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Memo To Our Media: How To Cover The Debt Crisis

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Message Danny Schechter
Well over a year ago, I wrote an article for Harvard’s journalism journal
Nieman Reports complaining about deeply flawed media coverage of credit
and debt issues in America.

“There is a credit divide in America that fuels our economic divide,” I
wrote, warning of a potential economic implosion because so many Americans are squeezed by a debt squeeze. I was not alone in projecting a crisis, although my focus was more on the failure of many media outlets to track the problem and ask deeper questions.

“Ours has become a nation in which the carrot of instant affluence is
quickly menaced by the harsh stick of bill collectors, lawsuits, and
foreclosures,” I argued. “And yet, this bubble can burst, and has. The
slickest of our bankers and the savviest of our marketers have been able
to undo the law of gravity, that what goes up must come down.”

One didn’t have to be an expert to see the warning signs which have since
led to a massive market meltdown, a collapse of the sub-prime mortgage
market, bankruptcies by leading financial lenders, billions of dollars in
losses by top banks and financial lenders, and predictions of even more
pain to come with nearly two million Americas facing foreclosures.

When I started making a film on the subject, In Debt We Trust, a
colleague warned me that the issue might be too obscure to rate media
coverage. “No one likes to talk about money,” said a producer friend.
“This could be such a downer.”

Now what are they saying?

It doesn’t feel good to be right when so many people are being wronged. At
the time I called on media outlets to take some steps to beef up their
reporting. Most didn’t, but it’s never too late.

Here’s what I proposed then, and repeat now:

• Report more regularly on these credit issues; billions of dollars are nvolved, not to mention millions of lives.

• Identify the key corporate institutions and contrast the compensation of heir executives with the financial circumstances of their customers. Look nto the process of “financialization” that is transferring more wealth from the bottom to the top of society.

• Shine a spotlight on how special interests and lobbyists for financial institutions contribute to members of Congress and other politicians, across party lines, to ensure their desired policies and lack of regulations.

• Expose political influence driven by campaign contributions. Some reporting about this took place during the bankruptcy debate, but there has been little follow-up.

• Examine the influence credit card companies have on media coverage through their extensive and expensive advertising.

• Take a hard look at the predatory practices in poor neighborhoods – and crimes committed against poor people, who are least able to defend themselves. Legal service lawyers tell me that they are overwhelmed by the scale of mortgage scams involving homes whose value have been artificially
inflated.They are bracing for massive foreclosures,

• Focus attention on what consumers can do to fight back. Robert Manning, author of “Credit Card Nation,” explains: “If ten percent of American credit cardholders withheld their monthly payments, it would bring the financial services industry to a standstill. At a larger issue, what we have to do is to get people involved at the state level, get their state attorney generals involved, aggressively filing class action lawsuits and then putting pressure on key legislators to say, ‘This is unacceptable
that they’re not representing and balancing the issues of commerce with consumers. The balance is tilted dramatically against the average American.’”

• Report on initiatives like Americans For Debt Relief Now that are setting up community, church and grass roots house party screenings for the film IN DEBT WE TRUST. (Stopthesqueeze.org)

We need to educate the public about the deeper forces at work and the need for structural changes, urgent reforms and regulations and new consumer protections. We need to stop restating problems and start exploring solutions. We need new regulation, investigations and debt relief even debt cancellation!

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News Dissector Danny Schechter is blogger in chief at Mediachannel.Org He is the author of PLUNDER: Investigating Our Economic Calamity (Cosimo Books) available at Amazon.com. See Newsdisssector.org/store.htm.
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