The New American Filter
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Here's a good bet: Young, good-looking, hip and upcoming policy wonks aren't going to bite the hands that feed them.
If a public policy group holds a conference or a press briefing in Washington, D.C. that is sponsored by big corporations, then the discussion will barely mention big corporations, their role in causing the problems, or solutions that might adversely affect those big corporations.
You can take it to the bank.
Case in point:
This week, at the National Press Club, the Atlantic Monthly Magazine and The New America Foundation co-sponsored an event titled, "What is the Real State of the Union?"
In the materials is a copy of the January/February issue of The Atlantic Monthly, hot off the press.
The magazine and the Foundation got together 14 hot New America Foundation fellows and asked them to think anew and write about problems facing the nation.
So, for example, we get Jerediah Purdy on Trust (too much trust can actually be a bad thing -- a polity of suckers is no better than a nation of cynics); Shannon Brownlee on Health Care (one of our biggest health care problems is that there's just too much health care -- cutting down on the excess could save enough to cover everyone who is now uninsured); Margaret Talbot on Crime (the inevitable consequence of America's high incarceration rate is a high prison-release rate -- and the prisoners getting out are often more violent and anti-social than they were before); and Welfare and Poverty (it may be the greatest policy achievement in recent history -- over the past decade significant numbers of formerly welfare dependent black women have successfully entered the work force. But what about black men?).
Along with the materials, is a one-page note from Ted Halstead, the president of the New America Foundation, and Elizabeth Baker Keffer, the publisher of the Atlantic Monthly.
"We close with a note of thanks to each of our advertising partners and their support of our effort to create a platform for thoughtful dialogue about the true state of our union. In particular, we recognize: Shell, Lockheed Martin, ADM, TIAA-CREF, Microsoft, The Hartford, Hewlett Packard, and the Nuclear Energy Institute."
The event at the press club was an all day affair. And by the early afternoon session, there was hardly a mention of the C word -- corporations.
This seemed to us to be a simple case of the rule: Don't bite the hand that feeds you. And they didn't.
One of the afternoon sessions was moderated by Jim Fallows, national correspondent for the Atlantic Monthly and chairman of the New America Foundation. One of the panelists during that session was Senator John Breaux (D-Louisiana).
The senator, apparently oblivious to a banner hanging behind him prominently featuring the corporate logo of the conference sponsors, including the yellow seashell of Royal Dutch Shell, begins to tell a story about the debate over drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, how he argued that drilling would do minimal damage to the environment, how other Democratic senators would come up to him and in private say they agreed with him, but couldn't side with him in public because of the "interest groups" -- read environmental groups.
Yes, interest groups were the problem.
They get in the way of reasonable compromise, Breaux said.
During the question period, Fallows calls on us.
Well, isn't it interesting, we observe, that Senator Breaux totally ignored the interest groups that are sponsoring the conference.
I mean, there is the Shell Oil corporate logo glowing over the senator's left shoulder, and all he can talk about are the environmental groups, as if the oil companies have no say in the matter?
Who are we kidding here?
And isn't the senator's failure to recognize the elephant in the room symptomatic of the entire effort?
Here you have The New America Foundation and the Atlantic Monthly taking money from Shell, and ADM, and Lockheed Martin, The Hartford, and the Nuclear Energy Institute to write about the real state of the union, and you ignore corporate power -- just don't talk about it?
At this point, one of the young New America kids takes the microphone from our hands and won't hand it back.
We pry it from his hands and continue to address Fallows.
In the essay about crime, why do you write nothing about corporate crime and focus solely on street crime, ignoring that corporate crime and violence inflicts far more damage on society than all street crime combined?
And in the essay on welfare, why do you focus solely on black Americans, and ignore corporate welfare, which costs more than all individual welfare combined?
And Fallows' answer is -- well, to run a magazine, you can't rely on subscription income alone.
Well, yeah, but you don't have to totally ignore the subject of corporate power, either.
And you don't have to give free advertising to your advertisers by ordering a banner with their corporate logos emblazoned across the bottom, to be beamed across national television via C-Span.
And we give up the mike.
And then, Michael Lind, a New America fellow, comes up to us and says had we read his article (on National Unity -- overcrowded cities on the coasts; dying rural communities in the interior; the way to save both may be to create a post-agrarian heartland) -- we would have known that he in fact calls for a cutback on agricultural subsidies and we wouldn't have asked this "stupid question."
In fact, Michael, it was not a stupid question.
Just because you had a throwaway line on cutting agricultural subsidies, that doesn't mean the issue of corporate power, corporate crime and corporate welfare has been addressed.
New America scholars are young, hip and with it.
The Economist says they are "the brightest American thinkers under 40."
The New York Times says they "break out of the traditional liberal and conservative categories."
The Washington Post calls the New America Foundation "The think tank for Generation Next."
Looks more like they are bought and paid for.
And in exchange, they filter out any discussion of corporate power.
Call it the New American Filter.
Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime Reporter. Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Multinational Monitor. They are co-authors of "Corporate Predators: The Hunt for MegaProfits and the Attack on Democracy."