The Modern Emperor’s New Clothes

Ideas and Issues
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May 26, 2021

Little Rock

My daughter once assured me that podcasts would “change my life.” My response has largely been, “yeah, sure,” but I think I’m ready to jump on the learning curve. Rolling from Atlanta to Little Rock as part of my monthly route is a schlep, and it’s made more so by the long stretches of radio talk and garbage on that tour.

Leaving at 5AM from Atlanta, I’m on my second or third round of NPR stations repeating the same news by the time I’m within a spit of Birmingham. Not many options, because the pickings are slim on the commercial stations. I find myself running up and down the dial and ending up more often on poppy stations, largely because if I have to choose between listening to old men whine about China, Trump, and hate, I’d much rather listen to the various musical versions of unrequited passion and frequent heartbreak. As the songs say, I choose love!

On NPR’s Morning Edition, it’s hard for me to swallow the back-to-back airbrushing that underwrites the news. Sure, we run radio stations, so I’m not going to throw a brick from our glass house. If the Eric Schmidt Foundation and the Walton Foundation gave us a holler and said they wanted to underwrite some programs of ours, we wouldn’t say no. But, neither would we allow Walton to pretend that they exist to “solve social problems” and improve “the environment.” Walton equals Walmart, charter schools, lower wages, foreign bribery and more, and it doesn’t equal solving problems or the environment.          Schmidt’s tag line on NPR is much the same, but this is Google money. Pretty much we all live in Google’s world now and that hardly makes their claims about social change seem like truth in advertising. The pricing and elite structure of the outfit, much less the C-word — China — hardly makes something about social change seem like truth in advertising. NPR isn’t the only one with issues of course, although it’s equally painful to hear their reporters stop in the middle of a story on Amazon to disclose that the company is a primary contributor. Same problem for reporters for the Washington Post and their owner Jeff Bezos or the Wall Street Journal and the predatory Rupert Murdoch.

These gazillionaires, and other like them, are the new emperors of too many of our regimes, and it’s impossible not to bite the lip a bit as they try on new clothes as philanthropists and all-around goody two shoes who give a flying flip about you and me. Same for Bill and Melinda Gates who have regularly gotten the softest and sweetest treatment from media and the press imaginable, but now all of a sudden, the divorce papers allow the gloves to come off a bit. Just a tad though, because it took an op-ed writer in the Times to remind that Bill AND Melinda had diverted billions to subsidize private enterprise global pharmaceutical companies and had been opponents to patent restrictions that would make lifesaving drugs affordable in lower income countries. Remember, the Gates folks swear, they are all about health.

Podcasts? There must be a better way to travel! The problem, as we all remember from the stories we learned as children, is that when the emperor tried on his “new clothes,” just as these folks are trying, it took a while before someone pointed out that it didn’t work. He was naked. No amount of spin can hide the nakedness behind the wealth here, no matter what new clothes they are tying to put on to trick the rest of us.