Financial failure, political failure, media failure

A few readers complain when we tackle geopolitics around here. Boring, they say; stick to the economy. To them I advise patience today, and if they exercise it, they’ll see how everything’s connected.

Indeed, if I were to define what this blog is “about,” it would be “the intersection of finance, politics, and the media.” Today all three collide in an ugly pileup.

We begin with the news that “foreign-related news coverage by the three major U.S. television networks fell to a record low during 2008, according to the latest annual review of network news coverage by the authoritative Tyndall Report.”

Squeezed out by intense coverage of the presidential election campaign and the domestic consequences of skyrocketing oil prices and the subsequent credit crisis, international and overseas events received by far the least attention from the 30-minute evening news programs of the three networks – the primary source of national and international news for most U.S. citizens – of any since the report was first published in 1988.

“This was an exceptional year for domestic news, so the test will be whether the foreign coverage rebounds in a year when there is relatively light domestic news, or whether this marks a real turning point in insularity in the mainstream media,” Andrew Tyndall, the report’s founder and publisher, told IPS.

Yes, the 6:30 PM (Eastern time) newscasts have a lot fewer viewers now than in the Cronkite days, but they’re still a pretty good barometer of where establishment media’s collective head is. And for most of 2008 their collective head was obsessed with presidential politics — not how the candidates’ proposals would screw us over, but merely the gossip and horse-race aspects. The campaign got 3700 minutes of coverage, the economy 2800. And overseas?

International-related coverage totaled just over 1,900 minutes for the year, close to the levels that prevailed in the mid-1990s, according to Tyndall, when the Republican-led Congress succeeded in curbing the internationalist agenda of then-President Bill Clinton, particularly regarding the U.S. commitment to the United Nations and other multilateral forums.

“Everybody said after 9/11 that huge mistakes had been made in the nineties in concentrating too much on domestic news and not having a global outlook,” he said. “There was an enormous attempt made [by the networks] to cover the rest of the world, especially the Islamic world, but it’s gone downhill so much compared to last year, which already had the least international coverage of any year since 2001.”

This dovetails with something I wrote in 2006, when I still worked in broadcast news and had a short-lived blog aimed at my comrades.

When [foreign bureaus] were being shuttered in the early 90s, I vaguely recall network suits making a lame journalistic justification: The Cold War was over, so it was no longer necessary to cover the Americans and Soviets making their moves across the global chessboard. But I submit that if the nets had kept up their commitment to foreign coverage, and made it interesting and relevant to the viewer, perhaps more Americans would have been clued in to the antipathy felt in some corners of the world toward the U.S. government, and 9/11 might not have been such a bolt from the blue.

Don’t expect this situation to improve anytime soon. Advertising revenues are down and the networks are cutting back. When Israel launched its ground invasion of Gaza on Sunday, the CBS Evening News got its report not from a CBS News correspondent, but from the Murdochtopus — Britain’s Sky News.

Which brings us to the question: What might be the next bolt from the blue? Well, how about China?

China faces surging protests and riots in 2009 as rising unemployment stokes discontent, a state-run magazine said in a blunt warning of the hazards to Communist Party control from a sharp economic downturn.

The unusually stark report in this week’s Outlook (Liaowang) Magazine, issued by the official Xinhua news agency, said faltering growth could spark anger among millions of migrant workers and university graduates left jobless.

“Without doubt, now we’re entering a peak period for mass incidents,” a senior Xinhua reporter, Huang Huo, told the magazine, using the official euphemism for riots and protests.

How might China’s attempts to deal with blood in the streets (such as its own $500 trillion “stimulus” plan) affect its nonstop purchases of U.S. Treasuries? I don’t know, but I don’t see anyone in establishment media even asking the question.

China too far away for you? How about Mexico, where the War on Drugs begat 5700 killings last year, double the figure from the year before? How does this intersect with Mexico’s rapidly shrinking oil production and how will all this affect the U.S. economy at a vulnerable time? I don’t know, but again I don’t see anyone in establishment media even asking the question.

What a miserable confluence of circumstances — economic, political, and journalistic. In 2008 it served to wipe out trillions in phony housing and stock-market “wealth.” Which is why late last year Agora Financial put together its Emergency Retirement Recovery Series. The next installment of these video “webinars” will be available tomorrow. This one explores an intriguing avenue for generating income. Sign up here — there’s absolutely no obligation — and we’ll email you the link as soon as we post the video.

The Daily Reckoning