The 9th week of the Grand Rapids Press coverage of the Obama administration was dominated by the “outrage” directed at the financial company AIG. Out of the total of 13 stories in the past week that dealt with the new administration, seven were about AIG alone.
In addition to AIG, there were three other stories that focused on the economy. The US military occupations of Iraq (2 stories) and Afghanistan (1 story) made up the rest of the stories for week nine.
Outraged Over AIG
Beginning on March 17, the Grand Rapids Press ran seven stories that focused on American International Group’s (AIG) decision to provide $165 million in bonus money to company executives. The March 17 article from the Associated Press was headlined, “Taxpayers unlikely to be repaid by AIG.” This AP story, while critical of AIG’s decision, only provided the opinions of one Democratic Congressman, a University professor who teaches risk management, and a financial consultant. None of these sources discuss how companies like AIG function or how the bailout money was managed.
In fact, most of the coverage surrounding the AIG scandal is focused on the $165 million in bonus money, but little is said about the practices of companies like AIG over the past couple of decades. Instead, the coverage provides a venue for politicians to express frustration over AIG’s decision to give bonuses after being the recipient of bailout money. One example is from a March 17 story that focuses on the reactions of two West Michigan Congressmen, Rep. Vern Ehlers and Pete Hoekstra.
Politicians are also the main sources used in a March 18 article titled, “Bonuses are part of Wall Street culture.” This AP story provides some mild criticisms of AIG, but there is no analysis of how and why companies like AIG needed bailout money in the first place. The lack of substantive coverage was also reflected in another March 18 story that began with the sentence, “Cue the outrage.” Unfortunately, the article doesn’t provide readers with any investigation into how AIG was able to get away with paying its executives the large bonuses.
It wasn’t until March 19, when the Press ran a Los Angels Times article that there was any acknowledgement of the historical relationship between Wall Street and Washington. The article states, “Prominent Republicans, joined by some Democrats, suggested that the answer could be found in longtime ties linking Washington to Wall Street.” However, even this article failed to provide any details of that historical relation, such as can be found in a new report from the Consumer Education Foundation entitled, “Sold Out: How Wall Street and Washington Betrayed America.” The report shows that:
“From 1998-2008, Wall Street investment firms, commercial banks, hedge funds, real estate companies and insurance conglomerates made $1.725 billion in political contributions and spent another $3.4 billion on lobbyists, a financial juggernaut aimed at undercutting federal regulation. Nearly 3,000 officially registered federal lobbyists worked for the industry in 2007 alone. The report documents a dozen distinct deregulatory moves that, together, led to the financial meltdown. These include prohibitions on regulating financial derivatives; the repeal of regulatory barriers between commercial banks and investment banks; a voluntary regulation scheme for big investment banks; and federal refusal to act to stop predatory subprime lending.”
The week of coverage ended with a March 22nd article headlined, “AIG’s cool head in a hot seat.” The article mainly provides a venue for AIG chairman Edward Liddy to defend the company. The only critical voice in the story was from Congressman Barney Frank, despite the fact that there were protestors there to greet the AIG chairman. The article did mention that the protestors had to put their signs down during the hearing, but there was no mention of who organized the demonstration. the Grand Rapids Press did include a picture with the story, which shows that the peace group, Code Pink, was the ones protesting the AIG executive, but there was no mention of their perspective.
Six Years After the US Occupation of Iraq
There were also three articles in week nine of the coverage that dealt with the US occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. A March 19 Associated Press story provided a short explanation for the new administration’s announcement to possibly send some civilian personnel to Afghanistan “to reinforce the non-military component in Kabul and the existing provincial reconstruction teams in the countryside, officials said.” The article provides comments from US diplomats, but no Afghani perspectives are included.
On March 22, the Press ran two stories that dealt with the sixth anniversary of the US occupation of Iraq. The first story, headlined “Protestors mark Iraq war milestone,” provides a short summary of a demonstration organized by the group ANSWER. The story does mention a few of the reasons why protestors demonstrated, but the article spent an equal amount of time on the “tensions” that existed between protestors and police.
The other article on March 22nd was headlined, “Iraq better than before but still shaky,” presents the situation in Iraq as one where violence has decreased and the future threat of violence will emerge from “sectarian violence.” This New Wire Service story does have a few Iraqi perspectives, but both are government officials. There is no mention of what the six years of US occupation has meant in terms of Iraqi deaths nor was there mention of the organized demonstrations in Iraq that were protesting the US occupation.