Corporate Globalization Has Been a Wrecking Ball to the American Dream

If the American Dream isn’t working for them, why should anyone, anywhere, believe it will work for their own children?

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This piece originally appeared atLocal Futures.

Implicit in all the rhetoric promoting globalization is the premise that the rest of the world can and should be brought up to the standard of living of the West, and America in particular. For much of the world the American Dream—though a constantly moving target—is globalization’s ultimate endpoint.

But if this is the direction globalization is taking the world, it is worth examining where America itself is headed. A good way to do so is to take a hard look at America’s children, since so many features of the global monoculture have been in place their whole lives. If the American Dream isn’t working for them, why should anyone, anywhere, believe it will work for their own children?

As it turns out, children in the US are far from “confident, self-reliant, tolerant, generous, and future-oriented.” One indication of this is that more than 8.3 million American children and adolescents require psychiatric drugs; over 2 million are on anti-depressants, and another 2 million are on anti-anxiety drugs. The age groups for which these drugs are prescribed is shockingly young: nearly half a million children 0-3 years old are taking drugs to combat anxiety.[1]

Most people in the “less developed” world will find it hard to imagine how a toddler could be so anxiety-ridden that they need psychiatric help. Equally difficult to fathom are many other symptoms of social breakdown among America’s children. Eating disorders, for example: the incidence of anorexia, bulimia and other eating disorders has doubled since the 1960s, and girls are developing these problems at younger and younger ages.[2]

If eating disorders are the bane of America’s young girls, violence is a more common problem for its boys. Consider the fact that there have been more than 150 school shootings in the US since 1990, claiming 165 lives. The youngest killer? A six-year old boy.[3]

Sometimes the violence is directed inward, with suicide the result. In America today, suicide is the third leading cause of death for 15- to 24-year olds. In 2013, 17 percent of US high school students seriously considered suicide during the preceding year.[4]

What has made America’s children so insecure and troubled? A number of causes are surely involved, most of which can be linked to the global economy. For example, as corporations scour the world for bigger subsidies and lower costs, jobs move with them, and families as well: the typical American moves eleven times during their life, repeatedly severing connections with relatives, neighbors and friends.[5]

Within almost every family, the economic pressures on parents systematically rob them of time with even their own children. Americans put in longer hours than workers in any other industrialized country, with many breadwinners working two or more jobs just to make ends meet.[6] Increasing numbers of women are in the workforce, so there are no adults left at home; young children are relegated to day-care centers, while older children are left in the company of video games, the internet, or the corporate sponsors of their favorite television shows. According to a 2010 study of American children, the average 8- to 10-year-old spends nearly eight hours a day with various media; older children and teenagers spend more than 11 hours a day with media. Not surprisingly, time spent in nature—something essential for our well-being—has all but disappeared: only 10 percent of American children spend time outside on a daily basis.[7]

America’s screen-obsessed children no longer have flesh-and-blood role models—parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, friends and neighbors—to look up to. Instead they have media and advertising images: rakish movie stars and music idols, steroid-enhanced athletes and airbrushed supermodels. Children who strive to emulate the manufactured “perfection” of these role models are left feeling insecure and inadequate. This is one reason cosmetic surgery is on the increase among America’s children. According to the president of the American Academy for Facial Plastic Surgery, “the more consumers are inundated with celebrity images via social media, the more they want to replicate the enhanced, re-touched images that are passed off as reality.” What’s more, he adds, “we are seeing a younger demographic than ever before.”[8]

It seems clear that what is often called ‘American culture’ is no longer a product of the American people: it is instead an artificial consumer culture created and projected by corporate advertising and media. This consumer culture is fundamentally different from the diverse cultures that for millennia were shaped by climate, topography, and the local biota—by a dialogue between humans and the natural world. This is a new phenomenon, something that has never happened before: a culture determined by technological and economic forces, rather than human and ecological needs. It is not surprising that American children, many of whom seem to “have everything,” are so unhappy: like their parents, their teachers and their peers, they have been put on a treadmill that is ever more stressful and competitive, ever more meaningless and lonely.

As the globalization juggernaut continues to advance, the number of victims worldwide is growing exponentially. Millions of children from Mongolia to Patagonia are today targeted by a fanatical and fundamentalist campaign to bring them into the consumer culture. The cost is massive in terms of self-rejection, psychological breakdown and violence. Like American children they are bombarded with sophisticated marketing messages telling them that this brand of make-up will inch them closer to perfection, that this brand of sneakers will make them more like their sports hero. But in the global South—where the ideal is often blue-eyed, blonde, and Western—children are even more vulnerable. It’s no wonder that sales of dangerous bleach to lighten the skin, and contact lenses advertised as “the color of eyes you wish you were born with,” are booming across the South.[9]

This psychological impoverishment is accompanied by a massive rise in material poverty. Even though more than 46 million Americans—nearly 15 percent of the population—live in poverty,[10] globalization aims to replicate the American model of development across the global South. Among the results are the elimination of small farmers and the gutting of rural communities, with hundreds of millions of people drawn into sweatshops or unemployment in rapidly growing urban slums. Meanwhile, many of those whose ways of life are threatened by the forces of globalization are turning to fundamentalism, even terrorism.

The central hope of the American Dream—that our children will have a better life than we do—seems to have vanished. Many people, in fact, no longer believe that our children really have any future at all.

Nonetheless policymakers insist that globalization is bringing a better world for everyone. How can there be such a gap between the cheerleading rhetoric and the lives of real people?

