Author: Steve Prestegard

The theme today is: You’re under arrest

I’ve written previously here about my frequent viewing of police and detective TV shows.

This is about half of my formula (I’ve already written about the other half) for TV-watching in my young days — cool theme music and cool wheels.

The ’70s TV Detectives Facebook page asked for members’ five favorite TV detective themes of the ’70s.

I replied that I couldn’t limit myself to five. Maybe five per network, starting with NBC …

… then CBS …

… then ABC:

I didn’t watch all of these. (I wonder how many people even remember Lorne Greene from anything after “Bonanza,” including the original “Battlestar Galactica,” the aforementioned “Griff” — whose theme music was undoubtedly better than the series — or “Code Red.”)

Responses to the original post also ran afield of both the decade and the specific genre, which I tried not to do here. So my list doesn’t include non-’70s (“Dragnet” ended in 1970 and “Mannix” and “Ironside” in 1975) nor non-detective shows, such as …

(Technically “Hawk” could have fit on the list given that, while it originally ran on ABC in 1966, NBC ran it in the summer of 1976 to capitalize on the popularity of Burt Reynolds, who by the way drove a Pontiac in “Hawk” 10 years before “Smokey and the Bandit” and its Trans Am.)

Why this group? you may ask. (Yes, you may ask.) Other than possibly an affinity for the key of B flat (“Adam-12,” both versions of “Johnny Staccato,” the start of “McCloud,” “Chase”), you might notice that most of these have horns of some kind. That was the usual arrangement before synthesizers started being used.

Anything written by Lalo Schifrin is of the highest quality, including non-police or non-TV stuff:

Now if someone would develop a detective movie or TV series where the hero drives a Corvette and Schifrin writes the theme music (he is still with us at 88) … that would be nirvana.

Presty the DJ for April 16

The number one British single today in 1969:

In a week, the Beatles would tell the Aces to …

Today in 1969, MC5 demonstrated how not to protest a department store’s failure to sell your albums: Take out an Ann Arbor newspaper ad that says “F— Hudsons” (without the dashes).

Not only did Hudsons not change its mind, Elektra Records dropped MC5.

Detective Kenneth Hutchinson of a California police department had the number one single today in 1977:

Continue reading “Presty the DJ for April 16”

The continuing devolution of my line of work

Michael Tracey:

There was a time in the not-so-distant past when America’s leading paragon of journalistic virtue was widely regarded to be the ancient Washington Post columnist David Broder. What aroused such admiration for Broder was his reputation as a steadfast defender of an idealized doctrine of “objectivity” — that is, the doctrine of disinterested detachment which had long been the professional code of mainstream (or “establishment”) US journalism.

It was as though Broder floated angelically above the riff-raff, enabling him to impart sagely judgment from on high while his lessers fought amongst themselves over such trivial matters as their mutually-contradictory moral and political commitments. Broder never revealed his opinions on anything of real consequence — particularly opinions that could be connected to an ugly partisan affiliation. That would’ve been sacrilegious. So to discern his views, one had to pick up on the subtle clues he’d intermittently drop.

For example, shortly after the Iraq War was launched, Broder wrote in his syndicated column: “There is little the Democrats can do to shatter the reputation for strong leadership Bush has built.” Declining to straightforwardly disclose whether he supported or opposed the invasion, Broder’s paramount goal was always to maintain the perception of being perpetually “objective” — and supporting or opposing a preemptive invasion would’ve been a grave violation of this creed. So instead, he’d just offer up these little nuggets of analytical wisdom, like the public image of George W. Bush supposedly being a “reliable wartime commander in chief,” usually with no thought given to his role in creating that image.

Chuck Todd adeptly summed up Broder’s basic function upon his death in 2011, gushing: “He was a protector, I felt like, of the institutions of Washington. In a good way.” Of course, this inadvertently revealed Broder’s true ideological disposition. Not “objectivity” per se, given that humans can’t be perfectly objective in the first place, but rather a determination to serve as the guardian of the US governing institutions he so revered, together with the people who inhabited those institutions. Then-Senator Joe Lieberman also weighed in to mark the occasion, eulogizing Broder as a “journalistic giant” whose “work embodied fair-mindedness and objectivity.”

Needless to say, Joe Lieberman’s standard for what constitutes “fair-mindedness” and “objectivity” is probably not the standard that every journalist should aspire to.

There is no doubt that what might be called the “Broder worldview” was once very influential in US journalism and media culture. But… Broder has now been dead for over a decade. And even before his death, the emergence of the blogosphere in the early 2000s had dislodged the primacy of that worldview with an onslaught of ruthless skewering. Now, in 2021, the genre of journalism Broder represented could only be seen as comically antiquated.

And yet when one listens to the up-and-coming crop of media content-producers air their grievances about the industry — or explain what they see as the injustices holding them back in the journalism field — they often seem to be railing against a Broder-style status quo that has largely ceased to exist. Like there’s an army of Broder acolytes impeding them from expressing their true selves. It’s almost as if they need to resurrect the ghost of Broder in order to have some adversary to posture as opponents of, even as their preferred ideology has consumed the entire media ecosystem.

To test this thesis, some crafty young troublemaker should try applying for a “newsroom fellowship” at, say, the New York Times and write in the application material that their only ambition for the job is to neutrally and dispassionately report on the problems facing America in a kind of indifferent Broder-esque vernacular. Let’s see how far you get with that. Extra credit for neglecting to mention whatever structural inequities you believe yourself to have overcome by dint of your identity status. For even more fun, try praising the legacy and accomplishments of Donald Trump in anything like the language Broder had once used to extol the wartime prowess of George W. Bush. The most the New York Times might offer you is an opportunity to provide a hostage-like comment before they publish an article apocalyptically tying you to some horrifying new white nationalist/QAnon splinter group. …

NOTE: I promise this Substack is not going to be 100% dedicated to meta-analysis of the journalism industry. But it’s simply true that the journalism industry has just emerged from a massive five-year convulsion brought on by the rise of Trump (and other interrelated factors), and is in the process of constructing a new set of “norms” and expectations for itself. How the people who run the industry conceive of their role has downstream effects on the whole body politic. And once you’ve gotten anything like an inside view of how narratives get constructed, what kind of people ascend the career ladder, and what kind of pathologies dominate media institutions, it’s hard to look away.

Some of this is a tad ironic for me personally, because I was once as staunch a critic of the “objectivity” doctrine as anybody. I believed it genuinely was corrosive, outmoded, and stultifying. In an article for The Nation, just a few months after Broder’s death, I wrote:

Formalized journalism training also lends academic credibility to mainstream normative standards, the most notorious being the objectivity decree, which is still seriously entertained as a plausible ideal in journalism departments. To get a job in the “traditional” industry, one former journalism major told me, students are urged to maintain an image of unsullied impartiality, both personally and professionally. This means never taking part in public political events, never affiliating with any partisan organizations, never posting Facebook status updates that might indicate your opinions on matters of substance. Studiously avoid any demonstration of being invested in how the world works, lest you fail to meet the requirements for journalistic seriousness.

