10:07 p.m. August 28, 2012

Planet Money-Mouth Feels The SHAME

It’s been a tough August for Adam Davidson, the dweeby-voiced host of NPR’s Planet Money show and columnist for the New York Times Magazine. He’s had a good run until now, building a lucrative career on the ruins of the 2008 financial collapse by purporting to explain our complicated economic problems in language even a Prius-driving public radio listener can understand.

For the past couple of years, however, a growing number of critics from the progressive media and finance world have been noticing some weird reactionary blather coming out of Davidson’s mouth that didn’t square with the earnest NPR egghead image most people had of him.

Enter Project SHAME—founded by your humble dispatcher and Yasha Levine a few months ago to expose corruption and fraud in our sordid journalism profession.

Earlier this month, SHAME released a report on Adam Davidson exposing his conflicted financial relationship to the same financial industry he reports on. Davidson’s Planet Money show, for example, is underwritten by one of the worst of the bailed-out financial institutions, Ally Bank —formerly GMAC. Davidson’s show is the only NPR show that has a single sponsor underwriting it. That relationship isn’t just wildly unethical — it’s a direct policy violation of one of Planet Money’s partners, Chicago Public Media, which bans its journalists from taking money from the subjects its journalists report on.

Davidson is also a speaking-engagement whore, turning tricks with one banker-sponsored conference after another — again, in direct violation of NPR policy banning its reporters from speaking engagements at conferences underwritten by the subjects they report on. In just the last 10 days or so, everyone from the New York Observer, CNBC, and the FAIR media watchdog called out NPR and Davidson for being little more than a product spokesman for the financial industry and tricking the public.

And it’s starting to take its toll. Davidson’s already-wretched New York Times Magazine column last weekend degenerated from merely vile to something so factually-challenged and nonsensical, it’s the sort of thing you’d expect to read from someone with an undiagnosed brain tumor.

A little background here: Just before Paul Ryan was announced as Romney’s running mate, GOP propagandists were furiously working to scrub out Ryan’s well-documented past as a Randroid fanatic, and rebrand him as a follower of a more respectable reactionary: economist Friedrich von Hayek.

By the time Davidson published his article last weekend, “Prime Time For Ryan’s Guru (The One That’s Not Ayn Rand)” the GOP machine had pretty much given up on trying to get the major media to buy that line. Davidson, however, ran with it.

Here is a quick breakdown of Adam Davidson’s journalistic breakdown:

  • CLAIM: Hayek “largely ignored” and “a few years ago, it was probably possible to fit every living Hayekian in a conference room.”

  • IN FACT: Hayek won the Nobel Prize in 1974, was the guru to Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, Augusto Pinochet, former Republican House Leader Dick Armey, former Czech President Vlacav Klaus, Obama’s economy czar Larry Summers, Charles Koch (who paid to bring Hayek to the USA in the 1970s). Among Nobel Prize winning economists, Hayek is the most cited name, bar one, in Nobel Prize speeches.
  • CLAIM: Ryan’s private health care proposal “seems to be embedded in the Austrian tradition”. What the fuck does “seems to be...in the tradition”? Are we talking about Paul Ryan’s guru Hayek here or not?
  • CLAIM: “Hayek had no problem with a national health care program” and that Hayek “believed that the state should provide a base income to all poor citizens.
  • IN FACT: Hayek denounced Social Security and other welfare programs as a gateway drug to Stalinism; and by the time Hayek won his Nobel Prize and influenced the Thatcher-Reagan Revolutions in the 1970s, he explicitly wrote that he had a major problem with national health care programs, as in he was fully against them, repudiating a position he once took in 1945. Moreover, like Ryan, Hayek was a hypocrite: While he was denouncing Social Security as the "road to serfdom" he was secretly paying into the program while at the University of Chicago. In the early 1970s, when Charles Koch was trying to entice Hayek to come to the US to serve in Koch's libertarian think-tank, Hayek objected that he was terrified of being subjected to America's private health care system. No problem, Koch assured him: Since you secretly paid into Social Security during the '50s and '60s, you're eligible for Medicare. The Nation has the full story on that (oh shit, I'm citing myself again: What's a man to do when he's so goddamn right all the time?).
  • CLAIM: Davidson describes FreedomWorks, the Washington lobbying front-group originally founded by the Koch brothers, as “the Tea Party-friendly activist group.”
  • IN FACT: Davidson may as well describe Col. Sanders as “The Kentucky Fried Chicken-friendly activist.” FreedomWorks created, launched and funded the Tea Party with the Koch brothers.
  • CLAIM: “Most economists and politicians dismissed the ideas of the British economist John Maynard Keynes in the 1930s, but by the 1950s they became the reigning orthodoxy for both parties.”
  • IN FACT: Earth to Planet Money, do you copy? Over!: Keynes was the most influential economist in the 1930s and '40s. His ideas about massive deficit spending to lower unemployment influenced politicians on both sides of the Atlantic, and his 1936 book "General Theory" was the most influential economics book of that decade. In the 1940s, Keynes was the architect of the Bretton Woods agreement, which established the Washington-based IMF and World Bank, as well as the global currency system that reigned until 1971. So yeah, Davidson should have written “Most economists and politicians in my head dismissed the ideas of John Maynard Keynes”...
Now, before you start feeling sorry for Adam Davidson, here is a second list: of reasons why you shouldn’t:
  • Davidson’s nose is shoved so deep up his beloved Wall Street’s ass his sinuses have hemorrhoids: He credits Wall Street for blessing humanity with “just about anything that makes you happy” and says without the bankers whom taxpayers had to bail out with trillions of dollars, “lots of awesome things would never happen.”
  • In another Wall Street rimjob — about Bain Capital’s maybe-billionaire Edward Conard — Davidson slobbered, “If we had a little more [inequality], the everyone, particularly the 99 percent, would benefit.”
  • Davidson argues corporate taxes are “too high”...
  • ... that the Glass-Steagall Act was “a bad law” and its repeal had “nothing to do” with the 2008 financial collapse ... and that the lesson of the financial crash was “regulation cannot be trusted.”
  • As for the rest of us: “The only way to fix the economy is to squeeze the middle-class”...
  • As for the world’s poor: sweatshop labor and experiments on the poor should be encouraged: “It’s easy to criticize experimenting with the livelihoods of the poor,” he tsk-tsk’d, bravely proposing “many new” experiments on the poor such as free-market labor camps in special extra-judicial zones ruled and policed by multinationals. “We have to try some new things, probably many new things. And we have to accept that some of them won’t work."
  • Or Hell, just listen to Davidson’s shock-surprise radio attack on Elizabeth Warren in 2009, when she led the fight to create a consumer agency to protect the public from predatory Wall Street practices. While Davidson’s sole sponsor Ally Bank spent hundreds of thousands of dollars lobbying against the agency, Ally’s NPR monkey hit her without warning in a 2009 interview that he and NPR were later forced to apologize for.
Read the complete profile on SHAME project — and stay tuned, the gravitational implosion of Adam Davidson's planet from thriving banker-friendly climate into collapsing white dwarf is only beginning.