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June 2, 2008

Economy Tanks, So When Will Media Connect It To the Campaign?


Here is your silver lining regarding the economy. It will prompt the media as we know it – a formless, shapeless blob that moves to the drift of the latest pseudo-scandal – to change or become further irrelevant.


This will not be a good year for frivolities couched as issues. Indications are that things are apt to be at their worst right around the time Americans head to the polls to cast ballots.


We will have seen the first summer tourism season with $5 a gallon gasoline, and it will be shortly after Americans are told that those who heat during the winter with natural gas will again see heating bills shoot up. Industry insiders suggest that demand for natural gas could come very close to exactly everything that is available.


Energy costs prompted Dow Chemical to announce a 20 percent across-the-board hike in its product prices. This is likely to hit consumers in a number of ways, from increasing the cost of food to the cost of plastic wrap people use to make that food last a little longer.


If it wasn’t energy, it was our unraveling finance sectors. While most analysts expect the housing crisis to actually peak right around November, this week came word that it wasn’t just mortgage lenders who were offering sub-prime loans. Auto dealers, it turns out, were guilty of the same practice, and at a time of tanked demand for gas guzzling SUVs and full-size trucks comes news that used car lots across the country are close to bursting.


What are they trying to sell? SUVs and full-sized trucks repossessed from people who used home equity loans (homes since seized by banks) to buy more car than they could afford. Shrinkage in credit available for people to buy homes has now extended to credit available to buy cars.


This in particular is likely to lead to another wave of unemployment in the auto industry. Workers returning from a three-month strike that affected plants in three states immediately faced the prospect that about 2,000 would perhaps see a pink slip with their first paycheck since returning to work, and the Big Three themselves announced further slashes in work forces.


It’s hard to see where all of this bad economic news, coming in about the space of a week, isn’t going to translate into declines in other markets.


We bring this back to the question of the news media, which this week drew fire from veteran journalists for the way it’s covered the 2008 campaign. Former Newsweek correspondent Hal Bruno cited the rush to rumor before confirmation, opinions issued from the anchor desk and veteran political operatives given jobs as on-air analysts.


Related is a post by liberal blogger Glenn Greenwald who, after an e-mail spat with John Harris of The Politico, said that a scoop today is usually just a matter of who gets contacted by a source first. That’s not journalism, by anyone’s definition, but providing a transcription service.


Could it be that these kinds of criticisms have led polls that show the media with popularity ratings nearly as low as of Congress and the president? Does the sun rise in the east?


The media has yet to connect the economy to the campaign. In fact, it seems that the campaign coverage has been kept completely separate from basically everything else, intersecting only from time to time, like two wayward icebergs that bump into each other on cold North Atlantic nights.


They will be inseparable come November in the minds of voters. If the voting electorate doesn’t feel as though the relationship has been fully explored, what’s apt to set in is a deeper desire to engage in that age-old relationship between kings and the bearers of bad news – shooting the messenger. If that happens, the very real question becomes whether a jury could be found anywhere that would convict.


© 2008 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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