But today, anyone with a modicum of self-awareness would have to acknowledge that the media industry dynamics I’d described circa 2011 have been all but obliterated. Case in point: during the first wave of protests and riots last summer after the death of George Floyd, I was informed that journalists at major publications were being expressly authorized by their management to engage in the protests as participants.

These weren’t eccentric left-wing outfits, mind you, but major name-brand publications. Some of the directives were made public, others were not. However you feel about the propriety of those directives, there was no question that the “norms” which had once been thought to govern professional journalistic conduct had radically shifted. Couple this with it being taken for granted within media circles that Trump was not just bad, not just unseemly, but the modern incarnation of genocidal fascist tyranny. If that was your true belief (and there’s a reasonable debate to be had over the extent to which the proponents of this belief actually believed it), of course this would necessitate a drastic upheaval in the kind of journalistic philosophy you subscribe to. Anything less would be a dire failure in the face of an unprecedented, existential emergency. The call to #resist was the final nail in the coffin for anything resembling Broder-style objectivity.

And yet, the ascendant class of journalists today do not seem to have updated their critique. They still imagine themselves pitted against a Broder-like status quo which, in reality, has been almost entirely overthrown. A prime example is Wesley Lowery, the highly-touted journalist who won a Pulitzer Prize in his mid-20s for reporting on race and policing issues. In a New York Times op-ed last summer, Lowery denounced the media for clinging to “a model of professed objectivity,” which he viewed as particularly indefensible in light of the protest activity going on at the time. Covering the protests accurately demanded not “objectivity,” he inveighed, but a new ethic of what Lowery called “moral clarity.”

The overwhelming praise Lowery’s op-ed received at the time from fellow journalists was itself very instructive. Apparently, it was widely believed that a long-overdue “reckoning” with journalistic objectivity was needed in June 2020 — as though the first thing that comes to mind when you look back on the last 4-5 years is the media’s unflinching commitment to “objectively” covering the tenure of President Donald J. Trump.

Per the Lowery formulation, most journalists had “professed objectivity” with respect to Trump, and also “professed objectivity” with respect to “the views and inclinations of whiteness.” Perhaps only a journalist could actually believe this.

Media figures like Lowery were and are campaigning against a mentality that is simply not meaningfully operative anymore within the industry. So what are they trying to achieve, exactly? What they so obviously want is for their values — which generally align with the already-dominant left/liberal monoculture — to be the new governing standard, replete with speech codes and various shortcuts engineered to effectuate their own professional and social advancement. What they want is power. It’s not particularly complicated. Nor is it a coincidence that these same people tend to be most fluent in “therapeutic trauma jargon,” which provides a turbo-charged boost in their maneuvers to bludgeon editors and managers into submission.

Lowery helped pioneer this new trauma jargon at a critical moment when he proclaimed that a different NYT op-ed last June would “imperil the lives” of his “loved ones,” and that he was therefore melodramatically canceling his NYT subscription. As usual, the emotional terrorism-style gambit worked. The NYT swiftly dumped opinion editor James Bennet, and the “moral clarity” framework entered further into mainstream consensus. The more the tactic is used, the more obvious it is that invoking “trauma” or related concepts puts all the leverage into the hands of the people claiming psychological aggrievement. And it also allows for the circumvention of the ordinary evidence-building exercises that, one would have thought, are a central component of trustworthy journalism.

Lowery himself is now employed by some kind of web-based division of 60 Minutes. It would be no surprise if he were eventually elevated to Steve Kroft status as a prime-time anchor. At which point he’ll be preaching about the need for “moral clarity,” with the full institutional weight of CBS behind him, for a mass audience, with no contradiction ever detected.

There are already signs that his ideology is infiltrating the fabled old institution. If you genuinely believe that Ron DeSantis is the next iteration of Trump, and you genuinely believed that Trump ushered in a fascist movement in the US, then you likely believe a 60 Minutes segment grossly distorting DeSantis’s statements regarding COVID vaccine distribution in Florida was justified. “Moral clarity” demanded it, or something.

The paradox of this mercenary mentality is that there was always more than enough about Trump’s governing record, persona, and so forth to legitimately criticize. Which made the amount of energy the media dedicated to incessantly exaggerating or, in some cases, outright fabricating anti-Trump criticisms all the more bizarre. But “moral clarity” required interminably launching into five-alarm-fire mode over the most maximalist version of the threat Trump supposedly posed, with basic expectations of accuracy and proportionality tossed out the window.

How might we arrive at a journalistic ethic that rightly leaves hoary David Broderism in the dust, without giving itself completely over to “activism” imperatives, which can be just as distorting? “Activism versus advocacy” might be a helpful heuristic. The two categories could be distinguished in the following sense: a journalist can “advocate” a certain moral value or policy prescription, or even “advocate” supporting a certain political candidate, without prioritizing those “advocacy” goals to such an extent that consciously obscuring the truth and/or ignoring countervailing evidence becomes justified. Everybody’s got preferences, so you might as well just be open about them. The difference between “advocacy” and “activism” is that the latter gladly subordinates the prerogatives of journalism to the prerogatives of activism.

Negative externalities of an excessively “activist” mindset could include, for example, fostering a political and media environment wherein journalists systematically fail to document the most widespread and destructive riots in the US in at least 50 years. Which, as my own reporting demonstrated, is exactly what happened last summer. If you doubt this, I’ll pose a question that I’ve posed again and again for the past nine months, with no satisfactory response ever received: have you seen any comprehensive accounts in a ‘prestigious’ national media outlet rigorously detailing the full nationwide impact of the Summer 2020 riots, pondering their long-term political and cultural significance, and otherwise ensuring that they are properly memorialized in the historical record?

You have not — because this new breed of “activist” journalism and its attendant ideology has an entirely novel epistemology associated with it, whereby the overriding principle is always and everywhere the attainment of certain activist goals. (Summer 2020 activist goals: dismantle white supremacy and defeat Trump.) The goals which you’re striving toward can never be falsifiable upon the discovery of contradictory evidence, either.

No one’s saying that journalists can’t “advocate” for certain societal reforms like any other citizen, but what’s destructive is when their “activist” commitments — such as “intersectional oppressions” are a defining intractable feature of American life, or “white supremacy” infects every facet of interpersonal relations — are taken to be so sacrosanct that they’re put beyond the reach of ordinary critical inquiry. (And if the journalists do encounter critical inquiry, a dramatic sputtering meltdown ensues.)

There’s also the question of what commitments, exactly, are animating the current crop of activist journalists who purport to be so disillusioned with the industry consensus — i.e., whether the adoption of those commitments is a byproduct of their own autonomous intellectual endeavors, or if they’ve just been habituated by status-conferring institutions into this new, quasi-activist mindset. A very interesting essay published last week in Tablet by Blake Smith, an assistant professor at the University of Chicago, captures some of this ambiguity. Smith offers a theory for why his students — drawn from the same types of elite cultural classes that dominate the journalism industry — are in his estimation such conspicuously poor writers.

