Thursday, July 8, 2010


People wonder (not just me) how the deficit hawks took control of the narrative despite historical evidence (1937 dip), reasoned shouting from esteemed Nobel-prize winning economists and millions out of work for months or years, with no end in sight. Now there's a new talking point which may give the government cover to discontinue unemployment benefits. Never mind the human cost (who cares about that in Washington)? Unemployment insurance is proven to grease the economy because the money flows immediately into the economy.

A close examination of the Wall Street Journal’s article on the front page of yesterday’s edition, “Long Recession Ignites Debate on Job Benefits” shows how talking point propaganda spreads through an ostensibly objective news article. Rupert Murdoch spreads this through the vehicles he owns (the Wall Street Journal, Barron's, Investors Business Daily, Dow Jones, New York Post, Fox News, Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, etc., etc.).

It’s tricky to write such an article in a time of unprecedented long-term unemployment and permanent business constriction but the Journal always finds a way. In this post, I am bolding the sentences that contradicts the paragraph lead before it to show the logistics of building propaganda through the media.

The article leads with people turning their noses up at jobs because unemployment pays so well:

Management Recruiters of Sacramento, Calif., says it recently had a tough time filling six engineering positions at an Oregon manufacturer paying $60,000 a year—and suspects long-term jobless benefits were part of the hitch.

"We called several engineers that were unemployed," says Karl Dinse, a managing partner at the recruiting firm. "They said, nah, you know, if it were paying $80,000 I'd think about it." Some candidates suggested he call them back when their benefits were scheduled to run out, he says.

Further into the story, the first sentence of a paragraph mentions that “the government expanded unemployment payments more than at any time since the benefits were rolled out in the 1930s.” Then the writer mumbles the sentence, “And workers have gone jobless for longer than any time since official tallies began in 1967.”

You see the pattern? On an article that mentions that unemployment is unprecedented and unemployment insurance is one of the best ways to keep the economy afloat in a bad and sinking economy, the arrangement of semi-facts makes the reader believe that big government and its lavish payouts are stalling the economy.

Here’s another example of strategic placement and fact-tweaking:

A variety of studies suggest that adding another 53 weeks of benefits increases the time the average worker is jobless by between 4.2 and 10.6 weeks. The higher estimates are based on studies conducted decades ago when layoffs were often temporary; in this recession, many unemployed workers will never return to their old positions.

The lead sentence always proclaims that unemployment benefits are found to lengthen unemployment. Then the author sneaks in a disclaimer that disproves the party line.

The article even cites Lawrence Summer’s words from 1993 (during the Clinton era, when jobs were plentiful) that:

"[G]overnment assistance programs contribute to long-term providing an incentive, and the means, not to work." When an April Wall Street Journal editorial described his position, Mr. Summers (now Obama’s economic advisor) fired back in a letter to the editor: "In the wake of the worst economic crisis in eight decades...there can be no doubt that the overwhelming cause of unemployment is economic distress, not the existence of unemployment insurance."

Disclosure: I do not agree with Summer’s policies, particularly his position on infrastructure building during the creation of the stimulus nor his torpedoing of derivatives regulation.

In order for the Dems to fight this propaganda, they have to meet it forcefully with counter-propaganda. Call it the surge. Reverse the sentences in a story. Better yet, leave out the first sentence. How hard is that?

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