Today's Washington Post article about a possible government shutdown contains a brief he-said/she-said section about the estimated 700,000 job losses that would be caused by Republican spending cuts:
Democrats pointed to a new report Monday from Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody's Analytics, which found that the Republican plan would cost 700,000 jobs through 2012, giving fresh ammunition to Democrats seeking to block the proposed GOP cuts. Zandi's report comes after a similar analysis last week by the investment bank Goldman Sachs, which predicted the cuts would do even greater damage to the economy.
Republicans have dismissed both reports as flawed. They cited Stanford University economist John B. Taylor, who argued that the macroeconomic models employed by Zandi and many other independent forecasters - including the Congressional Budget Office - overstate the economic impact of government spending.
Hmmm. Both sides point to experts. Which is a reader to believe? Well, it might help if the Post had given readers some idea of who Mark Zandi and John Taylor are. Zandi was a key member of John McCain's economic team during McCain's 2008 presidential campaign. Taylor is a fellow at the anti-government Hoover Institution and worked in the presidential administrations of Gerald Ford and both Bushes, and served as an advisor to the presidential campaigns of Bob Dole and George W. Bush.
But the Post didn't tell readers any of that; didn't give the slightest hint that Democrats were citing the work of an economist who has worked for Republicans, while Republicans were citing one of their own. Instead, it presented Taylor simply as a “Stanford University economist.”
What's next? An article quoting John Yoo's views on torture, but describing him simply as a “Berkeley professor” ?
UPDATE: At Yahoo News, Zachary Roth criticizes the same problem in another Post article, adding:
Politicians often try to advance their position by fogging up the debate, suggesting that the state of academic research on an issue is less settled than it in fact is. And you can't blame them for that: Their goal is to move their agenda, not to educate the public. But lately they're having too much success in getting reporters to advance that agenda via a surface impression of evenhandedness. And on this crucial policy front--as well as on a few others--this dynamic makes it that much harder to have a debate that's grounded in facts.