They “write poorly because they have been stripped of agency,” he posits. “What they have instead of an internal locus of control, the ability to form their own personal standards and adhere to them, are stories, usually written by other people on their behalf, about how by dint of hard work and personal talent they have surmounted powerful and malevolent social structures.” The same could easily be said about admittance into the media field. It’s not as though these activist commitments always stem from a deep independent study of the philosophical or political issues at hand — in fact they’re often mindlessly imbued by an environment which makes affirming them almost obligatory to obtain entry into elite institutions. Including media institutions.

With this in mind, it’s worth parsing out a distinction between objectivity — which was always an unattainable standard — and impartiality, understood as a facility which enables you to dispassionately evaluate evidence and facts, separately from your own personal preferences, with an eye toward conveying maximal truth. I am often gratified by readers/viewers/followers who say they appreciate my ‘content,’ even if they find they don’t agree with me politically. Balancing these competing incentives requires a high degree of transparency in order to ensure trust. For example, I’ve always been happy to tell people who I voted for, rather than concealing that information like a state secret. (I’m curious if Wesley Lowery would do the same.) And I’m also not asserting that there’s some impermeable bright line between the “activism” and “advocacy” categories; the distinction is always going to be a tad fuzzy. But there has to be a happy medium somewhere between obsolete David Broderism and the new all-activism-all-the-time mindset, otherwise much of the country is going to completely tune out, and for good reason.

Because when the alternative to that stodgy old form of unattainable objectivity is to simply repeat the opinions and demands of foundation-funded activists (whose life experiences are virtually indistinguishable from most journalists’), there may be a bit of a problem. To take just one recent example, only after a minor uproar did CBS News change a headline from “3 ways companies can help fight Georgia’s restrictive new voting law” to “Activists are calling on big companies to challenge new voting laws. Here’s what they’re asking for.” This kind of gave away the game: the CBS digital editor in charge of writing that headline evidently saw their job as fulfilling more-or-less the same purpose as a foundation-funded activist’s job.

On top of that, who even cares what “activists” are “calling on” corporations to do? And why is it the job of CBS News to merely repeat what those activists are saying without qualification, thus giving them the kind of amplification that they crave? Any activist group can get its message out by self-publishing on the internet. This sort of journalism’s only function is to signal institutional agreement with activist demands and, furthermore, an outlet’s editorial desire to assist in promulgating those demands.

Looking out on the present media landscape, one can only conclude that this is Wesley Lowery’s world, not David Broder’s. But pretending that Broder still reigns supreme is important. Because in 2021, more power accrues when you falsely present yourself as the plucky underdog.

Infrastructure: A synonym for “boondoggle”

William McGurn:

During his Monday Oval Office meeting with Republican lawmakers to seek GOP support for his $2 trillion infrastructure bill, Joe Biden pushed back on the idea that the meeting was no more than bipartisan “window dressing.” The president calls his plan “a historic investment” that will redress America’s “crumbling infrastructure” and says he’s willing to negotiate. But a recent slip by Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg reveals that what the Biden administration means by infrastructure is not at all what the American people think it means.

Mr. Buttigieg is one of the five cabinet secretaries the president has designated to sell the plan to the American people. In an interview last week with TheGrio.com, he declared “there is racism physically built into some of our highways,” and that this racism was a “conscious choice,” not “just an act of neglect.” If this is truly what Mr. Buttigieg and the administration believe, the trillions they are about to spend will almost certainly end up going less to actual infrastructure needs than some as-yet-to-be defined measure of “equity.”

Perhaps Mr. Buttigieg has a case. If so, he and the president should be more forthright in detailing exactly what the administration means when it says the American Jobs Plan “prioritizes addressing long-standing and persistent racial injustice.” Is this limited to targeting “40 percent of the benefits of climate and clean infrastructure investments to disadvantaged communities”? What other agendas might they be piling on here?

Because when most Americans hear the word infrastructure, they think of physical structures—roads, bridges, airports, power lines—with clear operational benefits. Infrastructure projects of this sort are popular because people can at least see something tangible for their tax dollars. The administration understands this, which is why, even though roads and bridges are only a fraction of this bill, whenever its salesmen get in trouble pitching it, that’s right where they run.

Mr. Buttigieg’s appearance on “Fox News Sunday” is a good example. Host Chris Wallace opened by hammering the secretary for not being “straight” with the American people in claiming the U.S. is ranked 13th globally for infrastructure. (He later also forced Mr. Buttigieg to concede that his estimate that the bill would create 19 million new jobs is not true. The honest estimate is closer to 2.7 million.)

So what did Mr. Buttigieg do? He quickly retreated to roads and bridges.

“You don’t need an engineering report to know that driving on American roads, they’re not the way they should be,” he told Mr. Wallace. “Our bridges need work.”

Which leads us to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s claim that only 6% of the spending in this bill deals with roads and bridges. A Washington Post fact checker took the Republican leader to task, saying that while the claim is technically accurate, it is misleading because it ignores other spending that could also be reasonably described as infrastructure.

Here’s how the “fact check” put it: “From roads, bridges and airports to railways, ports, water systems, the electric grid and high-speed broadband, about one-quarter to half of the plan is dedicated to transportation and utilities, depending on how you count.” Another way to say the same thing is that from half to three-quarters of this $2 trillion infrastructure bill is going to none of the things normally considered infrastructure.

As for Mr. Buttigieg’s racist highways, he is simply repeating an old progressive article of faith. As Steven Malanga explains in the Autumn 2020 issue of City Journal, these critics believe that the rise of the interstate highway system “prompted ‘white flight’ to the suburbs, while stranding poor minorities in urban neighborhoods disfigured by the highways that bisected them.”

Some now want these highways torn down. Mr. Malanga wonders whether federal highways will soon take their place alongside Confederate generals targeted for destruction by mobs.

Now, there’s no doubt that some of the massive federal infrastructure investments of the 1950s and ’60s were unwise and did more harm than good. In fact, that’s the whole reason conservatives have always been skeptical about large, centrally planned government projects.

But the truth is more complex than the progressive narrative holds. Flight to the suburbs started long before the interstate highways, as the rise of the automobile gave ordinary Americans the means to indulge their preference for living in small towns over more densely packed cities. Progressives have never liked cars, and it’s surely no coincidence that this bill allocates $165 billion for public transit and rail against only $115 billion to fix and modernize the roads and bridges Americans drive on—certainly not to expand them.

Back when Barack Obama was touting his own $800 billion stimulus bill in 2009, it too was initially popular. Scarcely a year later he was forced to admit that “there’s no such thing as shovel-ready projects.” The good news for Mr. Buttigieg is that he will never face that embarrassment with this bill. Because so much of what he’s touting as major infrastructure doesn’t involve shovels at all.

