A newspaper?s prime real estate is the space on page one, above the fold. This is where it highlights the most important stories of the day. Usually, the news itself dictates what will occupy a paper?s most important space. So when it turns this territory over to a politically-charged story that is not time-sensitive, a paper is sending an important message to its readers about what it wants readers to know.
Consequently, it is revealing that the Washington Post devoted half the space on page one above the fold to an advertisement for John Kerry on Sept. 20. It wasn?t really an advertisement, of course, but it might as well have been. The whole thrust of the article was to support Kerry?s charge that Republican policies are impoverishing the middle class.
If the facts supported the Post analysis, this would be an interesting story, although I don?t see how it could ever conceivably justify page-one status. It isn?t as though we haven?t heard it many, many times before. In 1984, 1988 and 1992, the Post ran innumerable reports about the imminent disappearance of the middle class and other doom-and-gloom stories. Oddly, I don?t recall any articles of this type in 1996, when Bill Clinton was running for re-election, even though the data would have supported the same analysis.
The reason is that the media have a template?Republicans are for the rich, Democrats represent the middle class. Any data that confirms this template is reported?often on page one?while any data contradicting it is ignored or buried on the back pages.
It is exactly this sort of thing that recently got CBS in trouble over forged documents.
All of the elite media tend to accept uncritically any information supporting a liberal worldview. Anything going in the opposite direction is subjected to strict scrutiny.
Also, stories with a liberal worldview are allowed to appear without a contrary perspective, whereas those supporting a conservative point of view must always be ?balanced? with lots of quotes from the other side.
Looking at the Post story, we can see many ways in which the data have been manipulated to give it a liberal spin. For example, on page one there is a graph showing that the percentage of households earning between $35,000 and $49,999 (in 2003 dollars) has fallen sharply from 22.3 percent in 1967 to just 15 percent in 2003. At first glance, this would seem to be powerful evidence for the Post/Kerry thesis that the middle class is disappearing.
Bruce Bartlett is a former senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis of Dallas, Texas. Bartlett is a prolific author, having published over 900 articles in national publications, and prominent magazines and published four books, including Reaganomics: Supply-Side Economics in Action.
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