There’s yet another BBC North America correspondent pushing an agenda these days. Ian Pannell has gone to Detroit to spin a tale of woe and misery, blaming all of it on the current economic situation. He even clearly articulates the message one is meant to take away:
“The gap between the rich and poor in America is now bigger than it’s been for 30 years.”
Pannell closes the piece with this line, followed by a statement that “what we’ve seen” all over the US is a similar problem. In case anyone didn’t bother watching all the way through, the message is spelled out equally clearly in the blurb accompanying the video.
Now, before we get into the problems of Detroit, let me just say that I’m in no way denying that there’s a severe economic problem in the US right now. I’m on record here many times complaining about exactly that. In fact, I believe we’ve been in a Depression for the last 18 months or so, and will continue to be unless there’s a drastic change nationwide. So this post is not meant to challenge Pannell’s last sentence. Instead, I mean to challenge the agenda being pushed and the myth being spun specifically from Detroit.
Detroit, of course, is definitely a problem city. Unemployment in the Detroit-Livonia-Dearborn region is the worst in the nation among what we call “greater metropolitan areas”. As of May 2010, Detroit had about 90,000 (!) abandoned homes or residential lots, and the city has had to spend money demolishing them. If that seems like an awful lot of homes emptying over a relatively short period of time (we’re meant to assume that this is all about the “downturn” since 2008), you’d be right to be suspicious. Yet Pannell wants you to believe that Detroit is just like the rest of the country, a victim of economic inequality thrust upon it by outside forces. Well-trained BBC audiences will already know the approved causes: greedy bankers and the evil rich appropriating more than their fare share of wealth.
Except it’s simply not true. Detroit has been going down the tubes for years and years. Here’s what Pannell and the BBC don’t want you to know, because it detracts from their agenda:
First of all, Detroit suffers from relying far, far too much on a single workhorse: the automotive industry. The fact that the industry has been in decline for a couple of decades or more – so bad that the President had to bail
out the unions out GM and sell Chrysler off – is an inconvenient truth which interferes with Pannell’s tale, so he leaves it out. White flight and urban blight have been a problem for decades. How could Detroit’s struggles as portrayed by the BBC be largely due to a recent phenomenon if a site like “The Fabulous Ruins of Detroit” won a local award in 1998? There were 12,000 abandoned homes as of 2005. In 2008 – at the beginning of the economic crisis, mind – unemployment was at 21% in some areas, and criminals were re-offending to stay in the safety and comfort of prison rather than trying to get by in a disaster area.
Detroit’s population has declined by 25% over the last decade. This has very little to do with the “downturn” (it’s only a recession when conservatives are in charge, right?). Pannell provides none of this context. The problems of the last three years have obviously made things tougher, but to portray Detroit purely as a victim of the recent economic crisis is false. But it does help feed the class war mythology which the BBC loves to push.
Another Detroit problem Pannell doesn’t want you to know about is that Detroit was on the brink of insolvency by 2005. It was driven there by powerful unions and poor management from a series of economic denialist Democrat mayors, and capped off by a Democrat mayor who ended up in prison over a sex scandal. To be fair, I’m pretty sure Republican mayors in that area wouldn’t have done much better, considering the corruption and cronyism that went on, and that precious few Republicans over the last decade have been fiscal conservatives. Regardless of who was in charge, though, the city lost 39% of its manufacturing jobs – mostly in the auto industry – in the 1980s. Unemployment ten years ago was among the worst in the nation. This has nothing to do with the current economic situation.
As of 2002, five of the ten largest employers in the area were state-run organizations. Indeed, the top two employers were the public school system and the City government itself. Does that sound familiar? This is never a recipe for growth and success. The Post Office was the #7 employer, and I think we can all guess how that works out after the city loses a quarter of its population. Even a media studies graduate can do the math here.
But none of this context is provided to the BBC audience. All you see is a tale of woe, people struggling to survive in tough economic times. The struggle is real, but the direct cause presented to you by Pannell is false. Using Detroit like this to highlight the current economic crisis in the US is like using Grimethorpe to highlight what Tory Cuts have done over the last couple years without telling you about the closing of the mines.
This is the result of agenda-driven newsgathering and reporting. It’s a dishonest report, pushing a specific agenda, intended to support the BBC’s Narrative about income inequality. Don’t trust the BBC on US issues.