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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

How Austerity Journalism Masquerading as Centrism Stifles Dialogue

Ryan Cooper’s Washington Monthly post on “The Austerity Cultural Conspiracy” unloads on the destructive impact of austerity economics and the journalists who treat it as an apolitical value.
Flagging a Paul Krugman column showing that “government spending is shrinking faster than at any time since the post-WWII demobilization,” Cooper adds, “This would be notable in and of itself, but coming when the economy is so weak–when aggregate demand has been chronically insufficient for so long–it’s horrifying. It’s unprecedented austerity at the worst possible moment.” Cooper then quotes a Brendan Nyhan post from the Columbia Journalism Review:

Under the norm of objectivity that dominates mainstream political journalism in the United States, reporters are supposed to avoid endorsing competing political viewpoints or proposals. In practice, however, journalists often treat centrist policy priorities–especially on fiscal policy–as value-neutral. That’s wrong. While it’s widely accepted that the federal government faces limits on what it can borrow in the financial markets, there is significant disagreement, including among experts, over the priority that should be given to reducing current deficit and debt levels relative to other possible policy objectives. It is, in other words, a political issue. Reporters often ignore this conflict, treating deficit-cutting as a non-ideological objective while portraying other points of view as partisan or political…

Cooper elaborates: “These reporters aren’t just picking sides, they’re advocating in favor of a horrible policy. Since the Great Recession, austerity has failed at its stated goals almost everywhere it has been tried, and the intellectual case for it has completely collapsed.” He quotes Nyhan again:

The root of these problems is the philosophy of “objective” journalism itself, which forces reporters to try to draw lines between opinion and fact that often blur in real life. But even if reporters aren’t willing to rethink objectivity, they should try to understand why prioritizing deficit reduction over other competing values is a kind of ideology of its own.

Cooper concludes: “Writers build austerity into the background, and you can’t get at the argument because no one will acknowledge disagreement; instead, it’s just what “everyone says.” Meanwhile, the country is slowly falling to bits.”
Reporters who fail to acknowledge the ideology behind “deficit reduction” and treat it as an apolitical value are doing a disservice to their readers — and to a serious topic that deserves more thoughtful discussion. Editors who allow it are even more responsible.

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