Wednesday, February 17, 2010

What's Wrong with the Media

I captured this myself! From the Atlantic Wire:

Let's review. According to the article, there is a "strong consensus" among economists that the stimulus was necessary, and according to David Leonhardt, the most prominent economic research firms - IHS Global Insight, Macroeconomic Advisers and Moody' - "all estimate that the bill has added 1.6 million to 1.8 million jobs so far and that its ultimate impact will be roughly 2.5 million jobs."

But wait! It doesn't play well. So the headline asks, was it worth it? Let's see. Why don't you ask one of the 1.8 million people who are employed today because of the stimulus bill?

There was a similar story - and an even worse offender, it pains me to say - on my beloved, usually-above-this-sort-of-thing NPR this morning. (Yes, I embrace the NPR-liberal label. You should see my coffee mug!) Just read the highlights of this article and then brace yourself for its ridiculous, tacked-on conclusion.

It begins with Obama's qualified language about the intent and effect of the stimulus bill: "'I don't want to pretend that today marks the end of our economic problem,' Obama said when he signed the $787 billion bill last February. 'But today does mark [...] the beginning of what we need to do to create jobs for Americans scrambling in the wake of layoffs.'"

Then the article goes on to say that both the White House and the CBO estimate the stimulus kept about 2 million people employed, that the economy is growing again, that job losses have slowed down to "a trickle," and that private economists mostly agree the stimulus worked. It further notes that insofar as the stimulus was insufficient, it was because it probably wasn't big enough, and it was too focused on tax cuts.

Let's see: too much spending and not enough tax cuts. Who does that sound like to you?

But that's not all. The article quotes Obama rebuffing GOP criticism by noting his concession on the tax cuts, then darkly notes that most people don't think their taxes were cut. (The text reads more neutrally than the damning tone the correspondent took on Morning Edition today.) Why don't people think their taxes were cut? Because they were given the tax cut over several paychecks, not in a lump sum. The article notes that behavioral economists agree this is the best way to encourage spending, because people are more likely to save a lump-sum tax cut. But just like the Atlantic Wire, NPR can't help itself: well, that's all well and good, but what about the *politics*? He may have cut taxes in the most effective way, but if he can't campaign on it, what's the point?

Then: the conclusion. Are you ready?
The Obama administration is still paying a price for its marketing missteps. Rightly or wrongly, the president's first big initiative is widely seen as missing the mark.
Rightly or wrongly? How about just "wrongly"? And "widely seen" as missing the mark? Yeah - by people who a) didn't understand its intent and b) are playing politics (as well as lying). This sort of wishy-washy nonsense is exactly what happens when nervous reporters want to avoid the appearance of bias - so instead of saying what's true (namely, that a modest, probably-too-small stimulus bill fulfilled its main goals, but that it would have been more effective if centrists and Republicans hadn't insisted on trimming the price tag and replacing spending measures with relatively less-effective tax cuts -- a White House concession which earned the President zero GOP votes in the House), they have to present "both sides" - reality and the Republican talking points - and then shrug at the end, saying "well, we know what's true, but Republicans say different. It's a debate!"

All while decrying the politics of the bill, never stopping for once to imagine that, in this instance, good policy was the enemy of good politics, and the President - being serious about governing, something no one in Washington is apparently used to - opted for the former.

So, happy birthday, stimulus bill. Maybe by the time the media marks your second birthday, people will have begun to take serious problems seriously - and we can get some better analysis. I'm not going to hold my breath.

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