SOLOMON: Media Oblivious to Free Trade Bias
As police fired rubber bullets through tear gas in Quebec City, many reporters echoed the claim that "free trade" promotes democracy. Meanwhile, protesters struggled to shed light on a key fact: The proposed hemispheric trade pact would give large corporations even more power to override laws that have been enacted -- democratically -- to protect the environment, labor and human rights.
Newsweek responded to the turmoil at the Summit of the Americas with a column by Fareed Zakaria, a favorite policy analyst in elite circles. He declared that "the anti-globalization crowd is antidemocratic ... trying to achieve, through intimidation and scare tactics, what it has not been able to get through legislation." In recent decades, of course, the same was said about cutting-edge demonstrations for such causes as civil rights, peace in Vietnam and environmental safeguards.
Protests against the likes of the World Trade Organization, and now the Free Trade Area of the Americas, have great impact because they resonate widely. Foes of global corporatization are speaking and acting on behalf of huge grassroots constituencies.
The ABC television program "This Week" deigned to air a discussion with a real-live progressive activist, Lori Wallach of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch. Journalist Cokie Roberts voiced befuddlement: "It's gotten to the point where any time there are global meetings, world leaders meeting, we have a sense that the protesters are going to be there, and there's not much sense of exactly what you're protesting." The interview only lasted a couple of minutes.
Most news outlets showed little interest in the content of alternative forums in Quebec City that drew thousands of activists from all over the hemisphere. Likewise, a big march in the city, with some estimates ranging above 60,000 participants, got underwhelming coverage. For that matter, most reporters didn't seem very deeply interested in the several thousand people who bravely engaged in militant, nonviolent direct action -- risking and sometimes sustaining injuries from police assaults -- while confronting the official summit.
What did get plenty of media attention was noted at the outset of the April 24 lead editorial in the Wall Street Journal, which yearned for "a world where TV cameras prefer trade agreements to black-clad anarchists." Some of those few "black-clad anarchists" call themselves the Black Bloc.
Routinely slipping by, with scant journalistic scrutiny, is what we could dub the "White Bloc" -- a nexus of immense media power serving corporate interests.
The White Bloc is not monolithic. But on the issue of "free trade," it's difficult to find a major U.S. publication that does not editorially support accords like NAFTA, WTO and the new FTAA.
The Wall Street Journal's editorial page, at the right edge of the Bloc, is much honored by the media establishment. Last year, Journal columnist Paul Gigot won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary. This year, in mid-April, the same award went to another very conservative columnist for the newspaper, Dorothy Rabinowitz. But it's the unheralded daily output of the White Bloc that can be most breathtaking.
On the day Rabinowitz's prize was announced, for instance, the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal featured a freelance article that began this way: "In the early 1990s, America's major cities were on life-support, suffocating under socialistic policies that left them looking like Soviet-bloc relics." (It was not a humor piece, by the way.) Farther down the page was a column headlined "The Monarchy Is Worth Saving," written by the Journal's deputy editorial features editor, who earnestly argued that British citizens need their monarchy "as a source of authority."
But the White Bloc has a liberal side, too. Several New York Times columnists take turns condemning those who have the gall to stand in the way of corporate Progress.
Free-marketeers at the Times know how to pound away at the same line. While heads of state prepared to leave the Quebec summit, Paul Krugman ended his column by writing that the protesters "are doing their best to make the poor even poorer." Two days later, Thomas Friedman concluded his column by explaining that "these 'protesters' should be called by their real name: The Coalition to Keep Poor People Poor."
The White Bloc (which includes people of all colors if suitably conformist) has its own forms of hip solidarity. On the "Hardball" national TV program, airing on both MSNBC and CNBC, host Chris Matthews closed his April 18 interview with Friedman exactly this way:
Matthews: "You are the future, my man. Thomas Friedman of the New York Times."
Friedman: "Thanks, bro."
Matthews: "The smartest columnist in the world."
Norman Solomon's latest book is "The Habits of Highly Deceptive Media." His syndicated column focuses on media and politics.