MediaWatch: October 1990

Vol. Four No. 10

Sad Farewells to European Communism & Socialism

WALL-WISHING. As unification celebrations swept East Germany, NBC's Mike Boettcher found some people who liked things the way they were. "Once they were Berlin's most vocal proponents of change," Boettcher's September 29 Nightly News story began, "A few thousand gay rights activists, anarchists and supporters of dozens of other causes marched through an abandoned checkpoint Charlie between East and West Berlin to denounce reunification."

Boettcher profiled a singer who "came to Berlin because there was an abundance of musicians with whom she could sing. In a maze of basement rooms where many of them rehearse, a new German saying is popular." What is that saying? "I want my wall back." Boettcher concluded by showing the work of an artist who "has made a symbolic last stand in the space where the wall once stood...his final tribute to an old Cold War Berlin where the Wall was both an evil symbol and a barrier which provided protection from outsiders."

OVERDOSE OF CAPITALISM. Some reporters think forty years of communism is not most responsible for East Germany's economic mess; unification is. On the October 1 World News Tonight, ABC's Jerry King declared: "East Germany is staggering toward unification, and may get there close to dead on arrival, the victim of an overdose of capitalism."

King explained: "Under Communism, every worker was guaranteed a job. Under capitalism the goal is profit and companies like the old fashioned Brandenburg Steel Mill had too many employees to be cost effective." As West German takeovers lead East Germans to lose jobs and "free day care centers," King worried "an economic domino is at work" that will only get worse after the elections: "Political opponents say West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl is trying to keep the unemployment rate low because of elections coming up in December. But after the election, after the East Germans have voted, virtually everyone here expects the government of a unified Germany here to stop subsidizing short-time workers [those paid 80% of former salary] because of the expense."

SWEDEN'S NO EDEN. The left-wing Utne Reader burst with home-town pride over a recent front-page article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune headlined "Socialism's Success in Sweden is a Model for Eastern Bloc." Concerned that communism's collapse might make European socialism look bad, "special projects reporter" Eric Black openly promoted the Swedish system: "Under the socialism- doesn't-work hypothesis, one would expect to find Swedes waiting in day-long lines for inferior goods, oppressed by a one-party dictatorship, dreaming that the magic of democracy and capitalism will rescue them. But in fact, Sweden is one of the most prosperous, peaceful, and democratic nations in the world... Compared with the United States, Sweden has a longer life expectancy, a lower unemployment rate, higher voter participation, less crime, fewer pupils per teacher, a lower infant-mortality rate and a higher literacy rate."

But buried down in the last paragraphs of the story, Black hinted at a completely different story: "The growth of Sweden's GNP has fallen behind the European or U.S. average. Sweden's inflation rate is higher than its neighbors' or the United States'. The big Sweden-based companies are building new plants and offices elsewhere in Europe, where costs are lower." Black also admitted Sweden's social services are less than perfect: "more than one- fourth of the children up to age 6 had no spots in the state- provided or subsidized day care facilities...hundreds of people needing nonemergency hip replacements have to wait eight to nine months. Absenteeism in the workplace is the highest in the Western world, and employers have blamed it on the generosity of sick pay." Black also conceded Sweden is trying to reduce their top tax rate from 72 to 50 percent which sounds surprisingly like -- Reaganomics, anyone?