WPost: Stimulus Is Pork

There’s been a corporate media trope lately that the stimulus bill, despite Barack Obama’s assurances, contains “pork.” It’s not always clear what “pork” means, but the Washington Post today (2/13/09) had an example of the genre–headlined “Despite Pledges, Stimulus Has Some Pork”–that opens with a definition of what it means by the term. Unfortunately, it’s a definition that would seem to turn virtually any government spending into an instance of “pork.”

Reporters Dan Eggen and Ellen Nakashima lead off:

The compromise stimulus bill adopted by House and Senate negotiators this week is not free of spending that benefits specific communities, industries or groups, despite vows by President Obama that the legislation would be kept clear of pet projects, according to lawmakers, legislative aides and anti-tax groups.

And here’s exhibit A:

The deal provides $8 billion for high-speed rail projects, for example, including money that could benefit a controversial proposal for a magnetic-levitation rail line between Disneyland, in California, and Las Vegas, a project favored by Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.). The 311-mph train could make the trip from Sin City to Tomorrowland in less than two hours, according to backers.

Note the language there: “could benefit.” A few paragraphs down the piece clarifies:

Reid spokesman Jon Summers said in a statement that the transportation secretary “will have complete flexibility as to which program he uses to allocate the funds,” but he acknowledged that “the proposed Los Angeles-Las Vegas rail project would be eligible.”

So the Las Vegas-to-L.A. rail link (huh, that sounds less silly than “Disneyland,” doesn’t it?) “would be eligible” for the high-speed rail money–as would proposals to speed travel between L.A. and San Francisco, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, the major Ohio cities, etc. The list of high-speed rail projects on the drawing board would certainly take a lot more than $8 billion to fund.

If being one of several “eligible” projects that could potentially benefit from a program makes you a “specific” beneficiary of that program–and therefore a recipient of “pork”–what government program would not have such beneficiaries? What kind of stimulus spending would not meet the Washington Post‘s definition of pork?

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.