Jeff Cohen Media Criticism Politics

Corporate Media Myths About the Chaos on Capitol Hill   

If you get your news about politics from corporate media, you’re getting myths from journalists and pundits instead of clarity.
Corporate Democrat Joe Manchin. [Third Way Think Tank / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

By Jeff Cohen  

If you get your news about politics from corporate media, you’re getting myths from journalists and pundits instead of clarity.  

At Thursday’s boisterous news conference with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a reporter used the phrase “the two biggest spending bills of this Congress” to describe the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill (BIF) and the Democrat-only Build Back Better (BBB) reconciliation proposal. The phraseology about “the two big” or “biggest” spending bills is a common media refrain. And it’s a myth.  

The supposedly $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill that passed the Senate in August and was delayed Thursdday in the House actually would provide only $550 billion in new spending — and that’s over a period of 5 years — to modernize infrastructure like roads, bridges, ports, airports, transit systems, Internet and water systems.    

The proposed BBB bill — routinely prefaced with the adjective “massive” in corporate news outlets (whether liberal or conservative) — would spend $3.5 trillion over 10 years to address the climate crisis and to expand healthcare, childcare and the social safety net in general . . . though still leaving our country far behind almost all other developed nations.   

Meanwhile, although it received far less media coverage than the BBB and was rarely labeled “massive,” the U.S. House broke all records last week by voting to spend $768 billion in the next year on the military. Since it’s an annual expenditure, this spending dwarfs the multi-year BBB and BIF bills combined. Yet no reporter shouted a question about it at Pelosi’s news conference.   

To put this exorbitant military spending in perspective, the Biden White House called for an increase in Trump’s already-bloated military budget, but that apparently wasn’t big enough for Pelosi and other House leaders of both parties, who added $25 billion to the Pentagon’s annual budget above what Biden requested. The military bill passed with bipartisan support: 181 Democrats and 135 Republicans.   

Even after the Afghan war has finally ended, the establishment’s appetite for unbridled military spending seems insatiable.    

A corollary myth in mainstream media is that Capitol Hill progressives like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are the profligate spenders and budget busters in Washington, not corporate Democrats or Republicans. But it was Pelosi and the House leadership — allied with a unified GOP — who defeated a progressive amendment introduced last week by AOC to cut 10 percent from the Pentagon budget. Only 86 Democrats and no Republicans supported the budget cut.  

As Truthout reported, Democrats who voted against the 10 percent Pentagon reduction received nearly 4 times more campaign donations from the military-industrial sector than those Democrats who voted for the cut.   

Tough scrutiny of corporate influence over Congress members is almost as absent in mainstream media as scrutiny of military spending.  

Which bring us to more media mythology, this time revolving around Senator Joe Manchin — who is constantly labeled a “moderate” Democrat and not a “corporate” or “corporatist” Democrat. Mainstream journalists take at face value Manchin’s claims that he opposes the Build Back Better initiative because of its price tag and because it expands the “entitlement mentality.”  

But as any awake journalist should know, given Manchin’s close relationship with corporate lobbyists, his objection is less about the price tag’s impact on budget deficits or about entitlements (he’s always fought for government welfare to the fossil fuel industry) than it is about the taxes included in the BBB.  Indeed, the BBB package would be heavily paid for by increased taxes on big corporations and the wealthy.  

By contrast, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill that Manchin helped craft is not paid for by any new taxes (while it subsidizes dirty energy projects).   

The BBB reconciliation proposal would save taxpayer money by cutting subsidies to oil and gas and would raise money by increasing fees — for example, a fee on emissions of methane, a horrific contributor to global warming.  

If mainstream journalists focused more on Manchin’s corporate alliances and the specifics of who benefits and who gets taxed in these bills, it would help clarify why Manchin supports BIF but not the BBB.  Bloomberg News offered some rare clarity: “Manchin’s campaign and leadership political action committees received almost $400,000 from the oil and gas industry since 2017, and he was the sector’s top recipient in Congress through the first six months of 2021 with $179,450, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.”    

According to journalists for independent outlets like The Intercept and Sludge, Manchin has made more than $4.5 million from his family’s coal businesses since he joined the Senate in 2011.  

