Sunday, May 28, 2023

All that panicking for nothing.

lineartestpilot | Deposit Photos

I thought about writing about Memorial Day today, seeing as how it's that weekend, and explain why thanking a vet is not the proper way to observe the day. But Facebook reminded me that I'd already done that post back in 2017

Instead, I guess I'll write about the debt ceiling mess and how the media made it worse. (It's a political post. Sorry, y'all.)

Just so we're all up to speed (if you're already up to speed, skip down past the first break): Several months ago, the speaker of the House of Representatives, Kevin McCarthy, caved to his Looney-Tunes Caucus and announced that the House wouldn't approve an extension of the debt ceiling unless President Biden agreed to cut the deficit -- and further, the LT Caucus wouldn't approve either tax hikes or cuts in military spending. 

Biden told them he wouldn't negotiate over the debt ceiling because Congress had approved three debt ceiling extensions under the former guy without a peep, and to call him when they had a budget proposal.

(This is where I explain that the debt ceiling is about paying bills we've already accrued, and the proper place to talk about narrowing the deficit is during budget negotiations.)

That's where things stood for months, with McCarthy accusing Biden of stonewalling and Biden basically saying he refused to negotiate with terrorists. (I'm paraphrasing, you understand.) Then, somewhat miraculously, House Republicans managed to pass a budget bill. It was so extreme that it wasn't even going to get a hearing in the Senate, but it gave Biden a starting point for talks. So for the next few weeks, more public posturing ensued while aides met behind closed doors to hammer out a compromise. Biden and McCarthy announced the deal last night.

Others have done a far better job than I ever could of summarizing the main points of the deal. (Click the link if you want to read about them.) The big takeaway, from the commentary I've been reading, is that Biden's move was genius. He essentially got the LT Caucus to agree to a budget deal months earlier than it otherwise would have; moreover, it's the sort of compromise that Congress would have ended up with anyway, given that the GOP controls the House and the Democrats control the Senate, both by only a few votes. And we won't have to deal with this debt ceiling nonsense again until after the next presidential election.

So why all the Hair on Fire Theater? Keep reading.

*** (👈 denotes the first break)

I've been in an Alfred E. Neuman kind of mood ("What, me worry?") about this debt ceiling kerfuffle, ever since I heard Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell say we were not going to default on the debt. That told me that the crazies in the House could do whatever nutty stuff they wanted, but the Senate would never go along with them. Not that the Senate doesn't have its share of crazies, mind you, but the leadership of both parties there were determined to be adults.

Anyway, because of that, I've been kind of an objective observer of the shenanigans. And I am not proud of the way the news media have conducted themselves.

Longtime hearth/myth readers know what a shocking statement that is for me to make. Back when the former guy first ran for president, lots of people were criticizing the media for covering him as if he were a normal candidate, and that it helped him get elected. For years, I stood firm, explaining how it was literally journalists' jobs to present all sides objectively and let readers/listeners/viewers come to their own conclusions. Then last year, I backtracked, coming down on the side (at long last) of the media not just covering the horse race, but telling the actual truth.

The media failed to tell the actual truth during the 2016 election. They failed again during the 2020 election. And with this debt ceiling mess, they've failed again. Every day since the negotiations began, there have been breathless sidebars: What would a default do to our country's sterling debt rating? How jittery are other countries becoming about America's inability to pay its debts? If a deal isn't reached in time, which Americans would suffer first -- and how? (Super old people, according to that article, and pretty much right away.) 

On and on and on it went. Scaring people. For eyeballs for their ads.

Okay, that's not a hundred percent true. It's a huge story, but a tough one to cover -- reporters weren't allowed to sit in on the negotiations, for obvious reasons -- and it went on for weeks. So assignment editors had to get inventive, dreaming up angles they hadn't covered yet, just so they'd have something new to say every day. 

But the cumulative effect was to make readers/listeners/viewers even more anxious than they already were. Fear and anxiety attract eyeballs, sure. But shouldn't the media also be in the business of allaying fear and anxiety when there's nothing to be afraid of? Why didn't McConnell's comments get more play? (The Hill reported them -- in the 19th paragraph of this story. Newsweek played them a little higher -- in paragraph 13 here.) Why didn't anybody explain what it meant? Didn't anybody feel a responsibility toward telling the actual truth?

The question now is whether the media will do the same thing during their 2024 election coverage -- even after all the criticism and public hand-wringing -- and fail to tell the actual truth again. 

Stay tuned, I guess.


These moments of no-worries blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Stay safe -- and don't take any hair-on-fire reporting at face value.

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