Media Follies 2014! – National

Continuing with a look back at 2014’s most over-hyped and under-reported stories. A couple of days ago I posted the local stories. International is coming shortly!

2014’s Most Over-Hyped National Stories

The 2016 presidential race: Just….just stop. Please.

Be Very, Very, Very, Very Afraid: While speculation on 2016 candidates was endless, the 2014 midterms got remarkably little attention in the weeks leading up to November 4. Instead, voters were bombarded with scare stories about Ebola (US death toll: one, from a person who contracted the disease in West Africa) and ISIL (which, contrary to certain hyperventilating politicians, has at no point been massing terrorist sleeper cells at the Rio Grande). The predictable result was voters breaking strongly against the incumbent president’s party in the last two weeks before the election, when media coverage that focused on actual issues – like how radical some of the newly elected Republican legislators are – might well have had the opposite impact.

Donald Sterling Is A Racist, and Ray Rice Beat A Woman: The two biggest sports stories of the year weren’t on any playing field, and became huge mainstream news stories as well: NBA owner Donald Sterling being caught on tape making racist remarks, and NFL player Ray Rice being videotaped punching his then-fiance in a hotel elevator.

The thing is, neither story was new. Sterling’s racism (and, as a landlord, his abuse of non-white tenants in Southern California) has been known in basketball circles for decades. Nor was the notion of elite athletes being prone to domestic violence and sexual assault new – for years, male athletes have been accused of those types of crimes at a rate far outpacing other young men. Literally hundreds of pro and college athletes have been accused of crimes against women in the last decade – Rice’s crime was notable for being caught on video and for the NFL’s egregiously lenient initial punishment, but the larger issues that captivated the public attention should have been major stories 20 years ago.

2014’s Most Under-Reported National Stories:

Money In Midterms: Now that the US Supreme Court and lower courts are using Citizens United to strip away the last limits on political spending, the amount of money that went into the federal midterm elections was exponentially higher than in past elections. Yet national media’s coverage of the elections focused solely on horse race coverage (to the exclusion of issues) while still managing to completely ignore the impact of huge infusions of money on the races.

Democrats Win House, Again: Despite all that, Democrats once again in 2014 (as in 2012) received more overall votes for their House of Representative candidates than Republicans did. Why are Republicans controlling the House, then? Gerrymandering, in the two dozen states where the drawing of legislative districts after the 2010 Census was controlled by partisan Republicans – a systematic violation of voters’ rights that, as with Voter ID laws and the gutting of civil rights-era protections for communities of color, has been shamefully ratified by a conservative Supreme Court. The clearly defined impact on political control of the country has been a non-story in elite political media.

ObamaCare Is Working (Though Most Americans Don’t Know It): The numbers are unequivocal: after its first full year, the Affordable Care Act is insuring millions of previously uninsured Americans, and simultaneously driving health care costs down. But if you rely on mainstream media (let alone Fox News or the Republican media bubble), you’d think the ACA was a catastrophe.

Climate change keeps accelerating; Nero fiddles, his opponents deny anything’s on fire: Despite another year of record heat, more unprecedented extreme weather events, and endless scientific announcements that climate change is going to be worse than we thought and is proceeding at rates faster than our previous worst-case scenarios, the United States government is still doing close to nothing about it, internationally or at home. Incredibly, America’s biggest economic threat, biggest domestic policy threat, and biggest foreign policy threat was never mentioned at all in the midterm elections. What the United States government, which governs the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter, isn’t doing to respond to this crisis isn’t just a crime against humanity. It’s a crime against the entire biosphere, one of unprecedented scope and depravity. If our country in this era isn’t remembered with universal revulsion in the future, it will only be because humanity is extinct.

The Republican Party has lost touch with reality: The unprecedented use of bald-faced, easily refuted, and endlessly repeated lies by high-profile Republican leaders has become normal – and even on the rare occasions when mainstream media calls BS on the lies, nobody cares. The inmates are now running the asylum that is now the modern Republican Party. The party’s continued existence in its current form is quite literally a threat to sentient life on Earth, if not through the mass extinction event it’s helping to enable, then because of the risk of its driving the rest of us insane, too.

Banks and credit card companies are quietly getting back into subprime loans. Nobody’s stopping banks and credit card companies from doing all the horrible things that got us into our current financial mess in the first place. And since their CEOs and upper management made out like bandits during the financial crisis while lower class Americans took a knife in the back, why would they ever stop hawking subprime loans – or any of their other ongoing predatory practices?

