Magazine article The Progressive

Masks and Ratings

Magazine article The Progressive

Masks and Ratings

Article excerpt

The month of January revealed why increasing numbers of Americans find themselves disgusted and repelled by the offerings of the mainstream news media.

This was the month that the Advisory Council on Social Security issued its report recommending that some of the fund be invested in the stock market. Here's a proposed change that affects every American, yet during the short time it showed up in news reports, Newsweek gave us Paula Jones on the cover and then, in an even more puerile gesture, a head shot of the recently murdered JonBenet Ramsay, her make-up, hairdo, and smile suggestive of any Playmate-of-the-Month.

Why bother Americans with what Newsweek columnist Allan Sloan described as a report "so complicated, technical, and jargon-laden that it makes your average computer-instruction manual look like a comic book"? Better to use a dead girl to move those magazines off the rack, and use the cover to lure readers into a voyeuristic glance at JonBenet's "strange world" (as if it was a world she made!). Even worse, by showcasing full-color photos or replaying footage of JonBenet tarted up to look like the quintessential tease instead of a little girl, much of the coverage seemed to suggest that she was asking for it.

The other news magazines found more worthy topics, ones with true impact on the country. U.S. News and World Report did a cover story on talk-show host Bill Maher's move from cable to ABC, while Time splattered Bill Cosby and his recently murdered son on the cover so the rest of us could be gatecrashers into Cosby's grief. (By the way, while JonBenet clearly had a bad mother, in much coverage of the Cosby murder, Ennis had no mother at all.)

Once we got to the actual story of the Advisory Council's report, there was the usual characterization of the elderly as "a burden." Worse, these selfish geezers have their own protection ring, the "much-feared" American Association of Retired Persons, whose primary emotional response is "wrath." The main conflict that will ensue if reform doesn't happen soon, according to Newsweek, is "a generational civil war." We learn that "Gen-Xers . . . are not eager to get stuck with the bill for their parents' retirement."

The emphasis on generational warfare masked another major division here--the one based on class. Did you know, for example, that Social Security is one of the most regressive taxes on the books? All lower- and middle-income people pay this tax. But there is an income cap on Social Security--you pay taxes on all gross income up to $65,400. No income over that is taxed. (Those earning more than $65,000 constitute the richest quarter of American society.)

Missed that in the coverage? It wasn't there. Nor did the mainstream media reveal how much would be saved if upper-income people, who don't need Social Security, didn't collect.

This is a special talent of the news--to take real divisions dangerous to the powers-that-be, like class, and reconfigure them into conflicts that divide the lowly folk against each other, such as generational strife.

Advocates of the plan to invest a portion of the Social Security fund in the stock market emphasized that this would be more equitable to the "baby-bust" generation, because its taxes wouldn't have to be so high in the future to pay for all us greedy, selfish boomers. …

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