CNN.com has an article with the helpful-sounding headline "Things you should know about budget." But rather than clearly and directly explaining budget basics to CNN readers, the article drives home the fact that the news media fails badly at informing and educating the public.
Keep in mind: this is not a "political analysis" piece, or an article focused on the reception the budget is getting among lawmakers. The whole purpose of this article is ostensibly to give readers the information they need to assess the budget.
So, how does the article fail? Well, for one thing, it makes no effort to indicate how the $3.8 trillion budget breaks down. What portion of that is devoted to defense, to Medicare, to education, etc? CNN doesn't tell us. Take, for example, the article's treatment of the Defense budget:
To pay for wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Obama is seeking $33 billion in supplemental funds for this budget year and $159.3 billion for next year's. Funding for military families would increase 3 percent to $8.8 billion. The president would appropriate in advance $50.6 billion for veterans' medical care.
Notice what's missing? That's right -- there's no indication of what total defense spending is.
CNN does, however, point to several drop-in-the-bucket items, such as "End grants to manufacturers of worsted wool. Annual savings: $5 million" and "Terminate Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation, aimed at fostering "new discoveries in all fields of endeavor for the benefit of mankind." Savings in 2010: $1 million."
The cumulative effect should be obvious: Readers are given a warped picture of the relative amount of spending on defense and things like worsted wool grants.
But that's not nearly as bad as CNN's treatment of taxes. Here's CNN's handling of tax-cuts for wage-earners:
Still a little extra in your paycheck
The Making Work Pay tax breaks would be extended for a year. These were part of last year's stimulus and resulted in slightly higher paychecks for 110 million families, the White House said.
Wow. No mention of the extension of the Bush tax cuts for 98 percent of Americans. That's weird. But that oversight is made worse by what comes a little later:
The president's budget would reduce the nation's debt by $1.2 trillion over the next 10 years. Obama would let the Bush tax cuts expire for high-income families, impose a "financial crisis responsibility fee" on large banks and end fossil-fuel tax subsidies for oil, gas and coal companies. Discretionary spending that is not defense-related would get a three-year cap, saving $250 billion over the next 10 years. Read more
Well, what does "high-income families" mean? CNN doesn't say -- and that's a big, big problem, because time and time again, studies have shown that more Americans think they are "rich" or "wealthy" or "high-income" than actually are. In other words, a lot of people who read this article will falsely think Obama is letting their tax cuts expire. (The proposal would only affect individuals making more than $200,000 a year and families making more than $250,000 a year -- about 2 percent of American households.)
Maybe you're wondering if CNN made this clear in that "Read more" link. Even if they did, that wouldn't be adequate -- but they didn't. The link takes you to an article that explains:
Let 2001-2003 tax cuts expire for high-income households: The Bush tax cuts are scheduled to expire by 2011. As it has promised all along, the Obama administration would like to keep those tax cuts in place for everyone except the highest-income households.
It estimates nearly $700 billion will be raised over 10 years by letting the cuts expire for the wealthiest Americans.
"High-income households" ... "highest-income households" ... "wealthiest Americans": those are all vague and misleading phrases -- but that's all CNN gives us. It's almost like CNN is deliberately obscuring the fact that only people making more than $200,000 and families making $250,000 will be affected.
Media outlets continue to uncritically report Sen. Joe Lieberman's (I-CT) statement that he will oppose cloture for the Senate health care reform bill because he believes the opt-out public option provision Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said will be included in the bill would increase the national debt and burden the taxpayers. However, while Reid's bill has not yet been released, every proposed bill with a public option thus far has required that those who enroll in the plan cover its costs through premiums, rather than have the plans be paid for through federal revenues.
Several media outlets have uncritically reported Sen. Joe Lieberman's (I-CT) statement that he will oppose cloture for the Senate health care reform bill -- which Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said will include a public option that each state could opt out of -- because he believes the public option would create a costly government entitlement program that taxpayers can't afford. However, as CBS News noted in a blog post on Lieberman's announcement, while Reid has yet to release details of the compromise Senate legislation, every other proposed bill with a public option so far has required the costs of the public plan to be covered by the premiums of those who enroll in it.
They all quote Sarah Palin's resignation-speech attack on the news media: "how about, in honor of the American soldier, you quit making things up"
And none of them point out that Palin herself has a famous history of "making things up." Like her claim to have said "thanks but no thanks" to Congress' attempts to inflict a "bridge to nowhere" on her state.
