Spinning the news

This weekend Paul Krugman blogged about “one of my biggest gripes: reporting that focuses on the political game without ever informing readers or viewers about the actual facts.”

Too much news reporting is about spin and who’s spinning which directions and which spin is working. It’s about tactics and winning and losing and the horse race — and not about the issues and facts. From newspapers to TV to the internet, there’s far more reporting on how big or how loud the town hall forums are, than on what the thousand-page bill actually would do, or how many families have been driven into bankruptcy by medical bills in the last year.

Speaking on Meet the Press, NY Representative Charles Rangell listed questions that the media should be asking – and answering:

“What does the Congressional Budget Office count as being a savings? Is it people–what happened to the last few years of someone’s life? Is it the overcharging that the pharmaceuticals and doctors have? Is it the number of people that go in and out of hospitals and we don’t reward those who do the right thing? These are questions we should be talking about.”

Writing in Media Matters, Jamison Foser pointed out that people need more information, not more spin:

[O]verestimation of how much knowledge most people possess is one of the causes of the media’s failure to clearly and consistently report the facts about health care. They don’t understand how necessary it is. They think they can focus on horse-race political coverage of the debate. They think if they report the facts once, that’s often enough….

So the public, which — again, understandably — doesn’t know much about a complex policy and lacks the time and resources to find out for itself, is exposed to a nonstop barrage of spin, misinformation, and outright lies about health care. And the media, overestimating how much people actually know, don’t think they have to make the facts clear every day, over and over again. Is it really any wonder that people believe things that aren’t true?

The problem is not limited to health care: the Daily Kos reported that the oil companies are underwriting the next wave of illogical, off-topic screamers, mobilizing the astroturf against environmental restrictions or cap and trade.

Krugman has it right — journalism should be about facts. Reporting should be much more than regurgitation of he said/she said arguments, or counting how many people turn out on each side of a town hall forum, or what the latest opinion poll says that people think.

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