By Arthur Alpert
It’s called “agenda-setting,” the theory that a prime function of news mediums is to tell readers and viewers what the big issues are. Makes sense to me, though I’d add that how the business couches those issues matters just as much as which they pick. So with those ideas in mind, let’s scrutinize the Albuquerque Journal’s decision to question candidates on the “The National Debt” Sunday and Monday, September 2 and 3.
Why “The National Debt”? Why not “The Economy” or “Jobs”?
Well, the Establishment (in my definition, leaders of major institutions, including the parties, and their financial supporters) wants the public to focus on the debt and its dire consequences.
(Quite unlike 12 years ago, when the Establishment didn’t fear deficits and, in fact, conscientiously set about reducing anticipated surpluses. More on that later.)
By posing “The National Debt” as the major issue to candidates for the Senate and in the 1st Congressional District, the Journal’s editors imported their editorial agenda into the news columns.
Any doubt of that may be put to rest by reading the unsigned preface to the candidates’ views on the debt.
It begins with a few very debatable propositions that it states as truisms, beyond debate – that the debt is more important than other economic issues, that it’s a clear and present danger and that the only discussion worth having is how to slash it.
And then it includes this:
“Most economic experts agree that Medicare and Social Security – two multi-billion dollar entitlement programs – must be restructured to restrain runaway spending.”
First, note the lack of supporting evidence for the “most economic experts” part of the sentence. (This is particularly egregious, but hardly surprising, in a newspaper whose regular economic commentary ranges from the Right to the Far Right.)
Secondly, the paragraph suggesting that Medicare and Social Security are essential to solving the problem neglects other essential elements. Ideological bias, anyone?
Thirdly, it pairs Medicare and Social Security, with no recognition of their fundamental differences.
Finally, while it highlights those programs, it suffers from amnesia on how the debt grew. There’s nothing on how the Establishment borrowed to fight two wars. Nothing, too, on providing lower prescription prices (and guaranteed profits to drug makers) without paying for it. And – believe it or not – the editors somehow forgot the decision to cut income taxes on the richest of the rich at the very same time.
I called that introduction to the candidates’ views a “preface.” Wrong! A preface that omits that history and focuses on the “runaway spending” of Medicare and Social Security is an editorial.
Which means that “agenda-setting” at the Albuquerque Journal is a pretty simple task. Just borrow the editorial agenda for use in the news pages.