Benghazi!!11! Debunked, But It Doesn’t Matter At All: Finally – and, conveniently, just after the midterm elections – the House Intelligence Committee, which has championed the notion that The Worst Crimes Ever happened in Banghazi in December 2011, quietly released a report that debunked even the semi-credible charges, let alone all the purely insane ones Republican leaders had been screaming about for three years. You’d think it’d go away, since flogging this rotting horse helped Republicans get what they wanted, success in the midterms. But then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton may well be the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, so House Speaker John Boehner immediately announced that he’d be convening a new special investigation with the new Congress in 2015. Surely at some point in America’s first 225 years, the death of a US Ambassador has been exploited in a more shameful way for nakedly partisan purposes. But it’s hard to imagine how.

Kansas Crashes and Burns, But That Doesn’t Matter, Either: Reactionary Republican governor Sam Brownback of Kansas has quietly been conducting a definitive experiment in the lunacy that is trickle-down economics, decimating his state’s tax revenue in the secure faith that the resulting economic boom would actually increase the state’s revenues. Guess what? Kansas is now in the most severe (and entirely predictable) economic crisis of any state government in the country; Brownback is responding by doubling down on his tax cuts; and other reactionary Republican governors are watching closely to assess how many Brownbackian tax cuts for their favorite corporate patrons they can get away with before the public outcry costs them their jobs. The fact that tax cut dogma has been completely disproven again matters not at all. It works just fine for the companies it’s intended to work for.

A Majority of States Now Recognize Gay Marriage: Even though a contrary district court ruling means the US Supreme Court will look at the constitutionality of gay marriage bans next year, a previous ruling has served as a precedent that has led to legalization of gay marriage in over 30 states, over half of which happened in 2014. It’s the most remarkable – and rapid – recognition of civil rights in modern US history, coming from a decade ago when gay marriage was illegal everywhere and a fringe issue. But now that life has pretty much gone on as usual in the first few states to legalize gay marriage, the media novelty wore off and it was almost a non-story this past year.

Protesters in Hundreds Of Cities Fail To Riot: For weeks, media wrung its collective hands about the inevitable violent riots Those People would perpetrate if a Missouri grand jury failed to recommend prosecution of the police officer who shot an unarmed black teenager in suburban St. Louis. The grand jury rendered its sadly predictable recommendation, and protests did, in fact, erupt in hundreds of US cities. Property damage was part of those protests in a handful (usually committed by a small fraction of the protesters in those cities), but media coverage not only failed to retract its previous hysteria, but focused on the minor property damage to justify it. Meanwhile, widespread law enforcement violence responding to the protests went unremarked, and when, in December, a mentally disturbed man with a long criminal history and no ties to the #Black Lives Matter movement shot and killed two New York cops, politicians and pundits alike lined up to blame the “anti-police” demonstrations.

Oddly, when two Tea Party activists who’d been camped out at Cliven Bundy’s ranch in Nevada shot and killed two Las Vegas policemen last spring, nobody blamed the Tea Party, or demanded it pledge its admiration for law enforcement. And a good thing, since in that case the Bundy demonstrators had actually been pointing loaded weapons at law enforcement officers for weeks. Nobody was ever charged, let alone shot and killed. This, chilluns, is called “white privilege.”

Studies: US Class Mobility Lowest of Democracies, Public Opinion Meaningless: Of all the political science studies that get published each year, this year these two should have gotten huge headlines. In particular, the Princeton study last spring that found the US to be an oligarchy, not a democracy, should have provoked national outrage. Instead, most people never heard about it.

The Princeton authors compiled data from roughly 1,800 different national policy initiatives from 1981-2002 (starting in the Reagan years, but not including the last decade or any post-Citizens United years). They then compared those policy changes with the expressed opinion of the United State public.

Comparing the preferences of the average American at the 50th percentile of income to what those Americans at the 90th percentile preferred, as well as the opinions of major lobbying or business groups, the researchers found that the federal government followed the directives set forth by the latter two groups much more often: “The preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.” The upshot: big corporations, the ultra-wealthy and special interests with a lot of money and power essentially make all of the decisions, and ordinary citizens wield little to no political power.

Those findings are consistent with what we see in any number of issues: background gun checks, greenhouse gas emissions, minimum wage increases, and military spending, just to name four. Local policies are much more malleable, but still susceptible to the same sort of legalized corruption – witness developers’ dominance of Seattle politics. Among other things, the Supreme Court’s justification for the legality of Citizens United – that money plays no part in skewing elected officials’ priorities – was explicitly disproved by the Princeton study. More publicity for its findings could generate a lot of needed concern about the state of American democracy. Which, one suspects, is exactly why national media elites ignored it.

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