Lazy, Stupid Media Parrots
Brad DeLong explains the incentives of the press:
When Joshua Bolten, George W. Bush’s budget director, tells New York Times reporter David Rosenbaum that:
The New York Times: “the improved budget outlook [from last January’s forecast] is the direct result of the strong economic growth the president’s tax relief has fueled.”
The natural follow-up question for David Rosenbaum to ask is:
But your forecast last January already included the effects on the economy of George W. Bush’s tax relief. How can a change in your forecast between then and now be attributed to a factor–tax relief–that was in the forecast then, is in the forecast now, and has not changed? Don’t changes in the forecast have to be the result of things that have changed, and not of things that have stayed the same?
But David Rosenbaum doesn’t ask this natural question–he takes Josh Bolten’s quote and leads with it. Why not?
- David Rosenbaum is clueless about forecasts and the budget, has never bothered to educate himself, and is unqualified to write this story.
- David Rosenbaum knows that if he does anything other than parrot what Josh Bolten wishes him to parrot he will lose his ability to get administration-quotes-on-deadline, and his editors will be mad at him.
- David Rosenbaum knows that if he challenges Josh Bolten he may have to stay later at work, and it isn’t worth getting the story right if it means you have to stay later at work.
- David Rosenbaum believes he has to be a little extra-friendly to the Bush administration or else the wingnuts on the right will come down heavily on his editors, and they’ll come down heavily on him.
- David Rosenbaum believes that his professional role is to report the fact of what Josh Bolten said, rather than the opinion that what Josh Bolten said was factually and logically false.
- All of the above.
My conversations lead me to believe that the answer is (6), with perhaps special emphasis on (5).
If anyone can come up with a better explanation, I’d love to hear it.