Reporting on the Bailout: How Corporate Media Protects Corporations

The corporate media’s coverage of the financial industry bailouts–such as the recent Citigroup deal–tend to emphasize corporate friendly perspectives and rarely offer dissenting views.

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On Monday, the Grand Rapids Press published another front-page story about the “financial crisis,” with a headline that read “Second Citigroup bailout starts at $20B.” The Associated Press (AP) article states, “The government unveiled a bold plan Sunday to rescue Citigroup, injecting $20 billion into the troubled firm as well as guaranteeing hundreds of billions of dollars in risky assets.”

The story includes a statement from the US Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve that states in part, “With these transactions, the US government is taking the actions necessary to strengthen the financial system and protect US taxpayers and the US economy.” Such a claim is never verified by the reporter, so readers never learn how this bailout will “protect US taxpayers.” In fact, the only other source cited in the story was a Citigroup executive who is quoted as saying, “We appreciate the tremendous effort by the government to assure market stability.” After that comment, the reporter doesn’t ask what is meant by market stability or seek out an independent opinion on this latest bailout announcement.

The only critical comment provided in the story is “Critics worry the actions could put billions of taxpayers’ dollars in jeopardy and encourage companies to take excessive risk on the belief that the government will bail them out.” Unfortunately, the “critics” are never sourced in this story so readers have no way of knowing if such a statement has any credibility.

In many ways, this story is typical of how the corporate media in this country has been reporting on this issue.

The story focuses on the response by the government, with some details of the bailout, but limited information on what the causes of the economic crisis are or how it will affect the public. This assessment of US media coverage on the economic crisis is what the Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ) discovered in a recent study they conducted which tracked US media coverage from September 15 to October 26.

The study discovered that little attention was devoted to how the global economy will be affected. This 6-week study found that the kind of reporting varied depending on the type of news media that people look to for information. For instance, of all the news mediums (Talk radio, Network TV, Online, Newspaper, Cable and News radio), Network TV spent more time reporting on how the bailout will affect the public. News radio spent the most amount of time on how the bailout will affect the global economy and Talk radio spent the most time discussing who was to blame for the economic crisis.

It is important to keep in mind that the PEJ study did not look at what sources were used in either the coverage or the credibility of those sources. However, the sources that we have seen in monitoring the West Michigan media is similar to the AP story cited above, where government and industry sources are dominate. When public voices are heard it is usually framed in the “person on the street perspective,” as we saw in the Grand Rapids Press on November 19.

Fortunately, several grassroots efforts have developed in response to the bailout that at least provides additional and independent information. Break the Bailout is one attempt to provide the public with a different analysis of the economic crisis.

For example, much has been reported on how AIG executives have continued to spend extravagant amounts of money on conferences even after they asked the US government to bail them out. However, this is the norm for the financial institutions that have approached the government for a bailout. Break the Bailout has reported that Goldman Sachs, upon hearing of the government committing to their $10 billion bailout, “responded by anointing 92 new members into its exalted status of partnership, and announcing bonuses of $210,000 per employee for 2008 — a total bonus pool in excess of $6.8 billion.”

Other omissions in the coverage of the financial crisis by the corporate media are how this bailout will affect the funding of other serious issues. The Institute for Policy Studies just released a report which states that the “approximately $4.1 trillion that the United States and European governments have committed to rescue financial firms is 40 times the money they’re spending to fight climate and poverty crises in the developing world.”

Lastly, what would it look like if the AP story cited above on the Citigroup bailout had included any contextual information on this global banking company?

Readers would discover that Citigroup has a history of funding environmentally destructive projects around the world, that they contributed over $4 million to political candidates in the 2008 election cycle, and that they have been one of the most aggressive companies in pushing for deregulation of the global markets.

Such facts might change how people think about the Citigroup bailout.

Author: mediamouse

Grand Rapids independent media // mediamouse.org