A Case of Mistaken Identity and Lessons from a Parrot
I have always been skeptical when people blame a lack of news coverage on some nefarious plot by the media. Most people who cry media ‘blackout’ aren’t that newsworthy, have stories that don’t check out, or don’t pitch their story that well. The truth is, unless you have a compelling, timely, well pitched story, today’s media will not cover it. They are too burdened by ever tighter web-driven deadlines, fewer reporting staff, and the barrage of sophisticated public relations professionals who definitely do know how to pitch a story, and outnumber reporters 5-to-1.
But after a full week working as Ralph Nader’s media coordinator, I have a new perspective.
The story of the decade is breaking, we have the candidate of the century on this story—and we are getting no coverage by major media.
After years of neglect, deregulation, and sharp declines in corporate transparency and corporate accountability, the gig is up and Wall Street is being shaken to its foundations. What has already happened towers over the savings and loan crisis, and we are not even close to the end, or even the beginning of the end. The Wall Street bailouts and wipe outs are on track to be the biggest frontal assault on financial consumers and taxpayers in history.
Ralph Nader, America’s undisputed protector of consumers, has uncannily tracked the chain of events—on the documented public record—that has led our economy down this devastating path. In countless letters, testimonies and reports—all warning of the dangers of unrestrained greed absent accountability and transparency (check for yourself at Nader.org), Ralph proposed alternative paths, and all along the way he was ignored or ridiculed. Now he has a plan to soften the blow, get us out of the morass, and help ensure it doesn’t happen again. But no major press will cover it. No New York Times. No Wall Street Journal. No Associated Press. No network news. Nothing but a pundit on C-Span, kudos from a newsletter and a little article on the web site Politico.
The September 16th Washington Post summed up the gravity of this issue on its front page: "Yesterday’s meltdown on Wall Street brought the economy roaring back to the center of the presidential campaign, and the question for the final seven weeks of the general-election campaign is whether Barack Obama or John McCain can convince voters that he is capable of leading the country out of the morass." If the meltdown on Wall Street and bailout by taxpayers is the deciding factor of this election:
- Which candidate has the best record for consumer protection, standing up for small investors and taxpayers in America?
- Which candidate has been warning us all along the way of the dangers of deregulating Wall Street?
- Which candidate has a plan to get us out of this morass, restore accountability and transparency to Wall Street, and can actually be trusted to do what he says?
His name is not Barack Obama or Senator McCain, and he is invisible as far as the media is concerned.
Yesterday, Ralph Nader issued a chronology of the lead-up to the current meltdown, and his ten-point plan to restore a semblance of accountability, transparency, and incentives that would steer Wall Street away from short-termist, out-of-control casino capitalism toward fulfilling its proper function of efficiently allocating capital to advance our long-term economic well-being. The plan was sent out to 6,000 reporters, including specific e-mails and phone calls to the editors and reporters from the major newspapers that are on this beat and evening TV news producers. Aside from the Fox cable business channel, no major media picked it up.
After a series of editorial board meetings we did this week with the Washington Post and New York Times Washington Bureau, I think I know why. When we asked them what their standards for covering Ralph Nader were, it was clear they didn’t have any. But Fred Hiatt, the editorial page editor at the Washington Post, hit the nail on the head. He said, "I like some of your issues, but I don’t see how you being a presidential candidate affects them. I see you more as a consumer advocate." In other words, if Ralph was just some guy running for president on the ballot in 45 states with 5 percent support in the polls, he might actually get some coverage in that role, rather than having his giant stature as a consumer advocate trivialize his presidential candidate stature.
So today, when AP broke a story that the Federal bank insurance fund was dwindling and in danger of needing a taxpayer bailout, I tried taking Fred up on his advice and pitched to the economic editors and financial reporters, emphasizing ‘Ralph the consumer advocate.’ It happened that just two months ago Ralph wrote a letter to Chris Dodd and Barney Frank, who have oversight over the FDIC, warning of exactly this and suggesting some measures to shore up the FDIC reserves before it was too late. As usual Congress dismissed Ralph’s warning, with Congressman Spencer Bachus saying there was "no factual basis" for his concern. Six years ago, Ralph warned of the potential shakeout from Clinton giving most of the commercial banks free federal deposit insurance since 1995, saying, "Don’t be surprised if this latest banking reform deteriorates into little more than another version of the savings and loan deposit insurance reforms of 1980 which helped fuel that industry’s demise and lightened taxpayers’ pockets by several hundred billions of dollars."
Here we have a substantive story where Ralph is right in the sweet spot from the beginning of the problem to the present. I phoned up Marcy Jones, the AP SEC reporter who had broken the story to let her know Ralph had called it six years back, and that he now had a plan to fix it. But Marcy didn’t want to hear from Ralph either, and referred to me to the political desk. I called the AP Washington Politics Editor, Donna Cassata, with great enthusiasm, saying “Now I have something that is too good to pass on.” But she passed.
The Wall Street meltdown story has Ralph Nader’s name all over it, and as a candidate or as a consumer advocate he should be getting an avalanche of requests and invitations—not a stone-wall.
That’s ok. This story is not going away and neither are we. If need be, our supporters will overwhelm the political and economic editors and producers, taking the public relations professional-to-journalist ratio to a new order of magnitude.
In the mean time, thank goodness for our Cardozo the Parrot video, which goes to show that even sheep cannot ignore a talking bird.