What is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and why is the White House trying to rush it through Congress with a “fast track” process that circumvents normal democratic procedures? You’d be hard-pressed to answer these questions if you depend on the US media to keep you informed—particularly corporate TV news, which, with few exceptions, has been silent on the issue.
TPP is a sprawling treaty that critics say will enshrine corporate control of decisions on the environment, intellectual property and finance that were previously subject to democratic processes. Rep. Keith Ellison (D.-Minn.) has called it “the largest corporate power grab you never heard of” (Huffington Post, 10/8/13).
Twenty years ago, Bill Clinton used fast track authority to push another “free trade” pact through Congress. NAFTA was sold on the promise of new jobs and increased exports (Washington Post, 11/18/93), but by its 20th anniversary, around 700,000 American jobs were lost due to the agreement (EPI, 5/3/11); Public Citizen puts the number closer to a million (Huffington Post, 1/6/14). Both groups say that NAFTA has increased US trade deficits and lowered wages in the US and Mexico.
Critics say TPP’s most profound impacts won’t be on jobs, wages or the trade deficit, but on the very sovereignty of people in the subject nations to make decisions regarding corporate conduct.
In 2012, when part of the draft document was leaked, Lori Wallach (The Nation, 7/16/12), director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, described TPP as a “stealthy delivery mechanism for policies that could not survive public scrutiny.” Wallach noted that “only two of the 26 chapters of this corporate Trojan horse cover traditional trade matters”:
The rest embody the most florid dreams of the 1 percent—grandiose new rights and privileges for corporations and permanent constraints on government regulation. They include new investor safeguards to ease job offshoring and assert control over natural resources, and severely limit the regulation of financial services, land use, food safety, natural resources, energy, tobacco, healthcare and more.
If instituted, the TPP’s intellectual property regime would trample over individual rights and free expression, as well as ride roughshod over the intellectual and creative commons. If you read, write, publish, think, listen, dance, sing or invent; if you farm or consume food; if you’re ill now or might one day be ill, the TPP has you in its crosshairs.
Peter Maybarduk (CounterSpin, 11/15/13) of Public Citizen’s Global Access to Medicines Program put a finer point on what being in TPP’s crosshairs might mean for people in need of medicines:
With HIV/AIDS...globally we have been able to save 10 million lives worldwide since 2000 due to generic competition. It would have been completely impossible if the brand name companies had been allowed to continue to dominate, to monopolize that field. And that’s precisely what’s at stake in the TPP. This is the US government, due to the lobbying and political influence of Big Pharma, advancing a number of proposals to expand patent monopolies and take medicines out of the public domain.
TPP would seem to be a major story with significant real-world impact. But despite its apparent newsworthiness—and two major leaks, providing grist for reporting and debate—there were no stories about TPP on the three major network news shows in the year following Barack Obama’s 2013 State of the Union mention of the agreement. The same goes for cable channels CNN and Fox News.
The only thing preventing a total blackout of TPP on national commercial TV was MSNBC, where the Ed Show practically made TPP a feature of the program, offering critical coverage and commentary in 25 segments. TPP was also discussed once on Melissa Harris-Perry (12/14/13), when it was briefly criticized by The Nation’s John Nichols.
Perhaps TV news is taking its cues from former White House trade representative Ron Kirk, who told Reuters (5/13/12) that revealing TPP’s provisions would jeopardize its political fortunes—a position that reinforces Wallach’s claim that TPP “could not stand public scrutiny.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid recently came out against “fast track” (New York Times, 1/31/14). That makes it more likely that in Congress, TPP will face a debate. But don’t count on TV news to cover it.