Social programs and Medicare for All could help keep people at home to slow the spread of coronavirus, but mainstream media pundits continue to fearmonger during discussions of socialism.
This is a rush transcript and may contain errors. It will be updated.
Taya Graham: Hello, my name is Taya Graham and welcome to the Inequality Watch. As is true with the other show we produced, the Police Accountability Report, we like to focus on a single theme and in this case it’s the most existential threat to the wellbeing of us all, the ever widening gap between the uber rich and the rest of us. But the point of our show is not just to rail against the rapacious concentration of wealth. That would be too easy. We seek to expose some of the unseen imperatives that make it work, to uncover, so to speak, the co-conspirators that benefit from this system of inequality and in fact perpetuate it. And in doing so, ultimately hold those purveyors of greed accountable.
Why do we want to do this? Well, because greed is literally killing us. The political economies that define our lives are designed to benefit the few at the expense of the many and what could be more illustrative of this point than the current panic over the novel coronavirus. Now we’re not going to go into another mainstream media rant about the inability of the federal government to accelerate testing or slam the federal reserve for again, handing $1.5 trillion to Wall Street to bribe high paid bankers who binged on borrow money because it was cheap and now can’t pay it back because they bought too many yachts.
No, instead we’re going to explore how the role of one of the most adroit enablers of inequality, the mainstream media, how they had a hand in putting us in this bind. How, despite evidence to the contrary, the media pundits who control the most powerful outlets in the world, not only misled the public, but through disinformation had dissuaded us from building a social infrastructure that would make us much better prepared for the crisis we are facing today. And to do so, we’re going back in time. Just a month ago when ABC anchor, George Stephanopoulos started off the democratic debate with a question, and it wasn’t about how our greed infused medical system was the most expensive and ineffective in the world. And it wasn’t to press the aspiring candidates about why tens of millions of low wage workers do not have paid sick leave. No, his question was apparently much more pressing. Let’s watch.
George Stephano…: President Trump’s really thinks this label socialism will work. At the State of the Union he said, “Socialism destroys nations.” He’s never going to let socialism destroy American healthcare. And before the Super Bowl, he joked was Sean Hannity about your honeymoon in Moscow. Those hits are going to keep coming if you’re the nominee. Why shouldn’t Democrats be worried?
Speaker 3: Because Donald Trump lies all the time.
George Stephano…: Is anyone else on the stage concerned about having a democratic socialist at the top of the democratic ticket?
Taya Graham: And so in a country with mass incarceration, a broken healthcare system that extorts patients and a racist criminal justice system, and now an economy that is virtually at a standstill, this highly paid media pundit decided to fixate on the one idea that could actually save us, socialism.
I mean, think about it. Probably quite soon as our economy falls apart and the capitalist herd starts stampeding towards the public trough, what will the former champions so GRI be clamoring for? Socialism, bailouts, public dollars funneled into private wallet. Of course, this will more than likely be the uniquely American version of socialism, which includes big handouts to banks and Wall Street and nothing for the working class. And why are we so ill-equipped? And how has the seemingly in Congress system evolved and why are the needs of the people generally ignored?
Well, as we already stated, I think a large share of the blame can be laid at the doorstep of mainstream media. To make the case, let me give you an example of how this works and some critical context to inform what we’re reporting. Now, first some context. In the world of journalism, we hew to a process that defines our profession, reporting the facts, holding power accountable, and adding proper context to a topic when necessary.
But what the mainstream media engaged in during this debate is something completely different. When you propagate an idea without context, when you appeal to people’s emotions and fear exclusively, it’s certainly not journalism. That’s called propaganda.
First of all, you can bet as the current coronavirus pandemic expands, the 1% are going to plead with the federal government to pass massive stimulus and social programs to stabilize the economy, not to help the working class, but to save their own debt expose fiscal butts. But second and most important point is this, that the question posed by Stephanopoulos was not meant to elicit a thoughtful discussion of what socialism is or discuss why Americans love socialist programs like Medicare and social security. No, the point was to provoke fear.
