How Planet Money, This American Life and NPR Have Become Key Players in the Bankers’ Propaganda War on What's Left of Our Social Contract
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This article first appeared at Not Safe for Work Corporation.
Just over a week ago, my Twitter feed started getting bombarded with links to the latest — and quite possibly the scummiest — Planet Money/This American Life propaganda piece on NPR for the financial industry, disguised as highbrow progressive journalism.
The piece was called "Unfit For Work: The Startling Rise of Disability in America" and it essentially argued — using wildly flawed research and straight-up lies — that our Social Security program is burdened by a glut of freeloader disability queens, faking their disabilities in order to live high on the Social Security disability insurance hog.
Why would NPR run such a flawed, biased story? The answer takes us right to the heart of Wall Street’s plans to privatize government benefits, which Wall Street bond holders want to slash for their own profits. This battle pits powerful Wall Street interests and their media and political lackeys on the one side, versus an overwhelming majority of Americans — Republicans and Democrats both — on the other. In the middle stands a radio piece from a trusted source, NPR/This American Life/Planet Money, telling its progressive, educated audience that there is in fact a problem with Social Security, and that problem is a bunch of human parasites faking disability to suckle from the Social Security teat.
It’s the sort of rancid old 1930s anti-New Deal propaganda that the American Liberty League or NAM or the Chamber of Commerce used to puke out on a regular basis. But this is 2013, meaning this time around, the battleground is on the putative left, pitting the Democratic Party leaders including Obama against the people who voted for him, and who have nowhere else to turn. On the Democratic Party’s side: their funders on Wall Street, and their neoliberal propagandists in pundit-land and in universities. The key isn’t winning over right-wing conservatives, but rather affluent progressives — i.e., Planet Money's and NPR’s audience. If they can flip that demographic, Social Security is privatized toast.
The good thing is that the piece was such obvious crap, so intellectually flawed and propaganda-soaked, that Ira Glass and the This American Life/Planet Money/NPR people were forced to respond to their critics. The downside is that the critics were far too respectful, basing their criticism on factual flaws rather than on the corruption that made the flawed reporting not just possible, but inevitable.
Here's a U Illinois professor respectfully critiquing the piece on the Huffington Post:
Ms. Joffe-Walt, who is neither an economist nor a specialist on disability, is making a claim that in an economics class would be red penciled with the corrective...
The logical error in her reporting comes from simply assuming that the rising number of people on disability is the result of the collusion between poor unemployed people and cash-strapped states. But the reality may be closer to the fact that the Baby Boomer generation, as it ages, becomes more and more subject to impairments that lead to disabilities. Since a third of people with disabilities are those with mental disorders, it is also no surprise that the dramatic rise in diagnoses of depression, OCD, and autism in the same period have had an impact on these statistics.
In These Times and the great Dean Baker also went after the Planet Money piece with padded kid gloves; perhaps they were thrown off by the fatal assumption that Planet Money and NPR are on the same progressive team as they.
Only Media Matters offered something like a comprehensive critique of the piece, debunking the Planet Money PR falsehoods one by one.