How the Media and the Politicians Failed to Understand the Detroit Bailout


By Joe Campbell
December 1st, 2008

Al Gore, in his book, Assault on Reason, described a media and political focus on “gotcha” journalism, on gaffes, on irrelevancies and personal scandals, on the Freak Show – rather than a focus on long-term issues, on character, and on principles as one of the major factors that has led to our current crises. “News” coverage is dominated by questions of whether this or that politician has a mistress (he probably does) or whether this or that entertainer is secretly going out with this or that sports star. Our news has become tabloid.

If, as the drafters of our Constitution believed, a well-informed citizenry is essential to the proper functioning of any nation, then our nation clearly cannot be functioning properly.

This lack of good information, this focus on the trivial over the significant, was evident when the CEOs of Ford, Chrysler, and General Motors went to Washington to beg for handouts. As Jon Stewart sagely observed in a pox-on-all-your-houses bit:

Unable to understand the actual problem, Congress seizes on tangential details for grandstanding purposes.

[Cue tape of various Congressmen expressing various types of outrage in semi-novel ways regarding the fact that each CEO flew to Washington in a separate private jet.]

The media coverage did manage to convey a few things:

  1. All these big shot CEOs travel by private jet.
  2. The Big Three automakers support, directly and indirectly, some 2.5 million American jobs.
  3. These American car companies made a big mistake by focusing on gas-guzzlers on the assumption that oil prices would remain low indefinitely.

Everything else was clouded in some confusion – not all of which is the media’s fault. Many economists asserted that they would normally want the government to avoid bailing out these automakers, but in this economy, believed the government must act. Some opinion-makers blamed the automakers troubles primarily on union-negotiated legacy costs – on the various deferred wages and other forms of deferred compensation the automakers entered into contracts to provide. But what seemed lacking from either the Congressional hearings or the media coverage was any serious and sustained attention to the problems themselves.

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