The same fear based upon ignorance that has been the thrust of the Republican campaign against Sanders when he emerged as the presumptive front runner. And when you use fear in lieu of facts and analysis, you’re employing a well known technique that has been used throughout the history of capitalism to ensure social compliance. Again, I’m talking about propaganda.
It’s an off-use term whose history is rarely discussed, but it’s through the lens of that history that informs how we should view the aforementioned assault on socialism, which seems destined to make the current coronavirus pandemic worse.
Any discussion of the U.S. version of propaganda begins with this man, Edward Bernays, known as the father of American propaganda or public relations. Bernays made a seminal and disturbing argument in his book, aptly titled Propaganda. In it he says, “The average U.S. citizen does not have the intellectual capacity to participate in the political process. Instead, he asserted that small group of men were better suited to decide for everyone.
The problem Bernays said was that technically the U.S. is a democracy. Even during his heyday in the first half of the 20th century, he said a good propaganda is needed a mechanism other than martial law to ensure consent, and what he came up with was propaganda. For Bernays propaganda was the key to implementing the influence of the few over the many. And the key to that process was appealing to people’s emotions and to do so, Bernays said the most efficient method was to prey upon their fear. That’s right. Fear. To Bernays, fear was primal and one of the easiest ways to bypass critical thinking skills and make the worse appear the better cause. And it was this philosophy that Bernays applied to invent both public relations and modern advertising.
Perfectly suited cultural collaborator with contemporary capitalism and to show how destructive that dark alliance was, consider one of Bernays’ early triumphs. In the 1920s the major cigarette companies had a problem. While men had embraced smoking, women were still hesitant. It was considered unladylike, but Bernays had a solution. He used the capitalist spectacle of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade to stage a pseudo event. He hired a group of women to smoke during the parade, then convinced the press to cover their public display. The formula was a success. The stigma that women couldn’t smoke was broken and hundreds of thousands, if not millions of deaths ensued. See any parallels? The savage attack on socialism, Medicare for All, the demonization of social programs and the veneration of capitalism. It’s an apt analogy. Bernays used propaganda to bypass logic, civic concerns, and mutual empathy. And the ultimate outcome was a massive program of self harm and public poisoning, all in the name of profits. And he did so with the complicity of a critical partner, the mainstream media.
To discuss further how the mainstream media in complicity with big business has worked our political debate to our detriment. I’m joined by two of my colleagues at The Real News, Stephen Janis and Jaisal Noor. First, I want to go to you, Stephen. Bernays was just the beginning of the collusion between propaganda and the media to further capitalist theology. I know you taught a course on media literacy that covered extensively the use of propaganda. Can you talk about how it evolves?
Stephen Janis: Hey Taya, thank you for having me on. The beginning with Bernays. That was just the beginning of the collaboration between public relations, propaganda and the media. The seminal piece of work on this is Noam Chomsky’s, Manufacturing Consent. The linguistical theory professor posited the idea that the media evolved to continue in this role of coming up with ways to propagandize to keep us in consent of a system that was basically not to our benefit. So, the point was that as the media evolved and as capitalism evolved, they evolved hand-in-hand in a way that made us consent to wars that would kill us or consent to bad policies. It would exacerbate poverty. So that was the seminal piece. It was called Manufacturing Consent, and the idea was that the media’s role in a capitalist economy was to manufacturer consent of the people who were not benefiting from it.
Taya Graham: Now Jaisal, you covered some of the early primaries where Sanders became the de facto front runner. How did the media respond to his success and how did it affect where we are today?
