Wednesday, October 22, 2008

NPR — National Plutocrat Radio

Where is the public in National Public Radio? In the past 20 years or so, it has steadily ceased to be what it promised at the time of its founding (if it ever was that to begin with).

Coverage of the Middle East, the US government and especially its foreign policy, and virtually any topic that requires more than a generic bachelors degree in some gut subject goes woefully under-reported. The most notable individual cases coming immediately to mind are Nina Totenberg's glaring failure to follow up after she broke the Anita Hill challenge to Clarence Thomas in 1991 and the consistently biased reporting from Israel/Palestine of Linda Gradstein, who was found to have accepted payment from pro-Israel organizations in violation of NPR's own published standards.

NPR's coverage of the first Gulf War and now of the Iraq War was almost devoid of anything that would pass for journalistic scrutiny. Now its coverage of the Wall Street chaos is matching that low.

In the case of Wall Street we should perhaps expect this. Among NPR's Board of Directors are several with degrees from Harvard, Chicago, Yale — institutions well-represented on Wall Street and in recent administrations — but more importantly, institutions that lead the US in encouraging and unquestioning acceptance of and obedience to "authority". Scroll to the end of this entry for a brief rundown of some of the behind-the-scenes automatons at NPR.

Below is an expanded version of a letter sent to NPR regarding its October 22nd interview with former SEC chair William Donaldson:
NPR continues its grossly inadequate, essentially conservative, reporting on the financial crisis with its October 22nd interview of William Donaldson.

Absent from NPR's interview is any mention that Donaldson was Chairman of the SEC during a crucial period of deregulation. Donaldson’s comments about deregulation are hardly those of a disinterested "expert". Like Robert Rubin and others, he now has a vested interest in protecting his own reputation (and now doubt his considerable personal wealth).

Indeed, Donaldson, like the rest of the SEC, uniformly advocated deregulation. In April 2004, the SEC released firms like Goldman Sachs (then lead by Henry Paulson) from the "net capital rule" which required them to hold in reserve capital, effectively limiting their borrowing. This was a crucial step in the lead-up to the current chaos.

Donaldson is quite wrong when he describes the US as the "gold standard" on deregulation. The Europeans -- on a number of fronts, not just financial -- have advocated greater regulation to protect average people (as opposed to protecting the wealthy or priviledged) and out of what many might say is an interpretation of democratic principles which surpasses that of the nation that calls itself the “world’s greatest democracy”.

As for the specific claim that better (meaning, more lax) US regulation made the US more attractive to investors globally: Of course the US was more attractive when it was easier to make a quick buck here. How attractive is the US now?

It is genuinely astonishing, and shameful, that NPR fails utterly to question Donaldson on exactly those points where he has a personal axe to grind. NPR brings out NONE of Donaldson's personal record, none of the points on which his personal record is relevant. Surely an awareness of his own involvement would influence listeners' willingness to take another Wall Street snake-oil salesman at his word.

This is entirely in keeping with NPR's reporting which has largely failed to investigate or scrutinize either the Wall Street failures or the government and business claims about them.

One telling characteristic of interviews like today’s is that NPR (and many other American news businesses) abandon the “he said/she said” approach which will be found in discussions of, say, evolution vs. “intelligent design”. There are many flaws in that approach, but on topics like that addressed by Donaldson, that approach might serve quite well. But of course, it might also serve to undermine the line that Donaldson is taking, a line that NPR has bought into over weeks of reporting.
Here's a rundown of some of NPR's board members:
  • Kevin Klose, President of NPR - B.A. Harvard
  • Antoine W. van Agtmael, Chair of NPR Foundation - M.A. Yale, M.B.A. NYU Stern
  • John A. Herrmann Jr., Vice Chairman of Lincoln International, former Managing Director in the M&A practice at JP Morgan Securities - B.A. Yale, M.B.A. Harvard
  • Lyle Logan, Executive Vice President, The Northern Trust Company - M.B.A. Chicago
  • Howard H. Stevenson, Baker Foundation Professor and the Sarofim-Rock Professor of Business Administration, Emeritus at Harvard Business School
These are people (and granted, there are more people at NPR) who share, with the exception of Klose, one key characteristic — a lust for money and a degree from one of the indoctrinating institutions of money. They all share an education in institutions which today show little evidence of encouraging critical analysis but rather encourage mindless obedience while at the same time encouraging their students to believe in their own innate superiority.

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