Jim Hightower

Just Because They Could

I did something for the worst possible reason,†admitted the President. “Just because I could.†That was Bill Clinton speaking, doing his recent mea culpa about his Oval Office tryst with Monica Lewinsky. To his belated credit, Clinton admits shame about this abuse of power: “I think that’s just about the most morally indefensible reason anybody could have for doing anything.â€

Now let us fast-forward to George W. To his credit, W. would not think of having sex with a White House intern. But this does not make him an innocent in the abuse of presidential power. What we’ve now learned from the 9/11 Commission and recent books is that George launched a war for the worst possible reason: Because he could. He and his gang of neo-con chickenhawks had an ideological score to settle with Saddam Hussein, and they were out to do it regardless of rationality, right or consequences.

Here’s a Bush quote from a talk he gave to the National Security Council: “I do not need to explain why I say things. That’s the interesting thing about being the president. Maybe somebody needs to explain to me why they say something, but I don’t feel like I owe anybody an explanation.†Clinton abused his presidential power to work out his sexual fantasies with an intern. That’s pathetic. But Bush abused his power to work out his Saddam fantasies with other people’s lives. That’s beyond contempt.

MEN OF STEEL

The Timken Company, based in Canton, Ohio, makes steel and other industrial products, and last year it was the proud recipient of a visit by his eminence, George W. Bush. The prez had traveled to Ohio to hype the value of the tax giveaways he’s passed for the rich. He went to Canton to claim that they would trickle-down to create jobs for middle-class America, and he needed a good visual for his televised speech. Timken’s factory was the perfect made-for-TV backdrop. A crowd of hard-hatted, blue-collar workers was dutifully assembled. The bossman, Tim Timken himself, was on stage beaming with pride at George’s every sentence. Tim has long been a major financial backer of both Bush presidents. But in May—just months after George’s highly-publicized rooster strut—Tim announced that he was closing three of his U.S. factories, eliminating 1,300 jobs, and moving production to low-wage centers elsewhere, including overseas. Curiously, there was no national media coverage. What’s to happen to the workers who were made to serve as props? “I have no idea what I’m going to do,†says Scott Anderson, 41-years old and a 23-year loyal worker. “There are just no good job opportunities left in this community.†Meanwhile, a Timken spokesman stated, “It’s a business issue, not a political issue.†He’s dead wrong about that.

OH, HENRY

Democratic reformer Henry Adams, who decried the decline in democracy as the robber barons rose to power in the 19th century, did not mince words about the news media of his day: “The press is the hired agent of a monied system,†he wrote, “and set up for no other purpose than to tell lies where the interests are involved.†Imagine the verbal scorching Henry would give to today’s media barons, who have become the interests, fully corporatized, conglomerated, and well-practiced in the art of journalistic lying to perpetuate the power and profits of the elites. A handful of self-serving corporate fiefdoms controls practically all of our mass-market sources of news and information. GE now owns NBC, Disney owns ABC, Viacom owns CBS, News Corp. owns Fox, and Time Warner owns CNN; these five have a lock on TV news. Of the 1,500 daily newspapers, only 281 are independently owned—three companies control 25 percent of the daily news circulated in the entire world. These aloof giants openly assert that meeting their own profit needs is the media’s reason for existence. Lowry Mays, honcho of Clear Channel Inc. (which owns more than 1,200 radio stations—a third of all the stations in America), opines that: “We’re not in the business of providing news and information. We’re simply in the business of selling our customers’ products.â€

This single-minded mercenary focus combines with general corporate arrogance to bloat the egos of media chieftains, leading them to think that they really are the infallible gods of our daily newsfeed. “We paid $3 billion for these television stations,†said an executive with a Fox affiliate in Tampa. “We decide what the news is. The news is what we tell you it is.â€

Crude, corporate censorship by these boardroom types is less common than the subtle, internal self-censorship done by general managers, top editors, and some reporters who avoid topics and dilute stories that the corporate hierarchy might find offensive or simply not comprehend. A 2000 survey by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that a third of local reporters admit softening a news story on behalf of the interests of their media organizations. A fourth say they have been told by superiors to ignore a story because it was dull, but the reporters suspected that the real motivation was that the story could harm the media company’s financial interests. And that’s only the reporters who confess! If you detect a corporate bias in your news, don’t feel lonely. Two-thirds of Americans told pollsters last September that they believe special interests or a self-serving corporate-political agenda infects news coverage.

Jim Hightower is the best-selling author of Thieves In High Places: They’ve Stolen Our Country And It’s Time To Take It Back, on sale now from Viking Press.

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