Jaisal Noor: Taya, thanks for having me. I think the first thing that we saw the media do is write Sanders out of headlines. And you often saw headlines where they’d be talking about how great Amy Klobuchar did or Mayor Pete did when they weren’t talking about who the front runner was, Bernie Sanders. And eventually after Iowa where he got the popular vote and after New Hampshire where he actually won a victory there, they finally had to acknowledge, Senator Sanders is leading and that continued in Nevada as well when he won a decisive victory there. And then what you saw with the media spotlight on Sanders at that point was, as you talked about, these attacks about socialism.
One of the things that I’ve seen almost repeated in every debate and you hear people talking on the street about and even or at the gym… I guess before they were shut down because of coronavirus… was the idea that Sanders praised Castro and Sanders was praising communism. And actually the moderators on the most recent debate actually did a good job challenging that line and saying, “Look, actually Barack Obama went further and actually praised what Castro… what some of the achievements they’ve made under socialism more recently.” But just the way that most journalists had picked it up and talk show host and has disseminated what actually happened, you get the idea that Sanders is on the campaign trail talking of how great Castro is and praising this dictator with absolute zero context. And he’s talking about a program implemented after Castro overthrew a brutal U.S. backed dictator, Batista.
And I talk about this only to illustrate a point. A lot of these mainstream pundants, these mainstream anchors themselves are wealthy and they’re a part of a system that exists by perpetuating the same inequality we see and the same distribution of wealth and they’re naturally hostile to ideas like Sanders that would tax their incomes, that would tax millionaires, and use it to fund social programs. Kind of the same way we see Sanders attacked for… Asking, “How are you going to pay for that? How are you going to pay for Medicare for All?” when you’re asking questions about war, asking questions about prison industrial complex or immigration and locking people up. We never ask questions. We never ask how we’re going to pay for those. It’s only when you’re talking about expanding social services that Sanders gets barrage. And he’s actually laid out a plan on how you pay for it and similarly to Elizabeth Warren, but every time he answers it, it’s sort of forgotten. And next time he’s asked about it, it starts at square one so that puts Sanders at a huge disadvantage throughout this presidential cycle.
Taya Graham: Stephen, you’re standing outside the city Public Health Department, but we just learned how the University of Maryland Medical Center, a private institution that receives a good deal of public funding, has been a big source of private profits despite projecting the image of working for the public good. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Stephen Janis: So 30 years ago, the University of Maryland Medical Health System was supported by the public and paid for in public dollars. This system was created with tax dollars, but this system turned private and still ended up feeding off the public trot. But just a year and a half ago, reporting by The Baltimore Sun revealed that board members were making millions, including our own mayor, Catherine Pugh, who sold some $500,000 worth of books to the hospital system. But that wasn’t the end of it. This latest audit that has been done by the Office of Legislative Audits in the state of Maryland has determined that $105 million was funneled from the hospital system into the pockets of board members. So, basically it was like a public troth for private interests. And on top of that, the same hospital system asked for 5% rate increase the same year they’re doling out all this money. So, it was a perfect example how they propagandize themselves as being this public institution while really just feeding public, private, private profits and greed.
Taya Graham: So Jaisal, you’ve interviewed a lot of voters and you’ve watched the campaign carefully. Despite the seemingly coordinated effort against Sanders, voters do seem to support his ideas like Medicare for All and public education. Is that correct?
Jaisal Noor: Yeah. So there’s been 20 primaries so far and in every primary, according to exit polls, the majority of voters support things like Medicare for All, support things like a Green New Deal. So, what that means is that even though in these… Especially in these last several states where Biden has come ahead, they haven’t voted for him because they support his ideas. Essentially what they’re saying is they trust him more to be able to defeat Donald Trump. That they don’t necessarily… They support ideas that Senator Sanders supports. He says it in every question that’s asked about it. He talks about how we’re the only country to not guarantee healthcare. Something that’s become especially clear as this coronavirus outbreak has hit and especially low income people, poor people, people that are out of work, they don’t know how they’re going to be able to pay for testing.
