The mainstream media has been slow to give the Occupy Wall Street protesters their due. And while the New York Times has been criticized roundly for missing the point, columnists Paul Krugman, Nicholas Kristof and even business writer Andrew Ross Sorkin have accurately portrayed the occupation as a serious movement against financial inequity and government corruption.
Yet, other talking heads still clearly don’t get it. This week’s candidate for worst-of-the-worst: CNN new hire Erin Burnett.
It should come as no surprise during the height of America’s Idiocracy era that idiots are routinely given their own TV shows. “Sarah Palin’s Alaska” comes to mind. As does the prurient Nancy Grace, along with, every unfortunate morning, the three stooges on “Fox and Friends.”
Now, admittedly, it’s been a long time since I watched TV — we don’t have TV at home, either network or cable. In fact, I pretty much consider watching TV like taking a dark foray into America’s seedy underbelly, a guilty pleasure I only indulge in when I’m in hotel rooms. Then I can’t get enough of Law & Order, ghostly History Channel exposés and crazy-ass shows like “Bridezillas.”
So, for a long while I assumed that CNN, which I used to watch regularly when I worked at washingtonpost.com a few years back, was still a fairly decent news outfit. I had no idea until earlier this week that it had climbed to the mendacity level of the evil genius itself, FOX News.
Erin Burnett OutFront revealed just how low CNN has gone.
I’m sure Burnett’s boob-named show was intended to make clear, if her face didn’t tell the tale, that this is one hot babe who can also deliver the news. And she can do it while appearing disarmingly ditsy.
Christiane Amanpour she ain’t. She’s no Katie Couric or Barbara Walters either. Hell, she’s not even Rory Gilmore. Or Bridget Jones.
Now, Burnett’s already taken a lot of heat for vapidly dismissing #OccupyWallStreet. So what do I have to add?
Burnett committed the most obvious and deadly sin for a journalist — she failed to check even the most basic facts of the story. Start with her opener:
What started as less than a dozen college students camping out in a park near the New York Stock Exchange is now hundreds of protesters, and it’s spread to other cities. But, what are they protesting? Nobody seems to know.
A quick Google search would’ve shown that the number was much higher and that the protesters knew darned well what they wanted.
Just take, for example, our reporting of the story on July 18th, repurposed from AdBusters, calling for the occupation, stating the reasoning behind the movement’s strategy, and making clear that above all the most important demand is ending the outsize influence of corporate money on the American democratic system. All of this was readily available on multiple Web sites.
Early followers of the actual occupation will also know that the arm of state power— the police — were deployed in advance of the occupation to thwart it. And, as the International Business Times reported on September 19,
When the protest began over the weekend, several thousand showed up in New York‘s Financial District, protesting with signs like “JUST BECAUSE WE CAN’T SEE IT DOESN’T MEAN IT’S NOT HAPPENING” and “WALL STREET IS OUR STREET.”
The story goes on to say that “the presence of protesters led New York Police to barricade blocks around Wall Street and the New York Stock Exchange, forcing residents and workers to show identification to enter the zone.”
So the authorities knew in advance that the numbers would be big. And they were.
Burnett also seems to think that, even though she can’t tell what the fuss is all about, that the fuss must really be about…the TARP bank bailout. Check her out interrogating an unemployed software developer in his twenties:
Q: So do you know that taxpayers actually made money on the Wall Street bailout?
A: Ah, I was unaware of that.
Q: They did. Not on GM. But on the Wall Street part of the bailout. Does that make you feel any differently?
A: Well, um, I’d have to do more research about it, but if…
Q: If I were right, it might?
A: Oh sure!
“Seriously?! That’s all it would take to put an end to the unrest,” Burnett archly asks. Going back to “double check the numbers,” she claims to have found that taxpayers have already reaped $10 billion from the bailout and are poised to make up to $20 billion.
“So we solved it,” concludes Burnett.
Er, not exactly.
First of all, Burnett is just plain wrong about the TARP. Or did she flagrantly lie—the kiss of death for a journalist? As the Daily Bail puts it,
According to the U.S. Treasury’s own figures, available publicly to any reader, including pneumatic (we understand if you need a dictionary for that one, Erin) and arrogant CNN reporters, as of TODAY, taxpayers are still more than $95 BILLION IN THE RED on TARP. And that’s including all interest and other income. There is still $122 BILLION of TARP funds that have NOT yet been paid back.
We understand that Burnett was excluding GM, but she somehow missed that AIG, alone, still owes over $50 BILLION.
The “we made money on the bailout” meme just won’t die. Facts and in the case of Burnett, poor research, be damned.
