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October 18, 2011 12:35 PM Failing the ‘homework assignment’

By Steve Benen

It’s been about two weeks since President Obama issued a challenge of sorts to the press corps. “[H]ere’s a little homework assignment for folks,” he said. “Go ask the Republicans what their jobs plan is if they’re opposed to the American Jobs Act, and have it scored, have it assessed by the same independent economists that have assessed our jobs plan…. Have those economists evaluate what, over the next two years, the Republican jobs plan would do.”

That was 12 days ago. Since then, we’ve seen some evaluations along the lines of what the president had in mind — independent economists have said the White House’s American Jobs Act would boost job creation, while the jobs plan from Republicans wouldn’t.

This is no small realization. It’s easy to take it for granted — the results are in line with expectations — but this isn’t just a question in the political fight over jobs; it’s the question. Which side is offering a jobs plan that works?

Greg Sargent makes the case today that the media covering the debate is failing.

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 5 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….

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 infallible — 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.

Greg explores some reasons why news organizations are dropping the ball on this, and they’re compelling explanations. If I had to guess, I’d say the root cause is a familiar one: a reporter could tell news consumers that empirical data shows the Democratic plan would work and the Republican plan wouldn’t, but to say this out loud would be to invite accusations of “bias.” Forced neutrality reigns, facts be damned.

But for those who care about reality, the truth is unambiguous: the GOP “jobs plan” wouldn’t make things better, and the American Jobs Act would. One side’s numbers add up, the other side’s don’t. One side welcome objective, independent scrutiny, the other side doesn’t. One side’s plan is a serious effort, the other side’s isn’t.

From a political perspective, I’m hard pressed to imagine what could be more important than these realizations — during a jobs crisis, during a jobs fight in Washington — but most of the establishment media seems inclined to give Republicans a pass. Reality is too impolite to repeat in public.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.

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  • nisl on October 18, 2011 12:42 PM:

    "But for those who care about reality, the truth is unambiguous: the GOP “jobs plan” would make things better, and the American Jobs Act would."

    I don't think that says what you think it says...

  • Elle on October 18, 2011 12:43 PM:

    Okay Steve. The penultimate paragraph says that:
    the GOP “jobs plan” would make things better, and the American Jobs Act would"

    Minor error, but you might want to fix that.

    #heretohelp

  • stormskies on October 18, 2011 12:43 PM:

    The corporate media is paid to do exactly what it is doing. We can pretend that it's simply a matter of he/she said .. but that in fact is pure fucking bullshit. The reality is that the corporate media, under the guise of he/she said, allows the lies and propaganda of the Repiglicans to stand unchallenged. This is intentional. And thus these corporate lies, deceptions, and propaganda get repeated over and over and over until the lies become the 'reality' for so many Americans who simply can not think for theme selves. This is intentional by the corporate media. It is what they are paid to do.

  • lb 22 on October 18, 2011 12:43 PM:

    Steve, I think you left out a rather important n't in your second last paragraph.

  • elvis on October 18, 2011 12:46 PM:

    Correct paragraph 6: "... the GOP "jobs plan" would NOT make things better..." and "one side welcomeS objective..."

  • T2 on October 18, 2011 12:46 PM:

    "most of the establishment media seems inclined to give Republicans a pass"

    NO NO NO NO NO - there is no "seems" to it. The proper conclusion to the post would be "Establishment media gives the Republicans a pass on virtually each and every fail"

  • c u n d gulag on October 18, 2011 12:46 PM:

    It's MSM job security.

    If you don't present the information the way the 6+ corporations that run the news want you to, they'll find someone who will!

    Look at Phil Donohue.
    He had the highest rated MSNBC show, and when he didn't agree with the bullshit lead up to the Iraq War, he was out of work.
    He could afford it. Other reporters, probably not.

  • SadOldVet on October 18, 2011 1:06 PM:

    "Forced neutrality reigns, facts be damned."

    I call bull-shit on you, Benen!

    94% of all print (newspapers/magazines) and broadcast (ABC/CBS/NBC/cable) is owned by 6 corporations.

    The highly paid employees of the Corporately Owned Media remain as highly paid employees by conveying the messages that the Corporate Ownership want!

    The Corporately Owned Media are not owned and controlled by liberals. 50+ years of repukes insisting that the media is liberal may have had some level of validity 30-40 years ago, but it has none now.

    The highly paid employees of the Corporately Owned Media perform their assigned roles as echo chambers and message amplifiers of repuknican messages. In between they provide "he said - he said" and "both sides do it" analysis to provide confusion to the sizable portion of the electorate who pays little attention other than at the closing periods of election cycles.

    Mr. Benen... If you really believe that the problem is media neutrality or that the dumbs are just not effective at promoting their messages; you are living in a fantasy world! The front men/women for the Corporately Owned Media are doing their job.

    What part of CORPORATELY OWNED MEDIA do you not understand?

