Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Media Whore example

On February 2, 2011 www.medialens.org wrote to the Guardian's economics editor:

Dear Larry Elliott

In your 2007 book, 'Fantasy Island', co-written with Dan Atkinson, you
made the following astute observation about global warming and the
economy:

'Ministers accept that since the start of the industrial age 250 years
ago, there has been a significant increase in global temperatures
associated with human activities. Given the weight of scientific
evidence, they can hardly do anything else. What they cannot accept,
possibly because it is too difficult to do so politically, is that
this means that the capitalist model to which pretty much every nation
in the world is now committed is bankrupt.' (p. 199)

You also rightly said that:

'The fantasy that it can be business as usual on the growth front
without boiling the planet is the most dangerous of them all.' (p.
192)

But then yesterday, you wrote about the 'good news' in figures for
'growth' that may be a sign of 'the long-awaited re-balancing of the
British economy'. ('The economy's tricky re-balancing act',
guardian.co.uk, February 1, 2011, 12.25 GMT)

Why is it that in your day job as economics editor of the Guardian,
you continue to propagate a bankrupt model of capitalism – while as a
book author you rightly denounce it as 'bankrupt' and the most
dangerous fantasy of all?

David Cromwell

Elliott replied on the same day:

Dear David,

Many thanks for your email. There are, I think, three possible ways we
can go. The first is to stick to business as usual, and assume that
the planet can cope with India, China and all the other developing
countries consuming as much as we do in the West. There are those who
believe this is possible providing we increase productivity and use
resources more efficiently. I find that hard to believe. At the other
end of the spectrum, there are those who believe that the pressures
are so great that the only way forward is to have zero - or perhaps
even negative - growth. Even if that is the case, I think it will be
impossible to sell politically. Equally, it may be pie-in-the-sky to
imagine that the middle way - A Green New Deal - in which we attempt
to cut dependency on fossil fuels, invest more heavily in renewables,
and use the money from quantitative easing for
environmentally-friendly projects - offers an alternative. I'm hopeful
that it is possible to have low-intensity green growth, but I'm
willing to accept that I might be wrong.

As for the differences between books and newspaper articles, I think
there is a difference. As far as the chancellor was concerned, the
fact that manufacturing was doing well and the economy showing signs
of rebalancing, was good news and I feel obliged to report it that
way. It would be a bit rum for me to give every story a 'green' slant,
saying for example: 'There was further bad news for Britain's carbon
emissions today when a snapshot of industry showed output from
factories on the rise'.

But, having said all that, I accept that I could be doing more to
change perceptions of what 'good' means when it comes to the economy.
I have done that on quite a few occasions.

Best wishes

Larry

On February 3, we wrote back:

Dear Larry,

Many thanks for kindly replying. I wasn't actually asking which
possible ways you think the global economy might go, although it's
interesting to read your thoughts.

The question is this: Why is there a gulf between your Guardian
journalism on the one side and sustained critical analysis of
corporate-led globalisation on the other side, together with the
likely consequences of such a 'bankrupt' system for climate stability?
Serious climate scientists are warning that we could be on the brink
of runaway global warming.

I welcome you saying that you 'could be doing more to change
perceptions of what "good" means when it comes to the economy'. The
intention is admirable. But on a daily basis, your role and
journalistic output as economics editor of the Guardian helps to prop
up the discredited status quo. There is too much routine channelling
of 'dangerous fantasies' and misleading assumptions from establishment
figures in the economic pages of the Guardian. Yes, on occasion, you
make critical remarks about the economic system (albeit couched in
mild terms about the need for 'rebalancing'). But to what extent are
you thereby serving a useful fig-leaf role on the paper as a – rather
muted - voice of dissent?

Where is your brave reporting of the inherently biocidal and
psychopathic logic of corporate capitalism? Where is your analysis of
how the system is structurally locked into generating maximised
revenues in minimum time at minimum cost? Where have you explained to
your readers that corporations are legally obliged to maximise profits
for shareholders, and that it is therefore illegal for corporations to
prioritise the welfare of people and planet above private profit? How
can this elementary fact of entrenched corporate immorality be so
invisible in your reporting and in the Guardian as a whole; indeed, in
any responsible discussion of the industrial destruction of global
life-support systems?

If you were to pursue these questions openly and thoroughly in your
journalism – as surely you should, given the stakes - you wouldn't
last long in your privileged position.

I'd be interested in seeing your thoughts in response to all of the
above, please.

Best wishes

David

On February 7, Elliott responded:

Dear David,

I'm not sure there's much to add to my previous email. All sorts of
people read the Guardian: free-market capitalists, Keynesians,
Marxists, social democrats, liberals, greens. You want me to write for
one specific audience - those that believe that 'corporate capitalism'
is 'inherently biocidal and psychopathic'. I'm not prepared to do that
any more than I am prepared to cater exclusively to the Marxists who
think that capitalism is about to be brought down by its own internal
contradictions.

I am aware of the dangers of climate change and write about it often.
But, I don't share your view. Firstly, there are many different
variants of capitalism - German capitalism is different from US
capitalism; Swedish capitalism is different from Indian capitalism -
and to brand them all as biocidal and psychopathic seems to me a bit
one-dimensional. Secondly, I don't accept that all growth is bad. Life
was nasty, brutish and short in the days before the start of the
industrial age, and I have no particular desire to go back to the
times when people were lucky to live until they were 40, died of all
sorts of preventable diseases and worked very long hours for little
reward. I'm not sure the hundreds of millions of people in China and
India who have been lifted out of poverty by growth in the past 20
years would accept that all growth is bad either. Finally, it is easy
enough to have a pop at the evils of 'corporate capitalism', but a lot
tougher to come up with a route map for arriving at an alternative.
That's why I was a founder member of the Green New Deal Group.

