Last week the world observed the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Not surprisingly, the bulk of U.S. media coverage of the ceremonies was self-serving and demonstrated, yet again, that the corporate press rarely appreciates the lessons -- let alone the ironies -- of history.
Of course, when the wall dividing East and West Berlin fell in November 1989, it was a world historic event: one that marked the end of a repressive regime in East Germany and, soon thereafter, across the entire Soviet Bloc. Still, the barely concealed jingoism and self-congratulatory tone of U.S. press reports was hard to stomach.
It was particularly startling that so few historians or political scientists were asked to discuss the significance of the anniversary. Instead, American audiences were treated to a choir of star journalists -- Tom Brokaw, Robin McNeil, Dan Schorr, among others -- waxing nostalgic about their role in reporting history.
"Last week's observance of Veterans Day provides yet one more example of how this country has lost its moral compass."
This myopic and narcissistic view of history -- one that puts celebrity reporters at the center of the narrative -- trivializes the significance of the end of the Cold War. What's more, it re-inscribes a particular interpretation of the historical record: an account that implies the ethical and economic superiority of American-style liberal democracy over the morally bankrupt and ideologically repugnant Soviets.
Fast-forward to 2009, and the United States is mired in Afghanistan just as the Soviets were in the 1980s: so much for 20/20 hindsight. If the corporate media took an honest, clear-eyed look at contemporary America, they would find an imperial power on the brink of collapse and a domestic social order that puts profits before people at every turn.
Consider Wall Street's gambling addiction. The casino capitalism that left our economy in shambles last year is returning with renewed vigor at the end of 2009. And why not? Like the Bush administration before it, the Obama White House supports Wall Street's gambling habit -- with our tax dollars.
In the meantime, firms that were "too big to fail" at this time last year have only gotten bigger. What's more, amid media hype -- or corporate propaganda, take your pick -- about the end of the recession, the same greed and corporate excess that put the economy in the toilet continues unabated. So-called financial "experts" continue to rake in enormous bonuses while the unemployment rate tops 10 percent.
The U.S. moral economy is all the more shameful in light of the state of health care "reform" legislation. The House bill that passed late last weekend does little to improve access to high quality, affordable health care. Rather, this watered-down piece of legislation -- written in large measure by industry insiders -- consolidates the power of private insurers. Here again, the health and well-being of the American people takes a backseat to the corporate interests that call the shots in Washington, as well as Wall Street.
"American audiences were treated to a choir of star journalists -- Tom Brokaw, Robin McNeil, Dan Schorr, among others -- waxing nostalgic about their role in reporting history."
While the dominant news narrative labeled the House bill (H.R. 3962) a victory, of sorts, for the president, Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) had a different assessment.
"H.R. 3962 would put the government in the role of accelerating the privatization of health care," Kucinich wrote in a message outlining his opposition to the House bill dated Nov. 7, 2009. "In H.R. 3962, the government is requiring at least 21 million Americans to buy private health insurance from the very industry that causes costs to be so high, which will result in at least $70 billion in new annual revenue, much of which is coming from taxpayers. This inevitably will lead to even more costs, more subsidies, and higher profits for insurance companies -- a bailout under a blue cross."
For Kucinich, and not a few single-payer advocates, the insurance industry is the real winner with the recently passed House bill. For their part, Senators are unlikely to do anything to alienate their main constituency: the corporate players that call the tune when it comes to critical public policy issues: from the environment and health care, to education and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Last week's observance of Veterans Day provides yet one more example of how this country has lost its moral compass. Made all the more somber by the mass shooting at Fort Hood earlier this month, this year's Veterans Day observance was particularly stark in light of a new study that estimates four times as many veterans died last year due to lack of insurance coverage than were killed in Iraq and Afghanistan over the same period of time.
Appearing on Pacifica radio's Democracy Now!, Dr. Steffie Woolhander, professor of medicine at Harvard University, discussed the details of a report that belies so much of the somber rhetoric of Veterans Day.
"Here again, the health and well-being of the American people takes a backseat to the corporate interests that call the shots in Washington, as well as Wall Street."
"The risk of dying is actually elevated by about 40 percent among people who have no health insurance, and there's just under 1.5 million uninsured veterans nationally," Dr. Woolhander noted. "So applying those odds to those folks, it turns out that there's almost 2,300 folks who die -- veterans who die every year due to lack of health insurance."
This study did not receive much play in the corporate media. And yet, news workers had ample opportunity to run with this story. To borrow a phrase from News Writing 101, this startling report could have been "pegged" to the Veterans Day observance. Or to the ongoing health care debate for that matter.
Instead, there is silence. Much the same silence surrounds another disturbing story, which, as independent journalist Dahr Jamail points out, was buried inside the Nov. 3 edition of the Wall Street Journal. According to WSJ reporter Yochi Dreazen, 16 U.S. soldiers killed themselves in October 2009.
"The October suicide figures mean that at least 134 active-duty soldiers have taken their own lives so far this year, putting the Army on pace to break last year's record of 140 active-duty suicides," Dreazen continues. "The number of Army suicides has risen 37 percent since 2006, and last year, the suicide rate surpassed that of the U.S. population for the first time."
While the media spotlight is fixed on the atrocity at Fort Hood and its aftermath, an equally horrific story has been unfolding for years, with scant attention from the corporate press. Ignoring the pain and suffering of our veterans in this fashion is a far cry from honoring their service and their sacrifice.
In light of these and other stories documenting the desperation of active duty and retired military personnel, the platitudes about honoring our service men and women ring hollow this Veterans Day.
Kevin Howley is associate professor of media studies at DePauw University. He is editor of the recently released Understanding Community Media (Sage, 2010). He writes regularly on media, culture and politics at e-chreia.