Tuesday, October 13, 2009


Money isn’t "an issue" in U.S. politics. It’s virtually the only issue. If given even half the weight it merited, it would lead the news almost every night. Instead, it's something on which the press simply doesn't report at all. Stray stories, here and there. It's sometimes scandalized, but the very little reporting that does appear occurs in a vacuum. No consistent narrative. No follow-up. Certainly never anything remotely approximating the sort of feeding frenzy that regularly accompanies stories about sex, crime, or, more recently, dead pop stars.[1]

Without the money angle, most political stories become inexplicable. The “mainstream” corporate press largely portrayed the teabagger phenomenon, to name one of the prominent recent examples, as a genuine “movement,” instead of what it actually is, a 100% corporate-invented astroturf campaign fueled by nonsense spread by right-wing media outlets (themselves huge corporate interests). The facts about the actual forces behind the "movement" are readily available. On the internet, they're literally only a quick Google search away. But someone who stuck to most “mainstream” corporate press outlets would know virtually nothing about it, except that there was this sudden, loud uprising of angry, anti-Obama mobs. The goal of astroturf is to give the impression of a genuine grassroots campaign--when, as has happened here, the press treats it as one, the campaign has succeeded.

The Center for Responsive Politics calls their website opensecrets.org. The information they collect isn't really "secret." It's all publicly available. It's "secret" because, among other things, the press, which is supposed to be a watchdog about such things, won’t, as a rule, touch such information with a 10-foot pole. Common Cause issued one of their "Legislating While Under the Influence" reports on health care industry contributions to congress, and you’ll learn more about health care reform by reading its relatively few pages than you’d learn from the combination of every report of every network newscast on the subject.

One "secret" kept by the press is that Sen. Max Baucus, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, is the top recipient of health-care industry donations in the congress.

An even better-kept secret is that Baucus allowed the former Vice President of Wellpoint to write "his" bill. Everywhere in the press, it's just "the Baucus bill." And, since it's the most conservative health care bill in congress (and the one that offers no real reform), it's more often than not being treated, by the press, as the only one. There are actually four others that long ago passed out of the relevant committees of both houses--the ones dealing with health care--whereas the Wellpoint bill is being hashed out in the Finance Committee.

The health care industry spent a fortune getting politicians (including the Obama) to support provisions mandating that everyone carry health insurance. Wellpoi… er… Baucus included a provision making health coverage mandatory, and imposing a tax penalty on anyone who fails to comply.[2] This sets up a dynamic one would think our watchdog press would find interesting: The Wellpoint plan publicly subsidizes Americans' purchase of health care. It also creates, at the point of a gun, millions of mandatory new clients for the current nightmare of a health insurance industry. The government subsidies to those new clients go, of course, to those insurance companies, who, in turn, spend millions of dollars purchasing politicians like Max Baucus.

What a deal!

If the press would report ANY of this, the “Baucus” bill would have been dead before it ever began, but that would require abandoning the fairy-tale narrative of American politics as a battle of competing ideologies and dealing with what actually makes the trains run on time.



[1] The reasons for this are many and varied. Among a great many other things, the media orgs are, themselves, huge corporate interests with their own chunk invested in the process Their even-bigger-money ownership has even more money in it.

[2] That wasn't strong enough for the industry, which wanted criminal penalties--jail time--for those who failed to carry health insurance. The failure of the bill to include this is largely responsible for the last-minute industry push against reform which has so befuddled the corporate press this week--again, if you don't follow the money, the story is inexplicable.