Asked by an MSNBC anchor about the opposition from Manchin and “centrist Democrats,” progressive Congress member Katie Porter offered the kind of clarity that corporate journalists tend to avoid:   

“There are a huge number of corporations that pay zero taxes, and by making savvy revenue choices — for example, using a real corporate profit approach to dealing with those corporations that pay zero — we could generate 700 billion. . . . We can generate the revenue so that this isn’t about $3.5 trillion in spending. . . .  I have the will to do it. The question is: does Senator Manchin? Or is he more concerned about his corporate donors including large corporations, the oil and gas industry, the big pharmaceutical industry, and others who are getting away with paying nothing under our current tax system?”   

Rep. Porter continued:   

“I’d like to see Senator Joe Manchin come out in favor of fully funding the IRS, in favor of having a fair global corporate tax system. . . . I think it’s dead-on fiscally irresponsible for Senator Manchin to refuse to raise revenue and at the same time out of the other side of his mouth — maybe the side of his mouth that he uses to talk to his corporate donors — complain that we can’t pay for the things that American families desperately need.”  

                                       —

Jeff Cohen is co-founder of RootsAction.org, a retired journalism professor at Ithaca College, and author of “Cable News Confidential: My Misadventures in Corporate Media.” In 1986, he founded the media watch group FAIR  

21 comments

  1. While Ryan Grimm posted a “victory” claim on substack, I note that few provide many details of either bill.

    This article in Forbes makes me think we’re on our way to privatizing Social Security.

    Hidden In The Reconciliation Bill: A Retirement Plan Mandate That Will Take Most People By Surprise

    https://www.forbes.com/sites/ebauer/2021/09/26/hidden-in-the-reconciliation-bill-a-retirement–plan-mandate-that-will-take-most-people-by-surprise/

    It just subsidizes the Banksters

  2. “Fiscal insanity,” Rep. Manchin, is spending $715 billion on military. All we we’ve ended up with is an already pared down version of what was $6 billion package over a ten year period, an investment in our own nation. Who are these dogs of war?

  3. Once again, we are witness to the various activities of men with socio-psychopathic mentalities who lack empathy for all humanity and are firmly determined to feed their greed in order to gain power over the rest of us — while killing all life on this planet, without any remorse!
    http://www.nomoreinsanity.org

  4. Jeff Cohen wouldn’t have had to write this article, if it were not for indifferent Americans who choose to live in an alternate reality rather than to face the real one. Understanding the corporate capture of Congress is not difficult. Nor is it hard to see the amateurish theatrical petty performance they do to enrich themselves to the detriment of the common people. The article makes clear, the Congressional appetite to fund endless Death and Destruction over funding to keep this country from “Implosion”. Corporations are now controlling Congress, the White House, the Military industrial complex, and the mainstream Media. This is Fascism 101. Will Americans ever wake up to the Reality that they have ignored.

  5. As I like to joke over here in Europe: in the US, you have two political options — ultra right-wing… and hyper right-wing.

  6. An afterthought to my earlier comment: “Rep. Porter” is a deliciously punning designation in this context. Kudos!

  7. …and there you have it. The Democratic leadership and by extension the party. Blathering on, doing nothing with there foot on each prior administration’s accelerating pedal toward climate catastrophe and or nuclear annihilation. Neither of which bodes well for organized humanity or the human species. Party on Mr Center of Power but represent the people or planet, well, absolutely Not!

  8. Terrific article. Great clarifying journalism. The crimes of the military budget are never seen and never prosecuted and seldom even acknowledged. Bravo, Mr. Scheer.

  9. I shouldn’t need to point out that the Democrats’ spending plan utterly excludes the masses of poor, as Democrats reformed-away actual poverty relief 25 years ago. Est. 10 million left jobless, many with little or no incomes, and today’s liberal bourgeoisie don’t regard them as humans, qualified for basic human rights (UN’s UDHR) to food and shelter. That’s as morally bankrupt as their “colleagues across the aisle.”

  10. “Corporate media myths”? Oh lordie…

    You know… This article could be from 1986. We could be reading this on microfiche, or in an old copy of some magazine we just found in the attic. You’d have to change the names. Just fill in the names of the knaves and lackeys, (aka: ‘politicians’) of that era.

    Matter of fact… This article could have been written by Jeff Cohen in 1986. He’s been knocking down paychecks off this FAIR gig for 35 years? Oh wait, he’s got a new corporate NGO gig going now. RootsAction.org.

    “EXTRA! Extra! Read all about it! Corporate powers have centralized ownership of ALL Mass Media under their total control.”

