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Europe’s Protests: The Times’ False Impartiality Toward Markets & Austerity

Chris Spannos Sep 29, 2012

In his recent Op-Ed “Europe’s Austerity Madness,” Paul Krugman noted that just a few days ago many people believed that Europe finally had things under control, “All that debtor nations had to do, the story went, was agree to more and deeper austerity — the condition for central bank loans — and all would be well.” But Krugman points out that the “purveyors of conventional wisdom forgot that people were involved.”

Despite Krugman’s observation, the news section of the New York Times continue to report on European economic austerity from the point of view of markets, investors, lenders and the governments who, we are told, have to make “difficult decisions.” The populations of these countries and their austerity induced pain, with the exception of Krugman’s Op-Ed, are buried in these news articles.
In “Markets Falter in Europe Amid Protests on Austerity,” Liz Alderman and Niki Kitsantonis place markets above people as tens of thousands took to the streets this week to protest government imposed austerity measures in Greece and Spain.
On Tuesday, tens of thousands surrounded the Congress of Deputies in Spain under the banner of “Occupy Congress.” In Greece, the Times referenced a police spokeswoman in Athens who estimated the general strike turnout there to be 35,000 to 40,000 people. But by walking the length of the march numerous times, NYT eXaminer places the estimate at well over 50,000 (some report much higher). And in Portugal, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets last week.
Rather than reporting objectively on Greeks and Spaniards protesting against austerity measures, Alderman and Kitsantonis report in a way that obscures their paper’s underlying impartiality towards markets that “shuddered” in response to the recent protests. They tell Times’ readers that this “political instability startled investors.”
Alderman and Kitsantonis buried the painful effect of markets on people in their story, “The proposed cuts in Greece have ignited new anger, with many talking openly of increased impoverishment as the nation grapples with a third round of austerity measures in three years.”
Another recent article similarly emphasizes the interests of markets over those who are forced to suffer their negative effects. In “Markets Tumble on Unrest in Greece and Spain,” Stephen Castle and David Jolly wrote “the euro zone crisis sent financial markets tumbling Wednesday as Greece faced a crippling 24-hour strike and Spain cleaned up after violent protests near the country’s Parliament.”
Castle and Jolly empathize with Greek and Spanish leaders who have to make “difficult decisions” on government cuts to social welfare spending to “satisfy either international lenders or the bond market.”
Despite the majority of Times’ news articles reporting on the European economic crisis from the point of view of lenders and powerful states, the paper’s Editors feel the need to counter Krugman’s point of view that “in Europe, as in America, far too many Very Serious People have been taken in by the cult of austerity,” and his disagreement with those who portray the “euro crisis as a morality play, a tale of countries that lived high and now face the inevitable reckoning.”
On page A4 of the New York edition of today’s paper, Rachel Donadio and Niki Kitsantonis end their article, “Greece Agrees on New Austerity Package,” by telling readers about the “importance of introducing growth-boosting measures alongside the austerity package” and that “without the $40 billion aid package the country will not be able to meet expenses and could potentially default.” They repeat the “conventional wisdom” that Krugman warned readers about when they wrote, “Still, fears that Greece could exit the euro zone have abated — although not entirely subsided — in recent weeks after a series of measures taken by European leaders.”
In contrast Krugman writes in his Op-Ed today:
Much commentary suggests that the citizens of Spain and Greece are just delaying the inevitable, protesting against sacrifices that must, in fact, be made. But the truth is that the protesters are right. More austerity serves no useful purpose; the truly irrational players here are the allegedly serious politicians and officials demanding ever more pain.
In a separate blog post “The Perils of Pointless Pain,” Krugman asks “Where does austerity fit in to this story?” And he answers, that “Mostly it doesn’t.” And Krugman asks a question that his colleagues at the paper fail to, “When do the people of the afflicted economies say that they can bear no more?”
The massive demonstrations in Portugal and Spain and the general strike in Greece suggest that many people in these austerity plagued nations may be approaching the limit of how much “they can bear.” Many have expressed a desire to address economic crisis at the root of the problem.
For Krugman, “the roots of the euro crisis lie not in government profligacy but in huge capital flows from the core (mainly Germany) to the periphery during the good years.” However insightful Krugman’s understanding, for many on the streets the crisis has systemic roots in the very foundation of the economic system.
Organizers with the Open Initiative for solidarity with workers in Saloniki who are taking back their factory as a means to deal with economic crisis told NYT eXaminer that “the crisis is, at first, the system itself. It’s not just a crisis that will go by and we’ll be better. Capitalism is the problem.” This view — that is rooted in the belief that the people should not be blindly ruled by markets or investors and that they should have democratic decision-making say over the things that affect them — is resonating with many people, including in the U.S., who have been hit hard by the current economic crisis. 
This article was originally published on, from the New York Times Examiner.
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