Sunday, October 05, 2008

Wall Street, Main Street, and NPR

I heard an NPR story Friday night that had me scratching my head and talking to myself. That behavior is not out of the ordinary for me anytime I happen to intersect with mainstream media sources. In fact, the story was about intersections--the intersections of Wall Street and Main Street.

"Where Wall Street and Main Street Collide--Literally" by Craig LeMoult and Patty Murray, focused not on any underlying issues driving the current Wall Street financial crisis, or the regulatory oversight (or lack thereof) contributing to the seizing up of credit markets. No, LeMoult and Murray prepared for their five minute spot on Friday night by searching out over 70 communities where these two street names literally intersected.

The story featured two communities--Bridgeport, CT and Green Bay, WI--and people encountered in areas where the twain of Wall Street and Main Street met in these communities.

It appears to me that the reporters have imbibed much of what passes for conventional wisdom among hip, urban professionals like LeMoult and Murray. Here's how it goes for their demographic. The country is in bad shape. The last eight years and in particular, the Bush administration, has been the primary cause agent of the downward spiral of the economy. Simplistically, all we need to fix it is to vote for the man that causes legs to tingle, the man of hope, The Messiah, Barry Obama. Why the hell else would NPR devote the resources and energy to a story that provides nothing towards understanding the underlying issues of the economic crisis? At one time, NPR was a place where stories and issues were delved into, providing one venue where investigative journalism still took place. Now, its just another outlet that tries too hard to be trendy, rather than newsworthy.

I'm pulling one quote out from the piece that to me illustrates how the man (or woman) on the street is entirely clueless about the issues, possibly because newspapers, public radio, as well as mainstream television and cable news outlets provide little that helps most Americans contextualize current events.

The journalists from NPR spoke with a newspaper peddler, in Bridgeport, a man named Paul Conway, selling newspapers with a headline that proclaimed, "Senate OKs Bailout."

Conway's response was telling. Conway, who self-identified as a "lower-class person," typically revealed a general lack of understanding about the U.S. tax system, and illustrated the class divide common among many similar Americans.

"The lower class is getting hurt all the time," he says. "Actually, I'm
going to take that back. I'm going to take a step back, sir. The middle class is
getting hurt. Because the rich people don't pay taxes. And I shouldn't be
sounding prejudiced for the lower-class people — I'm a lower-class person. They
get benefits. And it's the middle-class people that get stuck in the middle —
that are paying all the taxes and paying the brunt of it for everybody."

Conway's belief that the "rich don't pay taxes" is problematic, because in fact, the richest one percent of Americans earn 19 percent of the wealth and pay 37 percent of the taxes. The top 10 percent of income earners pay 68 percent of the taxes, while the bottom 50 percent of income earners earn 13 percent of the total wealth and pay three percent of all taxes.

What I found most interesting was that all the people that LeMoult and Murray spoke to had no problem with the bailout, just that the bloated amount was going to the "wrong" members of society--the Wall Street bankers--rather than to them.

Could the obvious belief among the subjects of this feature that they're all powerless to change their personal paths, and the world they live in, have a connection to how most reporters and media perpetuate the myth that government is the solution to all of their problems?

1 comment:

Eve Channing said...

One would have to wonder how the concept for this story was conceived...a bunch of hipsters drinking a late afternoon latte? It's rather "magical thinking" or perhaps "creative writing." I'm surprised no one has been writing numerology articles about what the drops in the Dow mean. Much of this type of thinking, IMHO, comes from an oversimplification of "Blinks" and "Tipping Points." Or shall we say "trendy thinking" versus critical thinking.