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How Revisionist Reporting Hurts Everyone

By   Published: Thursday, December 15th, 2011

Media lapdogs are marked by stenographic tendencies, sympathetic frames and a reliance on industry jargon. Politico’s latest report about Congressional Republicans working to undo looming defense cuts meets all three criteria.

The piece is accurately headlined “GOP eager to scuttle defense cuts,” and nowhere in the article is any reference to data disputing the Republicans’ assumptions. The cuts on the table only take us back to the huge 2007 levels.

By the second paragraph, the story has begun parroting partisan talking points. The so-called Republican plan will “undo hundreds of billions of dollars in defense cuts by replacing it with budget savings elsewhere,” the article by Seung Min Kim says. However that’s the last we hear of the plan’s specifics until much later when the savings are pegged at $100 billion.

That’s a far cry from the original bipartisan plan that phases in several billion dollars more in budget savings (or cuts, depending on your point of view). Why the Republicans oppose the military savings they originally agreed to is obliquely mentioned in the sum of multiple paragraphs. A better and simpler way to report this would’ve been in a crisper “nut graf” that supports the article’s genesis: that after agreeing to across the board cuts as a way to force bipartisan agreements, Republicans are using Congressional purse strings to pick winners and losers.

By the third paragraph, there’s not much new information to report and the reporter’s forced into diving right into he-said journalism, which has the effect of elevating Republican senators onto an unchecked authoritative pedestal. There’s no caution that these Republicans senators could be misinformed (one of whom, Jon Kyl, coined the phrase “not intended to be factual statement“), under ideological and grassroots orders to oppose anything the White House favors, or anything that might help military families confront a 26 percent unemployment rate.

The article shifts halfway down and moves away from the issue of military cuts toward a showdown with Congressional Democrats. And voila: the reader is taken from a misleading overview of the story’s core issue to trite optics of hot potato budget knife fights. Favoring conflict more than the educational element inherent in the Fourth Estate is increasingly a systemic issue in journalism and one that threatens to accelerate the industry’s demise.

But that’s not Politico’s game. It sells papers on insiderness– something best thought of a Congress equivalent of Stephen Colbert’s truthiness, but with gridlock, name calling and deception in place of hypocrisy-busting laughs. It’s a drip-by-drip process that institutionalizes corporate jargon and ideological prisms into political factions and discourse.

It’s not about Republicans or politics or Congress or Barack Obama. It’s that revisionist reporting can make the internment of Japanese-Americans in 1940s, as another example, seem palatable to readers of The New York Times.

I invite you to fight back against war profiteering by clicking ‘Like’ on the War Costs page on Facebook.

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