Amidst depressing news in France in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attacks, there’s been a bright light (at least for me): Al Jazeera.
I’ve always like Al Jazeera America’s reporting. Back before the invasion of Iraq, no major American news outlets were talking about the fact that the US supported Saddam with any regularity. The only people who were? The Daily Show. Our honest reporting in this country was on a comedy show.
Al Jazeera, alongside LINK, has been a leading vanguard of that change. Stemming from great reporting in the Middle East, they have been having really great reporting here as well.
Real Money with Ali Velshi would normally be the kind of show I avoid like the plague. I hate business news. It’s self-congratulating capitalists operating from a myopic worldview where the poor, people of color and non-Americans barely exist.
But Velshi is a great journalist and a great interviewer. And even though it is certainly an economy watch program, it spends plenty of time talking about labor.
Today, he interviewed Tom Perez, the Secretary of the Department of Labor. It was like a dose of oxygen in a room full of carbon monoxide. Their discussion was incredibly reasonable and, if we were honest, would be viewed as centrist.
They discussed the recent employment figures which show some good news and some bad news. The good news is that we’re seeing both growth and some improvement for laborers. (There’s also good news on the worker confidence front). The bad news is that wages are barely budging (though they are higher than inflation) and many people are leaving the labor market because they have lost hope for employment. That’s on top of the depressingly high unemployment rates for non-whites and millennials.
The reasons this discussion was such a breath of fresh air in a toxic environment were manifold.
First: Al Jazeera is a daily reminder that there are people in the Middle East who are eager to report honestly, to embrace freedom, and to criticize imperialism. Velshi in particular is a Muslim, born in Kenya, raised in Toronto, who is erudite and moderate.
Second: Even in the White House, there are people who are willing to have honest discussions. The Obama administration has its problems (from a left perspective), but Perez was talking about long-term unemployment, the problem we’ve been having with a stagnating workforce for decades, etc. His analysis of why he believes that low wages are a choice and not a destiny was impressive, and while I’m perhaps more pessimistic than he is about the nightmarish prospects for a permanent working under-class developing in this country, his discussion was well-reasoned. And both Velshi and Perez were willing to broach the topic of race and class inequality, normally taboo in the United States.
The only way we’re going to get out of this mess is if we can have an honest conversation. That begins with our media no longer lying to us, no longer presenting things in a nice neat bow where our responsibility is never implicated.