A Deficit of Stories
As much as think tanks, we need storytelling tanks — and a way to disperse the stories far and wide.


Lee Habeeb

How did it happen? How did we wake up one day to find ourselves cast as the bad guys for trying to save future generations from a lifetime of indebtedness? Why are we punished for pointing out that if we keep spending more money than we take in, we won’t continue to be a great country? Why do Americans view the Republican party more negatively than they view Democrats, when it’s Democrats who gave us Detroit? And Democrats who might soon turn America into Detroit?

Our net debt is now nearly 90 percent of our GDP, compared with Canada’s debt, which is 35 percent of its GDP, and France’s, which is 86 percent of its GDP, as Mark Steyn pointed out in a recent column on NRO. And we’re the bad guys? When you add up all of our debts and obligations, every American family is on the hook to creditors for nearly $750,000. And the government shutdown was the problem?

How did that happen?

It’s simple. We’re losing the debate about our deficits, and many other things, because we have a deficit of our own — a storytelling deficit.

How did the Left accumulate almost all of the important media conglomerates and then get them to sing from the same playbook? And do the bidding of one political party at the expense of another?

In 2004, New York Times reporter John Tierney wrote a story about the political leanings of reporters. Among ordinary Americans, there was an even split between those who favored President Bush and those who preferred Senator John Kerry in the presidential race. But when Tierney asked 153 journalists anonymously if they wanted Kerry to beat Bush, national reporters said yes at the astonishing rate of twelve to one.

How did that happen?

It’s simple. The Left takes the business of media ownership and storytelling seriously. We don’t. That’s ironic, given that we take ownership and business seriously when it comes to nearly every other walk of life. The Left knows that serious people, if they want dominance in their field, must own the distribution pipelines. Just ask the Koch brothers or Walmart. They didn’t complain about pipeline bias. They built pipelines — and made fortunes.

The loyal soldiers of the Left have turned their media pipeline into political fortunes. And they’ve reaped wins not only in electoral politics, but also in shaping how Americans view themselves and the world, how they think about risk-taking, work, private property, capital, family, and even God.

“Those who tell the stories rule society,” Plato once said. And the poet Muriel Rukeyser said, “The universe is made up of stories, not atoms.” Stories are packed not with hard data but with something far more powerful: emotional data. That’s why we remember them and why they’re so easily transported, even through generations. Stories stir our souls.

If Plato were around today, he’d have to add this: “Those who own the networks run the culture.” What an advantage ownership confers.

Take the shutdown. Whatever your view on the tactics, you have to note that the media spin was remarkable. From Jon Stewart to Wolf Blitzer, from ABC News to NBC, MSNBC, and CNBC, the story was the same: Extremist Republicans held the country hostage for their own political advantage while a heroic President Obama held steadfast to principle, refusing to negotiate with domestic terrorists.