NYT Finds Comedy Gold in 0.1 Percent of New York’s Budget

The New York Times reported today (3/30/09) that New York State government had reached an agreement on a $131.8 billion budget. The third paragraph of the front-page story by Nicholas Confessore and Danny Hakim reads:

And despite the enormous fiscal pressure the state faces, the budget contains $170 million in financing for pet projects–an amount unchanged from last year–suggesting that Albanyâ┚¬Ã¢”ž¢s appetite for what critics call pork-barrel spending appeared to be undiminished. Listed in the budget were grants to gun clubs, an upstate museum dedicated to bricks and brick-making, the Soccer Hall of Fame in Oneonta and an organization known as the Urban Yoga Foundation.

Note that $170 million is 0.13 percent of $131.8 billion–roughly 1/1000th of New York’s total budget. So maybe “Albany’s appetite for what critics call pork-barrel spending” isn’t so large after all, even if it is “undiminished.” Why, then, is this trivial aspect of the budget in the third paragraph, while the reader doesn’t learn about healthcare cuts until the 11th paragraph, and doesn’t find out they amount to $2.3 billion until the 20th paragraph?

Sure, yoga is funny, brick-making museums are funny, and when you combine “Soccer Hall of Fame” and “Oneonta” you’ve got comedy gold. But the emphasis should be on the aspects of the budget that have widespread impact on readers’ lives, rather than on a minuscule fraction of the budget that the Times finds easy to mock.

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.