Part of the disconnect results from the way globalization’s promoters measure “progress.” The shallowest definition compares the modern consumer cornucopia with what was available 50 or 100 years ago—as though electronic gadgets and plastic gewgaws are synonymous with happiness and fulfillment. More often the baseline for comparison is the Dickensian period of the early industrial revolution, when exploitation and deprivation, pollution and squalor were rampant. From this starting point, our child-labor laws and 40-hour workweek look like real progress. Similarly, the baseline in the global South is the immediate post-colonial period, with its uprooted cultures, poverty, over-population and political instability. Based on the misery of these contrived starting points, political leaders can argue that our technologies and our economic system have brought a far better world into being, and that globalization will bring similar benefits to the “wretched, servile, fatalistic and intolerant human beings” in the remaining “undeveloped” parts of the world.

In reality, however, globalization is a continuation of a broad process that started with the age of conquest and colonialism in the South and the enclosures and the Industrial Revolution in the North. From then on a single economic system has relentlessly expanded, taking over other cultures, other peoples’ resources and labor. Far from elevating those people from poverty, the globalizing economic system has systematically impoverished them.

If there is to be any hope of a better world, it is vital that we connect the dots between “progress” and poverty. Erasing other cultures—replacing them with an artificial culture created by corporations and the media they control—can only lead to an increase in social breakdown and poverty. Even in the narrowest economic terms, globalization means continuing to rob, rather than enrich, the majority. According to a recent report by Oxfam, the world’s richest 62 people now have more wealth than the poorest half of the global population combined. Their assets have risen by more than $500 million since 2010, while the bottom 3.5 billion people have become poorer by $1 trillion.[11] This is globalization at work.

While globalization systematically widens the gap between rich and poor, attempting in the name of equity to globalize the American standard of living is a fool’s errand. The earth is finite, and global economic activity has already outstripped the planet’s ability to provide resources and absorb wastes. When the average American uses 32 times more resources and produces 32 times more waste than the average resident of the global South, it is a criminal hoax to promise that development can enable everyone to live the American Dream.[12]

The spread of globalization has been profoundly destructive to people’s ability to survive in their own cultures, in their own place on the earth. It has even been destructive to those considered to be its most privileged beneficiaries. Continuing down this corporate-determined path will only lead to further social, psychological and environmental breakdown. Whether they know it or not, America’s children are telling us we need to go in a very different direction.


Helena Norberg-Hodge is founder and director of Local Futures (International Society for Ecology and Culture). A pioneer of the “new economy” movement, she has been promoting an economics of personal, social and ecological well-being for more than thirty years. She is the producer and co-director of the award-winning documentary, The Economics of Happiness, and is the author of Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladakh. She was honored with the Right Livelihood Award for her groundbreaking work in Ladakh, and received the 2012 Goi Peace Prize for contributing to “the revitalization of cultural and biological diversity, and the strengthening of local communities and economies worldwide.”

Steven Gorelick is Managing Programs Director at Local Futures (International Society for Ecology and Culture). He is the author of Small is Beautiful, Big is Subsidized (pdf), co-author of Bringing the Food Economy Home, and co-director of The Economics of Happiness. His writings have been published in The Ecologist and Resurgence magazines. He frequently teaches and speaks on local economics around the US.

Facebook, Google and the Tech Companies Bankrolling Hate at the RNC

Trump has threatened to shut down the open internet. Why aren’t companies divesting from him?

Photo Credit: Khalil Bendib / OtherWords

It’s common for major corporations to sponsor political conventions to buy favor with political parties. But what about when the convention nominates a presidential candidate who’s an out-and-out racist?

That’s a deal breaker, right?

For some big tech companies, apparently not.

Facebook recently announced that it will provide funding and other support for the Donald Trump-led Republican National Convention. And Google will be the event’s official livestream provider via YouTube.

These companies need to find their moral compass and divest from hate.

“Trumped into a Corner,” an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

Trump’s violent rhetoric has inflamed a national atmosphere that’s already hostile toward Latino, Muslim, and black communities, as well as women and people with disabilities. He’s called for the mass deportation of undocumented immigrants, promised to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, and vowed to ban all Muslims from entering the United States.

Trump has also incited actual physical violence against people of color, and refused to denounce the white supremacist organizations that openly support him.

If that weren’t enough, Trump’s also threatened to shut down the open internet, censoring the dissident voices standing up against his hate and racism. He’s called for greater surveillance of communities of color, and has encouraged violence against protesters and journalists.

In short, Trump’s campaign isn’t “business as usual”—and corporations shouldn’t treat it as such. That’s why the racial justice group ColorOfChange has launched a campaign called Divest from Hate.

They’re urging major tech companies not to bankroll a platform for hate while Trump continues to incite violence against marginalized communities. Other groups, including my own, have joined the effort to push tech companies to pull their support from the Republican convention, including both direct financial donations and in-kind contributions.

This isn’t about left or right, but right and wrong. People of color make up a large portion of the users of services like YouTube and Facebook. These companies are essentially profiting off the very communities that Trump’s rallying against.

Erin Egan, a Facebook vice president for publicity, claims that the company’s involvement in the convention will “facilitate an open dialogue among voters, candidates, and elected officials.” But throwing a coronation ball for Trump and his white supremacist supporters has nothing to do with democracy.

It’s important to note that these companies have taken stands on other political issues.

Both Google and Facebook recently spoke out against North Carolina’s transphobic “bathroom bill.” And earlier this year, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg circulated an internal memo calling out employees who crossed out the words “Black Lives Matter” on the signature wall at the company’s headquarters. He called the behavior “malicious” and “unacceptable.”

Now it’s time for Facebook and Google to take another stand against hate—and to join companies like Coca-Cola, Hewlett-Packard, and Microsoft that have already scaled back or cut their support to the Republican convention.

Lucia Martínez is an organizer with the Free Press Action Fund, a nonpartisan organization that doesn’t support or oppose any candidates for public office.

