WaPo on Paul Ryan’s Poverty Plan: News Article or Press Release?

Paul Ryan (cc photo: Gage Skidmore)

Paul Ryan (cc photo: Gage Skidmore)

The Washington Post had what appeared to be a news article today (3/3/14) describing a new  report from Republican Rep. Paul Ryan that harshly criticize various government programs to help the poor. But it was hard to tell whether Robert Costa’s piece was intended to be a form of journalism or a press release.

Under the headline “House GOP Budget Will Focus on Reforming Welfare, Overhauling Social Programs,” Costa related that Ryan is releasing “an often stinging 204-page critique of the federal government’s anti-poverty policies,” what amounts to a “preemptive rebuttal to the president’s budget” that “signals Republicans’ desire to expand their pitch to voters.” 

Costa explains:

Ryan and his aides are unsparing in how they take the hammer to current federal policies. On page after page, the report casts a critical eye on how the government administers money to the poor and related bureaucracies, using a bevy of academic literature and federal studies as evidence.

But if the subject of the article is a lengthy report that attempts to offer solutions to poverty,  there is little effort to examine the report’s ideas about Head Start and Medicaid. (Both are evidently a bad deal for the poor.) The piece quotes Ryan (several times), the report itself, and Ryan’s Republican colleagues like California’s Kevin McCarthy (“People used to say we couldn’t talk about these issues”) and Oklahoma’s Tom Cole (“Paul Ryan remains our big-ideas guy”).  But there’s basically nothing to challenge Ryan’s point of view: Readers learn that “Democrats on Capitol Hill are skeptical about Ryan’s intentions,” and Rep. Chris Van Hollen weighs in with a soundbite (“It’s part of Mitt Romney’s attack on the 47 percent”). That’s it. 

As we’ve noted before, the Post has a record of uncritical coverage of Paul Ryan. Leading up to the 2012 presidential campaign, he was the media’s favorite wonk (FAIR Media Advisory, 8/14/12). Coverage like this suggests that the media’s love affair with the Wisconsin Republican hasn’t cooled off yet. 


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.