Three Big Stories, Three Media Disappearing Acts

Have you heard about the $80.7 billion “reorganization gain” General Motors posted in its recent release of financial information?

I’ll bet not. Specifically, that gargantuan sum is the positive portion of a net amount of $79.672 billion that “old General Motors” -- now known as Motors Liquidation Company -- recognized as “special items” during the first nine days of July. You read that right.

To reach the details of this most extraordinary gain, the company forces you to download and open a 14-page Word document; I guess the news about that marvelous invention known as Portable Document Format (PDF) has yet to reach Detroit. Finally, the reader sees the line-by-line treatment on page 6:


Allow me to translate:

  • After writing off $53.639 billion in “loans,” the federal government has a majority stake in “new” General Motors supposedly valued at $2.505 billion. The difference of $51.134 billion represents the direct amount U.S. taxpayers have lost thus far as a result of bailing the company out.

  • The third item is the total of the debts and other general obligations the bankruptcy court in essence allowed GM to walk away from.

This astounding and precedent-breaking set of transactions is news by any reasonable definition of the word. At first, the Associated Press treated it that way. Relatively brief versions of AP reports issued during the first hour or so after GM’s early morning November 16 release noted the $80 billion pickup (pun not intended). But by 9:30, the $80 billion disappeared and never returned; it is nowhere to be found in the final version of the wire services coverage. The focus in later revisions moved to further discussion of the “new” GM’s reported “managerial net loss” of $1.2 billion and to the company’s intention to begin repaying some of the additional money that Uncle Sam lent to it after it emerged from bankruptcy. To be clear (which AP wasn’t), the loans targeted for payback are over and above the $50-plus billion already written off.

Although it doesn’t involve huge sums of money, a second recent establishment media disappearing act involves hundreds of thousands of Americans who have always received prominent mention in the run-up to Thanksgiving whenever Republicans have occupied the White House. I am of course referring to the homeless.