Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Informative and Factual, or Lazy and Misleading?

Yesterday's Chronicle had a front-page article titled Economic stimulus or just more pork?

Yes, it was as bad as you'd expect:

As Congress rushes toward what leaders of both parties predict will be a speedy passage of an $825 billion economic stimulus package, critics from GOP lawmakers to government watchdog groups are questioning whether key parts of the bill will spur economic growth or whether they're wasteful pork.
Included in the story:
  • Cherry-picked examples of items in the stimulus package that are most likely to seem dubious on first reading: "$200 million to rehabilitate the National Mall...$276 million to fix the computer systems at the State Department...$650 million to repair dilapidated Forest Service facilities", all in the first paragraph.
  • A quote from Representative Mike Pence about more money for the NEA ("This is stimulus?")
  • A quote from Representative Dick Boner John Boehner with the cash for condoms talking point.
  • A quote from "Citizens Against Government Waste" (representing the 'watchdog groups' in the first paragraph), a corporate-backed organization that has shilled for Microsoft and the tobacco industry and currently crusades against 'government-run healthcare' and the stimulus package.
  • A reference to the CBO report saying most of the money won't be spent in the next two years.

Not included: More...
  • Any analysis of the relative stimulus value of spending vs. tax cuts.
  • Any evaluation of whether any given item is, in fact, justified (by economic impact, by need, by future cost savings). To use examples cited in the article, arts spending is an effective economic stimulus; updating Federal agencies' computer systems will save a lot of money in the future; and upgrading low-income housing responds to a real need.
  • The fact that the 'CBO report' mentioned above doesn't exist
I don't think the reporter is ideologically opposed to the stimulus plan (there were, of course, 'balancing' quotes). I think he's lazy (or, more generously, overworked, on deadline, or whatever). The problem is one we'll always face: it's easier to mock than to defend--easier to show the cost of something than to demonstrate its value.