  • KJ on October 18, 2011 1:08 PM:

    The better question is why isn't every Democratic member of the House or Senate asking this very question every time they are interviewed? Sure the media deserves some blame for this, but Democrats need to get out there and FORCE the issue. Why hasn't the GOP asked scored any of the 12 so-called jobs bills the House claims it has passed? If I were a Democratic legislator I would ask those questions at every turn.

  • Molly Weasley on October 18, 2011 1:14 PM:

    Absolutely, KJ. Why aren't Democrats saying all of this CONSTANTLY?

    As far as why the media aren't reporting this: That would require them to do actual REPORTING, and WORK, which they seem either to lazy to do or have forgotten how to do. Unless it's about Casey Anthony or Amanda Knox.

  • Diane Rodriguez on October 18, 2011 1:16 PM:

    There is always bias or a "point of view" if you prefer the gentler version. The false hysteria over fair and balanced, unbiased, etc is rooted in pretty transparent foundations: the conservative money that controls news reporting, the lazy, disinterested and ignorant MSM reporting who bate guests for instant controversy and the public's voracious appetite for pabulum that is much more Survivor TV than news - but mostly the $'s.

    There are few ( Ifil, Maddow, Zakaria) TV journalists and a few newspaper journalists who break a sweat and do some homework. Mostly it's high paid blah blah blah that masquerades as provocative and thoughtful. Friedman and Brooks being prime examples of self involved prigs with tenure for life at NYT.

  • stormskies on October 18, 2011 1:22 PM:

    SadOldVet.... has said it all .... nothing more to add. and for those who can't see the obvious like SadOldVet all's i can say is .......my god

  • samsa on October 18, 2011 1:30 PM:

    Examine the net worth of a typical Democratic Congressman.

    In name he may be a Democrat, but he has to make extra effort to support policies that his self interest tells him to oppose.

    We rely on a few good men who rise above all this to keep our concept of a democratic society alive, but any system that depends on the goodness of the hearts of a few mortal beings is bound to have such problems now and then - unless we mandate that to qualify, a candidate for congress will not have a net worth of more than five times the national median.

  • JMG on October 18, 2011 1:31 PM:

    It's their own jobs that matter here. Report as Steve says, that is, accurately, and reporters will become among the unemployed. It is well past time to start seeing established journalism as part of the enemy of the American people, not its advocate.

  • Danp on October 18, 2011 1:36 PM:

    Forced neutrality reigns, facts be damned."

    I call bull-shit on you, Benen!

    I think the point is that the media won't cover it until they find both a Republican friendly opinion and a not-quite-as-GOP-friendly opinion. You know, kind of like Brooks and Shields, or Buchanan and Haraold Ford.

  • Anonymous At Work on October 18, 2011 1:47 PM:

    One unexamined underlying bias here is that the reporters have jobs and the target of the jobs bills do not. Not having a job increases the importance of having one in ways not appreciated by those who have good jobs.

  • eskeld on October 18, 2011 1:49 PM:


    Maddow? She great in those roundtables, brilliant, really, where she has to contain her snotty affectations. But OMG she's insufferable on her own!

    Generally, I'd agree with sadoldVet, but I'd like to know to what extent network television news audiences are right wing. I don't agree with Steve that at the end of the day, editors are neutral minded. But with the exception of FoxNews, I'm not convinced that they're not just whores.

  • Gregory on October 18, 2011 1:53 PM:

    Greg Sargent makes the case today that the media covering the debate is failing.

    That depends on exactly what the media is trying to do in covering the debate, doesn't it?

  • Schtick on October 18, 2011 2:00 PM:

    There are NO journalists in the media anymore. Before they can say ANYTHING they have to run their corporate daddies to get the talking point memo of the day and anything else that uses brains and reasoning is out.
    The dollar bills they are stamping with the info for OWS says it all.
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/17/occupy-george-dollar-bill-graphics_n_1016252.html

    crapcha....cloud onucts....not cloud nine?

  • TCinLA on October 18, 2011 2:02 PM:

    most of the establishment media seems inclined to give Republicans a pass

    That's because most of the Establishment Media is OWNED by Republican corporations. So where's the surprise that they push their economic agenda.

    "The press is free to he who owns one."

  • SadOldVet on October 18, 2011 2:09 PM:

    re eskeld...

    A comment I saw on another blog site was Pressitutes. Not a bad description.

  • Cha on October 18, 2011 2:19 PM:

    The study by the Pew Center didn't find more "harsh media coverage for Obama" than any other over the last 5 months for nothing. I think "the treatment" has gone back further than that. Can't have this WH press corp actually doing their job can the corporations who pay them?

    "President Obama "has suffered the most unrelentingly negative treatment" of all presidential candidates over the past five months, according to a study released Monday from the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism. Pew found that Mr. Obama was the subject of negative assessments nearly four times as often as he was the subject of positive assessments. It found he received "positive" coverage nine percent of the time, "neutral" coverage 57 percent of the time and "negative" coverage 34 percent of the time."

