Myth-Spinning From Detroit

There’s yet another BBC North America correspondent pushing an agenda these days. Ian Pannell has gone to Detroit to spin a tale of woe and misery, blaming all of it on the current economic situation. He even clearly articulates the message one is meant to take away:

“The gap between the rich and poor in America is now bigger than it’s been for 30 years.”

Pannell closes the piece with this line, followed by a statement that “what we’ve seen” all over the US is a similar problem.  In case anyone didn’t bother watching all the way through, the message is spelled out equally clearly in the blurb accompanying the video.

Now, before we get into the problems of Detroit, let me just say that I’m in no way denying that there’s a severe economic problem in the US right now. I’m on record here many times complaining about exactly that. In fact, I believe we’ve been in a Depression for the last 18 months or so, and will continue to be unless there’s a drastic change nationwide. So this post is not meant to challenge Pannell’s last sentence. Instead, I mean to challenge the agenda being pushed and the myth being spun specifically from Detroit.

Detroit, of course, is definitely a problem city. Unemployment in the Detroit-Livonia-Dearborn region is the worst in the nation  among what we call “greater metropolitan areas”. As of May 2010, Detroit had about 90,000 (!) abandoned homes or residential lots, and the city has had to spend money demolishing them. If that seems like an awful lot of homes emptying over a relatively short period of time (we’re meant to assume that this is all about the “downturn” since 2008), you’d be right to be suspicious. Yet Pannell wants you to believe that Detroit is just like the rest of the country, a victim of economic inequality thrust upon it by outside forces. Well-trained BBC audiences will already know the approved causes: greedy bankers and the evil rich appropriating more than their fare share of wealth.

Except it’s simply not true. Detroit has been going down the tubes for years and years. Here’s what Pannell and the BBC don’t want you to know, because it detracts from their agenda:
First of all, Detroit suffers from relying far, far too much on a single workhorse: the automotive industry. The fact that the industry has been in decline for a couple of decades or more – so bad that the President had to bail out the unions out GM and sell Chrysler off – is an inconvenient truth which interferes with Pannell’s tale, so he leaves it out. White flight and urban blight have been a problem for decades. How could Detroit’s struggles as portrayed by the BBC be largely due to a recent phenomenon if a site like “The Fabulous Ruins of Detroit” won a local award in 1998?  There were 12,000 abandoned homes as of 2005.  In 2008 – at the beginning of the economic crisis, mind – unemployment was at 21% in some areas, and criminals were re-offending to stay in the safety and comfort of prison rather than trying to get by in a disaster area.

Detroit’s population has declined by 25% over the last decade. This has very little to do with the “downturn” (it’s only a recession when conservatives are in charge, right?). Pannell provides none of this context. The problems of the last three years have obviously made things tougher, but to portray Detroit purely as a victim of the recent economic crisis is false. But it does help feed the class war mythology which the BBC loves to push.

Another Detroit problem Pannell doesn’t want you to know about is that Detroit was on the brink of insolvency by 2005. It was driven there by powerful unions and poor management from a series of economic denialist Democrat mayors, and capped off by a Democrat mayor who ended up in prison over a sex scandal. To be fair, I’m pretty sure Republican mayors in that area wouldn’t have done much better, considering the corruption and cronyism that went on, and that precious few Republicans over the last decade have been fiscal conservatives. Regardless of who was in charge, though, the city lost 39% of its manufacturing jobs – mostly in the auto industry – in the 1980s. Unemployment ten years ago was among the worst in the nation. This has nothing to do with the current economic situation.

As of 2002, five of the ten largest employers in the area were state-run organizations. Indeed, the top two employers were the public school system and the City government itself. Does that sound familiar? This is never a recipe for growth and success. The Post Office was the #7 employer, and I think we can all guess how that works out after the city loses a quarter of its population. Even a media studies graduate can do the math here.

But none of this context is provided to the BBC audience. All you see is a tale of woe, people struggling to survive in tough economic times. The struggle is real, but the direct cause presented to you by Pannell is false. Using Detroit like this to highlight the current economic crisis in the US is like using Grimethorpe to highlight what Tory Cuts have done over the last couple years without telling you about the closing of the mines.

