I can’t begin to express how frustrating–and yet entirely unsurprising– today’s story about Montana’s Republican legislators pushing for a federal balanced budget was.
The only newsworthy elements about a letter concerning federal policy coming from the Gang Who Couldn’t Govern Straight would have been noting how many used an “X” in lieu of a signature and finding out when Erik Iverson sent them the letter to sign, but for some reason this stunt was treated like a real story while substantive news, once again, was pushed aside.
I simply can’t understand how the same news chain that ignored a policy issue in which Representative Rehberg threatened the health of children with an entirely idiotic amendment bought by the tobacco industry and an enormous political gaffe in which Rehberg called Pell Grants “welfare”–calling both too political and controversial–felt it necessary to cover this latest Republican exercise in governing by theater.
It’s simply doesn’t add to the policy discussion to elevate a nakedly political ploy into the public discourse when substantive implications are ignored. Including quotes from Democratic spokespeople in response to the letter may make the article “fair,” but it doesn’t make it newsworthy or true.
Twice in the past week, the Lee newspapers have given Representative Rehberg free press about his vote to “balance the budget” without ever demanding that he provide a single cut he’d make to government, and without including any reference to non-partisan analysis about the impact of his vote. It’s out there. All over the place. Seriously.
Instead, Representative Rehberg gets to keep talking about a popular buzzphrase like “balanced budget” without having to face political accountability for the devastating cuts it would impose on our seniors, military, and middle class.
That a news story could include Representative Rehberg claiming to have always supported a balanced budget despite his record of deficit-exploding votes doesn’t pass the laugh test, but there it was.
This isn’t an accusation of bias. Bias would be easier to understand. Instead, it seems like there just isn’t a great deal of judgment about what news will actually inform the public.
Framing every story in terms of what political spokesmen say distorts our discourse and undermines democratic participation. The purpose of the media has to be do more than to loudly repeat what political leaders and their spokespeople say.
How this Congress and President deal with the budget in the next few days could be among the most important policy issues of our time, not just for the lives of our seniors and most vulnerable, but for the economic future of our country.
We deserve more from our political leaders than grandstanding. We need more from our media than loudly repeating their grandstanding. Substance and accountability aren’t too much to ask from our media and our politicians, are they?