Things We Read Today (20), Wednesday

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RI Media Role in Continued Bad Government

Within the next week, I hope to provide my blistering critique of the Rhode Island Public Expenditures Council’s report on a new direction for the Rhode Island Economic Development Corp.  (That’s RIPEC and RIEDC, respectively.)  For now, though, my initial reaction was to the way in which the local media facilitates the core problem with all of these high-profile economy-rejuvenation projects.

The problem is that these efforts — whether this report, the RI Foundation’s Make It Happen RI convention, or the General Assembly’s Making It Easy to Do Business in Rhode Island initiative — all amount to superficial deck-chair shuffling on the ship of Rhode Island’s flawed view of social structure.  None of them address the core assumptions behind the state’s approach to government and the economy, and the news media fails by giving no reason for people following the stories to think that there might be other ways of going about it.

A quick sampling of today’s reactions gives the impression that the biggest conflict around RIPEC’s proposal is whether it can be implemented within 90 days.  It isn’t even necessary to name names, here, because unless I missed one, not a single article about the proposal included anybody suggesting that, “Umm, I don’t think the organizational structure of the EDC is really Rhode Island’s real economic problem.”

The Media Quod Erat Demonstrandum

And if the news media isn’t successfully digging down to the questions that could really make a difference in the structures and outcomes of the society in which we live, that may explain why Gallup is finding increasing distrust of it:

Americans’ distrust in the media hit a new high this year, with 60% saying they have little or no trust in the mass media to report the news fully, accurately, and fairly. Distrust is up from the past few years, when Americans were already more negative about the media than they had been in years prior to 2004.

The data broken down by party affiliation is especially interesting.  Democrats tend to be more credulous of the media, and the percentage hasn’t gone down all that much over the last decade.  But Republicans’ trust has been much lower, with a little bit more of a downward drift.  The real story is that “independents,” who used to more or less split the difference, are now trending much more closely with Republicans.

One must ask: Should members of the media be concerned that it isn’t just a conservative/Republican fantasy that they’re essentially a partisan operation?

The last, very interesting, chart of the Gallup report shows that Republicans seem, in general, to pay more “attention to national political news.”  I’ll just leave that tidbit hanging out there for you to ponder.

The President’s Press Corpse

Both of the above observations have achieved epochal proportions in the presidential race.  Conservatives are pointing out that the polls that the national media is using to present the election as a mere formality before Obama’s second term make assumptions about turnout that themselves should be news. The expected turnout of Democrats is apparently historic — even as their guy in office faces demoralizing problems with foreign affairs and the economy.

Meanwhile, the partisan media back-and-forth (a bit below most Americans’ awareness, one suspects) is mindboggling.  The Daily Caller produced internal emails from the Gallup polling company linking Obama campaign guru David Axelrod’s complaints about its methodology (showing a much more even race) with a Dept. of Justice investigation of Gallup.  The liberal Media Matters countered that the Daily Caller and Fox News were as good as making things up.

Of course, the Daily Caller and Fox News have also reported emails suggesting that the Justice Department has been using Media Matters as a spin machine.  (What used to be known as a department of propaganda.)

And now, wouldn’t you know, Gallup‘s rolling seven-day average is looking more like the suspect polls.

Believe as much or as little of all of that as you like (or as your ideology will allow), but even mainstream media stalwart Howard Fineman can’t help but observe that the American media has been woefully inadequate at pressing the President for the sorts of answers that would help the American electorate make informed decisions:

He has managed to do all of this without having to seriously and substantively defend his first-term failed promises or shortcomings, and without having to say much, if anything. about what, if anything, he might do substantially differently if he is fortunate enough to win again. …

Obama was such a cool and uplifting story to so many in the media in 2008 that they essentially ceded ground to him that they have yet to reclaim. He ran a tightly controlled message campaign then, and has run an even more tightly controlled White House, with few press conferences and deep access only to those most likely to write positive stories. Univision didn’t get the memo, and its reporters hammered the president about immigration last week. It was a rare moment.

Having experience, now, with the difficulty of building up a new media brand, with the Ocean State Current, I would not be inclined to understate the power of established readership, not to mention access to news stands and televisions.  But over the long run, if the people don’t feel like they’re being informed by news sources — if they continue to see this stark disconnect between what they see reported and what they see — as if reporters have the independent agency of zombies — then the media, the government, and the country will suffer for it.

The Businessfolks’ Perspective

To tie national politics to Rhode Island’s local economy, I can’t think of a more appropriate link than Joel Gehrke’s summary of a survey of small business owners:

The poll reports another ominous statistic for job creation: “67 percent say there is too much uncertainty in the market today to expand, grow or hire new workers.” Why? Because “President Obama’s Executive Branch and regulatory policies have hurt American small businesses and manufacturers,” according to 69 percent of the business owners surveyed. …

“Instead of smoothing the way, our government continues to erect more barriers to growth through burdensome regulations that increase costs for small businesses and all Americans,” NFIB [National Federation of Independent Businesses] president Dan Danner said.

Clearly, that problem loops us right back up to the top of this article.  RIPEC is proposing a new, more-centralized bureaucracy to govern economic development activities at the state level.  Would that more-efficient entity be more or less likely to make the regulatory regime predictable, or would it be too easy for the single body to turn the wheel?  Entirely within the bureaucracy, would it attack government barriers, or help to install more… and then offer the additional (revenue enhancing) service of helping to navigate them?

Those cynical souls who prognosticate that the Ocean State is already finished would surely point out that nobody seems to care about the answers to such questions, or maybe to know to ask them.



  • “Umm, I don’t think the organizational structure of the EDC is really Rhode Island’s real economic problem.”

    Thank you! Rearranging deck chairs, indeed. Dump the EDC. It's completely pointless. The requisite work – improving the state's business climate – needs to be done entirely at the General Assembly, not at a window-dressing of a quango.

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