Written by Julia Seymour
This year the media's myth were wide-ranging: from conspiracy theories about economic sabotage, to overpopulation panic and Occupy Wall Street's mantra 'We are the 99 percent.
Each year the Business & Media Institute looks back on the year's news and selects the top 10 worst economic myths.
Here is our 2011 list:
10. Congress took a "machete" to the budget in August.
9. In order to win, the GOP wants to sabotage the economy.
8. Who cares about a Soros' sponsored effort to remake global economy?
7. With 7 billion on the planet, it's time to panic.
6. Apocalypse Al is a "genius," and climate change is a real threat.
5. The jobs are right around the corner.
4. Occupy Wall Street is the new Tea Party.
3. Green jobs are the future.
2. $52 million from Soros doesn't mean we're biased.
1. "We are the 99 percent."
Media Myth: Spending cuts actually cut spending.
One of the most illusory things in Washington, D.C. is a spending cut. After all, once taxpayer money is being doled out it can be very difficult to stop the flow.
So in August 2011, when the news media reported on the debt ceiling talks they anticipated major cuts to the federal budget, but ordinary taxpayers weren't given the whole picture. ABC's Diane Sawyer spoke of "expected" "machete" cuts and NBC's Ann Curry worried those cuts would hurt the economy.
Media outlets called the cuts "sharp" and "severe," but rarely admitted that federal spending will keep on growing. BMI looked at the transcripts for 43 stories, interviews and news briefs about the debt ceiling deal on morning and evening news programs and found that only 2 admitted the debt will rise anyway. That means 95 percent of stories ignored the fact that the federal debt would still rise by $12 trillion (from $14.29 trillion to $28.8 trillion).
As Cato's Chris Edwards explained, "The 'cuts' in the deal are only cuts from the CBO 'baseline,' which is a Washington construct of ever-rising spending. And even these 'cuts' from the baseline include $165 billion of interest savings, which are imaginary because the underlying cuts are imaginary."
So next time the news media claim Washington is cutting spending, remember that real spending cuts by the government are nearly as fantastical as finding a leprechaun and his pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.
9. In order to win, the GOP wants to sabotage the economy.
Media Myth: "Republicans want the cconomy to get worse"
Economics editor Dan Gross of Yahoo! Finance made a bold assertion in June 2011 that every Republican running for the White House, if they were "being honest" would want the economy to be worse off in 2012.
But Gross, who used to write a financial column for the left-wing Slate.com, took the accusation even further saying: "[I]t stands to reason that if you have the ability to have a role in policy that you would engineer policy to get that outcome. That's what political parties do …"
He cited conservatives who were opposed to TARP and the stimulus, labeling them "a element" "that just wants to blow stuff up." Apparently in Gross' mind, a philosophical belief that bailouts and government spending do not improve the economy was illegitimate.
The insulting charge from Gross was reminiscent of the economic conspiracy theories entertained by the news media in 2006 and 2008. CNN's Jack Cafferty cynically wondered in 2006 if oil companies were lowering gas prices to help the GOP. Left-wing radio host Ed Shultz said essentially the same thing two years later, predicting that "Gasoline's gonna be a buck-47 ($1.47) when Bush gets out of office. This has just been all so pre-arranged."
If the economy remains in trouble, this myth is likely to become even more widespread during the 2012 election cycle.
Media Myth: Soros meeting to rearrange "the entire financial order" is unimportant.
If the volume of news coverage an event earns reveals its significance, then the Bretton Woods conference on April 8 was no more important than a spelling bee.
The media obviously considered it trifling since they did almost no reporting on the left-wing billionaire's conference of cronies, despite the fact that Soros said in 2009 he wanted "a grand bargain that rearranges the entire financial order."
