NYT Stimulus ‘Balance’ Leads to Confusion

Yesterday Sheryl Gay Stolberg of theNew York Times (2/18/10) turned in a piece on the one-year anniversary of the stimulus plan–a favoritetarget of Republican lawmakers(when they’re not happily enjoying the federalfunds in their states and/or districts, that is).

The piece tells us that there’s a rather bitter partisan dispute over the stimulus: Democrats say that it worked to create jobs, Republicans say it was a failure.

The third paragraph of the story would seem to render a verdict on the question:”There is little dispute among economists that the measure has kept the jobless rate from being even higher than it is.”

That’s clear enough. But then the piece–adhering to the notion of “balance” in which true and false claims must be given equal weight–manages to muddy it up:

At a time when both parties are talking about the virtues of working together, the anniversary touched off a bitter dispute between them, with each using the day to write its own political narrative around the bill. Democrats sought to portray Republicans as hypocrites for voting against the bill and then rushing to claim their share of stimulus money for projects in their home districts, while Republicans painted the measure as a failure.

The Republican National Committee posted a Web video aimed at Mr. Obama titled “Broken Promises,” and the House Republican leader, Rep. John A. Boehner of Ohio, issued a report titled “Where are the Jobs? A Look Back at One Year of So-called ‘Stimulus.'”

If the major parties are each writing their “own political narrative around the bill,”a reporter should try to examine theclaims.But Stolberg’s piece merely lists them:

In interviews and e-mail messages, Mr. Boehner and other leading Republicans, including Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana and the Republican National Committee chairman, Michael Steele, argued that Mr. Obama could hardly claim credit for improvements in the economy with 3 million jobs lost over the past year, unemployment at nearly 10 percent and a deficit at $1.6 trillion.

Since we were already told that most economists agree that unemployment would be worse without the stimulus, these GOP talking points are misleading, right? Apparently not:

Economists say that Mr. Obama and the Republicans are both, in a sense, correct. The economy has indeed lost jobs on Mr. Obamaâ┚¬Ã¢”ž¢s watch, but the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office recently calculated that the recovery package, formally called the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, had saved or created between 900,000 and 2.3 million jobs.

“The economy has shed some 3 million jobs over the past year, but it would have lost closer to 5 million without stimulus,” said Mark Zandi, who is currently advising congressional Democrats but also advised Sen. John McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee. “The economy is still struggling, but it would have been much worse without stimulus.”

Mr. Zandi said: “It’s legitimate to debate the efficiency of the stimulus; one could say, ‘You’re spending $800 billion plus and look at what we’re getting for it.’ But to say that this has not helped the job market is not correct.”

So while the Times tells us that “economists” say both sides are “in a sense, correct,” the actual economist theyquoted toillustrate that fact says that in another, more accurate sense, the Republicans are wrong.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.