Daily Show host Jon Stewart was once asked how they made those great video pieces showing politicians contradicting themselves, backpedaling, lying, misleading the public, or just saying things that were flat-out untrue. He looked at the questioner unbelievingly and replied “An intern and a videotape duplicator.” Contemporary journalism imposes simplistic narratives on complex events, grabs viewers with ideologically pure programming and charismatic hosts, treats politics like a horse race with opposing sides, focuses on the trivial and immediate to the detriment of understanding big events. And in the 24-hour news cycle, reporters are always looking for new fodder, the latest news to beat the competition–last night’s news be damned. This last problem, at least, doesn’t HAVE to be this way. Modern technology stores everything written or said by a public figure, and that history is usually accessible within seconds by professional journalists. There comes a point when the most responsible action a reporter can take is to narrow her eyes, tilt her head, and tell a politician that he’s got it all wrong. The war in Afghanistan was not chosen by President Obama. The subprime mortgage crisis was not caused by bleeding-heart regulators forcing banks to loan money to undeserving minorities. Last year’s stimulus package did not lead to runaway inflation.
Holding public figures accountable for their statements and predictions has been on my mind lately because of Tea Party activists decrying the current administration’s spending. The entirety of President Obama’s agenda is responsible for only 10% of the deficit. That’s not up for discussion. It’s just how things are, and no amount of pundit spin or Glenn Beckian yelling or wishful thinking by teabaggers will change it. When reporting on Tea Party anger with the country’s budget, pointing out that the entire stimulus package accounts for only 7% of the deficit isn’t partisan–it’s CORRECT. David Brin has written more and better on this than I ever could (see his article on supply-side vs. demand-side economics, for instance), and I think his focus on prediction is exactly right. I had a coworker ask me a few months back ask me why I continued to support the stimulus package, and my answer was “They proved themselves right.” The president’s advisers and economists implemented Keynesian economic policies, explaining why they took those actions and what the consequences would be. And they were right; the economy performed as they said. The economy is growing, jobs are coming back (although not as fast as we would like), exports and manufacturing are up. That’s why I continue to support current economic policies and progressive economic ideas in general: they don’t just coincide with my own ethics and beliefs, they have proven themselves right. And that needs to count for something.