Naked Politics: Sanders, Clinton and How to Win When You’re Losing

Wednesday, 18 May 2016 00:00

By William Rivers Pitt, Truthout | Op-Ed

Sen. Bernie Sanders and his wife, Jane O'Meara Sanders, campaign at a rally in Louisville, Ky., May 3, 2016. Sanders has been campaigning heavily in the state ahead of its May 17 primary vote. (Sam Hodgson / The New York Times)Sen. Bernie Sanders and his wife, Jane O’Meara Sanders, campaign at a rally in Louisville, Kentucky, May 3, 2016. Sanders had been campaigning heavily in the state ahead of its May 17 primary vote. (Photo: Sam Hodgson / The New York Times)

First, the bare facts: Hillary Clinton won Kentucky by 1,923 votes as of the most recent accounting — MSNBC is calling her the “Assumed Winner,” a new term in the campaign coverage lexicon — and Bernie Sanders won Oregon by close to 10 points with no assumptions involved.

In the world of gambling, they call this a “push.” In short, Tuesday was a tie, though Clinton gained enough new delegates to snuggle up close to the finish line of nomination completion. Sanders has to run the table from here on out and win every contest in a staggering rout to gain the nomination, and that’s not going to happen. On the Republican side, Donald Trump won Oregon by 12 billion points against two guys who aren’t in the race anymore. He didn’t even bother to give a victory speech, but it’s gonna be great folks, trust me, it’s gonna be great.

Now to the hard part: context and consequences. Bernie Sanders is doomed in this contest. That sucks on a wide variety of levels. It sucks generationally because no presidential candidate since Robert Kennedy has done what Sanders has done these last months. He has inspired those who think politics is for old people and suckers to shed their cynicism and knock on doors, make phone calls to potential voters and believe they can actually make a difference in a profoundly bent political system. He has told the kind of truths about the state of this nation that are seldom heard, but are as necessary to this nation as penicillin is to the immune system when a lethal infection has taken root.

For his trouble, Sanders gets called a “thug” on live TV. I’ve been watching politically oriented television “news” programming with dreary regularity since Reagan was elected in 1980, and I’ve never seen anything like what I saw on Tuesday. MSNBC — the ha ha ha “liberal” news network — went to work on the Sanders campaign as if Bernie had shot Rachel Maddow’s dog in her front yard. It went on for hours. The crux of it centered around the mess that went down at the Nevada Democratic Convention this past weekend. The process of appointing delegates from the Nevada caucus was hijacked by Clinton surrogates in broad daylight, and some Sanders people flipped their lids. According to the Sanders campaign:

The chair of the convention announced that the convention rules passed on voice vote, when the vote was a clear no-vote. At the very least, the Chair should have allowed for a headcount.

The chair allowed its Credentials Committee to en mass rule that 64 delegates were ineligible without offering an opportunity for 58 of them to be heard. That decision enabled the Clinton campaign to end up with a 30-vote majority.

The chair refused to acknowledge any motions made from the floor or allow votes on them.

The chair refused to accept any petitions for amendments to the rules that were properly submitted.

Some idiots allegedly threw chairs (a disputed claim) and made threatening phone calls to the officials in charge of this farce after the deal went down, which was stupid and wrong. The very people trying to stand up for the Sanders campaign wound up stabbing their candidate under the fifth rib by giving the media fodder for slandering him, but they were justifiably pissed because it was a bag job under bright lights right there on the stage. MSNBC, which like most every other “news” network is drooling over the idea of a Trump v. Clinton contest, immediately went into battle mode as if the Sanders people had machine-gunned a home for lost kittens. BREAKING NEWS: Sanders Supporters Have Penchant For Violence; Officials Cower In Terror As Residents Flee. The media blitz went on for hours, and is ongoing as we speak.

It was remorseless, relentless “coverage” that entirely overshadowed what actually went down in Las Vegas. The Sanders campaign got jobbed by Clinton allies within the Nevada Democratic Party who didn’t even have the humility to do it out of sight; they stood at a podium and flipped the bird at a room filled with cameras and people who actually care about something beyond keeping their cushy sinecure within the Party. Some of those people freaked out and acted stupidly, but ask yourself: If you were in the room in 2000 when the Supreme Court decided to give the election to Bush, what would you have done? I might have thrown a chair, too.

Bernie Sanders, when confronted with accusations that his supporters were violent criminals, did not back down:

Within the last few days there have been a number of criticisms made against my campaign organization. Party leaders in Nevada, for example, claim that the Sanders campaign has a ‘penchant for violence.’ That is nonsense. Our campaign has held giant rallies all across this country, including in high-crime areas, and there have been zero reports of violence. Our campaign of course believes in non-violent change and it goes without saying that I condemn any and all forms of violence, including the personal harassment of individuals. But, when we speak of violence, I should add here that months ago, during the Nevada campaign, shots were fired into my campaign office in Nevada and apartment housing complex my campaign staff lived in was broken into and ransacked.

If the Democratic Party is to be successful in November, it is imperative that all state parties treat our campaign supporters with fairness and the respect that they have earned. I am happy to say that has been the case at state conventions in Maine, Alaska, Colorado and Hawaii where good discussions were held and democratic decisions were reached. Unfortunately, that was not the case at the Nevada convention. At that convention the Democratic leadership used its power to prevent a fair and transparent process from taking place.

MSNBC and the other networks took that “penchant for violence” quote from the Nevada Democratic Party and jumped on it like hungry dogs going after a soup bone. Constant, vivid, inexcusable violence at Trump rallies is good television. A few screwed Sanders supporters crashing the fence and being stupid? Armageddon, on the hour every hour, with “These Sanders supporters did this stuff, let’s ask a Clinton advocate what they think.” Sanders was omitted from the conversation. If no chairs had been (allegedly!) thrown, he wouldn’t have been part of the broadcast. The bias was that dramatically obvious.

