Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Are media making the recession worse? What do you think?

I think the media, maybe newspapers in particular, are driving consumer fear that is a significant contributor to our current recession. During the course of my day, I rarely think about the recession, other than to wonder if I'll get my contract renewed this year. Even that is largely out of my hands, so I don't think about it much.

But as soon as I pick up the local newspaper.....here are some headlines from Sunday's newspaper.
  • Returning to lessons of the great depression
  • Huge cuts likely in [Governor] Perdue's plan
  • Unfinished homes worry neighbors
  • How will we know when the economy hits bottom?
  • No free passes in a deep economic downturn
  • Recovery to 'take time' despite hopeful signs
  • Economy getting employees down? Try a morale booster
  • Job scarcity creating long-distance couples
  • Digging out of a $3.4 billion budget hole
  • Revealed: Who got AIG aid money
  • Reading the signs of the bear and bull
And then we read this headline, in the same paper:
Obama: Have 'confidence'

Obama's right. If we can have confidence, then people will begin to spend more, and the economy will benefit. But as long as the media continue to create and foster an atmosphere of fear, who's gonna feel like spending?

Michael Moore said long ago that we're manipulated by fear, generated by the media. I have never felt that truth more than I feel it now. Fear sells newspapers. But what else does it accomplish?

Readers, what do you think?

Keywords:: recession, fear, media-driven recession


Che Loco said...

Dr. Kneidel, I couldn’t agree with you more that much of the fear and dread experienced over the past few (8?) years has been driven by the “media.” Since the appearance of the Bush/Cheney cabal on the national political scene, media coverage of current events – not to be confused with the somewhat antiquated and, now, rare “news” – has been packaged, manipulated and promulgated in both covert and overt ways. I’ve lived long enough to remember real journalists involved in the media: Edward R. Murrow, Douglas Edwards, Walter Cronkite - intellectuals who observed, pondered, and reported on the issues of the day. Men like them - women in those days were largely frozen out of visible positions – contemplated and reflected on events and reported in an often-instructional manner to their viewers and listeners. I understand from others more conversant with the business dynamics of those times that news operations were not expected to earn profits for their parent companies, but their roles were considered to be obligations to us, as fellow citizens, to be informed about our culture, politics, and society and as such, even incurred costs to their parent companies that were paid down by other divisions of their “media” corporations.

Today, it seems that all divisions of these so-called media giants must earn profits. Watch any “newscast” and see how frequently the host breaks for commercials; even my personal choice for mainstream information – MSNBC, Keith Olberman, Rachel Maddow – seem to have five minutes of presentation of issues, then seven minutes of commercials. Factor in the faux-news of the Fox network, coupled with the Right-Wing Noise Machine represented by the likes of Limbaugh, Savage, and others, and it’s virtually impossible to get any lengthy, thoughtful discussion of current events without tuning in to PBS and C-SPAN. This is all exacerbated by the consolidation of media holdings by a handful of mega-corporations (unfortunately begun under Bill Clinton), whereby a single corporation can own literally hundreds of radio and television stations, and dozens of newspapers, and we have a situation in which – intended or not – the issues covered and the opinions expressed become narrower and narrower.

And all driven by profit. “News” is now seen as a commodity, not the creative product of the so-called Fourth Estate, the entity responsible for “keeping the politicians honest” or “holding their feet to the fire” – pick your analogy. If it sells, its “news” – watch any Fox channel, and the old cliché, “If it bleeds, it leads” comes to life before your very eyes. And in their rush for profits, no “news” corporation wants to be outdone by any other, so they all leap frantically on to the next tidbit of information that all the other outlets are reporting. Mechanically, the result is this mind-numbing, circular repetition of concepts, ideas and words that literally spin around us so fast that, if you dare to listen in for a whole day, what was first reported in the morning, then re-heard in the evening, begins to sound like old information. Substantively, we have what we saw beginning – I think - with the o.j. simpson (my diminution) car “chase,” evolving through the pitiable experience of Anna Nicole Smith, to the heartbreaking result of Natalie Holloway’s tropical vacation; oddities, tragedies, but certainly not worth 24/7/365 “reportage.” (See Al Gore, The Assault on Reason; Steve Allen, Dumbth.)

