POLITICS & MEDIA – DUMBING US ALL DOWN
FORECASTS & TRENDS E-LETTER
IN THIS ISSUE:
1. Political Discourse & Debate Are Vanishing.
2. Where Are The “Visions” For America?
3. The Major Media Is Dumbing Us Down.
4. “The [Rodney] Dangerfield Economy.”
Political Discourse Is Vanishing
In addition to being an Investment Advisor for many years, I am also an admitted political junkie. Normally, I enjoy the political debates which can now be found 24/7 on the cable news programs. However, the political discourse has become so partisan in recent years, and frequently so ignorant of the truth on both sides, that it is often laughable, irritating or both. Flip the channels at will and almost everywhere you look, there will be two (or more) radically partisan debaters spewing “talking points” that often range from gross misrepresentation to outright lies.
Many Americans see these two radically polarized views - with no one to identify the misrepresentations, misstatements and lies – and are often confused and do not know which side to believe. Viewers are left with no choice but to pick one side or the other. All too often, they choose the candidate who sounds best, and that frequently is the one who promises the most.
It is now a sad fact that most politicians do not have the courage of their convictions. Or for that matter, much in the way of core convictions at all. They simply repeat whatever their advisors tell them. Opinion polls drive their actions. It used to be that candidates were more than liberal or conservative, that at their core - beyond their positions or ideology - they were Americans. Now, most are just politicians through and through.
Making matters even worse is what we have come to know as the “politics of personal destruction.” The opposing candidate is not only wrong, he must also be demonized as being ignorant, cruel, evil, bumbling, crooked, deceptive, etc. and having an insidious agenda that we, the poor little voters, cannot hope to comprehend. This type of “defining” comes from both directions and is a sorry example of this age of so-called “triangulation” in politics.
Where Are The “Visions” For America?
I miss the days of solid, honest debate. Real debate where a candidate, whether liberal or conservative, would articulate a vision for America. Where America and the American ideal worked, it was trumpeted (no matter whose idea it was). Where it didn’t work (no matter whose fault it was), new ideas and solutions were offered, not “sound bites” and “issue ads” aimed at destroying the other guy. Where are the visions today?
Let’s take John Kerry, for starters. Kerry has been out there for a year on the campaign trail. Yet most voters have no idea what his vision for America is, or if he even has one. Sure, you can learn a lot about what Kerry supposedly believes in and what he wants to do, IF you go spend an hour or two on his website (assuming he actually articulated the positions stated there). Yet most voters will never go to his website. So what has he really said in public? What vision has he articulated?
Kerry spends most of his time criticizing George Bush as a bumbling idiot, an economic moron, a tool of corporate America and a disaster on foreign policy. If you believe Kerry, Bush is solely responsible for the recession of 2000-2001, for the loss of three million jobs, the budget deficit, the trade deficit and a deceitful and failed war in Iraq. Kerry is good at criticizing, but where is his vision? I haven’t seen one yet.
And how about President Bush? I have stated on numerous occasions in this E-Letter that I preferred Bush over any of the Democratic candidates. Now that Kerry is the nominee, my opinion is the same. Even though I am not a member of any political party, Bush remains my choice for president, primarily due to his leadership in the ongoing War On Terror. I agree with Bush’s opinion that we should not rely on the United Nations for approval to protect America from terrorism.
Yet even I have to ask, what is Bush’s vision for America? While I admire his tough stand on terrorism, I am not entirely clear on his vision beyond the War On Terror. He has supported several liberal initiatives in his first term, for which I have criticized him, but he has also championed several conservative causes in the last few years. So, I wonder if Bush has a clear vision for the future of America beyond fighting terrorism.
Bush’s initial push in his re-election ad campaign has been to criticize Kerry, rather than advance a vision. In today’s political world, this is what you do. Hammer your opponent before you espouse your own plans. So we will have to wait and see.
The Media - Dumbing Us All Down
The mainstream media (network television, major newspapers, etc.) has long had a liberal bias; that is no secret. While there are some media sources that offer more balanced political coverage, and even some that are conservatively biased, few of these make it into the mainstream broadcast media (Rush Limbaugh being the notable exception). FOX News, for example, which hails as the “fair and balanced” channel, is only available on cable TV. Most Americans watch only the major networks.
The major media companies know this, and they use their power to spread the liberal agenda and suppress conservative points of view. If you watch closely, you will see this. Look for the inordinate amount of time allocated to liberal spokespersons and issues, versus conservative. Listen to the questions asked by the media; look for “softballs” offered up to the liberals to hit out of the park; and compare them to the questions asked of the conservatives. Watch how quickly the conservatives are cut off when they speak. I could go on but if you watch closely, you will see the bias.
In recent years, especially since George W. Bush became president, the liberal media has intensified its bias to the point of eliminating any useful or reasonable debate. The program protocol is unmistakable. As noted above, the standard format is to have two (or more) guests with very polarized views, and a host that will not challenge either as to the accuracy of their arguments, their statements or their positions.
Liberal guests know they will not be challenged, so the rhetoric just intensifies. Their accusations and talking points tend to challenge belief. Unfortunately, many conservative spokespersons have sunk to the same low levels as their liberal counterparts, feeling they must do so in an effort to fight back. And down it goes.
The bottom line is, political discourse and real debate has largely been lost. As much as I hate to admit it, the left has won this one, thanks to their willing accomplices in the media.
In the end, all this serves to DUMB US ALL DOWN to a common denominator. Worst of all, I don’t know how to change it. But the following editorial is a good start – be sure to read it.
