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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Shoddy Journalism at its ... well, not "Worst," but Pretty Awful

Get a load of this Reuters article by Kevin Drawbaugh, Richard Cowan, Donna Smith, Thomas Ferraro and Dave Clarke:

Three Senate Democrats -- Max Baucus, John Kerry and Patty Murray -- were named by Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid on Tuesday to serve on a 12-member "super committee" being set up to address deficit issues.
Here are facts about the three Democrats, as well as a list of other lawmakers seen by analysts and congressional aides as front-runners for the nine committee slots still to be filled.
I'll stop right there to point out two things: (1) that is the longest by-line I’ve ever seen on a Reuters piece, and (2) when a reporter (or a group of them) purports to offer you "facts" about something, do you really expect that what you're about to read is purely a list of facts? I guess that second thing was actually a question. Anyway, the article describes Max Baucus this way:

A centrist leader known for his ability to work across party lines, Baucus is chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee and has urged tax reform. He was a member of the 2010 Bowles-Simpson deficit commission formed by President Barack Obama. Baucus voted against the final Bowles-Simpson proposals because they would have cut benefits for the elderly and veterans and hurt his largely rural home state of Montana by raising gasoline prices. He fought President George W. Bush's push to privatize Social Security and is a critic of a House Republican plan to privatize Medicare for future retirees.

Okay, at the risk of pointing out the obvious, calling someone a "centrist" is an expression of opinion, not a statement of fact. Also, surely one of the five people it took to write this puff piece was aware that "privatize" is a politically-charged term with a loaded connotation. If they wanted to make it clear that Baucus, like most left-wing partisans, opposed The Path to Prosperity and George W. Bush's plan to reform Social Security by allowing individuals to set up personal savings accounts with a portion of their payroll taxes, then why didn't they just say that? Moving on: Drawbaugh, Cowan, Smith, Ferraro & Clarke stuck to the facts on John Kerry, which is to say they didn't say much about him except that he was the unsuccessful 2004 Democratic presidential candidate and currently chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and serves on the Finance Committee. They also write that Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) "has had an open mind about closing some tax loopholes." Complimentary, to be sure, but again, an opinion. Later on, they said that balancing the budget without raising taxes "a key Republican goal and one that most budget experts say cannot be met without devastating budget cuts." It's technically not an opinion if your stating that somebody else said something or weighed in on an issue, but there's too many relative terms in that sentence. What do the authors consider "raising taxes"? Who qualifies as a budget expert? And "devastating budget cuts" is too ambiguous a phrase to use unless you're directly quoting someone.

The piece really portrayed House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Virginia Republican, in a negative light, saying he lived “up to his reputation as an aggressive partisan unlikely to compromise.” Whether or not someone has a reputation and what that reputation is are matters of fact, but any good journalist knows it should be up to the reader(s) to decide whether the person lives up to that reputation. Finally, while not mentioning The Path to Prosperity by name, the article called the brainchild of House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan "a plan to slash Medicare costs and benefits." That's misleading if not utterly false (though it is technically a fact). What Ryan's plan actually does is slash costs without cutting benefits. It's one of the few criticisms I have of the Path to Prosperity: the plan makes no changes to Medicare until 2022. If we actually did "slash benefits," then it would be a lot easier to save the program from bankruptcy.

I'll address the prospective members of the joint committee in a future article. For now, I just wanted to express disdain for this lousy piece of drivel that barely qualifies as journalism and express my heartfelt gall that it took five people to write this crap.

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