I am grateful for your interest in the Guardian's economics coverage
but I am not sure that I can add to what I have said in my two emails.
Most readers only get one reply! if you have any further points to
raise, it would probably be better if you addressed them to the
editor, Alan Rusbridger, as he ultimately decides whether I stay in my
job or no[t].

With very best wishes

Larry


Different Variants Of The Same Beast

We were grateful to Larry Elliott for responding at length and in a
friendly manner. His thoughtful responses are worth looking at in more
detail. Note that Elliott claimed:

'You want me to write for one specific audience - those that believe
that "corporate capitalism" is "inherently biocidal and
psychopathic".'

We were not asking Elliott to 'write for one specific audience' at
all, a familiar retort from corporate journalists. The question is why
he ignores a mountain of well-informed economic analysis and evidence
exposing the inherent destructiveness of global capitalism.

We asked Joel Bakan to respond to Elliott's point about the 'many
different variants of capitalism.' In reply, Bakan told us that while
his book and film focused on the Anglo-U.S. model of the corporation,
his analysis was increasingly of worldwide relevance:

'First, there is a trend towards greater homogeneity in corporate
governance across the globe - less variation - as globalization
progresses; and second, the homogenization works against the more
social forms of capitalism that historically characterized other
variants, including those of many continental European countries.
Legal reforms at both the pan-European level and at the domestic level
of many European countries are pushing in the direction of shareholder
(as opposed to other stakeholder) primacy in corporate governance and
decision-making. That, of course, is the model typical of Anglo-U.S.
law, and it is the model that prompted me to dub the corporation
"psychopathic."' (Email, February 16, 2011, our emphasis)

He continued:

'As I argued in The Corporation, it is the requirement of corporate
law that managerial decisions must always be in the corporation's best
interests that creates a purely self-interested character in the
corporate "person" - one analogous to a human psychopath. As the
Anglo-U.S. model of corporate governance becomes more widely-embraced
across the globe, the corporation and capitalism themselves become
one-dimensional, and in ways that justify the psychopath analogy. I
find it surprising that the increasing hegemony of the
shareholder-primacy model in corporate governance has not been picked
up by mainstream (or alternative) media. It is a huge story. There is
some academic writing on it but nothing that I am aware of in the
popular media.'

Economist Harry Shutt is author of several books, including The
Trouble with Capitalism and Beyond the Profits System. We asked him to
comment on our email exchange with Elliott.

Shutt began by noting 'the particularly desperate conjuncture at which
the global economy has now arrived and the increasingly conflicted
position of journalists, academics and others who still feel
professionally obliged to go on trying to reconcile fantasy with
reality - at least in their public pronouncements.' (Email, February
13, 2011)

Shutt dismissed Elliott's reference to 'variants of capitalism',
calling it 'an obvious smokescreen', adding: 'he has ignored your
point about the compulsive need for corporations - whatever the
"variant" of capitalism - to maximise profit at the expense of all
other needs and interests. This can and does lead some of them to be
genocidal as well as biocidal.' (Email, February 15, 2011)

Shutt then described Elliott's responses as comprising 'rather
familiar and cheap points'. He expanded:

'e.g. his attempt to suggest that any attack on capitalism is by
extension an attack on the benefits of industrialisation and modern
technology (as if we could not in any event have had these without
capitalism), or the "hundreds of millions of Indians and Chinese who
have been lifted out of poverty by growth" without mentioning a) the
fact that most of these still live very insecure lives because of the
relentless competitive squeeze, b) the comparable numbers in other
countries (e.g. Mexico) whose livelihoods have been destroyed by
competition from China and c) the even greater number in India, China
and elsewhere who have never been touched by this growth and remain
sunk in permanent misery.'

In support of this latter point, economist David Harvey has observed
that in China there is 'a rising tide of unrest there as the worldwide
economic downturn creating unwelcome and unaccustomed (in China)
increases in unemployment (in early 2009 estimated to be close to 20
million unemployed) within a recently proletarianised population.'
(David Harvey, 'The Enigma of Capital', Profile Books, 2010, p. 66)

Shutt continued:

'But surely the most contemptible cop-out of all is the tired refrain
about the difficulty of "coming up with a route map" to an alternative
system. The obvious riposte is that it might be much easier if only
the Guardian or any other organ would allow such alternatives to be
discussed. I'm perhaps more keenly aware of this constraint than most
given that none of the four books I've written in the past 15 years
has received anything resembling a serious review in a mainstream
British paper - even though both LE [Larry Elliott] and Dan Atkinson
have cited The Trouble with Capitalism on occasions, demonstrating
that they're quite well aware of the pointers it gives to a possible
alternative model.' Shutt noted that the Guardian's economics editor
had difficulty in disputing the main charge levelled against him:
'namely that, however terminally untenable he may know the system to
be he cannot say as much in the paper without losing his "privileged
position". Indeed in finally referring you to the editor he
effectively concedes the point.'

Shutt added: 'All this of course just serves to underline the critique
of our subtly totalitarian media that you at Media Lens - along with
Chomsky and a few others - have been admirably hammering home for
years. As you might say, Comment is Free (according to the Guardian),
but Freedom is Slavery (Big Brother).'

Shutt ended with a well-aimed challenge to the fig-leaf journalists
who, even now, justify participation in the corporate media propaganda
system:

'At what point do journalists like Larry Elliott who know how dire and
unsustainable things have become decide they have nothing to lose by
speaking out? Or, put another way, why aren't they more worried about
the prospects for their families in a world sinking ever more palpably
into chaos and anarchy? Perhaps they're just waiting for more people
to take to the streets, hoping that they'll be as peaceful as the ones
in Cairo.'

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posted by u2r2h at 12:17 PM

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