We’re ignorant about the world because we rely on our media for information

It’s often the little vignettes that show the nature of America’s broken observation-orientation-decision-action loop (the OODA loop).  In this case, step one:  seeing events.  The US media presents a sanitized version of reality, to avoid challenging our preconceptions or spoiling their narrative.  Getting America back on track requires fixing this problem.

Today we have a telling little incident from Treasury Secretary Geithner’s trip to pacify our Asian creditors.  The European media tells the story.  Too bad most Americans did not hear of it.

The Times

“Chinese assets are very safe,” Mr Geithner said, answering a question after his opening address at Peking University this morning. His answer was greeted with laughter by the students, who question the wisdom of China spending huge amounts of money on US bonds instead of improving domestic living standards.

Daily Telegraph

“Chinese assets are very safe,” Mr Geithner said in response to a question, although his answer drew loud laughter from his student audience, reflecting popular scepticism in China about the wisdom of investing so heavily in the dollar.

Financial Times

In response to a question after his speech, Mr Geithner told the student audience that “Chinese assets are very safe”, drawing loud laughter from his sceptical student audience.


“Chinese assets are very safe,” Geithner said in response to a question after a speech at Peking University, where he studied Chinese as a student in the 1980s. His answer drew loud laughter from his student audience, reflecting scepticism in China about the wisdom of a developing country accumulating a vast stockpile of foreign reserves instead of spending the money to raise living standards at home.

The New York Times coyly reported the incident.

Following Mr. Geithner’s speech Monday, a student asked the Treasury secretary whether China’s investments in the United States were safe. He responded without hesitation. “Chinese financial assets are very safe,” Mr. Geithner said, eliciting some laughter.

A summary from The Gartman Letter, 3 June 2009:

But the US media avoided any reporting of the laughter that greeted Mr. Geithner’s speech. None of the US television stories reported laughter; none of the US newspapers {other than the NY Times} reported the laughter; none of the US magazines covering the trip reported the laughter — but the laughter was loud; it was palpable and it was very, very real. Simply put, the US fiscal circumstance has become a laughingstock, and we do not say that lightly.

But we’re not alone in remaining ignorant of this episode.  The Chinese press didn’t report it either.   Of course, China is a tyranny run by the Communist Party.  What’s our excuse?

People’s Daily

“Chinese assets are very safe,” Geithner said in response to a question after a speech at the prestigious Peking University Monday, where he studied Chinese as a student in the middle 1980s.


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To read other articles about these things, see the FM reference page on the right side menu bar.  Of esp interest are:

Posts about America’s mainstream media;

  1. More post-Fallon overheating: “6 signs the US may be headed for war in Iran”, 18 March 2008
  2. The media discover info ops, with outrage!, 22 April 2008
  3. Only our amnesia makes reading the newspapers bearable, 30 April 2008
  4. Successful info ops, but who are the targets?, 1 May 2008
  5. The myth of media pessimism about the economy, 13 June 2008
  6. Keys to interpreting news about the Georgia – Russia fighting, 12 August 2008
  7. “Elegy for a rubber stamp”, by Lewis Lapham, 26 August 2008
  8. “The Death of Deep Throat and the Crisis of Journalism”, 23 December 2008
  9. The media doing what it does best these days, feeding us disinformation, 18 February 2009
  10. The media rolls over and plays dead for Obama, as it does for all new Presidents, 19 February 2009
  11. The magic of the mainstream media changes even the plainest words into face powder, 24 April 2009
  12. The media – a broken component of America’s machinery to observe and understand the world, 2 June 2009

Posts about America’s broken OODA loop:

  1. News from the Front: America’s military has mastered 4GW!, 2 September 2007
  2. The two tracks of discussion about the Iraq War, never intersecting, 10 November 2007
  3. Diagnosing the eagle, chapter I — the housing bust, 6 December 2007
  4. Another cycle down the Defense Death Spiral, 30 January 2008
  5. Quote of the day: this is America’s geopolitical strategy in action, 26 February 2008
  6. What do blogs do for America?, 26 February 2008
  7. Everything written about the economic crisis overlooks its true nature, 24 February 2009
  8. The housing crisis allows America to look in the mirror. What do we see?, 9 March 2009
  9. Globalization and free trade – wonders of a past era, now enemies of America, 16 March 2009
  10. A note on the green religion, one of the growth industries in America, 17 March 2009
  11. Poor peak oil research, more evidence of a serious problem with America’s vision, 5 May 2009

12 thoughts on “We’re ignorant about the world because we rely on our media for information”

  1. Illini At The Beach

    Interesting times make for strange bedfellows (I know, I’m mixing metaphors). Those incredulous Beijing University students would seem to be in agreement with Warren Buffett, who has been warning of inflation for some weeks now. Nothing burns bondholders like inflated currency.

    And Mr. Buffett was/is an Obama supporter.
    Fabius Maximus replies: I believe that is an overconfident forecast, of a kind where successful guesses are rare. Inflation is possible. So is door #2: default. It is not possible to determine which path we will take, as there are too many factors — and too many players — at work.

  2. At the risk of a thread hijack, this post suggests future ruminations:
    – Will mainstream media die ahead of the American intellect?
    – Will the netty-tubes support sufficient communication to save then American intellect?
    – Will They Who Are Not Our Friends realize the threat of the cloudy-webs, and set about controlling it like they do the mainstream media?

  3. Hi, just found your blog from a link over at Global Guerrillas. I like your content so far, and I like your format a whole lot.

