Jun
01
2011

SoundBites

June 2011

NPR McNews

NPR’s Morning Edition (4/5/11) reported on the efforts of a major company to burnish its image—a company whose major owner happened to have left NPR $225 million in her will. “Yesterday, McDonald’s launched a McJobs campaign, with the goal of recruiting 50,000 workers,” anchor Renee Montagne reported. “It’s aiming to recast its jobs not as dead-end work, but in ads starring its own happy employees as desirable employment.”

When she closed with “I’m Renee Montagne,” her co-host Steve Inskeep joked, “Don’t you mean Renee McMontagne?” before signing off himself with “And I’m Steve McInskeep.”

McMontagne (4/20/11) returned to the McJobs story, interviewing “happy employees” hoping, in the words of one program participant, “to come through all the ranks.” You had to turn to MSNBC.com (4/4/11)—which has not received a multi-million-dollar grant from McDonald’s heir Joan Kroc—to learn that the McJobs program plans to spend about $10,000 per new hire, which suggests that most of these jobs will not be “more than just flipping burgers and working on fry.”

Euro Reality

The Washington Post’s Edward Cody (4/24/11), following a longstanding U.S. media line (Extra!, 9-10/97, 9-10/05, 7/10), told Europe that the party’s over: “From blanket health insurance to long vacations and early retirement, the cozy social benefits that have been a way of life in Western Europe since World War II increasingly appear to be luxuries the continent can no longer afford.” Now “workers have been forced to accept salary freezes, decreased hours, postponed retirements and healthcare reductions.”

Some people, “particularly in left-wing political parties and labor unions,” haven’t woken up yet, Cody wrote, and believe that these changes are merely the product of “ruthless free-market extremists who want to protect private wealth from higher taxes” that “can be undone by electing governments that are more worker-friendly.” The reporter makes clear that this is a delusion: “But many others, resigned to the new reality of globalization, have come to view the shift as the end of a golden era, perhaps never to be revived.”

Since the piece largely focuses on “emblematic” France, let’s look at French reality: In 1960—well after World War II—its per capita GDP was $7,482 (in 2000 U.S. dollars). In 2009, by the same measure, it was $22,820—roughly three times as much. Why can a country no longer afford the social safety net it had when it was one-third as wealthy? It certainly has nothing to do with protecting the wealthy from higher taxes—just ask the Post.

Droning On at the Washington Post

A Washington Post report by Walter Pincus (4/25/11), headlined “Debates Underway on Combat Drones,” cited a British military study calling the use of missile-firing drones “morally justified” and “a genuine revolution in military affairs.” The piece moved on to a recent conference in Washington where “the issue of drones was also widely discussed.” The wide discussion included everyone from Air Force drone proponent Lt. Col. Bruce Black to ex-CIA drone proponent Michael Hayden. And for balance, we heard from the deputy director of the Air Force Joint Unmanned Aircraft Systems Center, Col. Dean Bushey, who said that drone pilots train just like conventional pilots.

So where is the debate underway? Not in the Post, apparently.

Over the Edge

Is the Washington Post hoping readers only read headlines? At a glance, “Study: KIPP Charter Schools Have Extra Edge” (3/31/11) would seem to be just another in the Washington Post Co.’s toutings of charter schools in general and the KIPP program in particular (Extra!, 9/10).

Readers who actually clicked through, though, might have been surprised to learn what the “edge” consisted of: A study by researchers at Western Michigan University found that the KIPP network “benefits from significant private funding and student attrition.” Students receive more than $5,000 a year per pupil through private donations, on top of regular sources of public funding; and the roughly 15 percent of KIPP students who leave each year are often not replaced. To the extent that these schools “outperform” regular public schools, says the study’s author, “they’re not doing it with the same students, and they’re not doing it with the same dollars.”

As owners of the Kaplan test prep company since 1984, the Post Co. is mostly an education company these days; Post chair Donald Graham (who’s also on the board of trustees of KIPP’s D.C. branch) announced the rebranding in 2007 (Extra!, 9/10), which he said reflected “the rise of Kaplan Inc. within the company and the decline of its flagship newspaper.” Stories like this one encourage readers to question how interrelated those two phenomena may be.

As If Healthcare Saved Lives

After noting that some Tea Party activists are demanding larger spending cuts, ABC News’ Jonathan Karl (This Week, 4/3/11) provided “balance” with this observation: “Democrats have their hotheads, too. One Obama administration official said the Republican bill, which cuts $5 billion from the Agency for International Development would kill kids. That’s right. Kill kids.” As proof, he provided a soundbite from USAID director Rajiv Shah: “We estimate, and I believe these are very conservative estimates, that HR 1 would lead to 70,000 kids dying.”

That “hothead” was making a seemingly simple point: If you cut funds for preventing diseases like malaria in poor countries, more kids will die from malaria. But for a conservative reporter like Karl, the idea that spending cuts have consequences is self-evidently hysterical.