Friday, August 10, 2012

Even NPR

One of the phenomenon that has fascinated me for most of my adult life is how this country could be convinced to dismantle the regulatory apparatus that had been put in place (mostly in the 1930s) to prevent another Great Depression.  Part of this process was easy—the folks who actually remembered the Depression and the arguments in favor of putting strict controls on Wall Street grew old and senile and eventually died.  The hard part facing the deregulators was building a case for a set of ideas that had been utterly discredited by the Depression.  JK Galbraith cracked, "Milton Friedman’s misfortune is that his economic policies have been tried."

In 1977, my favorite wisecracking economist wrote a book and starred in a fifteen-part series on Public Television called The Age of Uncertainty.  As an offshoot of Moral Philosophy, there is the need in economics to control the narrative.  So by 1980, the "intellectual" pushback against the economics taught by Galbraith had begun when PBS put Milton Friedman on the air with his crackpot ideas called Free to Choose.  I pretty much stopped watching PBS by 1982 when it was clear that some decision had been reached at some management level whereby every economic report was going to have a neoliberal, Chicago-School bias.

So I have missed the total takeover of the economic narrative on the various public broadcasting venues.  But as the following demonstrates, one of the mainstays of NPR economic reporting is actually quite a bit worse than just a seriously confused Chicago hack explaining his arrant nonsense for the Nice Polite Republicans who like tote bags.  This guy is evil.  Read for yourself and mentally do the math for how many people have had their lives screwed up by policies championed by the host of Planet Money.

Adam Davidson
Host of NPR’s Planet Money & New York Times Magazine Columnist

Adam Davidson graduated from the University of Chicago with a BA in religion, and began his public radio career selling airtime and doing sponsor outreach. He then became an on-air radio personality, filing pro-Iraq War dispatches as Marketplace’s Middle East correspondent, and recently transformed himself into an effective propagandist for the banking industry. Over the years, Davidson has whitewashed the occupation of Iraq, praised sweatshop labor, attacked the idea of regulating Wall Street and argued for “squeezing the middle class”–all while taking undisclosed money from banking interests. No wonder Davidson shamelessly credited Wall Street for providing “just about anything that makes you happy.”