“The [Rodney] Dangerfield Economy”
An excellent editorial entitled “The Dangerfield Economy” appeared in the Wall Street Journal Online on Monday. The staff editor mocked the media for its constant portrayal of the economy being in horrible shape when, in reality, this economy is roaring ahead. Referring to the latest strong employment report last Friday, he says, “Then again, give them [the media] a day or two and they'll have us back in Hooverville. Like Rodney Dangerfield, this is the recovery that can’t get no respect.” How true.
The WSJ editor goes on to revisit the so-called “Misery Index.” The Misery Index, you may recall, is the combination of the inflation rate plus the unemployment rate. Currently, the Misery Index stands at 7.7% (2% inflation & 5.7% unemployment). The editor points out that the current Misery Index is lower than in any presidential election year since 1976. What, the Misery Index lower under George Bush than under bill Clinton? Yep. And Ford, Carter, Reagan and Bush, Sr. Bet you haven’t heard that in the media this year!
The WSJ editor goes on to debunk several other prominent media distortions of the truth regarding the US economy, outsourcing of jobs, the financial state of consumers, etc., etc. It is an excellent article. Here is the link to the story, if you are a subscriber: [ Click here].
GDP rose at a sizzling annual rate of 6.1% in the second half of 2003. Economic reports so far this year suggest that growth is still on a 4-5% track. Yet, amazingly, over 40% of Americans still believe we are in a recession. This is the direct result of political and media misrepresentation.
For over a year now, Democrats and the media have blamed George Bush for the anemic growth in jobs. (Forgive me, but I didn’t know the president creates jobs; I thought the economy did.) Last Friday, the unemployment report showed a sharp increase of more than 308,000 new jobs in March across industry sectors. Yet to hear the media spin it, they are the wrong kind of jobs. There’s no satisfying these people!
If they are the wrong kind of jobs, how is it that personal income continues to rise month after month after month? Household income rose 4.1% over the last 12 months. Likewise, how is it that consumer spending continues to rise month after month despite repeated claims by the media that consumers are tapped-out.
Household Wealth & Home Ownership
If you listen to the media, you would think that Americans are drowning in debt. Yet household wealth recently hit a new all-time high of over $44 trillion. While it is true that consumer debt is also at an all-time high, over 70% of this debt is in the form of home mortgages which are well collateralized. While I have been quoting this mortgage number (over 70% of consumer debt) for over a year, I have yet to see it quoted or discussed anywhere in the mainstream media.
Speaking of mortgages, let’s get to the subject of home ownership. Today, 68.6% of American households own their home. This is the highest rate of home ownership on record in this country, higher even than in the boom years of the 1990s. Funny thing, but the media rarely mention this either.
As I said above, 40% of Americans still believe we are in a recession, even though the facts prove otherwise. Don’t think that the media is not wise to its ability to shape public opinion, positive or negative, or that they will not use this power to promote their agenda during this election year.
I have written about the extreme level of hatred for President Bush on the part of liberals, including those in the mainstream press. As discussed above, we are already seeing how this partisanship on the part of the liberal media is changing the format of political discourse and eliminating true objective reporting and worthwhile debate on the issues.
Unfortunately, I think the old saying, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet” applies at least until the election in November. I expect the liberal media to intensify its efforts to unseat President Bush, however blatant they have to be, even if it means losing what little is left of their pretense of objectivity. It also means that to counteract this onslaught by the liberal media, the conservative media will redouble its efforts to “set the record straight.” Unfortunately, when truth is sacrificed to partisanship, the record is rarely set straight; it’s just adjusted to slant the other way.
All of this means that you need to be careful not to believe everything you read, see, or hear during this election year. To be truly informed, you need to get news from multiple sources and then try to determine where the truth lies. I also suggest that you consider some non-conservative outlets at least occasionally, since it never hurts to read opposing views.
To help spot bias in the news, I once again recommend that you go to the Media Research Center (MRC) website ( www.mediaresearch.org). This is a non-profit organization dedicated to fighting media bias. I like this site for several reasons. First, it highlights both printed and broadcast news media. While it’s impossible for you or me to watch all of the news broadcasts, MRC’s staff does watch them and creates a transcript of what was said. They point out the bias on a daily basis.
That brings up the second reason I like MRC, in that it allows me to read for myself exactly what was said in broadcast news and interviews. To be honest, there are some times that I do not agree with MRC that a broadcast was biased, but the ability to read the actual transcripts lets me make up my own mind rather than depending upon their staff for interpretation.
When you go to the MRC website, you can also sign up for free e-mail “Cyberalerts.” These e-mail alerts are produced on a daily basis and highlight instances of media bias over the past day or so. They are excellent.
As I have said before, I think we’re in for a wild political/media ride from now until the election in November. The liberals are desperate now that they are out of power, and are coming to realize they’ve bet on a weak nominee in Kerry. These people despise President Bush more than any president in my memory. It will be interesting to see just how far they will go in their efforts to defeat him. No doubt, this will provide ample subject matter for future E-Letters!
Wishing you well,
Gary D. Halbert
Forecasts & Trends E-Letter is published by ProFutures, Inc. Gary D. Halbert is the president and CEO of ProFutures, Inc. and is the editor of this publication. Information contained herein is taken from sources believed to be reliable but cannot be guaranteed as to its accuracy. Opinions and recommendations herein generally reflect the judgement of Gary D. Halbert (or another named author) and may change at any time without written notice. Market opinions contained herein are intended as general observations and are not intended as specific investment advice. Readers are urged to check with their investment counselors before making any investment decisions. This electronic newsletter does not constitute an offer of sale of any securities. Gary D. Halbert, ProFutures, Inc., and its affiliated companies, its officers, directors and/or employees may or may not have investments in markets or programs mentioned herein. Past results are not necessarily indicative of future results. Reprinting for family or friends is allowed with proper credit. However, republishing (written or electronically) in its entirety or through the use of extensive quotes is prohibited without prior written consent.