They failed. Throughout the debate over the phony fiscal crisis, the transcribers of press releases (formerly known as “journalists”) were, day
after day, a disgrace to any standard of journalism I ever learned.
Every day, I was ashamed of the profession I sometimes am associated with—reading the works of people who are lazy, ideologically blind and dismissive of minority opinions that don’t conform to a very narrow, conventional way of thinking.
It’s not an idle annoyance — the absolutely bankruptcy of most of the traditional press ends up costing lives—not that the transcribers of press releases understand this. Mostly, they seem not to care. And on the other end, the policy side of the government, the lemmings who are supposed to weigh real facts are incapable of seeing the truth.
As Dean Baker, the co-director of the Center on Economic and Policy Research, told me in a conversation during the hype around the Congressional “supercommittee”: “These people really do live in another universe. I know a staffer with one of the most progressive Democrats in the Senate who asked me if there would really be a disaster if the “supercommittee” doesn’t reach an agreement. The problem is that they confuse the Washington Post with a real newspaper.”
Baker fingered a significant problem: people, who in their hearts believe in defending government’s role, are susceptible to the daily propaganda that flows from media outlets like The Washington Post. Most people are not even aware of the ideological bent of The Post. So, when The Post rants every day about the fiscal “crisis” and the “apocalyptic” debt levels, it seeps into and infects even good people.
Why did the transcribers of press releases fail? Some of the reasons have been pointed out in the past in the wake of other policy debates or political campaigns: most transcribers of press releases are rarely interested in confronting entrenched powers, except when it comes to a personal scandal (sex!!!). They mostly see journalism, like any job, as a career so, as is true in almost any corporate setting, no one wants to rock the boat if it endangers promotion.
In economic reporting, there is a particular problem. Some of the transcribers of press releases who cover economics, or work-related issues especially unions, took Economics 101 in college—typically a class that is quite conventional and mainstream, where one learns about the wonders of “free trade” and the “free market” and, most important, that those ideas are to be treated as unassailable.