Scandal, gridlock, high crimes and misdemeanors. In this season of journalistic outrage, political stalemate and record-shattering heat waves, it’s tough to keep your cool. Tougher still if you are in the hot seat – unless of course you’re fortunate enough to occupy a position of power and authority. In which case, you might just as well settle in for a bit of kabuki theater and go about your business.

Seems the more precarious vital social, political and economic institutions become, the less accountable they are to the general public. Or maybe it’s the other way around. In any event, if you’re scoring at home, here’s the latest accountability index.

Wither News Corp.?

Last week, media mogul Rupert Murdoch testified before the British Parliament about the phone hacking scandal that shuttered his popular tabloid, News of the World, and scuttled his bid to take controlling interest of satellite broadcaster BskyB. The media baron told MPs, “This is the humblest day of my life.” The escalating scandal has prompted U.S. lawmakers and citizens’ groups to call for an investigation into Murdoch’s American media holdings, which include the Wall Street Journal, the New York Post and Fox News.
"Murdoch seemed to be channeling Fox Television’s original bad boy, Bart Simpson, when he just as much told lawmakers: 'I didn’t do it.'"
Murdoch flatly denied personal responsibility for news workers who allegedly intercepted the voice mail messages of celebrities and crime victims. Over the course of his testimony, Murdoch seemed to be channeling Fox Television’s original bad boy, Bart Simpson, when he just as much told lawmakers: “I didn’t do it.”

Dancing on the (debt) ceiling

With less than two weeks before the U.S. government loses its authority to borrow money, President Obama and congressional leaders appear no closer to reaching a compromise on a blend of spending cuts and tax hikes to reduce the federal deficit and raise the debt ceiling. If lawmakers can agree to one thing, it is this: government default could trigger an economic crisis.

With their eyes fixed squarely on the 2012 election cycle, Democrats and Republicans alike are more concerned with the political fallout of the debt ceiling debate than they are with the economic calamity they’re flirting with. Politicians on both sides of the aisle are putting political expediency before the well-being of ordinary Americans.

Obama: Droning on and on

Since taking office, in January 2009, President Obama has escalated the use of so-called predator drones as part of a broader “counter-insurgency” strategy across the Muslim world. According to Fred Branfman, who helped expose Nixon’s secret war in Laos, “Although packaged as involving only 'surgical' strikes, the U.S. 'counter-terrorism strategy' already involves tens of thousands of 'special operations' troops and thousands of drones in six Muslim countries -- Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia and Yemen. Seven thousand U.S. troops in Afghanistan and 3,000 in Iraq alone are engaged in round-the-clock assassinations.”

Apart from a handful of progressive Democrats, Obama’s secret wars and targeted assassination program sits just fine with congressional leaders – no partisan rancor here! Seems the costs of an open-ended war on terror, not to mention questions over the president’s authority to use military force in this fashion, doesn’t faze very many Democrats or Republicans, much less freshman tea party lawmakers.

Michele Bachmann’s pledge drive

Seems every other day, tea party favorite and presidential contender Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) is signing one pledge or another. Last week, while stumping in South Carolina, the location of the first Republican presidential primary, Bachmann issued yet another pledge – she refuses to vote in favor of increasing the debt ceiling. And for good measure, Bachmann added she is committed to repealing “Obamacare.”
"Apart from a handful of progressive Democrats, Obama’s secret wars and targeted assassination program sits just fine with congressional leaders – no partisan rancor here!"
This flurry of pledges makes it easy for news workers to report on Bachmann’s presidential campaign without all the fuss and bother of doing any actual reporting. Despite Bachmann’s homophobia, her knack for playing fast and loose with the facts, let alone her hypocrisy over federal subsidies – the Bachmann family farm has received hundreds of thousands in taxpayer money – it’s Bachmann’s pledge drive to the White House that gets press coverage.

Wall Street: The pot calling the kettle black

Finally, in the wake of ongoing debt ceiling negotiations, Moody’s Investor Services, among other credit-rating services, issued dire warnings to lawmakers should the U.S. government go into default. According to some analysts, if the government goes into default, it could panic the financial markets, spike interest rates and further erode the retirement savings of ordinary Americans.

Press coverage of the debt debate routinely includes the pronouncements of leading credit-rating firms. But news stories rarely mention that these same rating services were enablers for Wall Street banks and investment firms to use deceptive lending practices, credit default swaps and other “sketchy” financial instruments to line their pockets. When the Ponzi scheme finally unraveled, it led to the global economic meltdown of 2008 and the ongoing foreclosure crisis.

In a summer of blockbuster sequels, soon enough we’ll all be lining up for The Great Recession 2.

Kevin Howley is associate professor of media studies at DePauw University. He is editor of Understanding Community Media (Sage, 2010) and the forthcoming Media Interventions (Peter Lang). He writes regularly on media, culture and politics at e-chreia.