People have been beating up on journalists and journalism pretty well the last couple of days and deservedly so. I mean you expect Fox News to misrepresent and distort the Congressional Budget Office report on the impacts of healthcare reform ("Obamacare") on the economy. But it was very disheartening to see how many members of the traditional, mainstream, mythical "liberal" media fell right into line with the right wing talking points. And yes I realize in the preceding sentence the word "mythical" can be modifying the words liberal, media or both. I'll leave it up to you to decide which is more appropriate.
As hopefully most on this site realize by now the assertions that the CBO report stated that Obamacare would "kill" 2.5 millions jobs was totally wrong. The report concluded that in fact Obamacare would:
reduce the deficit.
What it did say about those 2.5 million fewer people working, was just that, 2.5 million people choosing not to work. Thanks to being able to find affordable health insurance on the exchanges, approximately that number of Americans would voluntarily decide to leave their jobs. Jobs that in the past they would have been chained to because it was the only way they could obtain affordable health insurance for themselves and/or their families. Now they would have the freedom to retire early and bridge the gap until they qualify for Medicare, leave a job to start a business, switch to a part-time job for a period of time to be home with young children or an ailing parent. The lock between job and health benefits is broken. The jobs don't go away, some of the people who would have filled them in the past, do. Which of course makes room for others needing work.
Even Republicans used to believe that was a good thing. Rep. Paul Ryan even laid that out as needing to be a key component of any healthcare reform when the work on healthcare reform began to get underway in early 2009. The CBO is simply confirming that yes, Obamacare accomplishes that goal.
Eventually most of the media (the usual suspects excluded of course) got around to reporting the correct conclusions of the report. But of course damage had been done as far as the impression given to the casual observer/voter who may have only heard the initial reports and postings. But in usual media fashion they didn't blame themselves for having totally misinterpreted the report (or more likely not bothered even reading it in the first place and simply reporting off the assertions of others). It was all the Democrats and the White House's problem that it was being misrepresented. Healthcare reform is just too complex so they need to do a better job explaining this "stuff", you know the facts.
Silly me. I guess I'm getting old and hearken back to the good ol' days when reporting facts and making sense of things to the general public was the job of, oh I think the word for them used to be, "journalists". You know an informed citizenry being the lifeblood of a democracy and all that quaint stuff. Now they are content to sit back and be glorified stenographers. They paint every issue as having two (and only two) sides. They simply transcribe what each side says, and then voila their work is done. No context, no facts to help the general public interpret the competing statements. Just a "he said, she said" and you decide which side to believe.
So that brings me to what set me off this morning. I hesitate to pile on since journalism has given itself such a bad black eye recently. And compared to the CBO report fiasco this is really a minor thing. But I heard something this morning that I found infuriating and is emblematic of the level of reporting America receives today.
It occurred on the Today Show on NBC. Of course they are spending most of their time and energy promoting the Olympics, but in between they take time to give the other news of the day.
First up today in the "rest of the news" was a not more than 30 seconds item regarding the vote on extending unemployment insurance. The lead in was along the lines of "Another major loss for Democrats". Then the story described how they failed by one vote to get the extension of unemployment insurance to come to a vote. That they failed to satisfy Republicans that there was enough of it paid for along with other deficit reduction measures. And then simply stated that as of December 31, 2013 when the extended UI expired 1.7 million Americans lost their unemployment payments. End of story.
"There", I thought, "is everything that is wrong with the modern media in a nutshell."
Notice what the focus of the story was, not the lost unemployment and it not being brought back. No, the focus was the horse race aspect of it. The Democrats lost. The Republicans won. The 1.7 million Americans without unemployment? Bit players in the political drama apparently. No need for context as to the vote itself, the issues involved, the historical context of emergency unemployment insurance in tough times having been a bipartisan, no brainer, didn't have to be paid for, issue in the past. No discussion of how from an economic standpoint extending unemployment on the one hand, and cutting back in other areas, makes no policy sense. Because facts like that just get in the way, and besides then it might appear you're taking sides rather than being balanced.
Which is ultimately one of the major failings of today's traditional media. Their job should be to accurately inform the public. When "balance" trumps accuracy, then everyone in the democracy is in trouble.
Originally posted in large part at Views on Brews