Accuracy in Media

This morning, the Washington Post home page had a link to this article, “Biggest cuts in U.S. history? Well, no.” The article fact checks President Obama’s and Speaker Boehner’s claim that the recent budget deal was “the largest annual spending cut in our history” (in President Obama’s words).

Reporter Glenn Kessler points out in the article that there are many ways to compare spending cuts, and to count them in only raw dollars is misleading. But when one adjusts for inflation, and especially when one compares the percentage of the budget cut, the spending cut America just witnessed is not nearly so impressive. As Kessler points out:

During World War II, the federal budget soared from $9.4 billion in 1940 to nearly $93 billion in 1945. Talk about an expansion of government! But then in 1946, the budget was cut to $55 billion. That’s a cut of $37 billion, technically less than the $38.5 billion in cuts reached last week. But it’s also a cut of 40 percent, which means it is 40 times larger than the deal that is routinely described as historic.

The Washington Post especially deserves praise for indicating its understanding of the purpose of the media. At the end of the article, Kessler gives the media as a whole two “Pinocchios” for misleading their consumers. “It is up to the media to provide context to these claims,” he writes.  “On that score the media, including (alas) The Washington Post, misled its readers.”

It is refreshing to see a paper admit culpability in misleading readers by omitting context and information. News consumers need proper context and accurate information from their media, in order to make informed decisions. Newspapers and other forms of media have the responsibility to provide that relevant context and accurate information.

Of course, problems arise when media sources promote biased versions of context and information, or when they decide in a biased manner what is relevant to a story and what is not. Still, it is good to see that the Post recognizes its supreme responsibility as a news source.

While The Post arguably still has a long way to go, today we can thank them for their honesty.

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