Billionaires with no skin in the game
Sometimes, the folks who aren't protesting can be just as newsworthy as the crowds mobilizing in the streets.
Consider the news coverage of a bunch of rallies held recently around the country. Protesters from Duluth, Minn. to Jackson, Tenn. called for extending tax cuts for everyone except the top two percent of income earners as part of the pending budget-balancing deal.
Even with all the ongoing fiscal fuss, these weren't giant demonstrations. Groups of between 25 and 100 people gathered at vigils and spoke with local TV crews. They brandished signs that said things like "Middle Class over Millionaires."
The numbers weren't huge, but at least some folks showed up in Flint, Michigan, Sioux City, Iowa, Erie, Pennsylvania, and dozens of other cities.
Sure these weren't massive protests. We're talking about taxes, remember? What you won't see, however, is the other side.
Members of the top two percent of income-earners - those married couples making $250,000 or more per year - aren't standing on street corners waving banners that proclaim "More Tax Cuts for Millionaires Now!" Those folks with Aspen ski chalets and beach-hugging mansions in the Hamptons aren't shouting slogans like "What's good for the top 2 percent is good for you!"
Wouldn't it be nice to see what a protest by the top two percent would actually look like?
We can only imagine, because the richest Americans don't band together and stand up for their own self-interest. OK, they do that behind the scenes by paying lobbyists and making fat campaign contributions. But they don't do go out in public and chant or commit civil disobedience.
The only street protests by and for millionaires are fake. Back during George W. Bush's presidency, a zany band of Billionaires for Bush donned pinstriped suits and top hats. These fake "billionaires" trailed Bush and Cheney around the country, with signs like "It's a Class War and We're Winning" and "Widen the Income Gap."
During the 2004 presidential race, these Bush critics told smirking reporters that they paid for eight years of Bush, throwing him out after four years would be a rip-off.
Unfortunately, that's as close as most TV news crews will get to questioning the actual people who benefit from tax policies that favor millionaires and billionaires.
The fact that you don't see any rich folks demonstrating at all at this key moment, as Congress debates whether to extend the Bush tax cuts on the highest-income earners, is an important part of the picture.
As they cover that stream of middle-class demonstrations, reporters should point out that the super rich aren't in the streets. What's up with them? Too busy? Why are they unwilling to put their faces out there or their bodies on the line?
I'm serious. And who are they? What do they look like? It's in the public interest for us to get a sense of who these people are.
A former media critic for the Rocky Mountain News, Jason Salzman is board chair of Rocky Mountain Media Watch.