Media, Austerity and Bad Medicine

The election results in Greece and France sent a clearer message about austerity: Voters don’t like it. That sentiment isn’t hard to fathom; massive spending cuts and pay cuts aren’t fixing the problems in their economies–they’re making things worse. Media coverage seems to be clearer these days about what the public thinks of austerity. But the assumption that austerity is mostly “good” still seems firmly in place. Like this Washington Post lead (5/7/12):

Voters in France and Greece redrew Europe’s political map Sunday in a powerful backlash against the German-led cure for the region’s debt crisis: painful austerity.

It’s not a “cure” if it makes things worse, is it? The New York Times (5/4/12), in a piece prior to the French election results, wrote that Socialist candidate Francois Hollande could press for a growth agenda “which would challenge the German medicine, or at least try to dilute it.” Again, it’s not good medicine if it makes you sicker.

And in today’s Washington Post (5/8/12), a piece begins:

The shrill anti-incumbent message that has emerged from a pair of European elections…

At his Beat the Press blog, economist Dean Baker wonders why the Post thinks the election results are “shrill”–it might indicate the paper doesn’t like the how the vote went.  He points out other problems with the article:

The piece also includes the bizarre assertion: “A new round of political paralysis that delays Europe’s recovery or calls into question the austerity agreement reached this year to help bail out Greece would probably lead to an immediate slowdown of U.S. economic growth and job creation while confusing bond and equity markets.” Actually, Europe is not on a path to recovery. It is on a path to recession because of the austerity being imposed by the European Central Bank and the IMF. If this austerity is reversed and Europe starts growing again, that would help the U.S. economy.

But one of the clearest examples of this which-side-are-you-on reporting came from the CBS Evening News on May 5, courtesy of correspondent Mark Philips:

Francois Hollande would become only the second Socialist president of France in more than 50 years, a man committed to free-spending policies that are making the markets and the governments in Europe and the U.S. extremely nervous.

Hollande has said he wants to raise taxes on the wealthy and spend more to grow the French economy. Perhaps those are “free-spending policies,” but there are other words for it. As for other markets and governments, it’s not clear there’s a verdict yet. The New York Times has a piece today arguing that Hollande’s economic policy ideas are somewhat closer to Obama’s than Sarkozy’s were. But the overriding assumption in much of the coverage is that austerity was doing what its proponents said it was doing. Here’s CBS Evening News anchor Scott Pelley last night (5/7/12):

France and Germany got other European countries to slash their budgets to solve their debt crisis. But the incoming French president has vowed to unravel that deal.

Unraveling a solution to a crisis sounds bad, doesn’t it?

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.