Replaying the game of 2003
Ben Somberg catches the Washington Post publishing lazy, nonfactual reporting. Again:
If Congress doesn't provide additional stimulus spending, economists inside and outside the administration warn that the nation risks a prolonged period of high unemployment or, more frightening, a descent back into recession. But a competing threat -- the exploding federal budget deficit -- seems to be resonating more powerfully in Congress and among voters.
I don't know where this reporter got this information, but it is wrong and it requires a correction. The public is NOT more upset by the deficit than unemployment and to the extent they are upset about the deficit at all, it comes from the Big Lie that the deficit is responsible for the economic problems we face.
[I]s this notion supported by what the polling actually says? No. Not even close.
A Pew Research / National Journal poll from early June asked "Which of the following national economic issues worries you most?" Number one was "job situation" with 41%. "Federal budget deficit" got 23%.
An NBC / Wall Street Journal poll from early May asked "Please tell me which one of these items you think should be the top priority for the federal government." Sure enough, "job creation and economic growth" won with 35%. "The deficit and government spending" got 20%.
A Fox News poll also in early May got even more dramatic results. "Economy and jobs" topped the priority list with 47%, while "deficit, spending" garnered only 15%.
A CBS / NYT poll in early April found 27% prioritizing "jobs", 27% the "economy" and 5% prioritizing "budget deficit/national debt."
The only recent poll that gives the slightest hint of support for the Post's thesis is the USA Today / Gallup poll from late May (not even their newest). Participants were asked "How serious a threat to the future well-being of the United States do you consider each of the following." For "federal government debt", 40% said extremely serious, 39% very serious, and 15% somewhat serious. For "unemployment", 33% said extremely serious, 50% said very serious, and 15% said somewhat serious. If you use only the "extremely serious" numbers, you get 7% more for the debt. Greg Marx at CJR makes the case that this poll, nevermind its headline, should not be read as some sort of overwhelming evidence of a shifted public view.
And in fact a newer Gallup poll, from a week ago, asking "What do you think is the most important problem facing the country today?" finds the economy and jobs on top. "Economy in general" gets 28%, "Unemployment/Jobs" gets 21%, and "Federal budget deficit" gets 7%.
I have a fairly clear idea about why the powers that be are pushing this line, but why the press is doing it is another question. Just as they slanted their news and analysis in the run-up to the Iraq war, they are doing the same thing with respect to this deficit fetish. We saw it happening in real time then, just as we are now.
Here's a report by Jeff Cohen from FAIR in December 2003:
The run-up to the Iraq war offers a case study in news bias: how mainstream media, especially television, were incapable of getting the truth out in the face of administration lies and innuendo about Iraq's 9/11 role and weapons of mass destruction.
Among experts internationally, there had been much debate and many doubts about Iraq being an imminent WMD threat. But there was little debate among the handpicked weapons "experts" who dominated U.S. television coverage in the build up to war -- and most of what they told us has turned out to be wrong. A media furor erupted over fictionalization in news accounts by New York Times reporter Jayson Blair, but not about the more momentous reporting -- illusory and scarily overstated -- by Times star Judith Miller on WMDs, both before and after the Iraq invasion.
News outlets ideologically allied with Bush have been happy to assist in confusing the public about who had attacked us on 9/11 and in morphing our enemy from Al-Qaeda to Iraq. The Fox News Channel runs its "War on Terror" banner whether discussing Afghanistan or Iraq. Other outlets promoted the Saddam/911 confusion less out of ideology than ineptitude -- during a live, pre-war news conference at which the chief of Homeland Security described new terrorist threats from Al-Qaeda, MSNBC ran its banner: "Showdown with Saddam."
While most of us who pay attention know who was and who wasn't behind 9/11, others get their news on the fly -- basically headlines and banners. But even Americans who say they're paying attention, at least to TV, are highly misinformed. A massive University of Maryland study found that most who get their news from commercial TV held at least one of three fundamental "misperceptions": that Iraq had been directly linked to 9/11, that WMDs had been found in Iraq or that world opinion supported the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
Not unexpectedly, Fox News viewers were the most misled. But strong majorities of CBS, ABC, NBC and CNN viewers were also confused on at least one of these points. Among those informed on all three questions, only 23 percent supported Bush's war.
Ultimately, the Iraq war was a "Rush Limbaugh/Fox News War" -- based on the premise that in our current media environment if you tell a lie forcefully and frequently enough, the lie will triumph. Limbaugh rose to be the top commentator in our country while conducting a reign of error virtually unnoticed by mainstream media. Fox News, with its "fair and balanced" mantra, became the top cable news channel while mainstream TV writers solemnly debated whether the channel was biased or not.
The ideologues in the Bush White House apparently learned from watching the rise of Limbaugh and Fox News: When you invert or concoct reality, do so passionately and repetitively, and accuse anyone who challenges your reality of liberal bias...or treason.
The deficit fetishists, many of whom are the same people, obviously learned the same thing. But since the time Cohen wrote that, I think we've developed another reason why the press runs with this sort of thing. It's the Very Serious People syndrome, in which the media are reluctant to challenge the "experts" who insist that we believe them or believe our lying eyes. I don't know if it's because they are afraid of losing access or if they are just lazy and choose to rely on these people for their analysis rather than challenge the prevailing CW. Either way, it's happening again and the consequences are just as dire. And it's journalistic malpractice.