How The Mainstream Media Fuels America’s Income Inequality Machine

August 18, 2019

From medicare for all to neoliberal tax subsidies for major corporations the mainstream media often bolsters the notion that a more fair and equitable society is not possible

From medicare for all to neoliberal tax subsidies for major corporations the mainstream media often bolsters the notion that a more fair and equitable society is not possible


How The Mainstream Media Fuels America's Income Inequality Machine

Story Transcript

TAYA GRAHAM: Welcome to The Real News Network. My name is Taya Graham and I’m joined by my reporting partner, Stephen Janis.

Today we’re going to be debuting a new show focused around a single topic, the country’s growing income inequality. You might have noticed watching the Democratic debates, how rarely this topic comes up. In fact, if Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren weren’t in the race, it would’ve probably never surfaced. Part of that is simply because mainstream media is as much coopted by inequality as they are defined by it. Seriously, how do you expect anchors making millions of dollars a year to question a system that enriches them? But it goes deeper than simply a media narrative. It is clear that the growing concentration of wealth in this country is one of the greatest existential threats to humanity, and informs much of the destructive policy, as well as making inflammatory rhetoric that is tearing our country apart.

After all, the current occupant of the White House is a billionaire, and his policy embodies all the worst aspects of the aforementioned crisis and more. To tackle this issue in a way that is both new and productive, we’re going to take a twofold approach here. That’s because part of our mission at The Real News is to use our platform that is donor-funded without corporate advertising to tell uncomfortable truths, and provide context to topics that would otherwise be lacking. Stephen, do you want to give us an overview of how we are going to be approaching this?

STEPHEN JANIS: Well, what we always want to do here at The Real News is use the fact that we’re in one of cities that is probably one of the best examples of how income inequality is fostered by rich billionaires, and by what has often been called the pathology of capitalism. We see here we are ground zero, especially now that Donald Trump has tried to cite this as an example of dysfunction and trying to make it seem like it’s purely political, but it’s also a function of inequality. We have some of the worst income inequality. Then secondly, we are going to tie these to the national issues and the national debate that often doesn’t have context, because a lot of times you will hear these arguments from people like Trump and not realize that many of these policies come and originate exactly from this problem. The problem that there is heightened income inequality, which changes all the dynamics, both political, social, and even the rhetorical debate. That’s what we’re going to try to do.

TAYA GRAHAM: Our first topic is aimed at pointing out a moment of the debate that the mainstream media glossed over and to reveal the imperative behind that oversight. To us, it was one of the most critical moments of the entire slog, but receives little attention. Let’s watch.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN NEWS: Senator.

SENATOR AMY KLOBUCHAR: …Issues together, we can get less expensive drugs.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN NEWS: [crosstalk] Senator Sanders – I’m going to Senator Sanders, then Senator Warren because you both were mentioned. Senator Sanders?

SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: As the author of the Medicare bill, let me clear up one thing. If people talk about having insurance, there are millions of people who have insurance, they can’t go to the doctor, and when they come out of the hospital, they go bankrupt. All right? What I am talking about and others up here are talking about is no deductibles and no co-payments. And, Jake, your question is a Republican talking point. At the end of the day, and by the way – and by the way – by the way – the healthcare industry will be advertising tonight on this program.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN NEWS: Thank you, Senator. Senator Warren, it’s your turn.

SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: Oh, can I complete that, please?

JAKE TAPPER, CNN NEWS: Your time is up. Thirty seconds.

SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS: They will be advertising tonight with that talking point.

TAYA GRAHAM: Stephen, Bernie is called out for asking a question that, essentially, Jake Tapper oversimplifies.

STEPHEN JANIS: Yes.

TAYA GRAHAM: Essentially, isn’t he using Republican talking points when he’s pushing back on Bernie’s healthcare ideas?

STEPHEN JANIS: It’s deeper than that. What he’s using is a talking point to the healthcare companies that support CNN.

TAYA GRAHAM: Right.

