Local Media Fuels Anti-Sequestration Cuts Hysteria

Tad DeHaven

2/18/2013 12:01:00 AM - Tad DeHaven

The media’s harboring of a pro-government spending bias isn’t exactly news. But an article in Politico is notable because it illustrates the tendency for local newsrooms to push human interest stories that emphasize the pain of spending cuts.

According to the article, it’s pervasive: 

Journalists from Florida to Washington state told POLITICO that their editors are hungry for stories that turn bureaucratic doublespeak about automatic cuts into a human story of real-world pain—from layoffs to cutbacks in treasured hometown programs. 

Ask Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, who got hit with a question about the Blue Angels during a Jacksonville TV station segment of locals upset that the famed flying aerobatic team may be grounded and 30 air shows canceled if sequester takes effect. The Democrat insisted the cuts won’t happen as long as “reasonable people” figure out a solution. “It’s a Navy town,” he later told POLITICO. “I knew a question was coming up, so I didn’t wait for it.” 

The appetite in local newsrooms for that kind of story is widespread, local reporters say.

Not surprisingly, special interests have been more than willing to assist reporters in spreading the doom and gloom:

 

Of course, so much media coverage hasn’t just appeared out of nowhere. It’s standard journalism practice beyond the Beltway to turn the Washington story into a local one. But with sequestration, key interest groups have opened their own wallets to help tell the story. 

The Aerospace Industries Association has spent nearly $2 million over the past 18 months trying to get the word out to stop the spending cuts, including holding media events around the country and commissioning studies on state and local impacts that are known to pique the interest of reporters and editors. 

According to officials at the defense contracting industry’s leading trade group, more than 8,000 print, online and broadcast local news stories last year—many in markets with the most to lose from the cuts, including California, Texas, Florida, Ohio, Alabama and around the Washington Beltway—either quoted the group or referenced its data. 

Francis Sheller, AIA’s vice president for communications, said his office also receives between 15 and 30 unsolicited requests every day from local reporters often seeking details of how sequestration cuts could impact their specific communities. “If we didn’t appeal to the local journalists’ interests,” he said, “then we wouldn’t be noticed.”

People occasionally email me and ask “why is it so hard for the politicians in Washington to cut spending?” The Politico article shows why. Members of Congress who would otherwise like to cut spending know that they’re going to take a beating from the media and special interests. Few politicians are willing to take that heat. Fewer still can even articulate why spending cuts and smaller government are good. 

Indeed, Republicans have by and large acted as if the sequestration cuts are a plague to be avoided. Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan campaigned against them. And now the GOP is actually trying to pin the blame for sequestration on President Obama. 

From The Hill: 

On Wednesday, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) pointedly referred to “the president’s sequester” while speaking with reporters on Capitol Hill. “And the president laid out no plan to eliminate the sequester and the harmful cuts that will come of it,” Boehner said. 

Thank you for trying to cut spending, Mr. President!