Sarah Palin, who has a lengthy history of making things up, basically accused the news media of dishonoring dead American soldiers by ... making things up. And the media typed up her words, not daring to point out the utter hypocrisy of her sanctimonious attack. An attack on them.
Don't they have any self-respect?
CNN.com reported that Republicans are using "accounts from Canada to warn against government involvement in the health care system" without noting that Democrats have ruled out moving toward a Canadian-style system.
Numerous media figures have cited anonymous smears of Sonia Sotomayor's intellect and temperament reported by The New Republic's Jeffrey Rosen, though Rosen has admitted he had neither read enough of her opinions nor spoken to enough of her supporters to form a fair assessment of her.
In a CNN.com article, Dana Bash reported that Republicans "trying to return to their small government roots" are "opposing Obama's economic prescriptions." But Bash did not mention that several economists say increased government spending -- as opposed to a return to "small government roots" -- is the necessary "economic prescription" during a recession.
Several media figures and outlets have uncritically repeated or failed to challenge the discredited GOP talking point that President Obama's cap-and-trade proposal would cost the average U.S. household more than $3,000 per year.
In a recent article, The Washington Times falsely claimed that "[a]t least 61 ex-Guantanamo inmates have returned to terrorism, according to the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency." And CNN.com uncritically reported Rep. Lamar Smith's assertion that "at least 61" former Guantánamo detainees "have returned to terrorist activities against the U.S. and our allies." In fact, according to the Pentagon, the 61-detainee figure includes 43 former prisoners who are suspected of, but have not been confirmed as, having "return[ed] to the fight."
Several media figures are promoting the notion of division among Obama supporters, asserting that "the left" is or should be disappointed with the president-elect's Cabinet selections. But the idea of significant disappointment with Obama runs counter to a USA Today/Gallup poll finding that 94 percent of Democrats "approve of the way Obama is handling his presidential transition."
Suggesting that Sen. Barack Obama had taken a "cheap shot" at Sen. John McCain during the presidential debate, CNN's Bill Schneider wrote: "McCain almost certainly misspoke when he said he wouldn't speak with Spain. ... I am not sure that's a fair thing for Obama to call him on." In fact, McCain foreign policy adviser Randy Scheunemann reportedly wrote that "there is no doubt Senator McCain knew exactly to whom the question referred" and that McCain in fact "refused to commit to a White House meeting with President Zapatero."
In a post on CNN.com's Political Ticker blog, CNN associate political editor Rebecca Sinderbrand wrote: "Before John McCain walked off the stage, his campaign already had a new Web video up featuring footage of the first debate -- clips of Barack Obama agreeing with his Republican rival." However, Sinderbrand did not note that the ad omitted Obama's criticisms of McCain moments later on the subjects which Obama purportedly "agree[d] with his Republican rival."
A CNN.com article reported that Sen. Joe Lieberman's speech at the Republican National Convention "is a sore point with his Democratic colleagues" because Lieberman "attacked Obama." But the article did not mention that the content of Lieberman's speech violated a pledge he had made not to "spend [his] time attacking Barack Obama" at the convention. The article also reported that Democrats "thought Lieberman had gone over the line when he said Obama had not reached across the aisle to work with Republicans," but not that they cited Obama's bipartisan legislative accomplishments to challenge the veracity of that assertion.
In reports that the Log Cabin Republicans have endorsed Sen. John McCain for president, CNN.com and UPI falsely suggested that Gov. Sarah Palin supports benefits for same-sex partners of state employees. In fact, while Palin did veto a bill in 2006 that would have prevented state officials from granting spousal benefits to same-sex couples, Palin has stated that she did so because the Alaska attorney general had advised her that it was unconstitutional, not because she supported spousal benefits for same-sex couples.
In an analysis, CNN.com asserted that Sen. Barack Obama "may have" launched "[t]he first salvo of the general election's age war" when he "argued in an interview ... that [Sen. John] McCain had 'lost his bearings' while pursuing the Republican nomination." But CNN.com did not provide the context of Obama's remark, which would have made clear that Obama was responding to a smear by McCain and was accusing McCain of violating his pledge to avoid negative campaigning when he made the statement.