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Hullabaloo


Thursday, December 13, 2012

 
A memo to journalists on the fiscal cliff

by David Atkins

Reporting on the fiscal cliff tends to follow a standard pattern: negotiations toward an agreement are considered "progress" and "moving forward." Negotiations away from an agreement are considered "stalled" or a "step back." The argument is presented as a negotiation in which both sides are encouraged "to give something up", with tax increases being the sacred cow on the Republican side and benefits the sticking point on the Democratic side.

So the public gets fed a constant line about Democrats and Republicans being too childish to act in the best interests of the nation to "move forward" toward a deal.

Taken completely out of context, that sort of reporting might be excusable. In context, however, it's a travesty.

The crucial context here is income inequality. Corporate profits and income inequality are at record highs while median incomes are abysmally low. Unemployment is still ridiculously high given the glut of cash held in corporate coffers. The minimum wage hasn't been indexed to inflation in years. Median income in the United States is at its lowest point since 1969. The stock market sits above 13,100 as of this writing, a statistic considered good news to those with investments, but outrageous and offensive to working people struggling to get by given the unemployment and underemployment rate.

Any story about who should "sacrifice" given these realities must contain this context, or the journalist tells a gross lie of omission. When the poor and elderly on fixed incomes are asked to give up needed benefits in exchange for pittance tax increases on the wealthy, it's not a fair trade. It's not even close to a fair trade.

Good journalism tells the truth by providing context. The journalist needn't even dwell on whether deficit cutting is even an intelligent move given economic conditions. The journalist need only provide the barest glimmer of the record-setting economic realities at play.


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