Soap Operas in the News

We find ourselves in the middle of a well-known curse, for it is true that we live in interesting times. Common sense has fled, as has basic numeracy, and our media fails us yet again, for the story isn’t about what is going on, but about the cut and thrust of competing sound-bites.

Truly, this is an era — internationally, federally, provincially and municipally — where soap opera has taken over all programming.

Delays of Our Lives

Does one hand know what the other hand is doing? Can anyone count? The current contre-temps in Ottawa is Conservative claims that the Senate (dominated by the Liberals) is hold up their spending bills, while, at the same time, Liberals claim the Conservatives could move faster. Go figure.

Do any media hosts point out that the bills in question arrived in the Senate only last Thursday and that they are already in committee? No, they do not. Instead, the story becomes the current line of “they’re not pulling EI changes out”. Good heavens, an ever-shifting target — on both sides of the aisle — is all that is deemed newsworthy now. It is the game of “he said, she said” and no logic applied.

As The Stomach Churns

Then there’s the meme of the “ever worsening economic conditions”. Does anyone ask why any of us should expect that anything done to intervene could have made a difference when it is historically established that monetary policy changes take nine months minimum, and as much as eighteen, to work their way into the economy and make a difference? Fiscal policy changes are typically a year or more into the future as well, yet the charge is “not good enough, do more” mere days after action is taken.

We are staring at an abyss, mostly brought about by our own bad policy decisions. So far, in listening to the English-language news, only the Australians (ABC Radio National) seem willing to actually add up the days, challenge the wisdom of doing more until the last actions have had a chance to work, etc. But in most of the rest of the world, no one is asking the question: they simply echo the Opposition’s standard mantra of “not good enough” (wherever they are). It is certainly no different here.

Meanwhile, of course, we are not solving the underlying issues. It is now clear that systematic embezzlement and pyramiding of risk was undertaken, yet we seem determined as international policy to leave it all in place. No wonder there is no confidence. Do you hear anything of this in the stories? No.

General Horses**t

Meanwhile, of course, we all stumble down the same paths while blaming other governments. “It’s not our fault, it’s theirs” has become as much of a meme as “they’re not doing enough” has across the aisles of our legislatures.

Let’s be clear: just because everyone else wants to, lemming-like, be an idiot, why does this require you to be one?

Countries (the UK, Germany) are already having trouble selling their government debt. In the case of Germany, this is the strongest part of the EU: we are not dealing with minor nations here. US debt demand is crowding out everyone else — including corporate needs, as businesses closing around the world because they can’t sell their debt at any price shows — and yet everywhere, from profligate provinces to spendthrift nations, there is an assumption that this paper can just “be placed” — and at rock bottom interest rates, too.

Again, where is the media, adding up the deficit numbers and asking where the placement money will come from? That might actually require the ability to add 2 + 2 and get 4, so forget that. Far easier to put on competing talking heads yelling at each other, isn’t it?


Here is where this sorry story will end: governments will fail. Provinces and states will have no choice but to wholesale chop their core programs for lack of funds. Nations will have no choice but to let inflation loose — and it will rise as interest piles up on the debt they’ve added. Trade deficits will lead to protectionism and further reductions in economic activity, as will the disappearance of more and more companies and with them their activity.

Where will what’s left of the media (for it is not immune to this) be? Carrying the screaming and reporting on the riots — but never, never pointing out how we’re headed toward this due to our choices today.

After all, the talking heads won’t point that out, and the idea of putting a story in context died a long, long time ago.

Constipated Street

The refusal of the media to do its job had its roots in the ease with which they could put talking heads on the air. Real investigation, and working out how to make it approachable for readers, listeners and viewers, costs more money than opening the phone lines or letting people shout at one another does. If today the media is looking at its irrelevance and shrinking audiences, it has only itself to blame — well, that and the theory (advanced by the media) that concentration of ownership was a good thing, especially using debt to make the concentration work.

