Shared Assumptions and Values in Government and Media


Here’s a key quotation that I flagged in Richard Benedetto’s essay, “How Obama Gets Away With It,” when I read it last week:

One of the news media’s main jobs is to hold public officials accountable, from the president on down. But Mr. Obama is the beneficiary of news-media managers and reporters who mostly like his style and agree with his policies …

If anything, this understates the degree of bias.  It’s not just style and policies; it’s a whole set of assumptions and sensibilities.

The matter is personal to me, this week, because an unsigned editorial in this week’s Sakonnet Times takes me to task for offering Tiverton voters an option that would control their taxes at this year’s financial town referendum (FTR), written from the point of view of elected Budget Committee members:

For a third straight year, they’ve labored over the town budget, crunched the numbers, sweated the details only to have a petitioner swoop in with a cheaper alternative.  Voters, of course, flock to the bargain rate — a 3.5 percent tax hike faces long odds against a 0.9 percent alternative.

This year, petitioner Justin Katz added insult to injury.  It’s not my job, he declared going in, to figure out how to make my budget work.  It’s your job, budget committee, to find $780,000 worth of savings — and if disaster befalls the library or some other account, it’s your fault.

If I were inclined to argue point by point, I’d note the large number of questions the editorialist begs.  For example, did the committee members “labor,” “crunch,” and “sweat”?  Some of them, sure, but as I noted last year and Budget Committee Member Donna Cook emphasized this year, some members’ attendance hardly qualifies for such admiring prose.

The editorial goes on to opine that Tiverton’s committee members must be envious that budgets in the “tightwad towns next door… flew through town meetings with scarcely a ripple.”  Unfortunately, the writer does not take the opportunity to go one step farther to the deeper truth:  The two “tightwad” towns listed have tax rates that are around one-third of Tiverton’s.

How is it that the newspaper gives no credence to the possibility that the Town Council, the Budget Committee, and the political groups that have dominated them for at least 16 years should ponder what they have done to put the town in this situation?  How can it not merit mention that the Town Council behaves as if petitioners’ budgets are mere suggestions even when the petitioner labors, crunches, and sweats to give line items?

The answer, it would seem, is the same at the local and national levels:  Journalists tend to agree with progressives’ view of the role of government.  When grassroots groups finally start pushing back against abusive government, the story is all about the poor public servants, not the people’s just grievances.