What if the press did context?

Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

Imagine how much more illuminating the 'debate' over the stimulus package would be if the press ever bothered to put the partisan sniping in context. Here's one example.

The press today continues to focus on the GOP doomsday scenarios about what Obama's economic initiative will mean to America and how it's going to gut the economy. How it will put America on the road to "financial disaster," as Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) declared last weekend. And of course, his dire rhetoric generated headlines. ("We're taking an enormous risk -- an enormous risk -- with other people's money," added Sen. Mitch McConnell this week.)

The press takes these swipes very seriously, in part because the press always treats GOP rhetoric about the economy and finances seriously. Why? Because Republicans know economics. Everybody inside the Beltway understands that CW.

Just like the GOP knew economics back in 1993 when the new Democratic president Bill Clinton struggled to get his centerpiece economic legislation passed. Back then the GOP was sure the bill was a recipe for disaster. At the time Newt Gingrich announced "The tax increase will kill jobs and lead to a recession, and the recession will force people off of work and onto unemployment and will actually increase the deficit." He was positive a recession would ruin America's economy within the "next year," or even "over the next 60 days."

And Newt wasn't alone. The whole GOP crew was in Chicken Little mode and the press back then, just like today, made sure to record and amplify every dire warning: "A recipe for economic disaster," warned Phil Crane of Illinois. "It is going to lead to a Clintastrophy, an economic Clintastrophy," added Indiana's Dan Burton.

That rhetoric, which clearly failed to foresee the 1990's decade worth of prosperity under Clinton, is eerily similar to the GOP rhetoric today. But the press can't, or doesn't want to, note the connection. Instead, the media opt for context-free coverage of the stimulus 'debate.'

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