The refusal of politicians to tell the truth to the people — to treat them as citizens, not as consumers — is also a key part of this. Anyone with two brain cells to rub together can look at the banking “industry” (there’s your first sign of failure: banking is a “utility” and thus requires utility-style regulation) in the US, UK, etc. and see that the old Glass-Steagal and pre-Big Bang rules served those nations well — and that the current regime, of collateralized debt obligations, mark to market securities, liar-loan risk on mortgages, etc., has not. We might disagree about how to fix the situation, but the source of the problem is clear. It’s even bipartisan: the Conservatives made it happen in the UK and Labour has extended it; the Democrats made it happen in the USA and the Republicans extended it. Yet the issue cannot be spoken of — and the media only speaks of it in partisan terms.

No wonder our countries are dying. Systematic mediasclerosis and the big lie sound-bites will see to that. No wonder, too, the average person now has no confidence in the political system, the fixes on offer, or the news and reporting they see, hear and read.

No wonder, too, that so many dedicated bloggers have lost interest in blogging lately (myself included). There’s a feeling of ennui abroad that the train wreck is inevitable.

This is what happens when politics and the news and analysis work of the media degenerates into entertainment — and nothing more.


5 responses to “Soap Operas in the News

  1. But the good news is that some media companies, like Canwest, are nearing the brink of collapse themselves. . . . While my heart goes out those directly affected and their families, its high time for some independent media in Canada.

    Yes, I know the media work to tight deadlines but instead of interviewing that same tired set of academics everytime an opinion is needed, how about doing a little independent research, speaking to informed members of the public, or even some investigative journalism for a change?

    And don’t even get me started on the CBC . . . When will Peter Mansbridge retire or at least get some new friends to interview on his political panel?

    And just because CNN has 24/7 news does it mean everyone has to . . . endlessly repeating a few stories over and over again is pointless . . . how many ostensibly different spins/opinions do we need of each news item?

    Yes, news is important but what set of needs are really being served here? The public’s need to be informed, or another broadcaster’s need for advertising revenue?

  2. It’s a little frustrating to find so few MSM commentators pointing out that “hey, we’ve tried these things before and they didn’t completely work out”.

    It’s sad that PBS documentaries from nearly four years ago have more to say about the current economic situation than the mainstream media.

  3. bluegreenblogger

    Goodness! I’m not sure whether the theme of this post is a bankrupt media, (morally, not just fiscally), or bad macroeconomic policy. I agree with both points of view anyway. A return to stimulus deficit spending? Dumb, Dumb, Dumb.
    When I turn on my Radio, or (with ever diminishing frequency) TV, it seems media swallows whole the assumption that a collapse in Consumption in tough times is a disaster, that needs to be rectified IMMEDIATELY. The fact is that consumerism is not much of a boon to us. I look askance at my peers at work, around my neighbourhood, and everywhere I look. Why do they care so much about the latest hi tech gadget? Ever bigger screens, ‘upgrading’ to a bigger car. What meaningless trivia. As a society, we face a series of challenges that will require substantial savings and investment. A shrinking workforce, and growing pension rolls. This means more productivity, requiring Investment. We have serious health costs, being aggravated by environmental degradation. Requires investment, whether to remove causes, or remediate problems. What is the near universal cry today? The Government absolutely MUST hoover up all available capital, run deficits by any and all means possible, because they need to stimulate CONSUMPTION!
    The piper will show up for his pay soon enough, and it will be rather difficult for us to call the tune. I am saddened that a decade of prudence, and sound fiscal management has been replaced with this profligate lunacy. That individuals suffer from consuming all their surplus, is fine by me. That our entire society should acquire enormous liabilities to sustain the fires? Lunacy.
    The media’s role? They all took Economics 101, back in 1970, and so they KNOW that Keynes had the answers. People’s Jobs are at stake! Making stuff, and providing services that nobody really needs. The fact is that we underinvest. Our over consumption habit has led us to put too many resources into the wrong activities. We could readily have the same employment numbers by Investing our surplus labour and capital in productivity enhancement. Bah, it disgusts me.
    To hell with the mainstream media, Blog on Bruce, I’d rather read it here, than waste my time on Television. You, and I, and millions of others are strangling their monopoly on opinion, and good bloody riddance says I.

  4. I’m afraid it’s all going to get worse before it gets better. None of these ideas will let go of the so-called imaginations of those in power easily.

    Still, thank you very much for the vote of confidence! I shall continue to endeavour to add my one small voice to those that help tip the balance.

  5. Pingback: Post-Party Depression « Worth the Fee to Read It

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