There is a body of information around – some academic, some experiential – that documents the notion that mental/intellectual focus can, in fact, influence outcomes. This is reflected in a number of clichés, truisms, and affirmations popularized over the years in the “alternative” and “metaphysical” community, but with a history reaching back to the formative days of modern medicine (See Émile Coué): “What the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.” “Every day, in every way, I am getting better and better.” But there can be profound results from focusing the mind in a positive way; one example I love was shared by the psychologist and motivational resarcher, Brian Tracy. He recounted how - after a flawless landing on the surface of the moon - the first words spoken by Neil Armstrong back to Houston Control, were: “It was just like in training.” Tracy explains that, by the time Armstrong actually landed that lunar module, he had simulated that very procedure in a practice module back here on Earth, 450 times. Tracy’s conclusion? “If you get in right in drill, you get it right in life.”

So, if the mind can be focused in positive ways to influence outcomes, I suppose the converse is also true; a negative focus can result in negative outcomes. I think this truth is shared by people as disparate as cutting-edge cognitive psychologists to pachouli-laden “new age” mavens, and many in between those two poles. Business and management theorists consider goal-setting as a fundamental component of goal-acheivement, literally vital to “success” in whatever endeavor you choose; a tool taught in classes and workshops that can only be characterized as “focusing on the positive.”

So, yes, Dr. Kneidel, I have to agree with you that the doom-saying, the incessant focus on all that is bad about our current national experience, must certainly have a profound effect, if not on the outcomes of the issues addessed, then certainly, on our attitudes and moods. I’m reminded of something written by poet/singer/songwriter John Prine in the early 1970’s:
Blow up your TV,
Throw away your paper,
Move to the country
Build you a home.

Plant a little garden.
Eat a lot of peaches.
Try and find Jesus, on your own.

Maybe we can’t all move to the country, and the admonition to try and find Jesus might be debated, but certainly we can all benefit from turning our attention away from what is packaged and sold these days as “the news.” The corrupt and self-aggrandizing former Vice-President Sprio Agnew would turn over in his grave at my use of his Nixon-era epithet, but a little time away from “the nattering nabobs of negativism” would probalbly do us all some good.

As for me, I think I’ll go have a glass of Malbec and lie in my hammock for a while…

Sally Kneidel, PhD said...

Thanks for this well-thought out comment. I appreciate your taking the time to add substance and context to my original brief post. Well done.

Do enjoy your Malbec in the hammock! A pleasant thought....

Sally Kneidel

Anonymous said...

Absolutely right, the way media exaggerates everything these days is just very very tiring. I'm bored by all the polls and estimates about the crisis and the never ending catastrophe warnings from global warming alarmists. I don't see the results of either of these two and that makes me not trust the media at all. Internet is the only source of news that is worth reading, blogs written by smart people, talking about rational things. Media doesn't play the informative role in our lives any more, it's more of manipulation.

Take care, Elli

Jefferson's Guardian said...

Possibly media coverage tends to place the severity of this economic collapse front-and-center with followers of "the news", as it should, but I truly believe the underlying condition of our situation is truly as bad, if not worse, than what they're reporting.

Agreeably, as Cheloquito amply expressed, the media are profit-driven; the mainstream media have bottom-lines that need to be met, as any other business does. Unfortunately, we rarely have any independent media outlets that aren't just another profit-center for large conglomerates. The whole business has consolidated, much to the detriment of society and our democratic values.

But, back to your original question, are the media making the recession worse? Possibly, but only because it's reporting what's happening, and those who still have jobs are hunkering-down and waiting it out. Consequently, less money is flowing through the economy, less things are being bought, which is resulting in less production of goods, more layoffs and even more unemployment. It's a closed-loop, of sorts, which perpetuates and exacerbates an already negative situation. But, the people are only acting rationally, and trying to protect themselves as best as they can. Therefore, the government is attempting to break the cycle through fiscal simulative measures and tax breaks for those affected the most severely.

