Here are Andrea Mitchell and Brian Williams, talking about the stimulus package today:
MITCHELL: When they [Obama and his administration] take a look, as everyone else is now, at the nitty-gritty in that bill, the details, there is going to be a lot that embarrasses them. A lot they have to apologize and run away from.
WILLIAMS: Well, Andrea, you know the layout of the White House better than most. I left our cubicle, the NBC News Booth, as we love to call it, in the West Wing, where I was watching Mitch McConnell using President Obama as a piñata yesterday. He chose to pull out this subsidy for Hollywood filmmakers to buy cans of film. And then I made the long walk up to the Oval Office with that in my mind, and I quoted Senator McConnell to the president. These are the little items that loom very large. They quickly become more money than any family can imagine. And that's what dirties up an attempt at a stimulus package.
MITCHELL: Fascinating stuff, Brian Williams. Thanks for your expertise.
First, Andrea Mitchell isn't even pretending to be neutral here. She's opposing the stimulus package. She's insisting it is embarrassing and will necessitate apologies - though she doesn't explain why. Whatever the reason, the list of reporters at the supposedly liberal MSNBC who oppose the stimulus continues to grow.
Second, Williams seems proud of the fact that he used one of his questions during his interview of Obama on a provision that amounted to somewhere around three-one-hundredths of a percent of the total cost of the stimulus package. And why did he ask that question? Because Mitch McConnell wanted him to. Given how rare a presidential interview is, and how monumental the challenges America faces, devoting a question to such a minute portion of the legislation seems like questionable prioritization, at best.
Finally, note that Williams didn't feel any need to explain why the provision was bad public policy. He just seemed to assume it is - and to assume his audience does, too. Well, maybe it is, and maybe it isn't.
According to Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus, the provision would simply have afforded the film industry the same tax benefits enjoyed by other industries - benefits that could encourage movie studios to begin film projects this year. And those film projects might well help stimulate the economy. See, millionaire television anchor Williams may enjoy burnishing his populist credentials by smirking at "Hollywood filmmakers," but Hollywood filmmakers create jobs.
That may not mean much to Brian Williams. But it probably matters a great deal to the people who earn a living building sets, preparing food, operating cameras, and sweeping floors on the film sets Williams sneers at. Come to think of it, Williams probably deals with similar workers each day over at his NBC studios.
Now, maybe that "subsidy for Hollywood filmmakers" wouldn't have done a darn thing to help the economy, or to provide a single job. I have no idea. I have no idea because reporters like Brian Williams didn't bother to substantively assess the provision; they just mocked it.
Williams indicated that the film provision is significant because it constitutes "more money than any family can imagine." Well, yeah. So does just about every federal government program there is. A program that costs one cent per American citizen would have a total price tag of roughly $3,000,000 - a figure that is pretty unimaginable to most American families (though probably about four months salary for Brian Williams.)
Because most people can't conceive of what $246 million means, it's Brian Williams' job to put it in context, not help politicians demagogue the number.