Today Show Nabs Soldiers Who Scam Thousands, Ignores Corporations That Scam Billions

Ian Reifowitz October 6, 2014

Cost to taxpayers per sham soldier wedding: $1,000 and change. Cost to taxpayers per corporate tax inversion: billions. (Photo of soldier and bride via Shutterstock)

It was only 7:45 a.m., but I was already feel­ing surly. Thanks to an insur­ance sna­fu, I was now wait­ing to have my blood drawn. I looked up at the TV. The Today Show was doing an exposé, one with an under­cov­er report and every­thing. You might be think­ing that they were going to shine a light on some uncon­scionable abuse being per­pe­trat­ed by a pow­er­ful enti­ty against a vul­ner­a­ble vic­tim. Not so much.
What was the abuse? U.S. mil­i­tary per­son­nel, it seems, are going out and find­ing spous­es to par­tic­i­pate in sham mar­riages. The mar­ried” sol­dier then col­lects a decent amount of extra mon­ey (appar­ent­ly more than $1,000 per month), and usu­al­ly gives the spouse—who now has a cost-free place to live and health insurance—a bit of the cash. Let’s be clear about one thing. This is flat-out wrong. I don’t con­done it, and there’s no way around the fact that it is immoral and ille­gal. Fraud is fraud, no mat­ter the amount in ques­tion.So what did the intre­pid jour­nal­ists at The Today Show do? They sent hid­den cam­eras” to catch these nefar­i­ous crim­i­nal mas­ter­minds. First, the seg­ment begins with grainy, black-and-white footage. Then we hear con­dem­na­tions from NBC News ana­lyst Col. Jack Jacobs—who undoubt­ed­ly earns a great deal more than the aver­age grunt des­per­ate enough to go through with this kind of fraud.Final­ly, we get the mon­ey shot. Today had an under­cov­er pro­duc­er answer an ad that bla­tant­ly pro­posed a sham mar­riage. They put a wire on her, just like she was going in to get a con­fes­sion from a mur­der­ous mob boss. She goes to the mob­ster’s secret, pri­vate lair, er, I mean, she meets a bare­ly out-of-his-teens sol­dier at a fast food place. He lays out the deal, clos­ing with an irre­sistible rhetor­i­cal flour­ish, You’re just get­ting free stuff”—only he did­n’t say stuff.”Next, the voice of right­eous, jour­nal­is­tic author­i­ty intones: After mak­ing his pitch, he gets up to leave. And I’m wait­ing out­side.” On cam­era, the reporter tells the sol­dier that he has been video­taped com­mit­ting fraud, and asks why he did it. So I can help sup­port my son.” Is this a lie? Maybe, but it looked to me much more like the truth, giv­en how quick­ly and eas­i­ly the answer came out of the sol­dier’s mouth. The reporter’s instan­ta­neous reply: Now look, a lot of peo­ple have chil­dren they want to sup­port.” The tone of supe­ri­or­i­ty was unmis­tak­able. At least he added, and that is noble.” Gee, thanks.Here’s what I’m think­ing: Aren’t there U.S. mil­i­tary per­son­nel on food stamps? More broad­ly, it’s not like the aver­age sol­dier is pulling down a six-fig­ure salary. And this guy—who says he’s got a child to support—do you think he’ll be liv­ing high on the hog with his extra $15K a year? Again, none of this excus­es the crime, which The Today Show claimed is wide­spread in the armed forces. It’s not okay to steal just because one earns below the medi­an income lev­el. But as I watched Nation­al Inves­tiga­tive Reporter” Jeff Rossen bear down on a sol­dier lucky to be earn­ing one-fifth what he is, I want­ed to know why this was the crime on which The Today Show chose to focus. What about edu­cat­ing its mil­lions of view­ers about, oh, I don’t know, the bil­lions of dol­lars that cor­po­ra­tions are scam­ming via bare­ly legal tax maneu­vers? By the way, House Repub­li­cans have refused to go along with Demo­c­ra­t­ic efforts to ban such maneu­vers.Regard­ing those bil­lions, cor­po­ra­tions have increas­ing­ly been deploy­ing a scheme