Soros has also said that "the main enemy of the open society, I believe, is no longer the communist but the capitalist threat." The Bretton Woods conference made it clear he had been pursuing that goal. The global gathering got almost no press attention, despite at least four journalists on the speakers list. But at the conference, Soros set in motion a major move against the dollar. The Wall Street Journal reported on Dec. 1, 2011, that Soros now thinks the world financial system is "on the brink of collapse." Soros said the system is in a "self-reinforcing process of disintegration."
The April conference was orchestrated by Soros who founded the New York City-based Institute for New Economic Thinking (INET) (the group that hosted the conference). Many of the attendees were supporters of Soros, on the board of INET, grantees of INET or contributors to some other Soros-funded operation like Project Syndicate.
Media Myth: In 2011, Earth's population crossed the 7 billion mark and that was reason to freak out.
The media have embraced overpopulation myths for years, fitting in nicely with climate alarmism and left-wing environmentalism. So it was no surprise that in 2011, when the world population neared the 7 billion milestone, the media began repeating those concerns again.
The Washington Post cautioned that "ecological distortions are becoming more pronounced and widespread." The fear-mongering of radical environmentalists like Paul Watson, James Lovelock and Paul Ehrlich has been echoed by willing partners in the mainstream media. Ehrlich famously predicted England would not exist in 2000.
Overpopulation fears resurfaced in 2011. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman titled his July 7 column "The Earth is Full." The Los Angeles Times Editorial Board titled a May 15 op-ed "Defusing the Population Bomb." The Los Angeles Times also published a July 21 op-ed coauthored by Mary Ellen Harte and Anne Ehrlich (wife of Paul Ehrlich), which argued that "Perpetual [human population] growth is the creed of a cancer cell, not a sustainable human society."
Many predictions about overpopulation simply haven't happened, because mankind finds ways to adapt and innovate. Colin Mason, director of media for the Population Research Institute, told BMI that fears of overpopulation are unfounded because: "Historically, as human population has grown and developed technology, the manner in which we use resources has changed. For instance, as human population has grown, we have needed to produce enough food to feed our burgeoning numbers. But as our civilizations have developed, we have also developed ways of increasing crop yield, and of growing crops on previously infertile land."
As Mason explained, a declining population (as is happening in many countries) will actually result in many negative economic and social consequences. For example, entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare depend upon having enough workers to pay into the system, but if too few children are born to replace retirees, the programs collapse.
Media Myth: Almost-president Al said the climate change "debate's over" so it must be true.
As Al Gore's error-filled propaganda film turned 5 in May 2011, BMI looked back at broadcast news coverage of "movie star" Gore about climate change as well as mentions of "An Inconvenient Truth" throughout that time. They found that nearly 98 percent of those stories failed to challenge the supposedly scientific claims of the movie, including its dramatic predictions of sea level rise and links between climate change and extreme weather such as tornadoes, hurricanes, fires and droughts.
Many of those claims have been challenged, but scientific criticism was rarely included by ABC, CBS or NBC. There was also little opposition to the "environmental evangelist" found in the reports; more than 80 percent excluded any criticism of Gore or his film.
Rather than examining some of the dubious claims of the former vice president's movie, all three networks used it to push him to run for president (again) or accept some position within the Obama administration. In one CBS "Early Show" interview, Harry Smith literally tried to pin a "Gore '08" campaign button on him.
In one of Gore's morning show interviews promoting his film in 2006, NBC's Katie Couric mentioned that there were people on the other side of the debate. But once Gore replied, "There's really not a debate. The debate's over," and blamed oil and coal companies for "pretending there is a debate," Couric fell in line as if she'd been hypnotized. Shortly thereafter Couric declared, "Where there is disagreement among scientists is not IF, but WHEN we may see drastic environmental changes across the globe. Al Gore says the clock is ticking."
