September 2011 | Hillman Foundation

Clear It With Sidney

Notes on journalism for the common good, by Lindsay Beyerstein

September 2011

California Water District Launders Propaganda Through Google News


The Central Basin Municipal Water District of California paid $200,000 taxpayer dollars to a consulting firm to write pro-CBMWD propaganda “in the image of real news,” Sam Allen reports in the LA Times. The scheme is laid out in documents obtained by the Times and posted online. CBMWD contracted with unnamed journalists to write favorable stories about the agency’s water recycling initiative and other programs.

These stories were published on a site called News Hawks Review, which Google categorizes as a news site. A reader who searched for the right keywords on Google News would see these stories and assume that they were reading independent news coverage.

Celebrities often resort to similar tactics to burnish their online images, but according to Allen, this is the first time a public agency has gotten caught trying to launder press releases through the Google News system.

[Photo credit: Elada 1, Creative Commons.]

Recommended Reading: The American Jobs Act

President Obama outlined his plan to reduce unemployment last Thursday before a special joint session of Congress. Here’s a roundup of reactions to the American Jobs Act.

-Obama’s jobs plan calls for an infrastructure bank, but is it an infrastructure privatization scheme in disguise? As Reuters Muniland blog reports, Obama’s infrastructure bank would provide subsidized loans exclusively to public-private partnerships: “The essence of the American Infrastructure Financing Authority is to use the full faith and credit of the U.S. government to loan funds at below-market rates to public-private partnerships — in other words, to privatize the cash flows from public assets.”

-Eleanor Smeal of Ms. Magazine notes that Obama’s plan, if enacted, would prevent the layoffs of about 280,000 teachers and extend unemployment insurance benefits for 2.6 million unemployed women.

-E.J. Graff of The American Prospect wonders if preventing public sector layoffs will be enough to shore up women’s position in the economic recovery. Women have actually lost jobs since the recovery began in 2009, while men have very gradually gained ground. Public sector cuts in female-dominated professions, like teaching, have been a major conributor to women’s unemployment. Though, perhaps even more worryingly, the overwhelmingly female-dominated administrative support sector of the economy (office managers, secretaries, etc.) has been decimated. There’s no guarantee that these jobs will return when the economy recovers.

-Shani O. Hilton of Colorlines argues that Obama’s plan doesn’t have enough targeted interventions to help people of color, who are experiencing even higher rates of unemployment than whites.

-At the end of the day, debating whether the American Jobs Act has the right ratio of payroll tax credits to infrastructure spending is sort of like debating how many Keynesian angels can dance on the head of a pin. There’s no chance that the bill will pass in anything like its current form. As I argue at my new In These Times blog, Duly Noted, the real function of Obama’s speech was to shift the blame to the House Republicans for their intransigence in the face of the unemployment crisis. It’s about time.

[Photo credit: Kristin Wolff, Creative Commons.]

Dismal August Jobs Report At a Glance

The economy added zero jobs in August, according to the latest figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The overall unemployment rate remains at 9.1%. Minorities and youth are suffering disproportionately: 8% whites, 16.7% of blacks, 11.3% of Hispanics, and 25.4% of teenagers are unemployed, just like last month.

The 45,000 striking Verizon workers may have edged the numbers up slightly, but the fact remains that private sector job growth is the slowest it has been since last May, even if you take the strikers into account.

The private sector added about 17,000 jobs last month, but the public sector cut about the same number.

Happy Labor Day, everyone.

[Photo credit: Kieran Bennett, Creative Commons.]