Noam Chomsky has spoken for years and at length about the means by which entrenched power narrows the debate. “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient,” he said, “is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum.” Bernie Sanders scares the hell out of the Establishment, and the manner in which its media mouthpieces cover this sham of an election in order to shove him and his supporters into the woods is as obvious as it is filthy. Sanders is being shamed for what went down in Las Vegas, but Vegas will tell you all you need to know about how easy it is to run the table when the fix is in.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

The Need for Progressive Voices

Published on

The media industry reshaped our precious public commons into a fortress of exclusion that blocks dissenting, innovative and majoritarian viewpoints on matters that address society’s most basic needs,” writes Nader. “One thing is clear―something’s gotta give.” (Source: beautyfilledrevolution)

In 1961, President Kennedy’s Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Newton Minow described television as “a vast wasteland.” Perhaps nothing demonstrates that better these days than the rise of Donald J. Trump as a presidential candidate; now the presumptive Republican nominee. Trump’s boisterous carnival barker persona has dominated the airwaves for the entirety of the 2016 election cycle, eclipsing what precious little time remained for the serious issues that affect millions of Americans.  CBS president Leslie Moonves recently pulled no punches about the Trump phenomenon, saying it “may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.”

Trump is a symptom of a larger problem―profit-driven commercial television has put a stranglehold on our public discourse, highlighting controversy, carnage and entertainment fare over serious matters.  The media industry reshaped our precious public commons into a fortress of exclusion that blocks dissenting, innovative and majoritarian viewpoints on matters that address society’s most basic needs.  One thing is clear―something’s gotta give.

“Changing the corporate media for the better is easier than you think.”Fortunately, we have the power to massively shift how our public airwaves are utilized. After all, the airwaves are owned by the people and are used by these tawdry broadcasters free of charge! (In the past, I’ve referred to bombastic media personalities Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity as “corporate welfare kings” because of how they freely use the public’s property.)

This exclusionary media has obscured the fact that the public could take back some air time and condition over-the-air and cable licenses to provide serious, well-funded, diverse and informative content.

On May 23rd, 24th, 25th and 26th 2016 at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. a large gathering of civil society will take place to challenge the entrenched power of the corporate/political complex. The event is called Breaking Through Power. This “Civic Mobilization” will involve thousands of people at Constitution Hall and around the country and connect long-available knowledge to long-neglected action for the necessities and aspirations of people from all backgrounds.

May 24th will be dedicated solely to challenging mainstream media, bringing together authors, documentary filmmakers, reporters, columnists, musicians, poets and editorial cartoonists who will demonstrate the need for higher standards on television and  radio, and in print and on the web . Some participants on that day will be: Phil Donahue, Laura Flanders, Eugene Jarecki, Patti Smith, Mark Green, Matt Wuerker and many others.

The major mobilizing action on May 24th will be to create a new advocacy organization called “Voices.” The purpose of Voices is simple―to push for enlarging and enhancing space for serious content in all forms of media.  Voices will be staffed by public interest lawyers, writers, and traditional and social media specialists. Voices will advance long-neglected standards in the 1934 Communications Act which contains the imperative that broadcasters meet “the public interest, necessity and convenience” and other laws under the jurisdiction of the FCC.  The Voices staff will make the case for much more air-time on TV and radio and space in print publications for a multitude of subject matter, issues and activities that are now excluded or censored routinely as a result of a business-model of maximum profit above all else.

Changing the corporate media for the better is easier than you think. The current campaign season has drawn the interest of millions of young people who yearn for a better future.  Many have supported Senator Bernie Sanders’ agenda for a more just society. Now, when political excitement is at its peak, is an ideal time to channel civic energy­―no matter which candidate for president you support―into real, transformative action that benefits people instead of corporations.

Visit for more information and to register for one or all days of this historic event.

CNN and the Networks Now Rely on Trump to Stay Profitable

Neal Gabler on CNN: “I can’t recall a situation in which a network was so dependent on a candidate. Usually, it’s the other way around.”

The following first appeared on

If Donald Trump didn’t constitute, in this year’s favorite word, an existential threat to American democracy, the contortions into which he has thrown the Republican Party, as they simultaneously try to thwart him while espousing his basic policies, would be hilarious.

On the other hand, the contortions into which he has thrown the media are less hilarious, because they ultimately have more bearing on the outcome of the presidential race. What Trump’s candidacy has managed to do is reveal fault lines in the media that usually are buried beneath the typical journalistic blather, the group-think, and the feigned objectivity of the mainstream media—and the reflexive lock-step partisanship in the right-wing media. (The liberals, with a pox on both Trump and his GOP rivals, get to sit this one out.)

Thanks to Trump, there are civil wars now erupting within the mainstream media between the business side and the editorial side, and within the right-wing media among the establishment Republicans, the populist renegades, and the so-called moderate, intellectual neo-conservatives. What it really shows is just how craven, self-serving and self-involved our media are.

Let’s begin with the MSM. As I wrote here several weeks back, CBS head Les Moonves was mercenary enough to crow over how much money Trump coverage was pouring into his network’s coffers. Trump is a veritable gold-mine, which is one reason why the media have given him so much free coverage—by one account $1.9 billion worth, which is nearly two-and-a-half times as much as the next highest candidate, Hillary Clinton, and more than five times as much as Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz each.

