Look, I know this sounds terribly earnest. And I know I’m repeating myself. But still: Many major news organizations and neutral commentators are simply not engaging on one of the central questions at the heart of our politics right now — one whose answer contains potentially far-reaching consequences for the future of the country.
The question is this: In the view of experts, are both parties making a serious and legitimate contribution to the debate over what to do about a severe national crisis that’s causing suffering among millions and millions of Americans? Or is only one party making a real contribution to that debate?
Obama and the Senate GOP have both introduced jobs plans. In reporting on the Senate plan, many news organizations described it as a “GOP jobs plan.” And that’s fine — Rand Paul said it would create five million of them. But few if any of the same news orgs that amplified the GOP offering of a jobs plan are making any serious effort to determine whether independent experts think there’s anything to it. And independent experts don’t think there’s anything to it — they think the GOP jobs plan would not create any jobs in the near term, and could even hurt the economy. By contrast, they do think the Obama plan would create jobs and lead to growth.
Why aren’t these facts in every single news story about the ongoing jobs debate? Why aren’t they being broadcast far and wide?
I’m trying to think of the reasons for this. Economists are not infallable — they very well may be wrong. But still: News consumers are entitled to expert opinion in navigating an intensely partisan debate that is expected to continue for months and be central to the 2012 campaign.
Another possible reason: Perhaps some media figures worry that since Obama asked news orgs to solicit the views of independent experts, they would look like they are doing Obama’s “homework” by soliciting those views. But that’s not a good enough reason. The core question should be: Do readers and viewers need this info in order to be better informed? If the answer to that question is Yes, then it doesn’t matter a whit what Obama said.
Another possible reason: The GOP jobs plan has no chance of ever becoming law. But that’s also true of Obama’s jobs plan. And the evaluation by economists of it nonetheless constituted very useful information for news consumers. The policies themselves, and the clash of visions they represent, will continue to be debated — and perhaps voted on — for months. And even if the GOP plan won’t ever happen, the broader question of whether experts think Republicans are making a genuine effort to offer real solutions to our national crisis is absolutely central to understanding what’s happening in our politics right now.
Still another possible reason: Reporters and editors don’t take the GOP jobs plan seriously enough to have it evaluated by independent experts. But if this is the case, isn’t this something readers and viewers should know about? News consumers who read or view stories about the GOP jobs plan without being told this vital information risk coming away thinking that both sides are making an equally serious contribution to the debate. If reporters and editors don’t believe this, isn’t that pertinent info for their customers?
There have been some exceptions. Jackie Calmes of the New York Times has done good work — see here and here — trying to inform readers on these matters. But the fact that she’s a glaring exception seems like a pretty serious problem.