Letters to the Editors: A New Indy Star?
The tour of duty of the earring-wearing, socially hip, corporately assigned editor of the Indianapolis Star is over. Let us hope that his replacement will understand that it has become easier, not harder, for government to lie to the newspaper’s readers.
That politicians are liars should not be news to a journalist, of course, but neither is it a banal polemic. It can be statistically demonstrated: A study of 258 government projects found that under estimates “could not be explained by error and were best explained by strategic misrepresentation — that is, lying.” (1)
Examples of how editors once saved readers from such deception abound in the history of American journalism. (2) Particularly instructive was the hounding from public office of the various city political machines of the late 19th century and early 20th century. Newsrooms of that day, including the one in Indianapolis, not only shot down the lie but also pursued the liar — to ruin, if necessary.
Today’s Indy Star, though, has lost the ability to threaten any but officaldom’s lowliest press secretary. Here is a string of enduring official lies bought hook, line and sinker during this passing editorial regime:
- Economic-development schemes put forward by Indiana officials at all levels from the governor’s office down to the city council were nothing less than political fraud. Tax credits, grants and rebates, state-mandated purchases and eminent domain were all fiscal ruses that worked only to make politicians the arbiters of special favors. No independent economist believed they created jobs or wealth. It was left to Tad DeHaven, a former deputy director of the Indiana Office of Management and Budget, to coin the phrase “press-conference economics” in testimony before a Congressional committee. (3)
- Even the most self-serving terms of government went unchallenged. The most basic of measures, the balanced budget, bore no resemblance to the commonsense understanding of the term. Our state budget was regularly “corrected” without rousing the Star’s suspicion. And the federal budget, even if officially “balanced,” would have put us trillions further in debt. (4)
- It would be news to most Star readers that their state’s Collective Bargaining Act was a deal gone bad negotiated by a Republican governor. It inadvertently left the state legislature and consequently the budget process in the hands of a private teachers union, in effect a new kind of political machine. (5)
- Nor was it commonly known among Star readers that other states operate without mandatory union representation, and do so in a way that some believe is to the benefit of teachers, students and taxpayers. (6)
- The Star newsroom would recoil at the suggestion that the current recession has its roots in liberal philosophy. It was in fact the administration of Lyndon Johnson who, wanting to hide (lie about) the cost of the Great Society, shifted Fannie Mae housing loans off the federal books. Here is the pollster Scott Rasmussen on this historical point: “For decades, official Washington pretended (lied) that Fannie Mae was a totally private company and the federal government no longer owed the money it guaranteed. Government officials knew of the risks, and many reports were written about the dangers that Fannie Mae posed to taxpayers, but nothing was done, largely because of the aggressive political protection afforded both sides of the partisan aisle.” (7)
- You would have to be an elderly reader of the Star indeed to know that Social Security began with a lie by Franklin Roosevelt, i.e., that it would operate in the same way as private insurance with a payroll tax functioning as a policy premium. As this lie unraveled, though, the government wove new ones, all accepted by the Star’s unquestioning and now defunct Washington Bureau. Cato’s Michael F. Cannon explains: “If the government knows that there are no assets in the Social Security and Medicare ‘trust funds,’ and yet projects the interest earned on those non-assets and the date on which those non-assets will be exhausted, then the government is lying. If that’s the case, then these annual trustees reports constitute an institutionalized, ritualistic lie. Also ritualistic is the media’s uncritical repetition of the lie.” (8)
It is not necessary to go into every lie that flew cover for every Star writer addressing every continuing policy disaster. The Minimum Wage, the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Prevailing Wage, the War Powers Resolution and most recently the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) are a few where the Star had difficulty seeing that results didn’t square with rationale. We almost forgot to mention the newspaper’s inexplicable complacency about a Green Revolution that would destroy advertisers’ bottom lines and inflate readers’ utility bills.
It need only be said that as the keys change to the editor’s office, the Star’s sense of duty to sort the lies from the truth is at a critical stage.
One solution can be found in a reconstruction of the historical American newspaper, i.e., a single publisher-owner rather than endless waves of corporate managers (we called them occupiers, in my newsroom). What seems to work best is a personal, even familial, financial, political and continuing stake in the local community.
The bad news is that this will require a keener appreciation by newspaper investors of the nature of private property and how wealth is created in mass media or anywhere else.
The good news, though, will come whether or not the Star changes course. The speed and size of the current information explosion, plus the disaster that has been the current newsroom model, ensures that competing mediums will figure it out soon enough.
- Bvent Flyvbjerg, Mette Skamris Holm and Soren Buhl. “Underestimating Costs in Public Works Projects: Error or Lie?” Journal of American Planning, summer 2002.
- Marvin Olasky. Central Ideas in the Development of American Journalism: A Narrative History.
- Craig Ladwig. “Covering ‘Variable Costs’ in the Daniels Administration.” The Writers Group, Oct. 17, 2011.
- 2010 Financial Report of the United States Government.
- Charles Freeland. “Public Education Without Romance.” The Indiana Policy Review, winter 2001.
- Andrew Coulson. “The Effects of Teachers Unions on American Education.” Cato Journal, winter 2010.
- Scott Rasmussen. The People’s Money. Threshold Editions, New York, N.Y., 2012.
- Michael F. Cannon. “Sometimes, Governments Lie.” Cato@Liberty.com (last viewed April 9, 2012).