In his inaugural column as the late David Carr’s successor, The New York Times’ new media maven, Jim Rutenberg, examined just how big a stake the media have in Trump—especially CNN, which was nearly on life support before Trump applied CPR. So far during this campaign, Rutenberg writes, CNN’s prime-time ratings have soared 170 percent, and CNN head Jeff Zucker boasted to Rutenberg that on debate nights the network gets $200,000 for a thirty-second ad. This gives Trump a tremendous amount of leverage, and he isn’t afraid to use it to make sure he is treated respectfully. I can’t recall a situation in which a network was so dependent on a candidate. Usually, it’s the other way around.

CNN is so fawning to Trump it’s embarrassing, and its primary night coverage a disgrace. Sitting at desks are representatives for all the candidates, each given equal weight, with every Trump criticism parried by the Trump supporter, lest the network lose Trump’s favor. Anderson Cooper might as well be Trump’s apprentice for all the steely journalistic probing he gives him. But at least now you know how cable television news would have treated Hitler were it around in Germany back in the early 30s. (Note to TV execs who still have a conscience, if any exist: Instead of out-of-work, old political operatives and partisan hacks giving us their tired takes on the primary results, why not have political scientists and historians do analysis? Just a thought.)

Yet amid the glut of Trump coverage, here is something that has gotten far too little attention in the media, for obvious reasons. According to Kyle Blaine at BuzzFeed, Trump not only gets uncritical coverage; he has actually negotiated with the networks as to how they shoot his rallies. If you want to know why the press is kept in a pen and not allowed to mingle at Trump events, it is, according to Blaine, because the press conceded that to Trump. They are not even allowed to provide cutaways of the crowd’s reaction. Again, I can’t recall the press ever capitulating to a candidate in this way, but, then, there was never a candidate who gave the press as much revenue as Trump. Nixon assiduously staged his events; he didn’t tell the press how it could cover them. In any case, can you imagine the howls of protest if the media agreed to the same sort of terms with Clinton or Sanders or even Cruz?

Trump coverage is the smoking gun and CNN is the corpse. And yet, again according to Kyle Blaine, there are some in the media who are actually discomfited by the surrender to Trump. As he puts it, “Conversations with more than a dozen reporters, producers, and executives across the major networks reveal internal tensions about the wall-to-wall coverage Trump has received and the degree to which the Republican frontrunner has—or hasn’t—been challenged on their air.”

But TV reporters are not likely to put their jobs on the line to take on Trump. In the mainstream print media, where the tensions between the public’s apparent desire for Trump news (and the desire of papers and magazines to satisfy it) and reporters’ disdain for him are in daily full view, there’s more of a full-blown war. The Washington Post, to cite one prominent example, runs dozens of Trump stories one after another, but just about every one of those stories is hostile.

Though one can only guess at motives, the difference between the generally lap-dog TV coverage (only this week did Chuck Todd finally demand that Trump no longer literally phone in his appearances on “Meet the Press”) and tougher newspaper coverage may reflect several things: that print journalism, as the late media analyst Neil Postman used to say, is more intellectually engaging than visual journalism; that TV has more at stake financially than print media and is thus more cautious in attacking its golden goose; and that print media feel a moral responsibility that TV doesn’t.

From the decades of insipid political reporting we have gotten in magazines and newspapers, you certainly wouldn’t guess that last one. But we never had a Trump before either—or, for that matter, a Ted Cruz—as a major party candidate. Some reporters, and a whole lot of pundits, evidently don’t want to take responsibility for sitting back and seeing him elected president.

Finally, for all the tensions between money and duty, and between irresponsibility and responsibility in the mainstream media, it is the conservative media that Trump has really discombobulated. Just look at Fox News, which is basically the propaganda arm of the Republican Party. On the one hand, you have the network lashing out at Trump and his “sick obsession” with Fox News’ Megyn Kelly, even though Trump has clearly boosted the ratings. On the other hand, you have Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly serving as major facilitators for Trump, and the network, by one count, mentioning Trump 25,000 times in the past month. Put another way, you have Ailes speaking for the GOP establishment, of which he is a member in good standing, and Hannity and O’Reilly speaking for—and to—the angry old white men who seem to comprise Trump’s supporters and the bulk of Fox’s viewers.

For an even more stark case of right-wing civil war, there is Breitbart, one of whose reporters was assaulted, allegedly by Trump’s own campaign manager, which led the Breitbart honchos to come to the defense of… Trump! Ah, those conservatives.

But perhaps the most interesting case of internecine media warfare is that of the “smart” neo-conservatives against the GOP rank and file and the media that speak for them. These folks—the David Brookses, the Ross Douthats, the Michael Gersons, the David Frums—obviously hate Trump, maybe less for ideological or even political reasons than for personal ones. Trump’s brand of authoritarian populism is everything these intellectual conservatives have spent their careers telling folks that conservatism wasn’t—even though, truth to tell, there was always know-nothing Trumpism lurking within Republicanism.

I was especially taken by Ross Douthat’s column last weekend in which he fell back on the default position that the neo-conservatives often invoke nostalgically: compassionate conservatism (as if!), the legacy of good old Jack Kemp, who was supposedly a softie when it came to poor people, and the lionization of House Speaker Paul Ryan, who, no doubt, all of them are praying will be the GOP presidential candidate at a contested convention. Gerson even wrote a piece in TheWashington Post this week conceding that, given Trump, a Hillary presidency wouldn’t be so bad as long as she had Ryan to spar with.

The media have always gone easy on Ryan, way too easy, treating him as if he were a real economic guru, when, in fact, no one who worships Ayn Rand as the prophet should be anywhere near government—or books. But the pining for Ryan in the “smart” right-wing media just goes to show how utterly baffled the right-wing press is.