Yet, Christopher Booker, a journalist and commentator with The Telegraph (UK), quoted sea level scientist Dr. Nils-Axel MÃ¶rner calling Gore's predicted 20-foot sea level rise "the greatest lie ever told." MÃ¶rner is the former chairman of the International Commission on Sea Level Change and studied sea levels across the globe for 35 years. He said "the sea is not rising" and that any rise this century would "not be more than 10 cm (four inches), with an uncertainty of plus or minus 10 cm."
Media Myth: Obama is creating jobs and more are on the way.
Yes, Virginia. There is a jobs crisis. No matter which way you spin 8.6 percent unemployment there is a jobs crisis underway in the U.S, but that hasn't stopped the news media from trying to downplay the unemployment rate or look for good news in the bad. Look around many communities and you'll find businesses that have had to shut down and people struggling to find work.
President Obama's record on jobs is that his promises have fallen flat. His economic policies were supposed to create 4 million jobs by the end of 2010. The results have been dismal with a net loss of 1,623,00 jobs lost since Feb. 2009. But the news media have continued to look for "silver linings" and "bright spots," only to be disappointed by "unexpected" jobs data.
CBS "Evening News" anchor Scott Pelley spoke of "a little bit of good news on jobs" Sept. 7, 2011. He optimistically reported that there were 3.2 million job openings posted in July. "That's the most in nearly three years," Pelley said without noting the huge shortfall between available jobs and the roughly 14 million who were unemployed in August or the loss of more than 4 million jobs between Feb. 2009 and Sept. 2010.
As of November 2011, the broader measure of unemploymrnt was a very high 15.6 percent and the labor force participation rate had fallen to 64 percent. That was a "red flag," according to James Pethokoukis who wrote for The Enterprise Blog "in a strong jobs recovery that number should be rising as more people look for work."
Media Myth: "Occupy Wall Street: A Tea Party for the Left?"
Beginning in September, protesters took over a private park in New York City to demand free education, bailouts for main street instead of Wall Street and to condemn the rich. It didn't take long for some in the media and the public to try to draw a comparison between Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party.
Time magazine asked, "Occupy Wall Street: A Tea Party for the Left?"
In reality, the two couldn't be more different. The Tea Party protesters were peaceful, promoted small government and worked to elect candidates with their values, all while the media did its best to portray them as "terrorists" and "racists." On the other hand, OWS lacked a unified message - but the protesters' big government, anti-free market and at times anti-American and anti-Semitic sentiments have been on display. The volume and tone of news coverage was also dramatically different.
Violence (including rape and sexual assault), crime and disrespect of authority has also been evident at many of the OWS rallies. The twitter feed @OccupyArrests claimed 5,248 arrests as of the morning of Dec. 7. According to The New York Times, OWS troublemakers are merely a fringe minority of the protesters. Yet, the Tea Party was '"responsible for the behavior of people" at its rallies. The broadcast networks chose to ignore violence at the "peaceful" rallies such as Occupy L.A.
Media Myth: Alternative energy will be the "road map" to a better future for the planet and workers.
For years the mainstream news media have been promoting green jobs, even encouraging government to subsidize them. Obama promised to create 5 million of them through tax credits and other government subsidies. But in 2011, bankruptcies of green companies, failures of green programs and then a huge scandal at Solyndra (a solar company) came to light (thanks to an ABC News investigation) and should have shifted the news coverage.
Shortly before that scandal broke, BMI looked at coverage of green jobs by the three broadcast network news. They found that 49 stories out of 53 (92 percent) had no criticism in their green jobs stories from Jan. 17, 2009 to Aug. 17, 2011.
Not one of the three networks reported during that time that United Solar Ovonic (Uni-Solar) plants in Michigan were "running at a fraction of their full capacity and employment is well below projections," despite $37 million in tax incentives. Uni-Solar had been touted by NBC "Nightly News" in 2009 for having 380 jobs and "500 more coming."
NBC's Anne Thompson had praised such green efforts by the Obama administration saying, "New industries [are] providing a green road map to give workers and the planet a better, more secure future." Uni-Solar wasn't the only company not to meet expectations. Fisher Coachworks, Green Vehicles, Evergreen Solar inc. and Solyndra all went bankrupt. Seattle found that their city's green jobs program was a "bust."
