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Hullabaloo


Monday, February 25, 2013

 
A violation of journalistic ethics:: Austerity didn't work, so we need more austerity.

by David Atkins

This paragraph in the Wall Street Journal's story about the Italian election is nothing short of amazing:

Mr. Monti's government of technocrats took power and passed tax hikes and spending cuts that pulled Italy back from the brink of the euro-zone debt crisis. But the austerity dragged Italy's already-ailing economy into a further slump, pushing up unemployment and forcing people to rely increasingly on their families for homes and funds. Italy's debt, meanwhile, continues to be 127% of gross domestic product, meaning that more austerity is likely needed.
First, the obvious: if austerity failed by plunging the economy further into recession and driving up deficits due to the weak economy, how could it follow logically that more austerity is needed? One is reminded of doctors of old who insisted that blood letting was the proper way to treat fever; when the fever failed to subside, it was axiomatic to them that more blood letting was needed. It's not as if more sensible, Keynesian alternatives have not been frequently presented. The insistence on austerity has become more theology than rational economic policy as this point.

Perhaps more importantly, It's worth noting that this is a straight reporting piece, not an opinion piece. Yet the notion that "more auserity is likely needed" is presented simply as a matter of fact, not opinion. The language used to describe the need to act on climate change is usually more carefully couched and nuanced than this. It is remarkable that journalists have no qualms about presenting the necessity for austerity as a fact no different from the rising of the sun in the east, when almost no other major issue of the day receives the same treatment. Ezra Klein also noted this a few days ago:

For reasons I’ve never quite understood, the rules of reportorial neutrality don’t apply when it comes to the deficit. On this one issue, reporters are permitted to openly cheer a particular set of highly controversial policy solutions. At Tuesday’s Playbook breakfast, for instance, Mike Allen, as a straightforward and fair a reporter as you’ll find, asked Simpson and Bowles whether they believed Obama would do “the right thing” on entitlements — with “the right thing” clearly meaning “cut entitlements.”

A few days earlier, Ron Fournier, the editor of the National Journal, wrote that President Obama was giving America “the shaft” by taking an increase in the Medicare age off the table. It is difficult to imagine him using similar language for a situation in which Republicans reject universal health care, or Democrats say no to a tax cut. Over the past couple of weeks, MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough has reacted with evident astonishment to Paul Krugman’s argument that the long-term deficit is not a problem we need to solve right this second.
Italian voters have now resoundingly rejected the enforced Austerity program. It didn't work, isn't working, and won't work in the future. Italians may be split between the center-left and center-right, but they do know they don't want what the IMF snake-oil peddlers are selling. Yet news organizations even in straight reporting stories continue to insist that snake oil and blood letting are the only cures for what ails them. It's a violation of the ethics and integrity of journalism.

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