tack to a less polemic forum than was common under Cactus and PGL. And some heavy hitter sites are picking up on some of the new Bears which now include some really sharp women. And more power to Dan. Plus he has given me room to still post tecnocratic Social Security and Health Care posts there. If I can transform this site into mano a mano Burkean Conservatism vs New Deal I will be absurdely happy.

run75441 said...


Sometimes, it is best to let things be played out. Idon't offend easily.

If one sticks to the public welfare, safety, and health argument; not much can be disputed or lost.

coberly said...


i couldn't agree with you more about what the media have become. but you need to be a little careful how you frame your arguments.

we might need some "fairness doctrine" but i don't think we can just go around and yank licenses because the media encourage mass stupidity.

Jack said...

I'm not saying to "yank a License." I'm only asking for the FCC, the media cops, to be just as concerned about the increasing presence of deceit and deception on the air waves and generated by their licensees, as they are about vulgarity and nipples(on TV). The license is not a permit to propagandize with false facts and out right lies. It is one thing to lie about the qualities of your friends. It is a far greater foul to lie about your enemies.

Jack said...

Well here is one good example of the news media doing a laudable job. The link below is to a review of an off-Broadway drama titled "Aftermath"
written by the same author of "The Exonerated." It is a powerful presentation. I saw it this afternoon. Only 90 minutes, but excellent theater and an excellent portrayal of the circumstances of Iraqis following our efforts to "save" them from Saddam. Very moving. It will be at the NY Theater Workshop at 79 East 4th Street, NYC, until Oct 18th (I think). It's off-Broadway so it's relatively cheap theater, and in this case excellent drama. I give you my word you will not be disappointed. 212-460-5475.
The link:

coberly said...


i continue to agree with you. but policing deceit and deception might be trickier than you suppose.

The local (big city) rag runs a truth in politics column which reliably runs down unimportant departures from strict fact that fit easily into my tolerance of "simplification, exaggeration for effect, or minor lapse of strict accuracy. meanwhile it completely ignores serious, major, ongoing deceptions like "the social security crisis," the authors of which, like the father of lies himself, are always careful to stick strictly to the most misleading facts they can construct.

Jack said...

Think of the situation as being similar to the thief, embezzler or just your average big time financial scam artist always making a show of contributing some portion of their wealth to a high profile charity. Some have entire hospital wings with their names chiseled into the edifice. They are pillars of the community. The media is always making an effort to produce just enough "evidence" of its worthy efforts to present the reality of our world. Yes, there is plenty of room on the page and in the airwaves for some truth to be surrounded by innuendos and half truths and out right lies.

coberly said...


again, yes. and the remedy is...?

(some other press to counter the lies and convince the public?)