The Wall Street Journal carried a news report with the headline “Wall Street Bonuses Fall by Most Since 2008.” The paper said that after a blockbuster 2021, bonus pools in companies had been cut due to fewer deals, stock offerings, etc. and so bonuses in 2022 have declined since 2021 by 26 per cent, ‘the biggest percentage drop since the financial crisis.’

I quietly told myself that it was a good start, for Wall Street executive pay/bonus has been high, driving risky behaviour and a drop in bonuses is probably the correction that it needs.

Then, there was a report by the Institute for Policy Studies, titled ‘Wall Street bonuses decline but still dwarf worker pay increases since 2008 crash’ using the same New York State Comptroller’s data as the WSJ report.

The report showed that the bonuses of Wall Street executives, although they fell compared to 2021, were 29 per cent higher compared to 2008, the year of the global financial crisis. The report further argued how bonuses were growing faster than the wages of ordinary workers and served to perpetuate racial and gender inequalities. Why, the IPS said, if minimum wages had increased by as much as the bonuses had since 1985, it would be $42.37 today, instead of the current $7.25 per hour.

Diverse views

Now, the IPS says it is a ‘progressive organization’ dedicated to building an equitable society while the WSJ is a business newspaper known for its conservative right-wing views. You can take the same data and what you highlight depends on your ideology and your target audience. Independents scratch their heads and wonder why you need fake news when the real one can be twisted to support opposite views!

The devil is always in the details. Few people look at the details. The headline is sufficient for most busy folk and for those with only a peripheral interest in a subject. They are quickly scanning the paper or scrolling down the screen and the headlines serve powerfully to create an impression.

Now, Amritpal Singh is a self-styled preacher who espoused secessionist views and who has been declared a fugitive by Punjab State police.

In their attempts to nab him, the police have restricted internet access and mobile messaging services in the region to prevent the spread of fake news and general societal disturbances. Most of the news items about this event that I read in so-called reputed outlets of the western media highlighted the internet restrictions as an example of the free speech restrictions of the ‘Indian government,’ and also how this preacher had previously led protests against the ‘Modi government’s’ farm laws.

So another example of the ‘autocratic’ and ‘repressive’ acts of the Modi government? But wait! The Punjab police are managed by a state government that is run by a political party in opposition to Modi’s party, so how does the State government’s actions illustrate the central government’s behaviour? Moreover, what has a secessionist movement that any country would curb have to do with farm laws? And is a media brought up to believe in the glory of ‘individual free speech’ unable to understand the needs of a society that values ‘social norms’ more?

Blurring lines

Respectable media organisations are expected to maintain a neutrality in their news reports and keep their biases to the articles and opinion pieces they publish. But one rarely sees that distinction these days. Ideology very subtly infiltrates the news reports too, in the headlines and what they include in the discussion. The ideology also surely influences hiring decisions and the work culture in the organisations.

The ambitious reporter knows what to report and how to write to get ahead. When you have a bias or an ideology to promote, it is so easy to construct a report around it.

Didn’t somebody say the pen is mightier than the sword? And the sub-editor or news reporter wielding that pen must be the mightiest of them all.

The writer is an emeritus professor at Suffolk University, Boston