The zenith of wrong, and the opposite of journalism

Mike Rowe posted this before the premiere of his new Discovery Channel show, which is on Sundays at 9 Central time:

P.T. Barnum once said, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity,” which is almost as good as Oscar Wilde’s version, who put it like this: “There’s only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”

Both men could turn a phrase, and both men had a point. With Discovery premiering Six Degrees this Sunday at 10 PM, you’d think that any surrounding press would be a good thing. But neither Barnum or Wilde lived in these extraordinary times, where anyone can post anything from anywhere, and reach millions of people anytime. Many of you have called the attached article to my attention, along with a very misleading headline I would have ignored, once upon a time, but cannot, in this day and age. Here’s a link to the original article, if you’re interested. https://bit.ly/3wNrkGc Or, if you prefer, you can scroll down and enjoy the same copy, along with my gentle attempts to set the record straight. Either way, better strap in. This one’s a doozy…

MIKE ROWE’S NEW DISCOVERY SHOW IS BIG OIL-FUNDED PROPAGANDA

Reality show host Mike Rowe’s new series Six Degrees, which is currently streaming on Discovery+ and will soon air on television, begins how I expected it would: with him on screen in a t-shirt, jeans, and baseball cap, and smiling wryly. It’s classic Rowe, posturing as an avatar for the “average” American.

Mike Rowe: Hi there, Dharna. First of all, thanks the shout-out. TV audiences are hard to find these days, so I appreciate the mention. Secondly, I don’t “posture” for anyone. For better or worse, the guy you see on TV is me, and my opinions are my own. Thirdly, Six Degrees is not “propaganda funded by Big Oil.” Your headline is demonstrably false, and since Discovery informed you in writing that the sponsors had no creative or editorial control over the show, I’m curious to see how you will justify such an inflammatory claim.

DN: The conceit of the show is to tie seemingly unrelated events together. In the first episode, Rowe traces the history of the dating app Tinder back to the invention of the horseshoe. He explains that in the 1700s, a young blacksmith melted horseshoes to create the first iron plow, and that decades later, Australian outlaw Ned Kelly used an iron plow to create the first suit of armor. Kelly then became the subject of the world’s first feature-length film, which contributed to the rise of the movie industry. Hollywood made actress and inventor Hedy Lemarr famous. One of her inventions was a precursor to wifi, which we use to surf dating apps. Rowe describes this all circuitously, stopping along the way for jokes and whiskey shots.

MR: I hate to nitpick, Dharna, but Ned Kelly was not the first guy to make a suit of armor. He was just the first guy to make one from an iron plow, in order to survive a shootout. Beyond that, you’ve done a fair job describing what Six Degrees is – a history show for people who don’t watch history shows. I’m flattered to learn that you were engaged enough in the premise to watch the whole thing. Thanks.

DN: It’s dumb but seemingly innocuous—until you get to the end.

MR: All righty then. I retract the “flattered” part

DN: “Six Degrees is sponsored by the oil and natural gas industry. Why? Because oil and natural gas connects everything,” Rowe says at the episode’s conclusion. He goes on to explain that Lemarr’s inventing process was funded by the fortune her boyfriend made in the oil fields, Howard Hughes. I knew that Big Oil funded Six Degrees—the blog Reality Blurred caught wind of the sponsorship in January.

MR: “Caught wind?” To your point, Dharna, I am literally on camera, thanking the sponsors in most transparent way possible. How much digging do you suppose the journalists at Reality Blurred had to do in order to “catch wind” of this bombshell? Like you, all they had to do was watch the show. Which you can do again, this Sunday on Discovery at 10pm Eastern.

DN: In fact, I started watching Six Degrees because I’d read it was funded by the American Petroleum Institute and Distribution Contractors Association. Still, watching this unfold on screen, I nearly fell out of my chair. It turns out Rowe shouts out the oil and gas industry in some capacity in every episode. I couldn’t believe he was so up front about it.

MR: It’s easy to be upfront about relationships when you’re not ashamed of them. It’s also polite to thank your sponsors, especially in cases like this. Six Degrees wasn’t produced by Discovery – it was produced by me. I needed help to kickstart production and started looking for companies that wanted to support a history show about the surprising ways we’re are all connected. I found several interested parties, including API and DCA. Obviously, one of the things that connects us all is our shared reliance on affordable energy, so they were an easy fit. But again – neither API nor DCA had any creative or editorial control over the show. All they got was a mention from me, and some prime space in the show to run their ads.

DN: But as jarring as it was to hear him praise the industry that is largely responsible for frying the planet, this sponsorship makes sense. It fits right in with the industry’s current favorite media strategy: Reminding us that their products are used in everything.

MR: With respect, Dharna, your view of the energy industry seems awfully one-sided. Obviously, no one who lives on this planet wants to see it “fried,” including me. But no objective person can look at the history of fossil fuels, and not conclude that the petroleum-based products and natural gas have lifted more people out of poverty than any other product in the history of the world. I realize that’s a hard thing to admit, but the fundamental challenge of feeding a hungry planet could not be met without fossil fuels. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be moving toward cleaner alternatives with all due speed – we absolutely should, and from what I’ve seen, we absolutely are. But we shouldn’t deny the role that fossil fuels play in our daily life or try to divorce ourselves from oil and gas today. Doing so would destroy life as we know it. Agriculture, transportation, healthcare, clothing, textiles, space exploration…everything would be impacted. Even the millions of people currently reading this exchange, could not do so without the screens and keypads made possible with petroleum-based products, not to mention an electrical grid, powered in most cases by natural gas. Pointing that out is not “propaganda.” It’s just the truth. An inconvenient one, perhaps, but the truth, nevertheless.

DN: “They want to impress upon us that they’re responsible for making a lot of the cool shit we use, starting with when you wake up in the morning and you take a hot shower, and then when you fry an egg, and then when you turn on your iPhone,” said Kert Davies, director of Climate Investigations Center. It’s true that across the U.S., water heaters, stoves, and electricity that keeps your phone charged largely run on fossil fuels. Yet none of it has to. We have the technology to power each of those things with clean energy. Delaying that transition would lock in catastrophic climate damage. That’s what makes Rowe’s show and other fossil fuel PR campaigns like it so insidious.”

MR: How can the energy industry’s support of Six Degrees be insidious, when, to your point, I’ve been completely transparent about the nature of the relationship? And how can anyone compare a show like Six Degrees with an actual PR Campaign for the fossil fuel industry? As you were told by Discovery before you published your piece, API and DCA had zero control over the content of my Six Degrees. Zilch. Obviously, they have total control over their own marketing and PR, but that’s a very different situation. Texaco sponsored The Metropolitan Opera for 63 years, but never once did they tell the conductor what to conduct, or the singers what to sing. Also, no one is arguing that the transition to renewables should be delayed, and no one is suggesting that fossil fuels won’t be eventually replaced or seriously diminished. But if Kert Davies really believes that we can “transition” to clean energy with the flick of a switch, then you should ask him for some proof. From everything I’ve seen, we’re decades away from any scenario that will allow us to feed the world as we do, move about the country as we do, and live our daily lives in the way we’ve become accustomed…without fossil fuels.