Guys like Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush enabled them to indulge their fantasies of a smart, gentle conservatism that allegedly worked, never mind that the George W. Bush administration proved it didn’t. Now Donald Trump has blown up those fantasies, and the right-wing media are as confused as the right wing itself.

How the Media Totally Botched the 2016 Primary Coverage


Media saturation helped propel the two candidates into the frontrunner status from which they have never looked back.

By Adam Johnson / AlterNet

March 24, 2016


Here we are in late March and it’s increasingly likely the presidential race will be between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. This isn’t to say Bernie Sanders couldn’t grind out a win, or that the GOP elders couldn’t pull shenanigans at the convention, but as of now, two candidates with the worst favorability ratings in over a generation are poised to be the final options for the most consequential job in the entire world. How did we get here?

First, an important point of clarification. Hillary Clinton’s candidacy is not in the same class as Trump’s in terms of media coverage or media cynicism. While she has received over two times more coverage than Sanders, she’s also received 40 percent as much as Trump—much of it negative. She is a high-profile frontrunner with a nominally appealing resume for the job at hand. Still, there are some parallels with how the two candidates’ media saturation helped propel them into the frontrunner status from which they have never looked back.

The Democrats and the Overemphasis on the Invisible Primary

The “invisible primary” is broadly defined as a candidate’s ability to raise money, win over party leaders and generate media coverage all before any campaigning—to say nothing of voting—takes place. Clinton, as a former first lady, senator and high-profile secretary of state, won this primary hands down.

This created an incumbency bias based largely on criteria the Sanders campaign was expressly running against: money and establishment politics. By focusing on funds raised, the invisible primary heavily favors the former, and by racking up superdelegates, it heavily favors the latter—all in a process that is, by design, undemocratic. The psychological effect of Clinton’s delegate lead was seen in delegate totals the media echoed all throughout February and March that gave the reader the impression Clinton was up seven to one rather than even or slightly ahead.

Clinton’s ability to rack up large fundraising totals via Wall Street and Hollywood bundlers and super PACs was thought to be too great—until Sanders’ insurgent candidacy ignited small donors to help propel him to comparable totals. The media coverage followed this, whereas in Clinton’s case it largely preceded it. As I wrote in the New York Times earlier this month:

Who is and isn’t a “serious” candidate in our modern public relations-driven democracy is largely tautological. Whoever the news media say is important early on typically becomes the most important. This leads to a feedback loop that anoints the “frontrunner” in the “invisible primary,” where success is measured by name recognition, money raised, party insider support and a host of “serious” accomplishments, all before the most essential of feedback has been provided: actual voting.

This dynamic helped create the artificial consensus around Hillary Clinton early on. According to one tally of nightly broadcast network news during the 2015 primary season, Sanders received a total of 20 minutes of coverage, compared to Clinton’s 121 minutes and Trump’s 327. This gap would narrow once Sanders began to gain parity in early primary states, a feat Sanders achieved not because of media coverage but despite it.

None of this is to suggest Clinton’s lead is somehow illegitimate. Media bias can influence election outcomes, but it cannot rig them. Clinton’s support among African Americans, and to a lesser extent Latinos is proving to be rock solid. This was largely forged through decades of relationship building, deal-making and on-the-ground retail politics that cannot be dismissed as media bias. The overemphasis on the invisible primary certainly made things harder for Sanders, but no objective reading of the situation can blame it for Sanders’ undeniably terrible performance in the South.

The GOP and the Kardashian Coefficient

Some years ago, Kim Kardashian realized the importance of staying relevant by any means necessary. In our postmodern media-saturated society, so long as your brand remained in the news and people talked about you, you would end up the big winner. One sex tape and $300 million later, this theory has proved to be correct, and it has again in the 2016 primary. Just as with absolute numbers, the positive or negative nature of the media coverage is of no importance. What is important is the distance from 0—or irrelevance—one is at any given time. This idea, which the constantly trolling Donald Trump has exploited to perfection, we’ll call the Kardashian coefficient, or |k|.

Our outrage-chasing media was entirely incapable of combating (or unwilling to challenge) Trump’s troll strategy. The Donald actually laid it out in clear detail in his 1987 bestseller Art of the Deal:

The point is that if you are a little different, or a little outrageous, or if you do things that are bold or controversial, the press is going to write about you. I’ve always done things a little differently, I don’t mind controversy … The result is that the press has always wanted to write about me.

Trump understood the Kardashian coefficient when its namesake was only seven.

The Raw Numbers

According to a study by the New York Times, Donald Trump has received over $1.8 billion worth of “free media.” By contrast, Clinton has received $746 million and Sanders $321 million.

The Times study also included social media, which may have actually made things a bit too rosy for Sanders, who fares much better on Facebook and Twitter than he does in traditional outlets. Another study that focused solely on network coverage showed Sanders receiving 6 percent of the coverage Trump did on network news in 2015, and 16.5 percent that of Clinton. This is a very difficult hill to climb for any candidate no matter how many Reddit armies they may wield or “Bernie Bros” they may have on Twitter. Most people, especially the older voters Clinton wins by high margins, still get their information from the talking heads who occupy our nightly news broadcasts.

Some Examples of Outright Bias

Bias is always difficult to discern, but there are a few examples of when the media seem to circle the wagons on Bernie Sanders. One of the more obvious cases was when Clinton began to push back against Sanders for his support of single payer, and much of the “wonkish” gatekeeper media did a mini-freakout and published a torrent of stories explaining why the Affordable Care Act was great and single payer was a pipe dream.

The Washington Post ran three separate pieces bashing Sanders’ proposal in as many days while Vox and the Huffington Post quickly followed suit. Virtually no establishment media came to Sanders’ defense. Another example, which went viral, was after the Flint debate when the Washington Post ran 16 negative articles about Sanders in 16 hours. This lead to a rather sarcastic and defensive response of the Post the next day.