This is the result of agenda-driven newsgathering and reporting. It’s a dishonest report, pushing a specific agenda, intended to support the BBC’s Narrative about income inequality. Don’t trust the BBC on US issues.

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14 Responses to Myth-Spinning From Detroit

  1. Millie Tant says:

    The sorry state of Detroit well before the banking crisis and the 2008 trouble wasn’t exactly a secret, even here. I know I read about the economic and social disaster area it had become years ago and I don’t pretend to know a lot about the USA and its economy.


  2. john says:

    I was reading a piece somewhere earlier today that pointed out an ongoing mass exodus from Democratic utopias like The Peoples Republic of California, Illinois, and Michigan to Republican states like Texas where taxes are less punitive, and where state governments are more job friendly. I wonder why the Beeb appear to be unaware of this excellent example of people getting on their bikes and migrating to where the work is, from those areas where corrupt socialism is practiced? Yet the BBC are well aware, and always promoting, similar movements of labour for similar reasons, from the third world to the West.

    Strange, that.


  3. Hugh says:

    The only thind I’d add to DP’s excellent piece, is that Detroit stopped making anything the outside world wanted to buy more than 30 years ago. I’m sure like many people here, I’ve lusted after a Corvette or a Mustang ever since I was a kid, but these cars are really only a Sunday drive. The old fashioned design, poor build quality and risible mpg of most American cars has meant that now even the home market has turned its back on Detroit in favour of German or Japanese cars. 


  4. Martin says:

    Agree with Hugh, the American car industry has slowly been eaten by foreign makers producing more fuel efficient and technologically advanced cars than the US car makers have done.

    You only have to watch Top Gear to see how often the lack of build quality and modern technogolgy is slaughtered on the show.

    The thing is I see parallels with our car industry, British Leyland churned out crap for years (Marina, Allegro, Maxi etc.) that was poorly built and used ancient technology and slowly our car industry was eaten alive by foreign makers.

    I don’t know to what extent US unions and management have failed to face up to the future, but what I do know is that more and more car makers like VW, Toyota, Porsche etc are opening factories in the US, does anyone know if they are still unionised?

    It seems to me Detroit is simply paying the price for years of failure by US car makers to produce cars that not only people in the US wanted but cars that would sell overseas.


    • David Preiser (USA) says:

      Of course Detroit is paying the price of a profligate, inefficient, and ruined automotive industry. Why the industry went so far downhill is beside the point here.  The issue is that this BBC report about Detroit’s problems mentions none of this. Instead, you’re led to believe that Detroit’s situation is symptomatic of the rest of the country when it most certainly isn’t. As I’ve shown, even when the rest of the country was doing well several years ago, Detroit was rapidly declining anyway. It’s as if they did a report about the economic problems in New Orleans without mentioning Katrina. As it happens, New Orleans is now in better shape than Detroit.


  5. Cassandra King says:

    Social collapse due to drugs and family breakdown, the African American community led the way in corruption and crime and social disorder, African American rabble rousers became the new corrupt political elite, drugs and crime ruined whole areas from the 80s on and the decline never stopped.

    Area after area became infected and people left in droves, refugees from their own neighbourhoods driven out by car jacking, burglary, murder, gang violence, drugs, social breakdown and benefit dependency and last but not least the new political class disabling the police and enhancing the rights of the criminal class.

    The BBC does not want us to know the truth about about the decline of US industrial cities, it does not fit the narrative, black people are victims you see. Victims are never to blame even when they are to blame. Entire neighbourhoods evacuated themselves to surrounding towns, these refugees were mainly white lower and upper middle class families who didnt want their kids going to a public school filled with young trainee gangsters who brought guns to school along with drugs in place of sandwiches, didnt want to go to the park to find dead bodies or get robbed on the way, or go home to find burglars stealing their stuff and shooting them dead.

