THE BLOG

My Recent Visit to the Elite's Fact-Free Fantasy World

05/25/2011 12:10 pm ET
  • David Sirota Newspaper columnist, radio host (AM760), bestselling author

When I wrote Hostile Takeover, I envisioned it as something like a Hitchiker's Guide to Wall Street and Washington's Galaxy - a handbook folks could use to see the real truth when they watch television shows about politics and the economy. I believed the book was a necessary decoder of source, considering that watching these shows is like looking through a sci-fi movie-style portal at planets light years away - planets where Earth's basic laws of physics and facts just don't apply, a place where it's considered totally awesome that health insurance companies rip off patients and oil companies rip off consumers. Appearing on one of these shows as I did recently on Fox News' weekend business show - well, that's even more of a voyage. It's like physically visiting one of those planets without an oxygen mask.

No surprise - the panel was entirely stacked against me. There was Jonathan Hoenig, the guy who advocates carpet bombing Iran in order to raise the Dow, says there's no scientific proof that global warming exists and bills himself as the Capitalist Pig (at least he's honest on that latter point). There was Stuart Varney - the Thurston Howell III caricature whose major claim to media fame was commandeering the demise of CNN's flagship business program during Lou Dobbs' hiatus. These two were ably backed up by a cast of corporate types and business reporters I had never heard of at all, and the debate that ensued quite crisply shows why America continues to suffer through a vicious class war being waged by those at the top.

Check out the first segment - a debate on health care:

You'll note that after Varney bloviated on about the cost of universal health care, he and the rest of the panel had no response to my statement that well-respected studies have long shown that a single-payer, universal health care system here in America would end up saving hundreds of billions of dollars by reducing administrative and paperwork costs. You'll also note that Fox News business reporter Dagen McDowell say the real problem afflicting America's health care system is not 50 million uninsured, millions more underinsured, thousands dying every year because they can't get adequate coverage, or excessive insurance industry profiteering, but that Americans supposedly have too much health care - and if you stopped watching after hearing that, I can't blame you. But it did get even more absurd.

Watch the last 20 seconds of the clip again, when I point out that a single-payer, government-sponsored health care system would be able to slash administrative costs and use its purchasing power to negotiate lower prices for, for instance, pharmaceuticals. The panel, almost in unison, says simply that's impossible - as if the undebatable, factual statement I made that ripped apart their arguments had absolutely no right to even be said.

And let's be clear - what I said IS not up for debate. Here is a short excerpt of Hostile Takeover:

"Companies like Costco and federal agencies like the Department of Veterans Affairs to secure discounts of up to 50 percent off the regular price of drugs for their customers and employees. In fact, almost every other industrialized nation on the planet does this kind of thing to save money...The three lines in the law restricting Medicare costs taxpayers $17 billion a year, or almost $2 million every hour. As a 2005 study by nonpartisan watchdog Families USA showed, if Medicare was allowed to negotiate with drug companies like other government agencies and businesses, it could purchase drugs for recipients at roughly half the price."

But the second segment was really the most ridiculous of all. Watch it here - it is on gas prices:

I tried to contain my laughter when the corporate guy said that because he walked to work when he lived in Manhattan, folks in rural America who rely on cars to get to work or to till their farm's soil should have no problem being bilked by outrageously high gas prices. But I really had trouble keeping a straight face at about the 2:50 mark of this clip when Varney called charges of oil industry collusion and price manipulation "utter nonsense" and "lunatic conspiracy theories" (I swear, if words could wear clothing, Varney's rhetoric would wear ascots). I countered by pointing out that, in fact, the federal government has documented widespread price manipulation, and that nonpartisan watchdog groups have used the oil industry's own data and its internal memos to further document successful efforts to rig the energy markets' supply and demand dynamics. When I made this point, the entire panel erupted in laughter and one guy drowned out the audio with sarcastic sighs a la Al Gore circa the 2000 presidential debates (note: I love Gore, but those sighs were pretty bad). It was as if I had just said that yes, I could make pigs fly out of my rectum - even though the statements I made aren't really controversial or even up for serious debate here on the Planet Earth.

Again, here's an excerpt from Hostile Takeover:

"In October 2004, Consumers Union took a look at the situation, and found that in the first nine months of that year, oil companies' profits increased by a whopping 35 percent. The watchdog group found that the price increases that created those profits came more from higher charges for refining the crude oil into gasoline, than from higher prices for the raw crude itself (i.e., supply)...Reducing refining capacity to create artificial bottlenecks that drive up the overall price of gasoline [has] been deliberate. 'If the U.S. petroleum industry doesn't reduce its refining capacity,' said a 1995 internal Chevron memo, 'It will never see any substantial increase in refinery profits.'...The FTC reported after gas prices rose in 2001, oil firms were intentionally withholding or delaying oil shipments to keep prices up - a practice they euphemistically referred to as 'profit-maximizing.'...Petroleum industry analyst Tim Hamilton released a report documenting how between January and April 2005, gas prices in the Golden State jumped 65 cents per gallon. This occured even though 'no public evidence exists of substantive increases to oil companies in the cost of a) producing crude oil; b) refining oil into gasoline or diesel; or c) transporting the refined products to market.' Where did the money go? Straight into the oil companies pockets - Hamilton discovered that at exactly the time consumers were hit with the 65 cent-per-gallon increase, oil refiners increased their profits by 61 cents per gallon."

Why is this important? This was, after all, a Fox News weekend business program - a program geared towards Wall Street. So really, you may be asking, what broader importance does any of this have? A hell of a lot.

These excerpts are just tiny examples of a bigger trend plaguing our nation's media-driven political and economic debate - a trend that should trouble everyone, regardless of your political affiliation, or even how you feel about specific issues like health care or gas prices. We are now living in a world whereby objective, undebatable facts are increasingly not just spun, but are actually ridiculed when they get in the way of the political and business Establishment's euphemistically termed "profit-maximizing" goals. This isn't limited to Fox News, it is (with the exception of a few media venues) everywhere - and the mass psychological effects are devastating.

In the political arena, a media discourse tilted like helps business elites, their lobbyists and their spokespeople to peddle the most outrageous myths, knowing full well those myths will be amplified over objective facts. That amplification - both overtly and subtly - creates the narratives, rationales and justifications that politicians of both parties use to push public policies that preserve the economic status quo. All of this, of course, is aided by the Beltway's money-driven echo chamber, most recently described in a recent spate of stories about CEOs showering Democratic and Republican presidential candidates with campaign cash and about corporate front groups hungrily signing up former Democratic Capitol Hill staffers as lobbyists. But, as we see from these excerpts, the media is a critical building block of that echo chamber.

For the public at large, this media discourse sows the seeds of desperation. When you watch television and are constantly told that the economic war being waged on you and your family will continue unabated and there's nothing you can - or should - do about it, the message is designed for one thing and one thing only: mass demoralization.

This is why I appear on these shows, why I wrote Hostile Takeover; why I helped create the Progressive States Network; why I am excited to start my weekly, nationally syndicated newspaper column; and why I am so encouraged by the strengthened progressive movement that is now emerging - because the stakes are just too high on too many issues now for us to continue allowing unchallenged lies to trample the facts, and letting demoralization rule our politics.