Donald Trump went in front of microphone last week and said that everyone’s treatment is going to get covered, but that’s not the case… just the testing. But people don’t know how they’re going to be able to afford that. And so that’s something that Medicare for All would pay for not, and that’s something that really got hammered in this last debate as well, this idea. And so, Joe Biden attacked him for it and I think Sanders did a pretty good job discussing it. And yeah, I think Americans are fed up with this healthcare system. We’re subsidize… These healthcare insurance companies are making record profits every year. Pharmaceutical companies, record profits every year and the average person can’t go to a doctor, can’t get medicine… Something that this crisis has really laid there.
Taya Graham: So Stephen, let’s get this straight. A private hospital takes public money and uses it to enrich its board. How would this be different if we had Medicare for All or a socialized medicine?
Stephen Janis: Okay Taya, that’s a great question. And the way to answer is simply, if we had socialism, we never would have privatized this hospital system to begin with. This hospital system was built with public money. It was constructed with public money and it is still being supported by public money. In a socialist system, they wouldn’t have the ability or the capability to dole out contracts like this. They wouldn’t have the private interest or the capitalist ethos pervading the system. So you’d have a public health system that was meant for just that, helping the public say healthy. And instead we have this public health system that’s meant to create private profits for capitalists. So, it really would be entirely different if it was a socialist or Medicare for All type system. There’s no doubt about it.
Taya Graham: Jaisal, do you think the fallout from the coronavirus will change the media’s depiction of social programs and socialism in general? Last night Sanders tried to make the argument that it was time to evaluate the underlying systemic issue, but the media didn’t seem to be buying it. What do you think?
Jaisal Noor: Well, I think as far as the mainstream media is concerned… and even candidates like Joe Biden, mainstream centrist candidates like Joe Biden and the Democratic Party… They see this as a new crisis that… These things are… which, rightfully it is. But what they don’t understand, and something that Senator Sanders has talked about, is that for many Americans they’re already living in a crisis condition. They already have to worry about these same things, right? And so, I think it’s a problem that all these journalists are millionaires and they’re so out of touch with the everyday reality of working people. And Senator Sanders is the only candidate on stage that’s actually addressing that.
And then you see the Democratic Party, Nancy Pelosi, also a millionaire, she just compromised with Donald Trump and the Republicans to put forth a plan, and this is exactly what Sanders is talking about. He wants the Democrats to fight more and he wants them to fight for more. So the plan, this multi-billion dollar plan that the House is voting on would only grant paid sick leave to 20% of all workers in America. Which means if you work for a large corporation with over 500 employees like McDonald’s, like Walmart and these companies that get huge subsidies from the government, you’re not going to get paid sick leave. And so you actually have a situation where there’s Republicans like Mitt Romney and even Tom Cotton who’s an authoritarian warhawk. He’s a warmonger.
But even, they’ve put themselves… The Democrats have put themselves in a position where they’re being outflanked on the left by these Republican senators who were saying, “Give out… Give people money now.” Mitt Romney saying, “Give everyone a $1,000 check now,” because that’s what people actually need. People need money and then it’s going to go into the economy. So I think this crisis has exposed just how spineless the Democrats are, especially in a time of crisis. Not doing the right thing, doing what the powerful interests want us to do instead of thinking about working people. And that’s why having Senator Sanders on the stage is so important, to have that perspective out there. And maybe the mainstream media will start listening, but they haven’t really yet.
Taya Graham: And Steven, finally, you have concrete proof of how fear and propaganda had been used to decimate public healthcare infrastructure in Baltimore, and it has to do with the building you’re standing in front of right now. Tell us why you’re standing there?
