Center for Economic and Policy Research: "The media badly failed in its responsibility to inform the public"

Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

A new statement from the Center for Economic and Policy Research blasts the media's coverage of the stimulus:

The media badly failed in its responsibility to inform the public about one of the most important economic policy proposals to come before Congress in the last decade. Most of the public still does not even know what stimulus means, in large part because reporters apparently did not want to call attention to the fact that spending is, almost by definition, stimulus.

The media also failed to put the proposal in any perspective, routinely using adjectives like "enormous" or "massive" without any reference to the size of the demand gap the stimulus was designed to fill. They also failed to put the various components of the stimulus in perspective by, for example, informing the public that the $50 million in funding for the NEA, that was so despised by the Republicans, was equal to less than 0.007 percent of the total package.

The media have the time to familiarize themselves with the concept of stimulus and to look up the numbers that would allow them to put spending and tax proposals in a meaningful perspective. Their audience does not have the time to do this work. The media once again badly failed the public in its reporting on a major economic issue."

Quite right. I have argued several times that the news media's obsessive focus on politics rather than policy serves their readers and viewers poorly. Here's one example:

Consumers of news lack the time, expertise, and, in many cases, ability to determine which of two contradictory statements by competing political figures is true. ... That's where news organizations should -- but, with depressing frequency, have not -- come in. They have -- or should have -- the expertise and the time to assess those claims, and to report the facts. That's what readers, viewers, and listeners need. That's what journalism should be all about.

On the other hand, as consumers of news, we don't need journalists telling us what the "political impact" of something is going to be; how it will "play at the polls." It's our job to decide that. It's our job to decide who we'll vote for and why; how we'll assess the parties' competing agendas and approaches to the problems we face.

Instead of telling us how they think we'll react, we need journalists to give us the information upon which we can make an informed decision. To tell us the facts, and the truth, and the relevant context. Then we'll tell them the political impact.

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