Austerity Pitch: AP laces news with opinion… again

February 5th, 2014 · 2 Comments · budget policy, economy, Fact Check, inequality, journalism, tax policy, Uncategorized, Washington

By Arthur Alpert

This is a tale of two opinions.

Winthrop Quigley of the Albuquerque Journal offered his in a recent UpFront column Thursday, Jan. 28, on inequality and higher minimum wages.

I disagree with his conclusions, but so what?

Quigley stated his premises and marshaled evidence (income inequality is real, extreme and bad for business) and showed us how he was thinking before concluding that raising the minimum wage is no solution.

And the Journal, appropriately, published it in UpFront, an opinion column.

Two weeks earlier, however, the Journal published an opinion column as news. Well, to be exact, it was opinion plus news, fiction and sleight-of-hand.

Under the rubric “House passes compromise-laden spending bill”, the editors ran an article by Andrew Taylor of the Associated Press Washington bureau Thursday Jan. 16 on A3.

Now, as I’ve warned you before, AP Washington allows some of its “reporters’ to editorialize. (Yes, it’s strange and no, I don’t understand.)

Also, as I‘ve warned, Taylor is one of those “reporters” who channels the Truth according to the US Chamber of Commerce except when channeling Tea Party Truth.

This time he boldly passed off contentious political positions as fact.

Look at the fourth paragraph:

“Excluded are the giant benefit programs like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and food stamps that run on autopilot and are increasingly driving the government deeper into debt.”

What awe-inspiring journalistic incompetence!

Before I demonstrate how, let’s consider two fundamental assumptions that lie beneath that graph and Taylor’s entire “report.”

They are, first, that the deficit is the nation’s top problem and secondly, that cutting spending now would be a good thing.

But – and this is the journalistic problem about Taylor’s assumptions – not everyone agrees. These are burning issues, not givens, the subject of debate by economists, elected representatives and citizens.

Right now, I’d estimate that most economists, including some avowed rightists, would dispute both premises.

Now if Taylor were a professional, he might identify his beliefs for the reader, turning his work into an opinion piece.

Or he could report the budget compromise story sans spin.

Taylor did neither, of course, choosing instead to lace a so-called news story with opinion.

And Journal editors compounded the felony by publishing it as “news.”

But Taylor’s hidden political positions weren’t his only journalistic crime. He also got facts wrong.

Let’s look that fourth graph again.

“Excluded are the giant benefit programs like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and food stamps that run on autopilot and are increasingly driving the government deeper into debt.”

Social Security isn’t driving the debt. Unless we tweak it, it may be problematic years from now, but it’s in the black today.

Medicare is driving the debt but it’s sure not running on autopilot. Approve or not, Obamacare is an effort to change the health care system to reduce cost and improve outcomes while insuring more citizens.

Let’s skip Medicaid and food stamps and cut to the chase, namely that this spending is “driving the government deeper into debt.”

Hmm. I thought debt was the result of spending more than you took in. Taylor never mentions what comes into the Treasury.

In fact, tax cuts for the affluent and corporate, the Lesser Depression and its hangover have reduced federal income.

Whether he fails to tackle federal income from ignorance or bias, I don’t know, but the omission heightens my suspicions.

And sure enough, in the 10th graph, he says the sequester cuts “were triggered by Washington’s inability to follow up a 2011 budget deal with additional deficit savings.”

That’s more evidence, if needed, that Taylor wants budget austerity. Why not say the Sequester followed Washington’s inability to restore progressive taxation? Why not beef about Washington’s inability to hike spending to create jobs, demand and tax revenues?

But wait, there’s more. Consider, “Washington’s inability.”  Was “Washington” to blame, as Taylor states, or did radical rightists in the House block a better budget deal?

To answer that, let’s read a few graphs further down, where Taylor tips his hand, writing the alternatives to the budget deal were more automatic spending cuts or “risk another politically debilitating government shutdown.”

Notice the sentence construction. It’s passive. Notice who’s missing – the folks who shut down the government.

Finally, in the very last graph, Taylor tells us “Conservatives complained that the bill would keep money flowing to wasteful programs, but the actual debate was a sleepy affair dominated by the old school lawmakers who populate the Appropriations Committee.”

I love it.

Allow me to translate. By conservatives, Taylor means the Tea Party. (That’s illiterate but to be fair, so are many journalists.) And by “old school lawmakers,” he means GOP conservatives. And the import of the graph is the Tea Party lost.

Well done. Thus does Mr. Taylor finish his journalistic travesty by muting what happened in the House, namely that Speaker Boehner and allies pushed back against right-wing radicals.

So, to sum up, Win Quigley wrote an opinion piece in which he played fair with readers and which the editors ran as opinion.

Whereas the AP’s Andrew Taylor wrote an inaccurate news story in which he passed off his political views as fact. And the editors published his opinions as news.

Anybody remember my prediction, months ago, that the Journal would push the deficit austerity agenda in its “news” columns?”

Told you so.

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2 Comments so far ↓

  • Emanuele Corso

    Great piece, Arthur. Hang them with their own petards that’s best. It’s all about truth and how truth is compromised and manipulated by people with access to the public via the various media to push a social, political, and philosophical agenda. The public is at great disadvantage lacking better information whether from disinterest or laziness they are misinformed and easily manipulated .

  • Sharon Bode

    I appreciate the opportunity to follow your analysis for the sheer joy of using my reading skills at a higher level. It’s fun.

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