    If you are not reading foreign papers daily, than you have no idea of what is really going on in our on country, and you certainly don’t understand the truth behind our foreign policy. In eight years, I have yet to hear the mainstream media report on the real reasons for our current wars. And, it helps to read people like Pepe Escobar, over at the Asian Times, just to remind why we’re really there: “Balochistan is the ultimate prize” by Pepe Escobar, Asia Times, 9 May 2009 — part of his unfolding ‘Pipelineistan’ series.
    Fabius Maximus replies: I strongly agree that the best of the foreign press is better than their equivalents in the US, and that everybody’s media diet should have a large foreign component.

    As for Escobar’s pipeline-stan theories, they are IMO mostly speculation, citing no supporting sources. Until somebody provides evidence, I consider then an urban legend. Joshua Foust posted a scathing but brief critique at Registan.net (“All Central Asia, all the time”).

    For a serious look at these issues — with evidence — I recommend reading “Baloch Nationalism and the Geopolitics of Energy Resources: the Changing Context of Separatism in Pakistan“, Robert G. Wirsing, Strategic Studies Institute, April 2008 (63 pages).

  4. This says something about the state of US finances but it says even more about China. There’s serious discontent been brewing about Deng/Jiang-era low wage export growth policy. Buying up every treasury they can lay their hands on is a linchpin of that policy. They’re not held for inherent value so much as to drive the dollar up and the yuan down.

    Hu and Wen are at least paying lip service about bringing the gains home to the average Chinese, with all the talk about the “Scientific Development Concept.” But it’s not clear how far that commitment extends and even if it is sincere the Jiang holdovers in the politburo can still block any major change.

    Interesting times.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Great points! The US and China are the two poles of the current global order, sybiotic — both with immense strengths and weaknesses. Interesting times, indeed.

  5. Chinese media avoided the facts so that their citizens won’t realize their life savings are used brought US government junk bonds…

    …and US media avoided the facts because they government bonds are junk.

    The new G-2 framework is working already…Geithner’s trip is, IMO, a huge success.

  6. The media? Did anyone see ‘Earth 2100’ – Is this the Final Century of Our Civilization? on ABC NEWS last night. “Experts say over the next hundred years the “perfect storm” of population growth, resource depletion and climate change could converge with catastrophic results.”

    Two Hours of it? I am in shock that this type of piece would be placed on a prime time news channel.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Why does this ABC showing this doomster stuff surprise you?

  7. Robert Petersen

    I agree with a lot of this, but I would like to share a bit of my personal experience to show that not everything is totally bleak in the United States:

    As a citizen in Denmark (Europe) I read a lot of Danish newspapers and magasins, but during the time before the American invasion of Iraq I was deeply desillusioned with the coverage. With my fairly limited knowledge about the Middle East I fully understood even back in 2002 that there was a lot of misinformation going on and the Danish press couldn’t or wouldn’t expose it. Instead my impression was that if it had been in the NY Times it had to be okay. Since I know a couple of Danish journalists I understand there is a strong tendency to follow the group-thinking and that means what the headlines is on CNN will also be the headlines in the Danish news. After all – independent journalism cost money and it is cheaper to quote “reliable” sources.

    I instead began to visit places on the internet like Antiwar.com or Tomdispatch, which contained a lot of independent informations and links to interesting articles. Not conspiratorial stuff like aliens were behind 911, but sound journalism. I suppose that way I heard about rumors of torture in Iraq or the CIA rendition program months or perhaps years before Danish journalists did. In the following years I several times had the odd experience of hearing news in the Danish press I already knew about for several months or perhaps years.

    I know it doesn’t mean much: Tomdispatch or Antiwar.com is the work of a few dedicated men and women, but I still consider it far superior to anything I read in the Danish papers back in 2002 or 2003.

  8. The correct approach, therefore, would be to develop alternative sources of information which one can exploit to one’s advantage. It may very well be the case that Chinese students did laugh at Geinther and the American MSM failed to report this. Shame on them! But so what?

    Let me put it this way. I am going to attend a dinner party tonight filled with the usual gang of country club types; most listen to FOX News. (One is a federal judge, BTW) I doubt if any know about the Geinther laughing incident.

    So, Fabius, by reading your blog I get the jolly good feeling of feeling intellectually one up. But is there really anything useful I can do with this info. Buy high? Sell low? Outmaneuver a rival? They get to sing “Hail! Hail! The gang’s all here!” based upon their FOX News talking points.

    What do I get? So that I’m one up on them in some material respect? Otherwise, aren’t I better off learning the latest FOX News tune?
    Fabius Maximus replies: I do not believe that you need my advice about what to do. My guess is that this is just a mask for your lack of motivation to do help reform our Republic. Thought experiment: what would happen if the readers of this blog were told by the Archangel Gabriel (or the Blue Fairy) that the next five generations of their family would suffer unless the Republic was reformed soon? I suspect most of you would suddenly have ideas as to the necessary action, how to organize the necessary political support to institute reforms.

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  10. I guess Joshua Foust isn’t the only one to avoid engagement.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Can you explain why your comment is a sensible reply? I gave specific objections and an alternative analysis by a reputable source.

  11. Why is journalism in America so poor when we have such great J-schools?

    For that matter, why is education in America mediocre at best even through we spend more per pupil than every country that outperforms us? (For more on this see “US Schools: Spending Leaders, Middling Performers“, Andrew J. Coulson, Cato, 9 December 2008.

    Could it be that our Orientation is out of whack with reality?
    Fabius Maxmius replies: Inputs to an institution have little to do with its outputs, unless there are feedback mechanisms in place to create a relationship between the two. The teachers unions are focused on preventing any such relationship, and have proved successful to date. The dominate US education policy, from local school boards up through delegates to the Democratic National Convention.

    Why we allow this situation to continue is the question. Perhaps we are just sheep.

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