Sequester Reporting Scavenger Hunt: Official Rules

Michael Giberson

Brace yourself, sequester is coming! The news has been filled with horror stories over the pain threatened by the sequester cuts. From the mighty New York Times (“As Governors Meet, White House Outlines Drop in Aid to States“) and Wall Street Journal (“Governors Brace for Sequestration’s Hit to States“) down to a blog hosted at my local newspaper (“Sequestration will cost Texas plenty“), these stories have one thing in common: A lot of emphasis on how modest federal budget cuts will impose outlandish costs, and absolutely no mention that plausible alternatives–increasing taxes, increasing the national debt ever higher–would also impose real economic burdens.

The one alternative to the sequester that does merit brief mention, that Congress actually passes a bill that selectively cuts spending, is widely agreed to be implausible.

Now I’m sure that some reporters are out there doing their job, not just reporting the obvious fact that recipients of federal dollars would rather just keep the money flowing, but also reporting that federal spending itself comes at a cost. But such news reports are rarer than rainbow-colored unicorns these days.

I’m declaring a “Sequester Reporting Scavenger Hunt.”

Rules: If you find a news story emphasizing the pain of sequester budget cuts that also clearly indicates that alternatives such as raising taxes or increasing the national debt also cause pain, you are a winner. Post a link in the comments here to claim your prize.

If you find a news story emphasizing the pain of sequester budget cuts that also quotes someone as indicating the sequester cuts may actually be good for the economy overall, you are a double-bonus winner. Post a link in the comments here to claim your double-bonus prize.

If you have your own blog, you can also win by posting the story to your own blog with a link back to this page. I encourage you to post a comment here, too, to ensure you get your prize.

Note that the scavenger hunt is limited to news stories, not editorial or op-ed comments. Many editorialists seem to think we can squeeze federal spending back to a level not seen since about 2011 without actually forcing half the country into breadlines. Some editorialists are willing to point out that the alternatives to the sequester also will impose costs. News reporters and their editors, on the other hand, apparently can’t find that rare voice.

Prize: All winners will obtain modest improvements in their fiscal education, possibly some gratitude from other readers, and a hearty congratulations from me.

Double-bonus prize winners should list their name in their comment surrounded by extra asterisks like ***this***, or if you prefer use exclamation points like !!!this!!! You get to choose, you’ve earned it!

Ok, now get out there and find those well-done sequester news reports.

Keystone XL jobs: estimates range from a few thousand to about 1.47 bazillion

Michael Giberson

The Columbia Journalism Review takes a look at the jobs numbers that have been cited in news stories about the Keystone XL pipeline and traces them back to their shaky foundations.

It is a detailed and useful reminder of the slim link to reality that these claims have. (I use an easier method: anytime I hear a politician or project promoter talk about jobs, I assume they are lying.)

But more to the point, such job counting exercises ought to have no influence in public policy decisions, so no role in policy discussions. Policies ought to be evaluated on whether the overall expected benefits are reasonably believed to exceed the overall costs, with a moment or two of silence for the peoples whose rights will be trampled by the projects.

If jobs are the goal, we can mandate that every truck used have five drivers and every pipe laid be dug up twice and buried again. I trust that even the newspaper reporters of the world can see how silly that would be. (The politicians? I don’t have much hope, but it doesn’t really matter since I already assume they are lying.)