DN: “If all you know about this industry, if all you see, is that that they sponsor a cool show you like, you’ll probably subconsciously think, ‘how bad could they be?’” said Geoffrey Supran, a Harvard researcher who has studied the fossil fuel industry’s misinformation campaigns.

MR: Geoffery Supran seems to have a firm grasp of how advertising works. API and DCA would probably prefer not to sponsor programs that people hate. But tell me, Dharna, how is reminding people about the role of petroleum products in their daily life a “misinformation campaign?” Geoff may not like the ads, but does he dispute their veracity? It doesn’t sound like he does. It doesn’t sound like you do, either. In fact, it doesn’t sound like anyone does.

DN: Davies was a little more, uh, direct: “The point of the ads is, back off, don’t fuck with us, you need us. It’s all to do with social license.”

MR: Obviously, Kert Davies is a no-nonsense fellow, unafraid to tell it like it is. But, like Geoff from Harvard, Kert doesn’t dispute the inherent truth of the ads. My question to you is, why would anyone on your side of the argument complain about the ads at all? Fact is, we are ALL addicted to life with fossil fuels. If you and Geoff and Kert want people to break that addiction, I would think the first thing you would want to do is illustrate the extent of our collective dependency. These ads do that. Maybe not in the tenor and tone that you would prefer, but the basic message is clear – we all rely on petroleum-based products. Maybe Kert doesn’t like to be reminded that he couldn’t fire off his super edgy hot-takes without the natural gas that powers the electrical grid that powers the Internet he relies upon, along with his trusty computer, made possible by the petroleum-based products he despises? Maybe that’s why Kert curses so much?

DN: Though the blatant shilling for Big Oil on the show is shocking, it’s not surprising.

MR: Again, Dharna, not to nitpick, but I’m afraid that “shill” doesn’t mean what you think it means. A shill is a somebody who publicly gives credibility to a person or organization without disclosing that they have a relationship with the person or organization in question. As you’ve already “uncovered,” I’ve done nothing to hide my relationship with the sponsors of Six Degrees, airing this Sunday on Discovery at 10pm Eastern. You, on the other hand, have gone out of your way to deliberately mischaracterize that relationship. Why? Did you write a similar article when PBS accepted funding from Exxon/Mobile to help pay for Masterpiece Theater? Did you accuse PBS of airing “big oil propaganda” when Koch Industries began sponsoring NOVA? If not, how come? API and DCA sponsored Six Degrees – a show over which they had zero creative and editorial control – before it even had a home. Again, you knew this before you posted your article. But you proceeded nevertheless.

DN: Rowe has a history of pro-fossil fuel messaging, and according to tax forms obtained by Earther, his nonprofit has raked in six-figure donations from the likes of Koch Industries. (He declined to comment for this story through Discovery+, and Earther did not receive a response from his nonprofit.)

MR: Again, Dharna, Earther didn’t “uncover” anything. mikeroweWORKS is a 501-c3. Our tax forms are on our website, along with a list of major contributors. There, in black and white, you can find me thanking all of our major supporters, in much the same way PBS does. As for the old, “he declined to comment” cudgel, who are you kidding? The night before you published this, my office received three questions from you, and a heads-up that your “deadline” was the next morning. One of your questions, was “Why would I accept money from a company like Koch?” Had you given me time to reply, I would have done so with another question. “Why should a public charity not accept support from anyone who wants to support that charity’s purpose?” It seems to me, Dharna, that you have compiled a list of companies that you have deemed “the enemy.” Koch and API and DCA appear to be on that list. It further seems clear that your real purpose is to attack any public figure who dares to consort with those companies.

DN: Before Six Degrees, Rowe made a name for himself as the host of Dirty Jobs‚ a show with an obvious—if shallow—appeal as an ode to the American working class, particularly if you think of the working class as exclusively white dudes in hard hats. On each episode, he worked in different thankless and sometimes gross professions, including a roadkill collector, sewer inspector, and “avian vomitologist,” which is exactly what it sounds like.

MR: Sort of. Dirty Jobs also highlighted dozens of entrepreneurs who prospered as the result of learning a skill. Yes, many of the jobs we featured are underappreciated and kind of gross, but none of the people we profiled saw themselves as victims. (Even the white guys in hardhats.) They were all proud to share their work with a wide audience. Which is why you’ll be delighted to know that Dirty Jobs is back in production. (That’s why I was unable to drop everything last week and answer your questions in a timely manner. I was building a tugboat in Alabama, which is a story unto itself.)

DN: This was an unlikely career path for Rowe, who before the show began was an opera singer—far from the stereotypical conception of a good ol’ rugged American dude he portrays on TV. But Dirty Jobs gave him a certain credibility as an advocate for forgotten workers.

MR: Actually, it was a very likely career path. I started hosting shows for Discovery back in the early nineties. Dirty Jobs just happened to be the most consequential, thanks perhaps to the shows “shallow” appeal. Now it is true that back in the early eighties I sang with the Baltimore Opera Company, but if you think that vocation is inconsistent with Dirty Jobs, you don’t know anything about opera…

DN: In 2008, Rowe launched mikeroweWORKS, a nonprofit promoting vocational training for blue-collar jobs. The organization provides scholarships for job training programs in fields including automotive technology, HVAC, manufacturing, and diesel technology, which in itself isn’t a bad thing. But the foundation is premised on the idea that the reason people are struggling to find good-paying work in these sectors is because of a skills gap for those in blue-collar fields—a thoroughly debunked myth pushed by industry leaders to make workers feel underqualified for positions, which research suggests helped companies to put more conditions on their job listings and offer lower rates of pay. mikeroweWORKS also fails to grapple with the reality that amid the worsening climate crisis, many of these fields will have to undergo major changes.

MR: Well, at least you spelled mikeroweWORKS properly. You’d be surprised at how many do not. Unfortunately, the actual goal of my foundation is not as you suggest. We exist primarily to debunk the stigmas and stereotypes that discourage millions of people from even considering a career in the skilled trades. At mikeroweWORKS, we value ALL forms of education, but we emphasize those opportunities that don’t require a four-year degree and offer scholarships to those who wish to pursue a skill that’s in demand. This month, we’re accepting applications for another round of work ethic scholarships and offering a million dollars to qualified applicants. (Apply at mikeroweworks.org.) As for the skills gap, I believe it to be very real, as do countless employers, government officials, and economists. It has been disputed by a number of activists, but certainly has not been “debunked,” much less, “thoroughly debunked.” Saying otherwise is a bit like saying, “because the science is settled!” when someone dares to question the increasingly popular claim that the planet will come to an end in the next decade. It’s just not persuasive.

