Journalists’ Reticence to Talk Money in Politics

Eric AltermanAmerican political life revolves around two mutually reinforcing truths. The first is that our democracy has been severely corrupted by money; the second is that the conservative movement, and hence the Republican Party, is dominated by ideological extremists who demonstrate zero interest in the problems of actual governance. Taken together, these truths not only define our political debate; they ensure that virtually nothing is decided on its merits — up to and including our national elections.

Catch a bigfoot journalist or pundit at a social event or private gathering, and he or she will likely admit these truths. Scan the editorials and opinion pages of most major newspapers, and you’ll see the power of money decried on a fairly regular basis. But in the news stories, where it matters most, even our best reporters feel the need to put forth a fairy-tale narrative in which the United States enjoys a fully functioning democracy and our elections and laws accurately represent the genuine will of the people.

—Eric Alterman
Why Do Political Reporters Refuse to Show Us the Money?

4 thoughts on “Journalists’ Reticence to Talk Money in Politics

  1. This has always frustrated me – even more so with the rise of dark money. Especially when the connection is so clear. Witness Tom Cotton’s letter to Iran and the immediate connection to the defense industry. Wouldn’t it be great if not only the press reported these things more, actually questioning the candidates about it, but if the opposition brought it up? Can you imagine if a Senator on MTP brought up the fact that Cotton basically got paid to write that letter?

    • I used to think that the answer was clearly biased media. And I still think a big part of the problem is the faux objectivity of the media. But as we see with biased media on the right, they just go down conspiracy theory rabbit holes. I do think the left does a far better job as we see at places like FAIR and The Intercept. But I don’t know what the solution is in a general sense.

    • Steve — that’s a funny thing. “Dark money” isn’t really dark. Any reporter with time to spare can find out where it comes from (the Kochs, or that casino guy, or the like.) Corruption is so widely taken for granted that it’s considered a faux pas to mention it — about right-wing politicians. Expect, in the 2016 primaries, a zillion people to bring up the Clintons’ speaking fees and almost no-one to bring up Scott Walker’s hilarious ass-kissing “phone call.”

      I don’t think this is so much the MSM media being biased as terrified. Right-wing radio/blogs/FOX are such a united front, ready to pounce when instructed, that the MSM tiptoe around them. Basically, imagine trying to do a story on corrupt payoffs in the Luftwaffe and not get Goebbels on your case. It’s that level of propaganda control, or very close to it.

      If some minor blogger releases something like the Romney 47 percent tape, the MSM can cover it. If a reporter for the MSM had released that tape, their career would be done, and the network/paper in full damage control. Look at how CBS had to completely shift gears after Dan Rather’s story about Bush avoiding Vietnam. “60 Minutes,” once a decent newsmagazine, is mostly right-wing fluff, now, just to try and win back audiences convinced CBS is “liberal media” after the Rather story.

      Frank — I don’t know what to do, either. Support and share good liberal reporting when we find it, I guess. Best idea I’ve come up with. I’ve been able to share “Daily Show” clips with conservative relatives. One or two Olivers. No “Democracy Now” — that’s just too “biased.”

      • With regard to money, this cycle, the media seem to be celebrating it. Yes, they are going after Clinton, because that’s just what you do. But there is this whole pretense that the “invisible primary” is a real thing, as opposed to just, you know, sucking up to rich people. It ought to be covered as an outrage, “How can we have democracy when the only people who can run have to be approved by the super rich?”

        I just read The End of Education by Neil Postman. He wrote it in 1995 and he could have written it this year (except that he did over a decade ago). We are living in Bill Clinton’s world. He really set the upper limit on how good policy can be — and it is very low.

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