The fact that Paul Krugman writes columns for the New York Times means that the paper's readers are occasionally treated to a good media criticism–like today (2/5/10). He writes:
These days it's hard to pick up a newspaper or turn on a news program without encountering stern warnings about the federal budget deficit. The deficit threatens economic recovery, weÃƒÆ’Â¢ÃƒÂ¢”Å¡Â¬ÃƒÂ¢”Å¾Â¢re told; it puts American economic stability at risk; it will undermine our influence in the world. These claims generally arenÃƒÆ’Â¢ÃƒÂ¢”Å¡Â¬ÃƒÂ¢”Å¾Â¢t stated as opinions, as views held by some analysts but disputed by others. Instead, theyÃƒÆ’Â¢ÃƒÂ¢”Å¡Â¬ÃƒÂ¢”Å¾Â¢re reported as if they were facts, plain and simple.
And the reality:
Let's talk for a moment about budget reality. Contrary to what you often hear, the large deficit the federal government is running right now isnÃƒÆ’Â¢ÃƒÂ¢”Å¡Â¬ÃƒÂ¢”Å¾Â¢t the result of runaway spending growth. Instead, well more than half of the deficit was caused by the ongoing economic crisis, which has led to a plunge in tax receipts, required federal bailouts of financial institutions, and been met–appropriately–with temporary measures to stimulate growth and support employment.
This is important–especially when compared to news stories that tell you things like this:
–"Independent voters in particular are uneasy about a tide of red ink in the wake of the billion-dollar packages for Wall Street, automakers and stimulus spending." (USA Today, 2/3/10)
–"Deficit spending, in turn, has caused the nation's accumulated debt to swell to dangerous levels." (Washington Post, 1/20/10)
Or the ABC World News report (2/1/10) that attempted to explain the deficit by focusing on the meaning of a billion: "And when we start tossing around a billion, it's a huge number. Just think, a billion hours ago, we were in the Stone Age." Well, that clarifies things.
For more media criticism on the deficit, see Extra!: "The Deficit Distraction: Media Push Spending Cuts Over Stimulus" (9/09) by Veronica Cassidy.