Once ABC exposed the failure of Solyndra, all the networks had to cover the scandal, since the company declared bankruptcy after getting a $535 million loan guarantee from the government in 2009. All three networks mentioned it, and even acknowledged it was an "embarrassment" for the White House. But none of the reports BMI analyzed at that time explicitly used Solyndra's failure to argue that green "investment" programs were flawed.
But the amount of coverage of Solyndra, a solar energy firm connected to the Obama administration, paled in comparison to Enron, an energy company with Republican ties. The Media Research center found a 24-to-1 disparity in the volume of scandal coverage of Enron vs. Solyndra.
Media Myth: George Soros is just another left-wing philanthropist.
Billionaire George Soros is arguably the most influential liberal financier in the United States, donating more than $8 billion just to his Open Society Foundations. In 2004, he spent more than $27 million to defeat President George W. Bush and has given away millions more since to promote the left-wing agenda. But what has gone almost unnoticed is Soros' extensive influence on and involvement with the media.
Since 2003, Soros has donated more than $52 million to all kinds of media outlets - liberal news organizations, investigative reporting and even smaller blogs. He has also been involved in funding the infrastructure of supposedly "neutral" news, from education to even the industry ombudsman association. Many other operations Soros supports also have a media component to what they do.
All that money has created a liberal "echo chamber," that in the words of one group he backs, "in which a message pushes the larger public or the mainstream media to acknowledge, respond, and give airtime to progressive ideas because it is repeated many times."
Of course Soros has denied his influence, blaming Fox News: "Another trick is to accuse your opponent of the behavior of which you are guilty, like Fox News accusing me of being the puppet master of a media empire." But as BMI exposed in multiple reports, Soros' dollars reach far and wide into the media industry.
That echo chamber is often used to further Soros' view, including his view that the "capitalist threat" is a bigger problem than communism these days. He has also stated that he wants to see the global financial order rearranged.
Media Myth: Occupy Wall Street claims to be the "99 percent," pushes class warfare rhetoric that captures attention and favorable coverage from media.
When the Occupy Wall Street movement launched in September, it quickly garnered positive media coverage as the "protest of this current era." One of the few coherent and common messages of the movement was "We are the 99 percent."
That intentional separation from the 1 percent of the rich they were protesting was the basis of the class warfare fight the OWS crowd wanted. Hollywood celebrities from Mark Ruffalo to Michael Moore who are likely part of the 1 percent sang the praises of the OWS movement while touring Zuccotti Park. Ironically, most of those protesters are in the top 1 percent of earners if you compare the entire world (instead of the just the U.S.).
But the extreme anti-capitalists, anarchists, communists and socialists protesting in NYC and other cities across the country did not speak for 99 percent of people. In fact according to the Seattle P-I, as of Nov. 13, only 33 percent of people supported OWS based on a poll from the left-leaning Public Policy Polling firm. This despite overwhelmingly positive media coverage.
The media's promotion of OWS did not come as a surprise because it was the natural outcome of the mainstream media's reporting on wealth and inequality and the liberal economists they interview. The phrase "We are the 99 percent" shouted by protesters in Zuccotti Park and Occupy Wall Street encampments may be new, but the class warfare foundation for it has "roots in a decade's worth of reporting," The New York Times admitted in a front page homage to OWS on Dec. 1. It was an entire article by Brian Stelter on the influence of "99 Percent" in the "lexicon."
A month before the protests began, PBS NewsHour wanted to find out if "the growing gap between rich and poor contributed to the 2008 financial collapse." With four economists on the same side, the story was heavily weighted to argue yes. Similar arguments were made by Soros-funded (and Soros friend) liberal economist Joseph E. Stiglitz in Vanity Fair in May 2011