"Outrageous." That's the word on everyone's lips these days.
At a White House press conference last Wednesday, President Barack Obama told reporters "Obviously, the whole issue of AIG and these bonuses that have been paid out have been consuming a lot of attention ... But what I think is also important and just as outrageous is the fact that we find ourselves in a situation where we're having to clean up after AIG's mess."
Making the rounds on the television yak shows last week, Lawrence Summers, the director of the National Economic Council said, "There are a lot of terrible things that have happened in the last 18 months, but what's happened at AIG is the most outrageous."
"Partisan backbiting may make for good copy, but it's lousy journalism."
Meanwhile, on the floor of the U.S. Senate, Blanche Lincoln (D-Nebraska) said, "It is absolutely, unequivocally, totally unacceptable for failed financial institutions that have received taxpayers' assistance to be rewarding its employees with bonus payments at this time. It is outrageous, and it will not be allowed."
Tempering his remarks for the Christian Science Monitor, Senate Finance Committee member Charles Grasley (R-Iowa) opined, "It's outrageous. My people ask: 'When are these people going to be put in jail?'"
Naturally, the chattering classes have picked up on this latest outrage. Stoking populist rage against the machine, the press and the punditocracy have been venting their special blend of (self-) righteous indignation. After all, it's good for business.
Outrageous. It's the phrase that pays.
Don't get me wrong. AIG doesn't deserve anyone's pity, let alone the taxpayers' money. But $165 million dollars is chump change compared to the billions of dollars the banking and financial services industry have been siphoning from the U.S. Treasury.
Besides, anyone who thinks that this den of thieves would be shamed by any of this is missing the point. Like their fellow architects of economic catastrophe, the executives at AIG don't take it personal. As Michael Corleone might say, "It's strictly business."
And what a business! While the Democrats and Republicans start with the finger pointing, the press dutifully records the bickering. Partisan backbiting may make for good copy, but it's lousy journalism. More to the point, political theater of this sort distracts the American people from far more egregious behaviors that demand public attention and media scrutiny.
"$165 million dollars is chump change compared to the billions of dollars the banking and financial services industry have been siphoning from the U.S. Treasury."
In no particular order, then, I offer my top five outrages that the press and the political class just as soon keep quiet about.
Re-branding the occupation of Iraq
Obama ran on a platform to end the occupation of Iraq. His latest gambit, embraced by the press corps and much of the political establishment, would withdraw two-thirds of the existing forces, leaving some 50,000 troops in Iraq until 2011. The thinking here is that if we don't call them "combat troops" the Iraqis won't mind.
More troubling, perhaps, Obama is content to allow Xe -- the private military contractors formerly known as Blackwater -- to continue operating in Iraq, despite vehement objections of the Iraqi government.
The crisis of (financial) journalism
Notwithstanding the hullabaloo surrounding the "media wars" between Jon Stewart and CNBC, it's quite an indictment of the state of U.S. journalism when a fake newscast, The Daily Show, offers the most trenchant analysis of the failures of financial news networks. Stewart seems to be the only one in the mainstream media who is alarmed by the fact that the financial news journalists are in bed with the very same industries and CEO's they are supposed to be covering.
Israeli war crimes
Israel's policy of collective punishment in Gaza constitutes a war crime. Through billions in foreign aid, military support and political cover in the United Nations, the United States is complicit in all of this. In January 2009 both the House and Senate passed resolutions in support of Israel's aggression by wide margins. Only five courageous House members voted against the resolution: Ron Paul (R-Texas), Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), Nick Rahall (D-W.V.), and Gwen Moore (D-Wis.).
The Obama administration has yet to demonstrate that it can be an honest broker in the Middle East. And U.S. press coverage of Israeli atrocities is virtually non-existent.
"Stoking populist rage against the machine, the press and the punditocracy have been venting their special blend of (self-) righteous indignation."
Single-payer health care "off the table"
Earlier this month, President Obama hosted a "health care summit" that brought together medical professionals, industry representatives and lawmakers to discuss reform of the nation's health care system. Advocates for single-payer health care plan -- including Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP), the California Nurses Association (CNA) and Healthcare-NOW! -- were all but ignored.
And despite the fact that a majority of Americans favor such a plan, there is still a press blackout on HR 676, Congressman John Conyers' (D-Mich.) bill supporting a single-payer plan.
The "other" war
The March 19 edition of the International Herald Tribune reported the following: "A plan awaiting final approval by the president would set a goal of about 400,000 troops and national police officers, more than twice the forces' current size, and more than three times the size that American officials believed would be adequate for Afghanistan in 2002, when the Taliban and Al Qaeda appeared to have been routed." Expanding the war in Afghanistan, and even more ominously into volatile regions of Pakistan, is bound to please the hawks -- but it is an affront to those who supported Obama's "anti-war candidacy."
Whether Afghanistan turns out to be Obama's Vietnam remains to be seen. What is clear is this: for all his talk of diplomacy and constructive engagement, Obama's foreign policy is more Bush-like than not.
Where is the outrage?
Kevin Howley is associate professor of media studies at DePauw University. He can be reached at email@example.com.