    The study, which was conducted using a combination of "traditional media research methods [and] computer algorithms to track the level and tone of coverage," cuts against the widespread conservative claim that the "liberal media" aides Mr. Obama and other Democrats while attacking Republicans.

    http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-503544_162-20121362-503544.html

    http://pragmaticobotsunite.blogspot.com/2011/10/monday-obot-link-review-afternoon-open_17.html


  • Cha on October 18, 2011 2:24 PM:

    "presstitutes" is descriptive and so is WH PressWhore$$

  • stormskies on October 18, 2011 2:24 PM:

    and let's remember this: all those white house reporters questioning Obama, the white house press corps, are fucking millionaires ...... making more money that Obama himself ... it's quite a picture isn't it ?

  • WisIll on October 18, 2011 2:57 PM:

    I'd love to believe the whole corporate media line but it always smells like BS. I think it really is lazy reporters and editors. The Dems fail to pound out the soundbites over and over.

    Why is the corporate media line BS? Where is the actual proof other than observation of bias? Where is one stolen or copied document from GE or Disney telling reporters or producers that they will lose their job if they don't slant things towards Repubs? These are BIG companies where someone has to be not afraid to show stuff to Wikileaks or a blog. The whole thing is total BS.

  • Ron Byers on October 18, 2011 3:16 PM:

    It is easy to blame the media. It is harder to blame the namby pamby Democrats who don't challenge the media at every turn. We are all responsible for not demanding that both sides be scored by independent observers.

    As to the media, the corporate ownership of the print and electronic mass media has been mentioned. What has been overlooked is the motivation all mass media has to generate a horse race. How does telling the truth about the Republican "jobs plan" help generate a horse race? How does telling the truth sell Snapple? Another thing that hasn't been mentioned is what happens to "reporters" who actually challenge the Republicans? Well Rachel Maddow for one has a hard time booking heavy Republican hitters. The same happens with Keith Overman, and the other liberal leaning journalists.

  • Kathryn on October 18, 2011 3:57 PM:

    Good points by Ron Byers, my husband is always !hassling me about Democrats just complaining about Republicans and not being more aggressive with their own message, hard to disagree. Another point I've not seen made, when Pres. Obama suggested asking tougher questions of GOP using the term "here's some homework for you", many in the White House press corps rolled their eyes and tweeted about an assignment from Professor Obama. I don't think it's an overstatement to say that many in the WH Press Corp have become unfairly hostile to Obama and it shows. That crowd, in my opinion, is heavy with pompous, self satisfied, jaded and lazy "reporters".

  • kevo on October 18, 2011 4:29 PM:

    Here you go MSM - Fuck you if you can't bring truthful full disclosure to your reporting!

    Yeah, some members of the MSM should just fuck off and die! If they dared do so, we'd have a better press corp as a result! -Kevo

  • eskeld on October 18, 2011 6:38 PM:

    Kathryn,

    It is unfortunate that Obama has not struck a better relationship with the WH press. But he has always looked annoyed with them. So it doesn't surprise me that they've turned on him.

    My hunch is that somewhere at the core of Obama's mission to change the way Washington talks (and gets things done), he views MSM questions as (all too often) subversive to genuine efforts on the part of politicians to do good work.

    But your husband has a stake in this too. At the end of the day, no one is well served by a poorly informed voters.

  • Doug on October 18, 2011 9:37 PM:

    Laziness and angling for job security on the part of the "journalists" working for editors, themselves appointed by Republican-favoring CEOs and doing the same as their subordinates, explains the problem much better than any "conspiracy" theory. "Reporters" aren't being pushed by their editors because editors are busy trying to gauge what their own actions will have on their future employment.
    One needs only to look at the office dynamics of any large business to see that: middle-level managers (editors) trimming THEIR actions to look good, or what they THINK will look good, to their bosses, while workers (reporters) are doing exactly the same thing with how they're doing their assignments. Since most "news" organizations are Republican-controlled, it's not surprising that the resulting output favors Republicans. Brown-nosing at its' finest...
    By the way, the myth of "impartial" news developed because of the "Fairness Doctrine" put in place because broadcasters, radio and television, needed licenses from the Federal government to use the "public" airwaves. Since the radio, then television, networks HAD to provide non-partisan "public service" programming, they used their news departments as the provider of that "public service".
    THAT'S when awards were given for investigative reporting, best news coverage of local/national/international news, the Peabody Award was instituted, and Pulitzers expanded to cover the "new" media. It was also when the myth was born of "unbiased" news. I say myth because "unbiased" applied ONLY to radio/television, newspapers were still able to be as biased and slanted as they wished.
    Today the various cable news channels are simply operating under the rules that newspapers have always operated under: maximum profits, maximum viewers(readers) and, especially, don't p*ss off the advertisers!
    It's a business...

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