called tax inver­sions.” This term refers to the prac­tice of cor­po­ra­tions buy­ing sub­sidiaries in for­eign coun­tries, then renounc­ing U.S. cit­i­zen­ship to get out of pay­ing U.S. tax­es.” These and oth­er sorts of schemes have become, accord­ing to Eduar­do Porter at the New York Times (his columns are in the Busi­ness sec­tion, but there is no op-ed colum­nist writ­ing more pow­er­ful­ly about eco­nom­ic jus­tice issues) a real threat to the abil­i­ty of gov­ern­ments to raise rev­enue in a pro­gres­sive fash­ion:If cor­po­ra­tions can con­tin­ue to evade tax­a­tion — using strate­gies like sham trans­ac­tions between phan­tom sub­sidiaries to shift prof­its to the low­est tax juris­dic­tions and costs to where tax­es are high­est — the bur­den of pub­lic finance will land almost entire­ly on the shoul­ders of ordi­nary work­ers, the only link in the eco­nom­ic chain that can’t move.An accom­pa­ny­ing chart shows that cor­po­ra­tions are pay­ing an ever-shrink­ing per­cent­age of their prof­its in fed­er­al tax­es. The rate is as low as it has been since the end of the Great Depres­sion. Has The Today Show report­ed on any of these issues? Has it asked whether it makes sense that cor­po­rate Amer­i­ca con­tributes less and less yet—thanks to, among oth­er things, Cit­i­zens United—has more influ­ence over the polit­i­cal process than ever?I think you already know the answer to that ques­tion. A search of The Today Show’s web­site reveals that they have not. How about NBC News in gen­er­al? There was a report on CNBC (which, appar­ent­ly, no one is watch­ing as rat­ings are at a 21-year low) after the White House moved to lim­it tax inver­sions through tight­en­ing reg­u­la­tions, and a bit of talk­ing-head chat­ter relat­ed to it. If The Today Show want­ed to do a report on U.S. sol­diers and ripoffs, they could have looked at preda­to­ry pay­day lenders flim-flam­ming mil­i­tary per­son­nel with crazy-high inter­est rates. They haven’t.Let’s review. A high­ly prof­itable TV show that brings in hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars annually—“effectively sub­si­diz­ing oth­er news shows” broad­cast by its net­work, accord­ing to the Times—targets indi­vid­ual crim­i­nals, each of whom is com­mit­ting fraud that costs the gov­ern­ment about a thou­sand dol­lars a month. That show—as well as the flag­ship night­ly news show that it subsidizes—do not report on bil­lions of dol­lars being lost by that same gov­ern­ment because cor­po­ra­tions are clever enough to exploit the tax code.After watch­ing the report, I was just stunned by how much trou­ble The Today Show went through to catch what real­ly amounts to pet­ty thievery—wrong though it undoubt­ed­ly is—while big cor­po­ra­tions essen­tial­ly steal mon­ey from our gov­ern­ment by the truck­load. TV news shows pro­duce sexy, easy to under­stand sto­ries like this one while ignor­ing the more com­plex, but more impor­tant sto­ries about the real injus­tices in our eco­nom­ic sys­tem. And that’s what’s wrong with the main­stream, cor­po­rate-run media in a nut­shell.This arti­cle orig­i­nal­ly appeared on the Dai­ly Kos. Read more entiers from Reifow­itz’s Kos blog here.  
Ian Reifowitz is the author of Obama’s Amer­i­ca: A Trans­for­ma­tive Vision of Our Nation­al Iden­ti­ty (Potomac Books, 2012), and Imag­in­ing an Aus­tri­an Nation: Joseph Samuel Bloch and the Search for a Mul­ti­eth­nic Aus­tri­an Iden­ti­ty, 1846 – 1919 (East Euro­pean Mono­graphs; dis­trib­uted by Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2003). He is Pro­fes­sor of His­to­ry at Empire State Col­lege of the State Uni­ver­si­ty of New York. His arti­cles on Amer­i­can pol­i­tics have appeared in The Dai­ly News, News­day, The New Repub­lic, The Post-Star, and elsewhere.
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