This Summer’s Crop of Media Myths

Susan J. Douglas

As we slog through what promises to be an awful summer – if BP, Israel and Wall Street lobbyists have anything to say about it – here are some news frames we could probably live without.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want President Barack Obama going all Glenn Beck on us ... and we don’t need Big Daddy either.

1. Obama is unfeeling. So now, on top of everything else, President Barack Obama is not emotional enough – or patriarchal enough either. As the country, and especially folks in the Gulf region, suffer through the BP catastrophe, James Carville urged Obama to tell BP I’m your Daddy.” Maureen Dowd bemoaned the fact that Obama scorns the paternal aspect of the presidency” and wished he had shown a more spontaneous emotional response” to the disaster. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want Obama going all Glenn Beck on us, and we don’t need Big Daddy either. Now, if Obama could morph into one of those Bionicles (who can, I believe, breath under water without gills), dive to the ocean floor and cap the leak, that would be great, but that’s just as likely as expecting him to blubber on national TV about how awful it all is. Why is this now a criterion for the presidency?

2. The Bush administration never happened. Talk about getting a pass! Whether it’s utterly criminal non-enforcement of environmental laws, the financial crater that is the Iraq war (total cost, according to Joseph Stiglitz: $3 trillion), federal agencies like the SEC or the FDA that were too cozy with the industries they regulated or asleep at the wheel (or downloading porn), you now rarely read the phrase under the Bush administration” or as a result of Bush administration policies.” It’s as if the various catastrophes confronting us, and Obama, just materialized from nowhere – poof! 

As Janine Jackson of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting notes, amid all the media hand-wringing about the national debt and deficit, rarely are the Bush tax cuts mentioned, or the hideously expensive and utterly unnecessary invasion of Iraq. Rather, the corporate press bemoans Obama’s lavish aspirations” (unlike Bush’s don’t-tax-but-spend juggernaut) and our allegedly unaffordable entitlement programs” that supposedly have to go. Jackson found that of 44 stories about the federal budget deficit in the New York Times and the Washington Post between early December 2009 and early March 2010, only 12 mentioned the role of the Bush tax cuts, and half of those came from comments by Democrats. Yes, many of us would like to pretend the Bush regime never happened, but unfortunately its main legacy – to turn the U.S. into a third-world country – will be with us for years.

3. Social Security is destined for bankruptcy. With the ongoing angst about the national deficit and debt, Social Security is once again in the crosshairs, an allegedly unsustainable entitlement for the most reviled generation in history, the baby boomers (see story on p.10). Rarely broached is what might happen if people making more than $106,800 – the maximum amount of income that is subject to Social Security taxes – actually paid the tax on all their salary. Once you make more than $106,800, the percentage of taxes you’re paying into Social Security declines. Consequently the upper middle classes, and certainly the rich, pay a lower percentage than everyone else. Let’s say you make $160,000 a year. Right now, you’d pay the maximum tax, just over $6,600. If you paid the tax on your full income, you’d pay just over $9,900, or an additional $275 a month. People earning over $106,800 are approximately six percent of the labor force, and according to Mother Jones, citing the Wall Street Journal, if they paid their fair share of payroll taxes there would be somewhere around $115 billion more in revenue for Social Security. And if your retirement income is, say, more than $150,000 a year, do you really need Social Security at all?

4. The Teabaggers are coming! The only good thing about the appalling Gulf oil disaster is that it has knocked the teabaggers out of the media spotlight. Massively over-covered, you’d think that all those people waving signs of Obama as a modern-day Hitler were the majority. After the May primaries, the media lavished coverage on Rand Paul’s victory in Kentucky as evidence of a Tea Party ascendency, while barely noting that the election of Democrat Mark Critz in a conservative district, Arlen Specter’s defeat by an actual Democrat, or the forcing of Blanche Lincoln into a runoff against a progressive opponent told a different story.

Of course, it’s only June. Just wait until the sharks start attacking,” or Obama goes on a vacation that will be deemed self-indulgent and unnecessary, or Glenn Beck continues with his ridicule of the president’s daughters on national radio. Good times ahead.

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Susan J. Douglas is a professor of communications at the University of Michigan and a senior editor at In These Times. She is the author of In Our Prime: How Older Women Are Reinventing the Road Ahead.

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