Let's hope it works. Personally, I'm skeptical that it will, but only because I don't think the $787 billion is enough to prime-the-pump and allow GDP to flourish -- mainly because of the huge amount of commercial and personal debt that's accumulated over the last twenty years. But, that's a topic, and discussion, for another day.

Sally Kneidel, PhD said...

Hi Frank,
I agree that the media are probably reporting accurately about the seriousness of the economic situation. But I do think that they are making it worse by digging for ways to relate it to clothing, to gardening, to everything, and thereby keeping it in the forefront of everyone's mind. The more we are afraid to spend, even at the hardware store or grocery, the worse the situation becomes. I'm just thinking Michael Moore's movie Bowling for Columbine where he said we live in a climate of fear created by the media, and he linked that to the prevalence of gun violence in the U.S. At the time I saw the movie, I didn't really see that or fully agree with him, but I do see it now. You can look up Bowling for Columbine on wikipedia for a bit more on that topic. I do know for sure that I don't feel much anxiety about the economic situation until I pick up the newspaper. And then I do feel anxiety. I heard Robert Kennedy speak not long ago and he said that 95% of the media (I think that's the right number - I wrote a blog post on it) are owned by big corporations that control what's printed. From that angle....the issue becomes more confusing. Why would corporations want to create fear that might keep people from spending? So they can get more bailout money? I don't know....

Jefferson's Guardian said...

Good afternoon Sally. I also saw Bowling for Columbine, although not when it released. At the insistence of both my brother and my daughter, about two years later, I made a point of watching it. Interestingly, it fell right in with my belief system immediately; that the government is very adept, through the corporate-owned media, of exerting its power and influence over the populace. Another example where this tactic was used, very effectively, was during the run-up to the Iraqi invasion and current occupation. The Bush Administration swayed the American public into believing Saddam Hussein was either on the brink of attacking the United States with nuclear devices, and/or he had a direct hand in assisting al-Qaeda in the 9/11 attacks. Both rationales have been shown to be incorrect, and as a matter of fact it has become quite clear that our government knowingly fabricated these stories solely for the purpose of initiating preemptive strikes on Iraq. Despite this, the corporate media continue to allow these beliefs to persist.

Now, the question remains, why -- why would the government, in collaboration with the corporate media, want to create an atmosphere fraught with fear? The answer is simple, and very obvious, to me: Control. Fear, whether real or imagined, creates a climate conducive to acquiescence or passive assent. Creating a climate of fear allows governments to push through normally unpopular agendas or policies, and corporations the ability to control labor markets, or pricing and distribution channels, for example. As you mentioned, possibly this is a ploy for the international banking cabal to further exert its control and manipulation of the American taxpayer. With the recent news in the past few days concerning the Obama Administration's planned bank rescue, I'm inclined to believe the old cliché that the tail is still wagging the dog.

By the way, just to avert confusion, Jefferson's Guardian is my on-line moniker. You also know me as Frank Spengler.

RE said...

Obama and his administration are at fault. How is the economy supposed to get a boost if nobody knows whether their company will pay them their bonus or not? The average employee isnt going to spend money if he is uncertain of his take home pay. Same goes for his taxes - with Obama promising huge tax increases and eradicating deductions, people are afraid to invest. And then Obama stupidly criticized companies for having conferences and such in Vegas. What do you think happens to the Vegas hotel industry? To the chefs, waiters, maids, owners, bell hops, lifeguards, etc. Obama has been the one fomenting fear, and instigating hatred of any money making activity - how can that help restore economic confidence? How many times during the Obama campaign did Obama insult Bush for telling us after 9/11 to "go out and shop." He ridiculed Bush for this. And now you're all realizing that, whaddyaknow, America is a consumer economy, and if the consumer isnt shopping, the economy hits rock bottom! The philosophy that "corporations" and Wall Street are "bad" is the most childish and irresponsible attitude that can possibly emanate from the White House. Guess what, millions of Americans, rich and poor, work for corporations and on Wall Street - and they are our consumer, savers, and investors. If you publicly bash corporate America, and then tax them to death, you destroy the economy, plain and simple.