Sanders rightfully pointed out on The Young Turks Wednesday night that corporate media is full of conflicts of interests. Comcast, which owns or partly owns MSNBC, NBC, Vox and Buzzfeed has a great deal invested in private health care and has lobbied hard for the Trans Pacific Partnership—both of which Sanders has railed against. Does this affect individual journalists and the stories they write? No, but these types of corporate biases are sure to trickle down to the content in the aggregate. Alternative outlets (including this one) such as Salon, the Intercept and FAIR attempted to offset some of that bias, but the inertia of the inevitability narrative was ultimately too great to combat.

Donald Trump as President After Brussels

The peak of the Trump absurdity happened just this week. In the hours after the Brussels attack on Monday that left 31 dead and more than 200 injured, NBC, ABC and Fox News all had Trump on their morning programs. As Brendan James of International Business Times wrote:

The Republican presidential frontrunner had tweeted a statement about the attacks around 8 a.m., but, as if he were already president, the networks scrambled to get him on-air to talk terror and torture. The magnate candidate seemed to be in three places at once.

“We’re not the victims here; we’re acting like this is our fault,” he said on “Fox and Friends,” which ran Trump’s interview over a live statement from French President François Hollande.

This bizarre series of episodes was corporate media’s Trump coverage essentialized—a combination of disgust and actual serious deference to a man who, objectively, has no idea what he is talking about. NBC even went so far as to prod Trump into supporting the torture of ISIL “ringleader” Saleh Abdeslam, to which Trump obliged. The west was under attack and our proto-Mussolini was in action mode. No need for pushback, followup or clarification. Trump had officially won.

How We Got to This Point

The media failed in two separate but related ways.

On the Democratic side, they failed by giving far too much credence to the inherently corrupt and monied invisible primary and dismissing a candidate who turned out to be both legitimate, and at least in national polls, more popular.

On the Republican side, while they still put emphasis on the invisible primaries with equally dubious puffing up of Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, this bad habit was replaced by an even worse one: the Kardashian coefficient and the Troll-Outrage industrial complex Trump brilliantly exploited.

The result is two polarizing candidates and an increasingly cynical public heading into what will be one of the more unpredictable, and perfunctory elections in modern history.

Adam Johnson is a contributing writer at AlterNet. Follow him on Twitter at@adamjohnsonnyc.

The best antihero now isn’t a badass: “Better Call Saul”

“Better Call Saul” is the brilliant, pathetic counterpart to prestige TV’s bold angry men

Jimmy McGill is different—his tale begins and ends not with a bang, like Walter White or Tony Soprano—but a whimper

The best antihero now isn’t a badass: “Better Call Saul” is the brilliant, pathetic counterpart to prestige TV's bold angry men
Walter White, Jimmy McGill, Tony Soprano(Credit: AMC/HBO)

In this season of “Better Call Saul,” AMC’s prequel series to “Breaking Bad,” a specific image has become motif. It’s not just some clever craftsmanship, although creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould—also of “Breaking Bad”— show off their technical abilities with every scene of their current show. It’s an image that encapsulates the tragedy of “Better Call Saul”’s protagonist, Jimmy McGill, played with virtuoso skill by Bob Odenkirk—and, by extension, the theme of this drama, which is arcing toward not just “Breaking Bad” but a dim, black-and-white future beyond that.

The image is one of fear. In the first episode of this season, Jimmy—who eventually cycles through the name Saul, before landing on Gene—gets locked inside the trash room of the mall he works at. He reaches for the emergency exit to let himself out, and hesitates, hovering at the threshold, reading the torn printout taped to the door. The door is alarmed, it informs him; the police will be notified. He wavers for a moment more, and then turns, decisively, to walk in the other direction. A choice is offered, and he takes the other way; it is the Omaha-mall version of Robert Frost’s two diverging roads in the woods.

In the season’s third episode, Jimmy—now, still Jimmy, before any other identities floated his way—is faced with a similar choice. This season, as a well-heeled associate at an upscale law firm, Jimmy is trying to get by legitimately, for once. But he can’t stop himself from rule-breaking and smooth-talking, driven by an unnamed desire to break bad, as the series’ sequel would term it. In “Amarillo,” he’s holding a proposed commercial he taped with a budget of $647, waiting outside the office of his boss, Cliff Main (Ed Begley Jr.), deciding whether he should go in and ask for approval. He tries to push himself across the threshold, and fails. He tries again. And when it doesn’t work, he decisively turns around and goes back in the direction he came in, to take the completely different tack of running the ad without Cliff’s permission.

The scenes intentionally mirror each other. Each shows Jimmy/Gene at the edge of an irrevocable decision, hovering on the edge of a law-abiding, rules-following life, and then turning one way or the other. But in both—portrayed magnificently by Odenkirk—the primary emotion is fear.

There are many ways in which Jimmy McGill’s story in “Better Call Saul” is a lot like those antiheroes who created the landscape of prestige television. Like them, he’s a troublemaker; like them, he’s strangely lovable, anyway. Like “The Sopranos,” “Breaking Bad” and “Mad Men,” “Better Call Saul” is about watching a flawed man do flawed things and hurt the people around him, but it’s also about how struggling for one’s humanity is a central part of living, as any person.

And yet what Jimmy McGill isn’t, and really never could be, is “cool.” Or badass, or suave, or powerfully icy. In conflict situations, Jimmy is hysterically nonconfrontational—both in “Better Call Saul” and “Breaking Bad.” He’s definitely a talker—smoothly articulate through both lies and tears, charming the pants off of old ladies at bingo and snotty stockbrokers at hotel bars. But his trickery is a compensation for the fundamental fact of Jimmy, which is that he is a coward. An earnest one; an emotionally authentic one. But not a risk-taker, not a game-changer. Just a guy.

