How not to report a policy debate

Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

Earlier, I argued that news reports should clearly and consistently convey the basic facts about the issues they discuss. Here's a good example of a news report that completely fails to give readers the basic information they need.

The Hill tells readers that Republicans are debating amongst themselves whether to support an extension of unemployment benefits and whether such benefits should be offset by other spending cuts. It tells readers, for example, that Rep. Peter Roskam says "It makes no sense to spend more money, because you are just going to create more of a drag on the economy." But at no point does The Hill so much as hint at the fact that economists tend to say the opposite is true -- that government spending during a difficult economic times stimulates the economy, it does not "create more of a drag" on it.

Instead, The Hill told readers that Central Michigan University economics professor Jason Taylor thinks that extending unemployment benefits would be counterproductive. Taylor was the only economist The Hill cited. From reading The Hill, you'd never know that a single economist disagrees with Taylor and Roskam.

The Hill reports that "On Friday, Kentucky Senate candidate Rand Paul said, 'In Europe, they give about a year of unemployment. We're up to two years in America.'" Is that true? The Hill leaves readers to guess -- or to assume that since The Hill didn't correct it, it must be true.

But a 2004 analysis by the conservative National Center for Policy Analysis asserted: "Unemployment insurance benefits in the United States typically are exhausted after six months. However, a number of European countries pay over 40 percent of previous wages in the second and third year of unemployment. A few countries keep the benefits flowing even into the fourth and fifth years of unemployment. "

So was Rand Paul right? The Hill article was silent on that question. It doesn't seem to have occurred to anyone involved in producing this article that they should check.

The Hill
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