Accuracy in Media

Actor and scientologist Tom Cruise has gotten his comeuppance for spouting off on the evils of psychiatry. His exchange with Matt Lauer of the NBC Today Show showed that Cruise was an ill-informed zealot. Lauer put Cruise in his place, noting that psychiatry has helped people, and that certain drugs have proven beneficial to people with mental illnesses. But being subjected to Cruise’s rhetoric was the price of media figures getting interviews with him about his new movie.

Rock star Bono, on the other hand, has escaped the kind of pounding that Lauer gave to Cruise. Bono, a multimillionaire rock star, has somehow emerged as an expert on foreign aid and was even interviewed on NBC’s prestigious Meet the Press program. He was described by host Tim Russert simply as an “activist,” in order to mask his dubious or non-existent academic credentials, who runs something called DATA, standing for debt, AIDS, trade and Africa. When you sign up at the group’s website, you are urged to send a message to Congress urging more foreign aid spending and cancellation of foreign countries’ debts. This is what passes for expertise in today’s media world.

Bono should stick to singing. His advice is even worse than that being offered by the hapless Cruise. While he pays lip service to the problem of foreign corruption, Bono’s prescription is still the same?throw more good money?ours?after bad. Yet a comprehensive new study concludes that foreign aid has mostly been counterproductive because it crowds out private sector investment, undermines democracy, and perpetuates poverty. When foreign aid rises, economic growth falls, the report says.

This 28-page study was published on June 10, 2005, by the International Policy Network, a London-based development charity, in association with think tanks from several countries. To my knowledge, the International Policy Network study hasn’t been covered by one major media organ in the U.S. In a reference to the July 2 Live8 concerts, one of which featured Bono, Julian Morris, executive director of International Policy Network, said that “rock star economists” have a “misguided” world view and fail to see that foreign aid actually hurts the poor. Live8 was designed to put pressure on the Group of Eight most industrialized countries, meeting in Scotland from July 6-8, to spend more on foreign aid.

Before the Live8 concert, President Bush announced that he wants to spend another $1.2 billion on a five-year campaign to fight malaria in Africa. But an analysis of the White House fact sheet on this initiative shows that the use of DDT?which is a proven killer of the mosquitoes which spread malaria?has been completely ignored.

What’s more, the group Africa Fighting Malaria, which supports the use of DDT, says that the lead U.S. agency for this kind of spending, the U.S. Agency for International Development, has been notoriously wasteful and inefficient. The group says that USAID has spent $400 million on malaria control programs over the past 7 years and works with the U.N.’s World Health Organization in a Roll Back Malaria program but that there is “very, very little to show for their efforts and in many areas malaria cases are increasing, rather than decreasing.” It says that “USAID reserves the vast majority of its budget to fund well paid consultants, many of whom are based out of Washington DC.”

To make matters worse, in order to look fashionable on environmental issues, President Bush has signed an international environmental treaty against “persistent organic pollutants,” POPS, including DDT. The treaty is now awaiting Senate ratification.

Bush’s action shows how hard it is to resist what the media-savvy radical environmentalists and rock stars are saying about foreign aid and international problems. His new $1.2 billion anti-malaria program earned positive headlines in the press around the world, even though his administration wants to ban the one proven means to eliminate malaria in Africa. Bono’s DATA website had words of praise for the President.

But whatever Bush promises, it won’t be enough, and the problem is certain to get worse. The United Nations has demanded that 0.7 percent of developed countries’ gross national income be devoted to Official Development Assistance, or foreign aid. According to Jeffrey D. Sachs, a Special Advisor to U.N. boss Kofi Annan, the U.S. stands at 0.15 percent and, therefore, “We are short by $65 billion each year.” Over a 13-year period, from 2002, when countries were supposed to start spending far more on foreign aid, to the year 2015, when the 0.7 percent figure is supposed to be reached, that amounts to $845 billion over and above what the U.S. is already providing in foreign aid, currently estimated by Sachs at $16 billion a year. If the U.S. won’t provide the money voluntarily, the U.N. is prepared to go forward with a global taxation scheme. France is leading the charge for a global tax, which could total trillions of dollars and result in massive new resources for the U.N., the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.  

Meanwhile, the U.S. national debt is already approaching $8 trillion. 

R. Earl Hadady, a retired engineer and businessman, has written a provocative book, The Decline and Approaching Fall of the U.S., in which he notes that the national debt does not include the Social Security trust and three other unfunded trusts, Federal Employees Retirement, Military Retirement and Railroad Retirement besides. The grand total of debt is $27 trillion. His book is an analysis of the government’s fiscal condition based, he says, on hard numbers provided by the U.S. Treasury Department.

It’s hard to believe these breathtaking figures but the Government Accountability Office confirms them. In fact, it may be worse than that because we don’t truly know the dimensions of the fiscal and financial mess we’re in. The GAO reports that “certain material weaknesses in internal control and in selected accounting and financial reporting practices resulted in conditions that continued to prevent GAO from being able to provide the Congress and American citizens an opinion as to whether the consolidated financial statements of the U.S. government are fairly stated in conformity with U.S. generally accepted accounting principles.”

This is bureaucratic doublespeak for saying the federal government’s books are in worse shape than those of Enron. The GAO warns that the debt threatens to “cripple our economy, threaten our national security, and adversely affect the quality of life of Americans in the future.”

Nevertheless, the pressure will still be intense at the G8 summit to throw away more foreign-aid money, to make the U.S. go even more deeply into debt, in order to cancel the debts of foreign countries.

Our so-called “adversary press” is strangely silent when it comes to the U.S. Government spending more on foreign aid. Perhaps it’s because they like Bono or his music. Or perhaps it’s because of traditional liberal bias in favor of big government social programs, this time on a global scale. Whatever the case, the media act as if we can’t spend enough money quickly enough.   

If the past is any guide, such spending will only create more poor people. That, ironically, will lead to demands for even more foreign aid, more rock concerts, a bigger U.N., and more Bono appearances on Meet the Press. But some people, mostly in the “rich” countries, will be entertained in the process. And that is apparently what it is all about.

Ready to fight back against media bias?
Join us by donating to AIM today.


Comments are turned off for this article.