    Whew! Thanks Mr. Cohen. We’re all dang lucky to have him to clue us in on all this, else we’d all be ignorant thinking we should have full faith and trust in our Mass Media. (Polls report that distrust of Mass Media is bumping 75% of the entire population).

    Yea… Well… I don’t much like smart-ass sarcasm either. It shows disrespect. It’s not that I mind so much expressing my disrespect once I feel it, it’s rather that I so deeply regret that I have actually come to feel this way toward people whom I’d much rather hold in my highest degree of respect.

    I was ‘there’ in 1986. I actually remember when Jeff Cohen founded FAIR. I was doing some work with organized Labor folks at that time. Winpisinger, at IAM, had launched the IAM Media Project in 1980 or so. I’ll bet Mr. Cohen was a good friend of ole Bill Winpisinger. The IAM produced and self-published a very good booklet in those days entitled “Changing More than the Channel”.

    In those days the ‘public interest’ mandate was on its last legs. The cable system was being rapidly rolled out. (When corporate powers WANT to build infrastructure, they can do so with impressive speed). Nobody knew much about ‘the internet’ yet, but I assume it was already being planned. Top US Intelligence was already constructing contingency plans for how the Internet roll-out was going to affect their priorities.

    It was the idea of ‘limitless bandwidth’, represented by the cable infrastructure, that they used as a pre-text for killing the public interest mandate, which derived from the Radio and Communications Act of 1927.

    Since media bandwidth was now ‘limitless’, they argued, we no longer needed to make sure that access to a limited radio frequency spectrum was fairly distributed, and most of all, that it functioned in a manner that would serve the public interest.

    We didn’t need the public interest mandate, because if US citizens did not like their Mass Media, there was plenty of bandwidth now, so we, The People, could just go somewhere’s else and start our own Mass Media.

    Plenty of bandwidth once that cable connected every home. That was their actual argument, their primary rationale, for killing the mandate in our Law that the nation’s Mass Media must function in the Public Interest.

    1980s… Whew! My girls were toddlers. I remember… I remember the founding of FAIR. I was excited. Forces were gathering to oppose ‘them’.

    Now…. Here we are, 35 years down the old Mandala Road… How many times can some of these people write the same article over and over again? And every time they write it as if it was new revelation.

    Chris Hedges, (not to pick on him, we could choose from many examples), has been writing the same article for what must be 20 years now. (Maybe more. That’s just how long I’ve been reading him). Jeff Cohen could have written this article, more or less word for word, (with appropriate cast of characters changes), in 1986, as one of his first articles for FAIR.

    Mr. Cohen is a complete, miserable failure. He founded FAIR in 1986, just as the forces of the Elite counter-revolution were killing the last of the ‘public interest’ mandate that since 1927 had governed Mass Media.

    As a social activist, Mr. Cohen has completely failed to achieve his objective, or any objective that could have, or would have slowed down the determination of the Elites to gain full control of the means of communication.

    The means of communication are the means of power. Those in power may be ‘evil’, but they are not stupid. Gaining total (as in totalitarian) control of Mass Media was their HIGHEST ‘mission critical’ objective in 1986.

    Jeff Cohen not only did not stop them from achieving their objective, (stopping them was Mr. Cohen’s objective), he wasn’t even felt as a speed bump on the track, as the corporate juggernaut calmly and easily just merged ownership of ALL Mass Media under their ‘total’ control.

    Welcome to ole GeorgieBoy Orwell’s worst nightmare. It’s all come true, (thus far).

    Well… ‘See’ ?… The thing is, Mr. Cohen, (I could address Mr. Scheer as well), this tired old boy knows full well that I have thus far completely failed. I’m a miserable failure… Thus far… I can hardly look my grandchildren in the eye for the shame I feel for my failure to meet my responsibility to them.

    I’m a miserable failure, and my keen (very painful) self-awareness of my failure is what drives the intensity of my will to yet succeed.

    I don’t do what I do just to pass the time. I do it with the full intention of achieving my objective.

    Jeff Cohen is a miserable failure. He’s been laboring for 35 years, at least since 1986, and has only LOST ground.

    He shouldn’t feel TOO bad. I’m a miserable failure too. Lotta folks have watched all this happen, like in slow motion, powerless to stop it. We all wanted to stop it. Nobody has yet. We’ve ALL (thus far) FAILED!

    Some of us still think we CAN. Many others seem to have ‘retired’ to enjoy resting on what they perceive as their ‘laurels’.