DN: In the years since starting his nonprofit, Rowe started a parallel media career as a pundit, frequently appearing on Fox News to openly speak out against regulating oil and gas extraction.

MR: As a rule, Dharna, whenever I speak on television, I speak “openly.” But a “parallel media career?” That’s funny. Yes, I’ve appeared on FOX to discuss a number of topics related to my foundation, but never for compensation. I’ve also discussed those same issues on CNN, MSNBC, ABC, NBC, NPR, PBS, The Today Show, The Tonight Show, The Daily Show, Good Morning America, and CBS This Morning. Couple years ago, I appeared on Bill Maher’s show and Glenn Beck’s show in the same week and watched people on both sides of the aisle tell me how I’d “lost their respect” – not because they disagreed with me, but simply because I had the nerve to sit next to someone they didn’t approve of. That’s what you’re doing, Dharna. You’re expressing your “shock,” and clutching your metaphorical pearls because I expressed my gratitude to an industry you don’t like. But you’re also making things up. I have never spoken out against regulating oil and gas extraction. Like your headline, that’s a complete fabrication.

DN: Despite his posturing as a friend of the working class, Rowe doesn’t have much to say how the industry mercilessly lays off employees while paying shareholders or that working in the fossil fuel industry comes with notoriously dangerous conditions for workers and long-term health risks. Instead, he suggests safety concerns are overblown.

MR: Now you’re concerned with jobs? You mean, like the thousands of jobs that evaporated when Keystone was cancelled? Who’s “posturing” now, Dharna? Seems to me, if you really wanted to shut down all fossil fuel production, you’d be more supportive of my attempts to help those workers get trained in other areas. At mikeroweWORKS, that’s exactly what we do. We assist people who wish to learn a skill that’s in demand. We do not hold their hands for the rest of their lives or insert ourselves into disputes between labor and management. Regarding safety concerns, I’ve never said they were “overblown.” I’ve only suggested that companies who boast that “safety is first,” put themselves in an awkward rhetorical position with respect to common sense. (If safety is truly first, then why ask your people to assume any risk at all?) I believe that any effective occupational safety program must emphasize the role of personal responsibility. I think too many safety programs emphasize compliance instead. Compliance is important, obviously, but it’s not a substitute for personal responsibility. My position on this, informally called “Safety Third,” has been embraced by lots of companies and organizations.

DN: He’s also failed to show much support for labor organizing in the energy sector, even though they could desperately use his support. Federal data shows rates of unionization in the coal, oil, and gas sector is dwindling.

MR: I’m confused. Are you upset because I don’t share your contempt for fossil fuels? Or are you upset because I haven’t adequately supported the workers in the industry you want to eliminate? Either way, you seem to be shifting away from criticizing me for things that I do, to criticizing me for things that I don’t do. It’s not enough to produce a decent history show that the whole family can watch, it needs to be a history show with a list of sponsors that meet your approval. It’s not enough to start a foundation that’s assisted over 1,000 people, it needs to be a foundation that helps EVERYONE, and concerns itself with ALL aspects of labor. As my Pop used to say, “there’s no pleasing some people.”

DN: “He’s to the oil and gas industry what Ronald Reagan was for General Electric, a charming pitch man,” Adam Johnson, the co-host of the podcast Citations Needed, wrote in an email.

MR: Adam Johnson has provided you with a very poor metaphor. Ronald Reagan was indeed GE’s pitchman. Thus, they told him what to say, and he said it, in exchange for money. But this is different. I don’t work for the energy industry. API doesn’t pay me to defend them, like Earther pays you to attack them. They don’t control anything I say or write, including this. They’re just a sponsor and an advertiser of a show that I produce. You’ll notice this on Sunday at 10pm, when Six Degrees premieres on Discovery at 10pm Eastern Time.

DN: That’s likely no accident. As Johnson’s podcast uncovered on a 2019 episode, Rowe’s foundation is funded by anti-regulation groups including the Distribution Contractors Association, auto parts manufacturer Ford-Mogul Motor Parts, a subsidiary of the British multinational energy firm Centrica, and perhaps most damning of all, the massive fossil fuel and petrochemical conglomerate Koch Industries. A document the Climate Investigations Center found on Guidestar shows that Koch Industries and the Koch Foundation have together donated more than $1 million dollars to Rowe’s foundation since it was founded.

MR: Again, sorry to nitpick, Dharna, but there’s no such company as “Ford-Mogul Motor Parts.” There is a company called Federal Mogul Motor Parts, and yes, they have supported my foundation in the past. But again, that’s hardly a secret. All the companies who support my foundation are publicly listed in numerous places, including my website and my Facebook page. And yet, as you did with Reality Blurred, you go out of your way to credit Adam Johnson with “uncovering” some kind of smoking gun. With respect, a child with an iPhone and I WiFi connection could have “uncovered” all of this, then cut and pasted a more accurate version of the facts than what you’ve provided.

DN: Johnson described Rowe as the “greatest anti-worker avatar money can buy,” because he’s “someone who a lot of working people genuinely love … but who is 100% against their interests.”

MR: I’m not sure I understand how awarding millions of dollars to help train the next generation of skilled workers is “anti-worker,” and I’m unclear as to how my efforts over the last twenty years to call attention to the critical role of skilled labor is “against the interests” of skilled workers, but okay. Adam Johnson is entitled to his opinion. But people should know that Adam Johnson has a very specific agenda. Like you, he does not solicit opinions that challenge his own. Like you, he conflates the support of a non-profit foundation with the upside of a business deal. Like you, he doesn’t know the difference between a sponsorship and an endorsement, a shill and a spokesman, a TV show and a piece of propaganda. It’s no wonder you asked him for a quote.

DN: Rowe’s an especially useful ally to the fossil fuel sector because he continually perpetuates the age-old conservative myth that environmental regulation must come at the expense of jobs, despite mountains of evidence that the opposite is true and that a just transition for fossil fuel employees is possible (and needed).

MR: Nonsense. If the fossil fuel sector sees me as an ally, it’s probably because I’m a public figure who has not declared them to be an enemy of the people. Or maybe, it’s because I’m not afraid to acknowledge that fossil fuels have saved millions of lives, and dramatically improved my own? Or possibly, it’s because I try to look at both sides of the climate debate before declaring the matter to be “settled?” These days, you don’t have to be paid by the fossil fuel sector to be their ally. You just have to be someone who doesn’t condemn them while continuing to use the products they make possible.

DN: “The dirty truth about fossil fuels and the petrochemical industry is that it is really dangerous dirty work all the way from the frack fields and wellheads to the refineries and chemical plants,” said Davies. Workers get sick and die. Fenceline communities get sick and die. There are cancer clusters, increased asthma and other health problems associated with petrochemicals, plastics and pesticides.”