The Recovered History of Adam Davidson
  • Davidson began working in public radio in 1992, doing “underwriting sales” for Chicago Public Radio, a position described by one public radio station as “equivalent to that of a sales manager at private stations. This person must go out into the community and establish rapport with local businesses in order to sell airtime to them. The underwriting representative is then responsible for developing a direct . . . and informational message to put on the air for the client.”
  • Adam Davidson spent the early 2000s as Middle East correspondent for Public Radio International’s Marketplace. In the lead up to the Iraq War, Davidson filed a number of pieces promoting the invasion of Iraq; after the invasion, Davidson moved to Baghdad and filed numerous radio items whitewashing the occupation catastrophe.
  • In December 2002, Davidson positively profiled an Israeli right-wing conspiracy theory site in order to promote the invasion of Iraq. Despite the fact that was long ago discredited in Israel, where “not a single Israeli official…sees the site as a reliable source”–and despite’s ties to rightwing conspiracy theory site WorldNet Daily, nevertheless Davidson presented Debka’s claims that Saddam had stockpiled weapons of mass destruction–including chemical, biological and nuclear–as credible. Davidson staked his own credibility defending Debka, telling NPR listeners: “There’s really no way to confirm what they’re reporting right now, but I’ve been reading the site for years, and it’s common to think they’re nuts, then to wait a few weeks and see the same information in The New York Times.” As it turned out, Saddam did not possess weapons of mass destructions of any kind. In 2007, Davidson’s beloved created a panic in New York City after publishing false rumors of an impending Al Qaeda dirty bomb attack.
  • In February 2003, just a few weeks before the U.S. invaded Iraq, Davidson found a couple of Iraqi merchants living in Jordan who were in favor of the coming invasion, telling Davidson’s listeners that the invasion would do wonders for Iraq’s economy. “Mohammed,” one of the merchants, told Davidson: “I’m very optimistic about the economy of Iraq.” The war decimated Iraq’s economy, destroyed its infrastructure and was responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths.
  • Davidson then moved to Baghdad and went to work whitewashing the brutality and violence of the war and occupation. In a 2004 Los Angeles Times op-ed, Adam Davison claimed that American military violence played no part in Iraqi anger at the occupation, and suggested that Americans hadn’t committed serious violence of any sort. Instead, Davidson argued that the reason the U.S. wasn’t winning the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi people was because America had not successfully rooted out Saddam-era corruption. “It’s common to hear Iraqis say the U.S. regime is just like Hussein’s. At first, I found this bizarre. The U.S. is not hacking the ears off of innocent people. The U.S. isn’t massacring entire villages. But I learned that when Iraqis make the Hussein comparison, they’re talking, in large part, about corruption.” By focusing on Saddam-era corruption, Davidson made it seem as though the problem in Iraq was that Iraq wasn’t Americanized enough, rather than the violence of the American invasion and occupation.
  • After living in Baghdad for a year, Davidson had to suddenly flee the country in 2004, fearing for his life after being accused of working for the CIA. Later, Davidson admitted that he had a tight and undisclosed relationship with occupation officials, who regularly visited his Baghdad home and revealed to Davidson that the situation was much worse than was being reported. Rather than telling his listeners as a journalist should, Davidson protected the occupation authorities: “The ones I liked I’d invite over to the house. I mean, I genuinely liked them, but also we’d get them a little drunk on wine. We’d tell them,hey, tonight everything’s off the record. And we’d get real information...we’d get these people over to our house, they’d have some wine, and they’d be like, ‘oh, it’s so much worse than you know.’”
  • In 2006, now working at NPR as a business reporter, Davidson criticized the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, legislation passed in the wake of Enron to tighten corporate financial accountability and make top executives criminally liable for fraud happening under their watch. “The U.S. has a bunch of crazy rules that came out of a time of hysteria in the U.S. They don’t make any sense,” Davidson told listeners. This was part of a larger push by Wall Street and corporate interests to gut Sarbanes-Oxley. Among those pushing the same PR line against Sarbanes-Oxley as Davidson were Americans for Prosperity, Heritage Foundation and even Charles Koch himself. [ 1 ]
  • In 2007, Davidson boosted for the Honduran sweatshop industry, and promoted sweatshop labor in general, which he said was a great opportunity offering women upward mobility. Making socks in a sweatshop is “the only way she can improve her life,” Davidson said of one Honduran young woman he profiled for NPR’s “All Things Considered.” He did not mention that Honduran sweatshop workers routinely develop incapacitating back and spinal injuries working 12-hour shifts with little or no breaks, face workplace abuse and intimidation, and earn about 65 cents per hour. Meanwhile the CEO of Gildan, a Canadian garment company doing business in Honduras that Davidson praised in his program, took home $11 million in compensation in 2009. more


  1. I got myself banned from a local coffee shop for pointing out that the NPR broadcast they were listening to was wildly misrepresenting economic facts on the ground. When the owner of the shop rolled her eyes at me patronizingly (because it was so uncool of me not to take NPR as gospel, don't ya know) it annoyed me.

    Normally I let such things slide. Instead I decided just that once not to take the nonsense. I told the owner she was an idiot and she told me never to come back to her shop.

    Fun for the whole family!

  2. That's the insidiousness of NPR. Because most people associate them with rational, educated thought, the triumph of neoliberalism can be at least partly traced to its triumph at NPR. My parents were long-time contributors and I watched their opinions track right along with the rightward swing of news coverage at PBS / NPR. I am not sure I would start a fight with a coffee shop owner but who am I to give advice? I got into a hassle with a long-time friend by just rolling my eyes and snarling "Nice Polite Republicans" under my breath when he quoted them.