    Does Jeff Cohen still believe we can? I don’t know him, or much about him. He seems like a very good man to me. But does he still believe we CAN, or is he just out to make a living in the ‘activism bid’ness’.

    How’s the Old Eagle these days? His ‘show business’ (radio) voice sounds good. Strong and steady. He sounds good on my computer speakers, but I never seem to see him stretch out those mighty old wings anymore. I don’t know the old coot, but as one myself, (an old coot), I’ll bet he still can.

    It’s a matter of ‘the will’. I’ll bet he ‘can’. ‘Will’ is something else though. Eh?

    1. Before you launch another long-winded screed, work on your grammar and syntax. Especially quotation marks. Maybe Jeff Cohen can give you some tips.

      1. Thanks for the feedback, good citizen TimN. I always appreciate seeing myself from disparate points of view.

        Let’s see… Long winded. Poor grammar and syntax.

        Got it.

        So nice to find a writing teacher. Do you charge for lessons? I never have been much good with words.

        Besides slinging your poopy, sir, do you have anything at ALL to actually SAY?

  11. This country is toast. I look for light but see only utter blackness. There are no positives at all….I find that quite remarkable. It’s all downhill from here folks……

  12. The whole arrogant lie that the USA has some sort of relationship to democracy is absolutely outrageous. How can a system that allows/insists on money from lobbies to fund “elected members” and then has the members obliged to raise more money to be accepted as members of the powerful committees inside the Congress deciding on policies to be debated? As well, lobbies actually influence, even write, the laws to be debated. Research shows that most of the laws the vast majority of the population want are not even put on the table-only those desired by the rich and corporations. No wonder Manchin is in cover.

  13. Inconvenient critical facts the author neglected to mention:

    1) Senator Schumer installed Manchin as the Chair of the Senate Energy and Environment Committee;

    2) The Schumer-Manchin written agreement in July provided for, among many of things, that Manchin’s Committee would have exclusive jurisdiction over any clean energy or carbon standard.

    Why would anyone that was serious about climate emergency do this?

    1. Exactly. So, TWO Dem Senators completely railroad the big Biden “agenda?” Sounds like that was the plan all along, with even Bernard Sanders knowing the “agenda” was mostly doomed from the start. Still, the show must go on.

  14. Does anyone remember when AOC declared that she had extracted a concession by killing the House “Pay-Go” rules in exchange for support of Pelosi as Speaker?

    AOC did this in response to criticism of her failure to Force The Vote one M4A.

    But this entire discussion is based on Neoliberal austerity policy – in an Orwellian twist, the “Pay-Go” rules have morphed into “pay-for”.

    And Biden and Dems are seeking restoration of less than half of the Trump tax cuts, which CBO estimated as over $1.84 TRILLION – obviously part of Biden’s pledge to donors the “nothing fundamentally will change”.

    1. Glad someone else remembers this. It’s important, so naturally it was thrown down the memory hole, by both the corporate media. AND much/most of the internet Left, which pretends to criticize elected progressives from the left – but can act in concert with the right, as here.

      At the time of the M4A Force the Vote campaign, AOC and the squad DID extract a major concession – the Paygo exemption. [Pay-fors are exactly what a paygo exemption eliminates]. The common idea was to get something in return for not having a battle over the speaker’s election, and AOC got something big.

      But Jimmy Dore, Danny Haiphong of Black Agenda Report etc reported dishonestly on what happened. Said things like saying “the Squad got nothing” – “bent the knee to Pelosi” – while linking to reports of what they got! A more conscientious and sane Left media would have celebrated or at least recognized a real Left victory. Even if one disagrees tactically, it was obviously a delicate question of which tactics to pursue a common goal. For instance, without the exemption, there was a virtual filibuster – a 60 % vote requirement in the HOUSE – on Green New Deal, M4A legislation. So what they got was the equivalent of 43.5 more votes on progressive legislation, and more. That ain’t nothing, by a long shot.

      But hare-brained ideological fanaticism madly insists that it is impossible for politicians to be loyal to their ideals. If the facts don’t fit, they must be invented. The ardent desire of such self-styled “leftists” – to attack genuine progressives like AOC, Sanders et al – who are actually doing something in the real world, is dismaying to witness. The above, or Margaret Kimberley also of Black Agenda Report, who even more dishonestly attacked Cori Bush when she had barely arrived in Washington – well, they’re ensuring that “nothing will fundamentally change” – for the better. Doing less than nothing against change for the worse.

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