The driving fear at the heart of Jimmy McGill is what has made “Better Call Saul” such a captivating and fundamental counterweight to “Breaking Bad,” the AMC show that “Better Call Saul” is built off of. Pointing to the tone and the pacing, New York magazine’s Matt Zoller Seitz argued that “Better Call Saul” is the anti-“Breaking Bad,” and I’m inclined to agree. But it’s more than just tone for me. It’s that Walter White (Bryan Cranston) is a bold man who dies, while Jimmy is a craven one who lives. He is the cockroach of this universe; above all else, the shell of a man once known as Jimmy McGill always survives.

One of “Breaking Bad’s” most famous lines is in a scene where Walter, shuddering with rage, tells his wife, Skyler (Anna Gunn), that she does not need to fear that he is in danger, because when a door opens and someone is there with a gun, “I am the one who knocks.” Doors, and thresholds, have significance for Gilligan and Gould; the Season 3 finale, for example, has Gale killed after answering his door. It’s telling, I think, that Jimmy’s recurring motif is one of hesitation at doors, instead of knocking, like Walter, or opening, like Gale. Walter White is the one who knocks; Jimmy McGill walks in the other direction.

The antihero drama is one that went from an isolated occurrence on a few risk-taking networks to become a symbol of a high-quality wave of television shows and thenthe embodiment of frustratingly derivative network imitations. Now that we appear to have gotten it out of our collective system, “Better Call Saul” appears to have shown up just to show us how silly the discussion was. The show’s Jimmy is a much-needed note of dissonance: the actually pathetic antihero. Not the alpha male that made some bad decisions, but the omega male, the one the alpha male beats up to prove a point. Jimmy/Saul/Gene is not in the same hierarchy of dominance as the big dogs jockeying for power—Walter and Gus (Giancarlo Esposito); he’s not even one of the beta males, the willing sidekicks, like Jesse (Aaron Paul) and Gale (David Costabile), the ones who end up dead or damaged. Jimmy is a bottom-feeder. “Better Call Saul,” especially in this brilliant second season, has made us love him.

In every antihero drama otherwise—both the good ones and the bad ones—the exploits of the protagonists took on the veneer of awesomeness. “Breaking Bad’s” Walter White delivered ultimatums with a chilling, thrilling nod of his black porkpie hat, yes. But he was also a drug dealer, creating the most addictive strain of an already life-destroying drug; and in order to secure that life, he became a murderer, too. “The Sopranos’” Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) was a wickedly funny family man, one who navigated the ins and outs of the mob life with incredible dexterity. But he was also responsible for the torture and death of dozens of people, and made others live in a world of fear. Even the non-murderous Don Draper (Jon Hamm), in “Mad Men,” was a womanizing alcoholic who knew that cigarettes would kill you and marketed them anyway.

Part of the beguiling nature of the antihero drama is that it forces its audience to confront “cool” and grapple with what really lies beneath it. “The Sopranos,” in particular, is an object lesson in confronting proximate evil—or, at least, proximate sociopathy—as Tony’s innermost nature is revealed to be darker and darker.

But you can lead the audience to thematic resonance; you can’t make them feel it.This listicle from 2013, titled “Tony Soprano’s 10 Greatest Moments Ever,” includes him garroting an informant, killing his nephew, and physically threatening his psychiatrist as the character’s high points. Walter White’s “Heisenberg” persona is a kind of cult icon for fans of “Breaking Bad.” And Don Draper’s fix of choice is what made the old-fashioned cocktail become trendy again, even when it was clear that the constant clinking of ice cubes in a glass had more than a little to do with Don’s misadventures.

There’s a theory floating around on Twitter that argues that perhaps the antiheroes of yore, like Tony Soprano and Don Draper, paved the way for the indulgent attitude so many Americans seem to have toward the wrongdoing of Donald Trump. That could be true; I don’t know. But I do think that taps into something more perplexing about what we term bad behavior—which is that, at least from a distance, we also laud it.

There is some perennial appeal to the spectacle of white men behaving badly on television, and that misbehavior’s appeal is probably what got these shows made in the first place. The mobster show. The ‘60s womanizer’s show. The teacher turning into a drug dealer, with the theme right there in the title. Most shows are made because something about them is grabby or engaging right from the start; unfortunately, for cable television, that’s usually exploitative violence or indulgent female nudity. The alpha male antihero fits right into that model; he’s a vehicle for what much of the audience wishes they could get away with, and in the process, obtains a lot of what the audience wants. Drugs. Money. Women. Status.

But “Better Call Saul” didn’t need to impress a distant network executive. The world was familiar and already beloved; the plot even already had an ending, although “Better Call Saul” has offered a bit of a coda, too. The show didn’t need to establish itself as a show in the first four episodes for an impatient audience. And as a result—in the hands of these capable creators—“Better Call Saul” can do a lot of things that most shows can’t. It jumps around, chronologically, with enviable confidence; itintroduces characters for all of 30 seconds that its audience goes into spasms of joy over; it dwells on a retirement-home fraud case for one-and-a-half seasons and counting. But best of all, it has found us a real antihero, one without any macho swagger or bravado. There’s a redefining there, not just of bad behavior, but of masculinity; ending up terrified in an Omaha mall’s trash room is not a blaze of glory or a fairy tale; it is not a story to be repeated at parties. Jimmy/Gene/Saul is a kind of challenge for an audience too used to these male figures of bravado; it gives us someone emasculated, and it asks us to worry about his soul anyway.

Sonia Saraiya is Salon’s television critic.