Stephen Janis: Well, yes, Taya. Right behind me is a Baltimore City Public Health System. It’s meant to provide for the citizens of Baltimore and keep the city healthy. But the truth is over the past decades, they had deinvested in this health system and made it primarily relying upon grants, from federal grants with no funding or very little funding from the city. Meanwhile, police spending has increased exponentially over the past decade. So while they had been defunding the system that would be critical to keeping people healthy during the coronavirus pandemic, they have been funding money for people to go out and make arrests… hundreds of thousands of arrests, incarceration, police pensions. The money has flowed out of this city, one of the poorest cities in the country into something that doesn’t create healthy outcomes or make people more productive, but to punish them. So, this building right here is the epitome of how capitalism warps social infrastructure. It makes it impossible for cities and citizens to stay healthy and respond to pandemics like the crisis we’re facing. Now, back to Taya. Thank you.
Taya Graham: So, there you have it. For decades, the city of Baltimore has defunded public health initiatives to spend freely on the socially destructive institution of policing. In other words, civic resources poured into arrests and punishment rather than our collective communal wellbeing. It’s a similar distortion of social value we see in our national politics. We pour trillions into eternal wars, but now we can’t muster enough money to test people who may have contracted a deadly virus. We spend billions on incarceration and punishment, but can’t marshal the resources to guarantee lost wages and to cover medical costs related to a pandemic.
And now as the house of cards that is postmodern capitalism begins to collapse, how can we not look back on the flagrant mischaracterization of socialism as a concerted effort against our collective communal interests? How can we not view the propaganda employed to scare us from having a healthy debate on the very system that might save us as anything but an existential threat? We can’t and we shouldn’t.
Because now is the time to dissect and deconstruct the system of late stage capitalism for what it really is a system in some ways antithetical to our own survival. Perhaps there’s no better symbol of that than Trump’s Rose Garden press conference where he paraded a succession of CEOs out in front of the podium with vague promises to offer drive through testing for coronavirus across the country. The overpaid apostles of capitalism look confused when called to speak, partly by Trump’s odd adherence to the tradition of offering a handshake, but also because as we later learned, the million dollar suits had few, if any plans to implement testing in any form or fashion.
If there’s any more potent symbol of the impotence of capitalism, this is it. White men gather at the altar of profit unable to provide a humane and effective solution to a life threatening event. Meanwhile, these same purveyors of crass commercialism conspired to fill us with fear about a system that could actually save us. Let’s face it, socialism could in fact be the solution because this epidemic is the result of policy failures on all levels that socialism is uniquely designed to address.
Many sick people don’t seek out medical help because they don’t have insurance or are under insured. Socialism would guarantee insurance to both, and 40% of people in the service industries don’t have paid sick leave, so they have to work. Thus, they go to work sick and the virus spreads. Again, a dilemma socialism would fix. And let’s remember the fear of socialism is a direct result of inequality, the dark money and fear-mongering political ads that fuel our suspicions of this viable solution is a direct result of the spoils of this country’s great wealth inequality. Further proof that income inequality is an existential threat and clear and present danger, not just to a functioning democracy, but the survival of civilization as we know it.
The question that we will continue to ask on this show and must ask ourselves is why? Why even as the virus threatens to upend a system that has brought us global warming, mass incarceration, and hundreds of thousands of medical bankruptcies, why does the media continue to defend and why in the light of this colossal failure does capitalism continued to predominate. At The Real News we believe it’s because the voices of the people have been thwarted by the pay for play fear-mongering of the mainstream media. It’s due to the fact that the media is part of the system and thus can’t critique it, which is why we will continue to do so and why we call out media leads when they distort the truth for profit. Here at the real news, we don’t take corporate money so we can tell you the truth and that’s what we will continue to do. I would like to thank my guest, Real News reporter, Jaisal Noor for joining me today.
Jaisal Noor: Thanks for having me, Taya.
Taya Graham: And I would like to thank my other guests, Stephen Janis, for his invaluable research writing and reporting.
Stephen Janis: Taya, thanks for having me and I hope we can continue this discussion in the future. Thank you.
Taya Graham: I’m your host, Taya Graham, and I want to thank you for joining me at The Real News Network. Please be safe out there.
Studio: Cameron Granadino, Will Arenas
Production: Stephen Janis
Post-Production: Stephen Janis