Why do corrupt politicians thrive against a hostile media? A look at the business pages

One of the more embarrassing moments in South African history was when Jacob Zuma became president of the country.

Zuma had just faced a rape trial, and was previously fired by Thabo Mbeki for his role in the arms deal. Zuma’s advisor, Schabir Shaik had been found in a court of law to have a corrupt relationship with the man who would later go on to become president.

And yet people still voted for him, and are now acting surprised that the results weren’t good. This is not uniquely South African.

To explain this I’m going to use American politics, because they’re not us and we can thus view them with a bit of distance. Judging others is an important skill – because when we look at other people we can better see how we go wrong ourselves.

The thing is not to avoid judging others, but rather to reflect and learn from them.

According to The New Republic in 2012, Donald Trump narrowly avoided criminal prosecution for fraud.

How? Well Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, a Democrat, decided not to push ahead with the prosecution after Trump Sr.’s personal attorney, Marc Kasowitz, gave him money.

The two major parties in America are the Republicans and the Democrats, if Americans cared that much about corruption they’d be the Greens and the Libertarians.

In fact part of Trump’s rise in the Republican Party, and part of what won him the general election, was that “the establishment” hates him. The criticism of Trump actually bolsters his support.

How did this happen?

Think about it this way – how often have you seen a report in the business press about downsizing, where it reads like retyped PR. It’s all about a leaner workforce that is more efficient and thus more flexible and ready to sharpen its claws to produce growth.

Workers will read business press about the companies they work for. They see this same congratulatory tone, and I don’t know about you, but I’ve never found people I work with getting retrenched a happy experience.

Journalism as a field is troubled, so most journalists have had this experience of cutting, and yet we get stories like “Bank of America’s cost-cutting is paying off“.

Or like “Sprint Stock Rises, Profit Tops Views As Cost-Cutting Aids Results“, or “Wells Fargo Profit Gets Boost From Cost Cutting“.

The focus is on the bottom line, and it is only after the disaster that cost cutting causes because it turns out that costs are interrelated and cutting in one area can increase costs in another or just result in a less desirable product, so every now and then we get headlines like “‘They cut to the bone’: How Sears’ cost-cutting strategy sealed its fate“.

You’ve got the same people who celebrate when you lose your job, telling you this candidate is a bad idea, are you going to believe them?

Because of that reports of corruption generally don’t do much to hurt a politician’s cause. In fact, the fact that establishment media is moaning helps the dirty politician because all you need to do to show the news media as the enemy is flip over to the business pages.

What to you may seem like a boring story that seems badly written, to somebody else is their boss telling them they aren’t increases this year if indeed they still have a job at the end of it.

And it isn’t so boring for them.


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