Media: What’s This Spending Doing in My Stimulus?

There’s a trope that you often see in corporate media discussions of the stimulus plan: Yeah, but do you really want to spend money on that? It may have started with the misrepresented contraceptive plan–which seemed to be grounded in a traditional media fascination/embarrassment at anything involving sex–but now it’s moved on to anything that…well, it’s hard to say exactly what’s objectionable about some of the programs media are objecting to.

Take this confused passage from an L.A. Times editorial (2/2/09):

But too many of the items have little apparent connection with economic growth–witness the nearly $5 billion for prevention, wellness, “comparative effectiveness research” and training in the health field, the $2.1 billion for Head Start and the $300 million to improve teacher quality, just to name a few examples from the 647-page House bill. Other provisions, such as the $64 billion for preventing layoffs at schools, colleges and “high priority” state programs, are about saving jobs, not creating them. In the short term, there may be no difference between preventing job cuts and increasing payrolls–one prevents a bad situation from worsening, the other makes a good situation better. But an investment this large should pay long-term dividends by increasing productivity, and that’s hard to do when so much of the money is going toward maintaining the status quo.

Let me just say that if you don’t see the connection between improving education and increasing productivity, than you really shouldn’t be writing editorials about the economy.

Or here’s a short item from the New York Times‘ Science section (2/3/09), a reprint of a blog post by Andrew Revkin:

Both [the Senate and House stimulus] bills would spend “$600 million for accelerating satellite development and acquisition, acquiring climate sensors and climate modeling capacity, and establishing climate data records.” They also call for at least $140 million for climate modeling.

Regardless of the merits of such research, does it fit in a bill meant to exploit unoccupied labor in an economic downturn?

The short answer is: yes. A slightly longer answer is provided by economist Dean Baker (Beat the Press, 2/3/09):

Spending that is not stimulus is like cash that is not money. Spending is stimulus, spending is stimulus. Any spending will generate jobs. It is that simple. There is a question of whether the spending will go to areas that will provide benefits, long-term or short-term, to the economy, but there is no question that money that is spent will create jobs and therefore is stimulus.

Any reporter who does not understand this fact has no business reporting on the economy.

About Jim Naureckas

Extra! Magazine Editor Since 1990, Jim Naureckas has been the editor of Extra!, FAIR's monthly journal of media criticism. He is the co-author of The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error, and co-editor of The FAIR Reader: An Extra! Review of Press and Politics in the '90s. He is also the co-manager of FAIR's website. He has worked as an investigative reporter for the newspaper In These Times, where he covered the Iran-Contra scandal, and was managing editor of the Washington Report on the Hemisphere, a newsletter on Latin America. Jim was born in Libertyville, Illinois, in 1964, and graduated from Stanford University in 1985 with a bachelor's degree in political science. Since 1997 he has been married to Janine Jackson, FAIR's program director. You can follow Jim on Twitter at @JNaureckas.