Second, yes, protesters don’t like the bailout. But they really don’t like that Wall Street executives, with their multiple high-stake credit default swaps, bet against our collective fiscal house. Protesters are mad that Wall Street gave us robo-foreclosures, rampant layoffs, tightened credit and pervasively depressed consumer buying power. Then the same white collar hoodlums were rewarded with huge TARP-funded bonuses, a little point Burnett conveniently leaves out.
They’re, frankly, angry that TARP was awarded at all, going as it did to a financial industry that is now little more than a cheesy casino that adds no value to the broad and real economy, while risking that same economy daily.
Third, Occupiers are targeting much more than the TARP, as they list in their statement of September 29: outsourcing American jobs, asserting corporate personhood, illegally foreclosing on mortgages, pollution, discrimination, and bribing politicians.
If Burnett had any real journalism chops, she would have known this by doing what real journalists call “research.” It’s this totally — seriously?! — wild thing where you, ya know, check stuff out before you start flapping your gums about it.
Now, having been in the journalism biz myself, I know that newsrooms are facing cutbacks. But is it SERIOUSLY so bad at CNN that they’ve had to cut out their LexisNexis subscription? Or did they replace their T3 line with dial-up access from AOL on a single terminal where newsroom staff have to sign up to use the Internet one at a time?
Arrogance and inauthenticity
Then there’s Burnett’s obvious bias.
Her segment’s selective camera focus on the most colorfully expressive protesters, with their symbolic costumes, was also clearly designed to give an arresting image without a context. Unless you count Burnett’s open mockery as a “context,” one suggesting that only the tarty-mouthed hostess herself has the real, true, and cutting take on what’s going down in the world.
She also mocks the fact that some protesters have cell phones, especially expensive ones, like iPhones, as well as Macbooks and “designer yoga pants.” Perhaps she prefers that the protesters come naked? Now that would make a statement.
But we really have to wonder what legitimate critique she imagines she’s advancing by attacking without investigation what people are wearing. Could those pants have come from a thrift store, or a hand-me-down? But even so, what’s the dif? People in the world buy and wear clothes. Yes, Gandhi made a point with his loincloth, but that came from Indian culture. In America, young people wear yoga pants.
Moreover, her suggestion is that if one lives in American society, and one therefore lives like an average American — meaning with access to cheap-ish, readily available goods — one is not allowed to voice a critique about the larger system in which such goods exist. It’s like the parent who says, “As long as I’m paying the bills, I decide.” I covered this issue in some detail earlier this year (“From Tahrir Square to Times Square“). As I penned then,
…it’s all too easy to discount American discontent as it plays out against a backdrop of not only guaranteed freedoms, but clear privileges and, in the main, material comforts. The United States of Starbucks seeking redress does have a tinny ring to it. The spoiled kid. “I want my MTV!”
But there is a clear sense among many that with our endless consumer options, media saturation, and moneyed interests driving key elements of the social, cultural and political process in the US, we have in America what some call “Have a nice day Fascism.”
While it’s become almost verboten to use the word fascism lest one be seen as making a false equation to the Nazi era, it’s worth remembering that fascism is defined as a “corporate state.” To that end, “Have a nice day Fascism” is the equivalent of corporate control with the veneer of a happy face. Indeed, in the US we do have many freedoms, and many privileges. But do the more essential aspects of liberty and democracy get lost under the plethora of consumer options available to both satisfy and sedate us?
Man cannot live on Wonder Bread alone.
Even their food is funny
Burnett also derides the presence of what she called “catered lunches,” ignoring the fact that sympathizers, who otherwise weren’t able to be physically present, were showing their solidarity with these front-line soldiers in the war against American financial and political corruption by buying them meals to help sustain the grueling process of protests.
You try staying outside in all temperatures, Erin Burnett, never quite sure whether you’ll be arrested for your act of participatory democracy, sleeping on cement, unsure where your next meal is coming from, having to deal with your personal physical needs like using the bathroom and finding some privacy, all because you believe so deeply in a cause.
It ain’t easy, Burnett, and if someone wants to buy you a lunch to say, “hey, we’re with you,” then who the hell are you to deride that as you sit in your cushy offices pontificating on the process as if you know anything about it at all?
A Goldman Sachs whore
To be fair, perhaps Burnett does know something. She may not have scraped off much shoe leather reporting stories out on the beat, but this vaunted pretend journalist did get her start as a financial analyst for Goldman Sachs before graduating to business reporting. Incidentally, she’s also engaged to an executive with Citigroup. She knows where her bread is buttered, even if she made a deal with the devil to get it.
I’ll bet her producers don’t mind the controversy, though. They’re likely still evaluating life by the old rules — there’s no such thing as bad publicity — and the old format — an opinionated blatherer masquerading as a news person might get a decent ratings share. So, the deal with the devil holds firm.
Just watch the 1970s movie classic Network for a reminder of how insidious and unaccountable to society personality-driven media news can become.
–Lindsay Curren, Transition Voice