Thursday, September 18, 2014

HEINTZ: Misapplied labels and Washington consensus

By ANDY HEINTZ, For What It's Worth | 12/31/2013

The New York Times and the Washington Post, arguably the mainstream media’s most elite newspapers, have consistently framed cutting Social Security and Medicare as centrist or moderate positions. Given the reputation and influence of these two quality newspapers, this unfortunate development shouldn’t be underestimated.

Even in allegedly objective stories, the two papers have labeled the proponents of making small cuts to Social Security and Medicare as moderates. In other words, what these newspaper outlets define as the moderate is nothing more than the manifestation of the Washington consensus, which happens to sharply contrast with the views of the majority of Americans.

The New York Times and the Washington Post, arguably the mainstream media’s most elite newspapers, have consistently framed cutting Social Security and Medicare as centrist or moderate positions. Given the reputation and influence of these two quality newspapers, this unfortunate development shouldn’t be underestimated.

Even in allegedly objective stories, the two papers have labeled the proponents of making small cuts to Social Security and Medicare as moderates. In other words, what these newspaper outlets define as the moderate is nothing more than the manifestation of the Washington consensus, which happens to sharply contrast with the views of the majority of Americans.

While the Beltway elite might have reached a bipartisan consensus that cutting Medicare and Social Security is the necessary thing to do, the majority of Americans overwhelmingly reject this approach. And, given the mainstream media’s deference to so-called centrists, it’s no surprise politicians like U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., are depicted as supporting a liberal agenda, even though the crux of their economic positions are extremely popular with the majority of Americans.

“But the push from the left carries political risks for Democrats, who could be accused of being reckless about the national debt or insensitive to the demands of business and economic growth,” Washington Post reporter Zachary Goldfarb writes. “What’s more, many Americans are uncomfortable with the notion of the government redistributing income far beyond what happens today in order to accomplish basic elements of the populist agenda. Liberal congressional or presidential candidates could pressure more moderate candidates to veer to the left, perhaps reducing their electability.”

Two of the liberal ideas Goldfarb discusses before he makes his warning are expanding Social Security benefits and raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. Given the fact that both these positions are supported by the majority of Americans, it’s unclear why Goldfarb believes championing these policies would decrease a candidate’s electability (one would think the exact opposite would be true). Moreover, it’s unclear why taking stances supported by the majority of Americans would be considered liberal instead of moderate or centrist. This reaffirms the idea that the terms moderate and liberal has been defined by the literati instead of the American people.

Another subject Goldfarb touches on is the liberal push to narrow inequality, break up massive Wall Street banks, expand the safety net and relieve student debt. While public support for narrowing inequality will depend on the way progressives choose to tackle this problem — and how they decide to sell their agenda to the American people — the majority of Americans would likely support expanding the safety net, breaking up big banks and implementing measures designed to mitigate crushing student loan debt.

Another example of this kind of “non-advocacy” advocacy journalism occurred at the New York Times, when Jonathan Martin had a front page article titled, “Some Democrats Look to Push Party Away from the Center.”

In the story, Martin uses Warren as an example of a leftward movement among Democrats that may spark intraparty debate over so-called entitlements, banks and the rights of consumers. The issues cited where Warren veered away from the so-called moderate positions and pushed for more liberal policies included offering college students the same interest rate for a year, O.75 percent, as the Federal Reserve offers banks; and introducing a 21st Century Glass-Steagall bill that would separate routine commercial banking from speculative investment banking. Once again, both of these policies are supported by the majority of the public.

While the mainstream media has a right to its collective viewpoint, that viewpoint shouldn’t be included in allegedly objective news articles.

Andy Heintz is a political commentator. He previously was a Herald staff writer, now a sports reporter at the Ottumwa Courier, Ottumwa, Iowa. Read his blog at http://www.orble.com/just-one-mans-vision/ and follow @heintz23 on Twitter.

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