MR: That might be the “dirty” truth, but it’s certainly not the whole truth. Like anything else, there are risks and challenges related to the incredibly complicated process of extracting energy from the ground. But that doesn’t change the simple fact that nothing in the long history of human achievement has done more to pull more people out of poverty than easy access to an abundance of affordable energy. Obviously, that comes with a price, and I agree that the price is steep. But no one is arguing against lessening that price. No one is arguing against the pursuit of cleaner alternatives. And no one is “standing in the way” of renewables. Progress is happening as we speak.

DN: In Six Degrees, Rowe doesn’t take an explicitly anti-renewable stance.

MR: That’s because I’m not “anti-renewable,” Dharna. Far from it. I’m just aware of the way technology evolves. We didn’t go from the horse and buggy to the Tesla overnight. Neither will we transition from fossil fuels to some equally affordable and efficient alternative overnight. The fact is, there is no hope for wind or solar or hydro without a massive investment from the very companies represented by API and DCA. You can’t build a windmill without petroleum products. Nor can you manufacture solar panels. Nor can you ship them. We’ll never transition to renewables by vilifying the very forms of energy we currently rely upon.

DN: In an episode connecting sheep to how we do our taxes, he speaks with a solar installer and asks him when the energy source will “become not just an alternative but one of the go-to choices.” But even then, he doesn’t say anything about why solar might be preferable because oil and gas have created an existential threat.

MR: Again, you’re criticizing me not for what I said, but for what I didn’t say. It’s not enough to showcase a successful solar farm – you want me to condemn fossil fuels while doing so. You’re criticizing me for failing to do what YOU would say, if YOU were hosting Six Degrees with Mike Rowe, premiering on Discovery this Sunday at 10pm. Is that…reasonable? Also – that guy in the episode you claimed to watch was not a “solar installer.” He owned the whole operation. He might have looked like a common worker to you, but he’s actually a very successful entrepreneur, leading the charge in the direction you want to go.

DN: “API is hitching its wagon to a show that appears to promote discourses of fossil fuel essentialism and fossil fuel solutionism,” Supran said.

MR: Let me get this straight. Geoff believes that API – the largest trade group in the energy industry – has “hitched its wagon” to the success of a show they have no control over? A show that premieres on Discovery, this Sunday at 10pm? With respect, I think Geoff might be overestimating the power and reach Six Degrees. But I guess we’ll see.

DN: In another episode of the show, for instance, Rowe says electricity is “made possible by spinning turbines—turbines powered by wind and solar, but mostly by oil and gas.”

MR: Translation: “In another episode, Mike Rowe says some more things that are absolutely true that we really wish he wouldn’t say.”

DN: “In this way, the audience is not-so-subtly indoctrinated with the idea that fossil fuels will inevitably be essential for the foreseeable future, which is a political judgement, not a scientific necessity, and a recipe for climate disaster,” said Supran.

MR: I didn’t go to Harvard, Dharna, but I’m pretty sure that stating a fact is not a form of “indoctrination.” Most electric cars run on electricity that’s generated from turbines powered by natural gas. That’s a fact, and people should know it – especially people who think their electric vehicles elevate them to some new level of social responsibility. When I read quotes from guys like Geoff and Kert, I’m reminded that the biggest impediment to persuading more people to get behind cleaner forms of energy, is the arrogance of those who label ideas they don’t like as “propaganda” or “indoctrination.” These are oftentimes the same people who fly in private jets to exotic destinations to condemn the dangers of carbon footprints with other enlightened stewards of the land. Those people, in my opinion, are profoundly unpersuasive. And their hypocrisy only bolsters the resolve of those who oppose them.

DN: In an email, a spokesperson for Discovery+ said that Six Degrees is the only program on the network that is funded by advocacy or trade groups. Though he said he could not disclose exactly how much money the American Petroleum Institute or Distribution Contractors Association contributed to the production of Six Degrees, he said that the groups didn’t influence the show’s content. “This sponsorship was simply to get production started,” he said. “There was no creative input or influence on the series.”

MR: So then…why the hatchet job? If Discovery actually told you that API and DCA had no creative input whatsoever and only helped get production started, why then, would you claim that the entire series is “propaganda funded by Big Oil?” You knew that your headline was false before you wrote it, but you wrote it anyway. That’s reckless.

DN: But it’s clear why the industry itself would want to sponsor this kind of endeavor now. Public concern about the climate crisis is growing. The Biden administration has imposed new regulations limiting extraction, and organizers who correctly state these moves are insufficient are pressuring officials to do far more. There’s also the reality that climate change poses an existential threat if left unchecked. And the fastest way to reduce carbon emissions is to wind down the fossil fuel industry while simultaneously protecting the workers Rowe says he stands in support of. From Six Degrees, though, you’d never know that phasing out fossil fuels is a necessary step to securing working people a livable future.

MR: What’s fascinating to me, Dharna, is the way you react when TV shows don’t reflect your view of the world. I hate to break it to you, but there are lots of programs out there that do not take a position on what needs to happen in order to secure a livable future for working people. Likewise, there are many networks, (all of them, in fact,) who accept funding from corporations they might not be philosophically or politically aligned with. And of course, there are many millions of Americans who don’t take any of your assumptions at face value. And yet, you write as if they do. You write as if your opinions are no different than the unvarnished, universally accepted truth. Your hubris, if I may be so bold, is extraordinary. Unfortunately, it is not unique.

DN: “As the stakes around climate change continue to get higher—and more people point toward fossil fuels as the main culprit to the warming of our planet—Big Oil’s sponsorship of Mike Rowe’s new show on Discovery+ is concerning,” said Allison Fisher, climate and energy program director at Media Matters for America. “Unlike the conservative audience that tunes in when Rowe talks about the oil and gas industry on Fox News and Fox Business News, Discovery+ is reaching a new and unwitting audience who may not have an opinion on Big Oil one way or another but could be persuaded by Rowe.”

MR: See what I mean? With regard to hubris, you’ve got plenty of company. Consider what Allison Fisher just said. “Unwitting,” is a synonym for ignorant. The program director for Media Matters just said that Discovery’s audience is ignorant, and susceptible to my powers of persuasion. That’s strikes me as a remarkably condescending thing to say. Discovery’s audience is perfectly capable of forming their own opinions. But Allison Fisher doesn’t want them too. Neither do you, or Kert Davies, or Geoff Supran, or Adam Johnson. In fact, I don’t think you guys are worried about my “powers of persuasion;” I think you’re worried about facts that conflict with your own agenda. Facts, for instance, that suggest that the skills gap is real, or, that the “science” surrounding the current doomsday predictions might not be entirely “settled.” As the narrator of How the Universe Works, I announced four years ago that the best minds in science had determined universe contained 200 million galaxies. A few months later, I announced that those same scientists had revised their estimate to two trillion galaxies. Three years after that, they revised it back down to a hundred million. Science, as a rule, is always evolving, and rarely as “settled” as we like to think. But I know this much is true: there’s not a single claim in Six Degrees or in API’s current marketing campaign that you or anyone else have disputed. Not a single one. And yet, you have written an article like this.