STEPHEN JANIS: Because the question is incredibly simplistic. Everybody knows that if you have Medicare for All, you’re not going to be paying health insurance premiums at all, which is one of the biggest rising parts of a worker’s paycheck. Instead of saying that, or talking about the balance or the trade off, he’s saying, “Are you going to raise taxes?” Which where do we remember that from? Remember George Bush 25/30 years ago, “Read my lips, no new taxes.” Taxes is the anthem of the billionaire class. They use it to scare middle-class people from benefits that would help them. That question was inane. It was insulting, over simplified, and totally did not reflect the complexity or even the benefits. You could have asked, “What are the trade-offs of Medicare for All?”

TAYA GRAHAM: Certainly.

STEPHEN JANIS: Something like that, and why? Bernie points out and says quite adroitly, “Well, there’s going to be a pharmaceutical advertising, right?”

TAYA GRAHAM: Right. Doesn’t Otezla advertise at around a million dollars a year?

STEPHEN JANIS: Top three out of ten advertisers in the most recent quarter for CNN are health care providers. Anybody who watches that channel, it’s healthcare advertising-driven.

TAYA GRAHAM: Prescription advertising driven. Humira, Otezla— things like that.

STEPHEN JANIS: Instead of Jake Tapper addressing that and being transparent and saying, “You have a point and I understand what you’re saying.” He did the BS stuff that they do in the mainstream media, which is just gloss over it because he has the power to do that, but it’s apparent, right? Why—It just didn’t make any sense. That question to me was written by a publicist from the healthcare company or as Salon said, an intern at the Heritage Foundation, which of course is a conservative foundation.

TAYA GRAHAM: Now, isn’t it true that raising taxes is kind of a red herring?

STEPHEN JANIS: Absolutely.

TAYA GRAHAM: Won’t the amount of money that people save on their health care premiums actually offset any sort of tax increase?

STEPHEN JANIS: Yeah, think about it. We pay incredible amounts of money to fund this incredibly inefficient healthcare company insurance, which is BS anyway because insurance is supposed to plan for exceptional events, not for something that’s going to happen, which we all need healthcare.

TAYA GRAHAM: Absolutely, we all do.

STEPHEN JANIS: Any elimination that would make the system more efficient, in the end, I think most middle-class people and people who aren’t middle-class would benefit tremendously from this, but they want to fear monger and they use taxes. Why would Jake Tapper play into that? That’s not a fair question.

TAYA GRAHAM: Next, we’re going to discuss a more granular example of how income inequality operates in cities like Baltimore. In fact, this example shows why billionaires like Trump are in fact responsible for the conditions they condemn. As everyone knows, Trump called our home, Baltimore City, a disgusting rat and rodent infested place that no human would want to live in. What Trump failed to mention is how the ultra-wealthy have exploited the poverty of cities like Baltimore for their own gain, including his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who I will get to later.

One great tool for heightening income inequality in cities like Baltimore are massive tax breaks doled out by taxpayers to white suburban developers. We’ve been doing a long-term investigation into these tax breaks given to developers by the city. One of the big projects we’ve looked at is Harbor Point. Stephen, Harbor Point was a massive development built on Baltimore City’s already wealthy waterfront. Didn’t they actually use one of the poorest neighborhoods in Baltimore City to help earn themselves that tax break?

STEPHEN JANIS: This is an amazing story. A developer – a white developer from the suburbs owns a piece of land right near the harbor— a beautiful piece of land, prime property in Baltimore— gets a hundred million dollar tax break called a TIF, tax increment financing. It means he doesn’t have to pay his property taxes, but can use it to invest in the building. He’s got that, but he wants more. He wants what’s called an enterprise zone tax credit, which is something that was created decades ago to fund the building of jobs and other types of manufacturing infrastructure in poor communities. The problem is that that piece of property he has is actually quite in a wealthy area. He takes a line and he connects it to Perkins Homes, which is about a quarter or half a mile down the street, which is a low-income housing project filled with people who make way below the federal poverty level. He uses that to get the enterprise zone tax credit, and then himself another $80 million. Okay? So you tell me who’s causing these problems. Meanwhile, Perkins Homes is neglected, abandoned, for years has allowed to be run down. We have been there. It’s rat-infested because no one’s taken care of it.