    You wont be seeing the real reasons for the decline of Detroit, one of the loveliest cities in the USA until the arrival of that wonderful liberal paradise called multiculturalism, when it came normal law abiding folks fled and the city became a cesspit, shops closed up after being robbed dozens of times by desperate drug addicts.

    They made a wasteland and called it progress, they made their multicultural wonderland and people fled from it like it was East Germany sans wall and minefields. And the BBC cannot tell the truth about the causes and the reasons and who was to blame. They just cannot, it would destroy the myth of African American victimhood when combined with the poisonous effects of progressive liberal democrat pro criminal anti law and order policies.

    Now I am not claiming that all the problems of Detroit were caused by black people but they contributed their fair share and yet they are never held liable because they are not being held accountable, their role is never discussed because it is thought to be racist to do so. Political corruption, the fish rotting from the head and liberal dogma and black community social breakdown and union stupidity all played their parts.

    But to see what Detroit used to be like you have to go to the surrounding refugee towns where normal families fled, they are now what large parts of Detroit used to be like, clean and low crime and good social order and safe streets, thats what Detroit used to be like. It is an education to go to Detroit, to see the neighbourhoods of lovely red brick houses now burnt out and derelict, to understand why it happened and who and what was behind it. The BBC has painted itself into a corner, it cannot tell the truth so our cities are in the same spiral, we cannot learn the lessons of Detroit so we ourselves are doomed to repeat their tragedy.


  6. Idiotboy says:

    Detroit has been going down the pan for at least two decades.

    A trip into town along Michigan Ave from the Dearborn area introduced one to scenes of increasing urban decay, relieved only by the shining spires surrounding the Renaissance Center at the hub of the old city. Even there a few years ago, a work colleague managed to get mugged leaving the car park.

    Some of this decline in the city’s fortunes is due to the natural ebb and flow of industry as it adapts its manufacturing strategy to a constantly changing marketplace, however, the process of decline will inevitably be hastened by the strictures placed on Detroit’s automotive producers by President Obama’s fuel economy rules, administered by his pet QUANGO the Environmental Protection Agency, led by Obama nominee Lisa Jackson.

    EPA is currently hammering the final few coffin nails into Detroit’s automotive sector, which in its heyday made the bulk of its profits from light trucks and pick-ups, as part of its ongoing mission to save the planet.

    Of course the BBC will not report this fact as it cuts across at least two of its major policy positions.


  7. David Preiser (USA) says:

    the process of decline will inevitably be hastened by the strictures placed on Detroit’s automotive producers by President Obama’s fuel economy rules, administered by his pet QUANGO the Environmental Protection Agency, led by Obama nominee Lisa Jackson.

    At least His union buddies got theirs, eh? Screw the shareholders, screw common sense.


  8. Umbongo says:


    Right on the button as usual.  I remember visiting Detroit in the late 60s.  Even then downtown Detroit looked like WW3 had been fought and lost there.  This was before the building of the Renaissance Center in the early 70s which, according to my friends who lived near Detroit, was – and is(?) – like some sparkly sticking plaster on the ravaged face of a leper.


  9. Dogstar060763 says:

    David, an excellent piece and an interesting read – thanks for the background not supplied by the duplicitous BBBC. As ever, we can turn to correspondents here to provide context and balance where our State Propagandist repeatedly – and wilfully – fails. Keep it up!


  10. David Preiser (USA) says:

    So just turned on the BBC News Channel at about four minutes before the hour, and caught the tail end of some pre-Olympics youth segment. Some Beeboid of Caribbean descent (black man with a British accent) was with a bunch of singing Jamaican children, talking about what the Olympics meant to them or some such.

    The BBC employee was wearing this t-shirt, on air, in his capacity as a BBC youth or sports correspondent. Make of it what you will, and remember your license fee goes towards perpetuating this kind of stereotype:


  11. My Site (click to edit) says:

    Wardrobe bonfunction?


  12. Laura Lockridge says:

    You forget one charming feature of the progressive urban paradise of Detroit and environs. It has the largest Muslim minority of any American town. Read Debbie Schlussel, find out about “Detroitistan”.