DN: Six Degrees is right—currently, fossil fuels do provide the foundation of society and are connected to nearly everything.

MR: Wait…What?? We agree?? Well then, I must ask you again, Dharna, in all sincerity – why the hatchet job? If you and I actually agree on the essential point of Six Degrees – that fossil fuels provide the foundation of society and are connected to nearly everything – than why would you write such a misleading headline? I get that you’re concerned about the future of the planet. Believe it or not, I am too. But Six Degrees is not about the future. It’s about the present, and the past. It’s a fun look backwards, that tries to explain how everything is connected. It’s not a PR campaign for API, or “propaganda for Big Oil,” and saying it is, doesn’t make it so.

DN: But that’s not an immutable truth, it’s a problem to be solved by creating a just, green economy. It’s precisely because of the interconnectivity of everything, the premise on which the show is built, that we need to forge that new world. Rowe’s new show is a roadblock to do just that, and that’s exactly the way the Six Degrees’ sponsors want it.

MR: And so, we end where we began – with one more completely false and totally unsupportable claim. Look, if API wanted to erect a “roadblock” to keep us from entering the future you describe, then why do their member companies invest more in alternatives than anyone else? I don’t know if API wants an economy that’s “just” and “green,” but I do know that the companies they represent are investing massively in renewables and alternatives, and you have declared them your enemy – even as you continue to rely upon the products they make.

In closing, Dharna, I mean you no harm, but I don’t believe you can say the same about me. That’s the reason I’ve responded as I have. You’ve written a deliberately false headline followed by an unsubstantiated article filled with quotes from people whose biases only confirm your own. You did so, knowing full-well that your premise was flawed, and that the facts did not support your headline. In short, I don’t think any of what you’ve written was meant to inform or enlighten. I think it was meant to shame and intimidate. I just wanted you to know that it didn’t work.

Mike

PS. If I didn’t mention it, Six Degrees with Mike Rowe premieres this Sunday at 10 pm Eastern, only on Discovery. Check it out. You might learn something!

Whoever Dharna Noor is, we do not work in the same line of work. I report facts. She spouts off her own opinion and seeks only to find people who will back up her point of view. I wouldn’t call that “lazy journalism.” That isn’t journalism at all. in a just world, she would be unemployed due to incompetence.

 

Presty the DJ for April 14

A former boss of mine was a huge fan of the Rolling Stones. His wife was a huge fan of the Beatles. The two bands crossed paths today in 1963 at the Crawdaddy Club in Richmond, England.

The number one British single today in 1966:

Today in 1971, the Illinois Crime Commission released its list of “drug-oriented records” …

You’d think given the culture of corruption in Illinois that the commission would have better and more local priorities. On the other hand, the commission probably was made up of third and fourth cousins twice removed of Richard Daley and other Flatland politicians, so, whatever, man.

Continue reading “Presty the DJ for April 14”

Still true a quarter century later

Back in my business magazine days (the end of which begat this blog) I argued that businesses don’t pay taxes; business’ customers pay taxes.

Ryan Young proves I was right then and now:

A mammoth infrastructure bill is on the way from Congress, and policy-makers are touting a corporate-tax-rate hike to help pay for it. Treasury secretary Janet Yellen even proposed a global minimum corporate-tax rate this week. These are both bad ideas for three reasons.

First, corporations do not pay any corporate tax — individuals do. That is because companies pass on their costs. Some of the tax is paid by consumers, who pay higher prices. Company employees pay some of the tax through lower wages. And investors’ retirement accounts pay some of the tax through lower returns.

So, while it might be good politics to stick it to big corporations — or at least to posture that way in front of voters and television cameras — a corporate tax-rate hike would not accomplish its intended goal. Instead, taxes are paid by individuals who then get less for their money, receive smaller paychecks, and have a harder time saving for retirement.

In a 2020 study by Scott R. Baker of Northwestern University, Stephen Teng Sun of City University of Hong Kong, and Constantine Yannelis of the University of Chicago estimate that 31 percent of the cost of an increase in corporate taxes is borne by consumers, 38 percent by workers, and 31 percent by shareholders, or about a third each. Other studies have found different ratios. A 2020 Tax Policy Center study, a joint effort between the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution, estimates an 80–20 split between investors and labor. The Tax Foundation’s Stephen J. Entin estimated in 2017 that labor pays 70 percent or more of the corporate tax. Differences aside, these studies share a common conclusion: Ultimately, corporations themselves pay no corporate tax.

A second problem involves Secretary Yellen’s proposed global minimum corporate-tax rate. She floated the proposal this week at an IMF/World Bank spring meeting in Chicago and would like to have an agreement among G20 countries by July.

For decades, the U.S. long had one of the world’s highest corporate-tax rates, at 35 percent. Former President Trump cut the rate to 21 percent, which is close to the global average of 23.85 percent. A global minimum tax would excuse the U.S. from competitive pressure to make further cuts by giving companies fewer tax havens to which they could flee.

A third problem is that a global minimum corporate-tax rate would open up a fresh rent-seeking opportunity for U.S. corporations — rent-seeking being economists’ term for getting special government favors.

It is not difficult to imagine a U.S. company lobbying heavily to raise its rivals’ taxes in lower-tax countries. This would make the U.S. company more competitive, but in strictly relative terms. Such a lobbying win could aid a company without it having to do the hard work of improving its products or offering consumers better deals.

At the same time, though, foreign companies could lobby to raise U.S. corporate-tax rates for similar reasons. Why bother improving your own company when you can just hurt your rivals instead? That is the real race to the bottom.

The federal government has already amassed a debt larger than America’s annual gross domestic product. The new administration has already increased that burden with a $1.9 trillion COVID spending bill and is proposing to add even more debt over the next 15 years with an infrastructure spending bill of at least $2 trillion.

The revenue to pay for these projects should be raised honestly and transparently. Individuals pay all corporate tax, but its cost is hidden: It never shows up as an item on their shopping receipts, paychecks, or investment statements the way sales taxes and other fees do.

That explains the corporate tax’s political appeal. So does its mistaken “sticking it to the big guys” image. But it is a false image. If lawmakers want something funded, they should tax people directly, so we can better see the connection between what we pay to the government and what we get from it in return.

Of course, that would require honesty on the part of government and politicians.

Garion Frankel adds:

Not only has President Joe Biden threatened to eliminate former President Donald Trump’s signature Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 — which a National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) news release found significantly increased manufacturing jobs, wages, spending and output by the end of its first year in place — but Biden has also pledged to bump corporate taxes up to 28 percent.

In addition, Biden is committed to increasing marginal tax rates, removing the 20 percent pass-through deduction and much, much more. All of this would be a betrayal to the American people who have suffered so much in the past year — a position shared by leading political figures.