TAYA GRAHAM: Right, absolutely. It’s breaking down because maintenance either doesn’t have the money or, as some residents fear, even the inclination to address the problems.

STEPHEN JANIS: As many guests as we’ve had on before, including Jeff Singer who is a housing advocate, they have purposely de-invested in public housing unlike other countries and made it crappy. So now they can sell it to wealthy developers, which is just what’s happening. This is a perfect example of Trump problematizing Baltimore, but actually it’s his people, his billionaires and rich people, who are benefiting off this. It’s really just rhetorical BS.

TAYA GRAHAM: Now we’re also joined by one of our interns, Kate Turner, who’s been helping us with our investigation. Kate has been looking at a key promise that the developers of Harbor Point made in exchange for the tax incentives. This promise was to create jobs for city residents. We decided to investigate just how many jobs a $100 million in tax breaks actually buys, but we ran into some obstacles. Isn’t that right, Stephen?

STEPHEN JANIS: Yeah. They didn’t post the job reports as they’re supposed to, so when I was trying to get Kate the information, it just wasn’t there. We had to file an NPI request and battle with the city for months and months just to get the data that they promised to give the city, to give to residents and post on a daily basis to show that we’re getting something from this tax break.

TAYA GRAHAM: Kate, you did an analysis of the jobs reports. Can you talk a little bit about your findings?

KATE TURNER: I looked at the manpower reports for Harbor Point, and what I found was that 53 employers worked on the Harbor Point development. On average, each employer worked on the development for nine months. But, on average, during those nine months, they only had 3.8 Baltimore City residents on payroll for each month.

TAYA GRAHAM: That’s absolutely amazing.

STEPHEN JANIS: Yeah.

TAYA GRAHAM: So you’re telling me that the average job lasted only nine months, and a very small percentage actually went to Baltimore City residents. Is that correct?

KATE TURNER: Yes. Many of these companies never had a single Baltimore City resident on their payroll.

TAYA GRAHAM: That’s absolutely amazing. Stephen, how is this even possible that a developer is able to get away with this when he made promises, not only to city officials, but essentially to the taxpayers of our city?

STEPHEN JANIS: Well, here’s the thing. One thing that’s really illustrative about this and what you found is that no other project that’s been given this kind of tax break does these kind of job reports. The fact that it was so difficult says something, which is these big tax breaks do one thing: They make the rich richer. They don’t give jobs to city employees and what the data, your analysis of data, shows is that barely any people from the city of Baltimore who are funding this were hired— number one. And number two, the duration. That’s not the kind of job – seven or eight months doesn’t do anybody much good to stabilize for eight months.

TAYA GRAHAM: Right, that’s sort of temporary work.

STEPHEN JANIS: I think what Kate’s analysis has shown, number one, it’s temporary. Number two, it’s not benefiting the people who are paying for it.

TAYA GRAHAM: Kate, what’s your take on your findings here? What do you think of the information that you found in this job’s report?

KATE TURNER: I think it just really shows how shallow and empty this promise that “development creates jobs” is. It does create jobs, but a lot of these contractors don’t even think about employing people from the city. They’re working with people that are from the suburbs or from elsewhere. It has nothing to do with giving Baltimore residents a chance.

TAYA GRAHAM: The bottom line here is this: Billionaires like Trump profit off of poverty and disfunction, and then use it as a foil for their racist and nativist chants. It’s a convenient cycle that both enriches the few and pathologizes the rest of us, and probably the best example of the damaging ethos of capitalism, and begs the question, “Can we break this destructive cycle?” I want to thank Real News Intern Kate Turner and Investigative Reporter Stephen Janis for discussing this with me.

My name is Taya Graham and this is The Inequality Watch. Thank you so much for joining me.