With the revelation that Winston Peters was overpaid superannuation we have another ‘scandal’ for the media to completely distort. Predictably, they have done a very fine job.
What is the function of the the mainstream media in society? It is to follow the dictates of the Establishment – indeed it is really just one of the more powerful and influential arms of the Establishment. Crucially, it’s job is to shield the systemic inequalities from our criticism, to re-direct our frustrations to shadows, and to inoculate our protest.
Over the last few months we have two excellent examples of it doing just that.
Meteria Turei lied about her circumstances to get the benefit. Instead of the story being why one would need to do that, it became how dare one do that. It did not lose it’s moral aspect, it simply changed the target. Instead of helping us reflect on the deficiencies of a society that would push someone into such a situation, we were directed to reflect on the deficiencies of Meteria herself. This was a very deliberate, constructed narrative, with the express intention of both discrediting Meteria and distracting us from where our anger really belongs.
If you were caught up in the finger-wagging against Meteria don’t feel too bad. These are institutions that spend a great deal of money and energy to create opinion and false outrage. They should not be underestimated.
Turning to Winston, well, they’ve done it again. The story here is not that Winston was overpaid, nor is it that someone must have breached his privacy. They are just part of the event. The most important story is actually the fact that he didn’t even know he was being overpaid.
Because what does that tell us? It tells us that relatively wealthy people, such as himself, are receiving a universal benefit in superannuation, that is paid for by you and me, which they don’t need, and indeed sometimes, don’t even notice.
The story is that in a nation of escalating income and wealth inequality, of worsening poverty and a housing crisis out of control, we are for some reason content to shell out the same amount of money to every person over the age of 65, whether they’re a millionaire couple in the city, or an isolated grandfather barely staying above the poverty line.
Why are we content to do this? Because our Establishment politicians are too gutless to tackle the problem, and because our media keep us from seeing the problem even when we have real-world examples of its terrible logic.
In these two examples the media has served their societal function with aplomb – hide the real story, the one that would make us awake and angry at the right things, and work overtime to promote a different one – one that focuses on personal culpability and character assassination.
Like the magician’s assistant, the media’s job is to draw our eyes to the flashy distraction. We then miss the way that the trick is really done.