by Molly Ivins
You, too,can feel like a presidential candidate this morning by taking this simple pop quiz -- not 'from' your friendly news media but 'about' your friendly news media.
Here's the situation: 35,000 people go to Seattle to raise crucial issues concerning the World Trade Organization, an outfit that (just for starters) affects everyone on the planet and operates in complete secrecy.
Of those 35,000 people, fewer than 1,000 misbehave by trashing some local stores. How much more coverage do the 1,000 who misbehaved get than the 34,000 who didn't?
(A) 35 times as much.
(B) 34 times as much.
(C) Virtually all the coverage.
You are correct: "C" is the answer. Do the other 34,000 people get any coverage? Yes -- they are referred to as "some people concerned about turtles."
Human rights (especially slave labor and child labor), workers' rights (especially health, safety and living wages) and the natural environment of the planet on which all our lives depend are "some people concerned about turtles.
Meanwhile, the violent protesters are interviewed on national television, identify themselves as anarchists and explain to us all that owning property is wrong and that none of the Earth should be in private hands.
Question: Next time a group wants to draw attention to its concerns by getting lots of media coverage, do you think they will:
(A) Peacefully rally, speak and march?
(B) Smash a lot of windows in downtown stores?
If civil disagreement and civil debate draw no attention from the media, what is the alternative? Next time you hear one of those solemn panels on the causes of violence in this society, consider that conundrum.
To have covered the issues raised in Seattle about the WTO as though they were entirely a matter of free trade vs. protectionism, or as though the protesters were "opposed to globalization," is poppycock.
Anyone who bothered to listen to the Nov. 30 AFL-CIO rally in Seattle (the only place you could find it was on C-SPAN) knows that it was not about simplistic trade-bashing. Superb presentations were made by human rights advocates from Ireland, India, the Caribbean, South Africa, China and many other places. They were eloquent and thoughtful.
Union leaders, including James Hoffa Jr., gave excellent presentations of their concerns. Student leaders from across the country who have been active in forcing Nike to clean up its corporate act made sensible suggestions.
The only simplistic nonsense I heard came from the media. Having grasped the great Clintonian principal that trade is good, many of the dimmer media minds have gone on to posit that all trade is good.
I actually heard it argued that free trade inevitably leads to democracy and human rights. You would think, would you not, that people would have enough sense to check the evidence before making a statement like that. Among the WTO's members in good standing are Colombia, Cuba, Rwanda, Myanmar, Angola, Pakistan and many others high on the hit lists of human rights organizations around the world. It's enough to make you wonder about the double standard of those who condemn the admission of China to the WTO as some heinous new offense against concern for human rights.
Look, trade is good. Markets are good. But markets have to be restrained by society and by political organizations. Unrestrained markets get rid of Jesus and Jefferson at the same time. There is no necessary corollary between free trade and secrecy. Free trade doesn't mean free to trash the environment or to trample on people.
After the WTO talks collapsed, the news media informed us that this was A Big Defeat for Clinton: Clinton, Big Loser. Clinton isn't the big loser -- we are.
Huge multinational companies have so far been the chief beneficiaries of free trade. May I point out that many of these huge multinationals are in the media business? Katrina Vanden Heuvel of The Nation recently suggested that we are close to a kind of 'karetsu' --the Japanese network of interlocking government and corporate interests.
What you missed if you saw only the major media coverage of Seattle was not just the impressive labor rally but significant conferences by experts on topics related to globalization: a whole day on human rights, a whole day on women and globalization, a whole day on the environment, a whole day on alternative models of globalization.
Fifteen specialists from around the world made presentations on what fair trade and democratic globalization should look like. They offered real content and sensible solutions. They were not "people concerned about turtles."
Fortunately, we still have several sources of news that offer more than shallow corporate blather. Anyone who wants to be well-informed can find them at a good newsstand or bookstore or on the Web.
December 8, 1999 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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