After reading this nonsense from over at TPM this Sunday, where Republicans are just desperate to glom onto any ridiculous talking point they think might gain them an inch of ground -- Republicans Seize On O’Malley’s Remark That We Aren’t Better Off Than Four Years Ago -- I was really happy to come across this post by Dean Baker at CEPR.
While the source is not clear, someone developed a simple way to identify incompetent news reporters. If you hear a reporter ask people in President Obama's administration, ideally in a belligerent tone, "are the American people better off than they were four years ago?,"the reporter is trying to tell you that they are not qualified to do their job.
The reason we know that the questioners are incompetent reporters is that this is a pointless question. Suppose your house is on fire and the firefighters race to the scene. They set up their hoses and start spraying water on the blaze as quickly as possible. After the fire is put out, the courageous news reporter on the scene asks the chief firefighter, "is the house in better shape than when you got here?" [...]
A serious reporter asks the fire chief if he had brought a large enough crew, if they had enough hoses, if the water pressure was sufficient. That might require some minimal knowledge of how to put out fires.
Similarly, serious reporters would ask whether the stimulus was large enough, was it well-designed, and were there other measures that could have been taken like promoting shorter workweeks, as Germany has done. That would of course require some knowledge of economics, but it sure makes more sense than asking if a house is better off after it was nearly burnt to the ground.
As Baker cited in his post, examples of such hackery are shown above with the questions given by Fox News Sunday's Chris Wallace, Face the Nation's Bob Schieffer and This Week's George Stephanopoulos. Sadly I'm sure we will see more of this from all of them as the campaign season wears on.
I will take issue with one portion of Dean's post though. Calling any of these corporate beltway Villagers "reporters" is giving them way too much credit. They're not reporters or journalists, and they're not incompetent. They're propagandists. They'd be incompetent if they weren't fully aware of what they're doing. They all just care more about keeping their paychecks coming than keeping their viewers informed on issues that might actually matter to their lives.