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A WaPo Textbook Case in Media Bias

Three cheers to Gov. Bob McDonnell, who gives every indication that he intends to enforce at least a smidgen of spending restraint in Virginia, bringing general government spending back down to 2006 levels. (Yeah, the Dark Age of privation and misery that was Virginia in 2006!)

Zero cheers to the Washington Post for its coverage of the move. Here’s a representative story, written by two reporters, Rosalind S. Helderman and Fredrick Kunkle, who are doing their best impersonations of half-literate hack liberal activists. Let’s start with the lead:

Virginia will do less for its residents, and expect local governments and private charities to do more, under a new state budget likely to have an impact for years to come.

“A new state budget likely to have an impact for years to come”? What could those words possibly hope to indicate? Does not every state budget have an impact for years to come? How does one spend $15 billion and not have an impact for years to come? Meaningless verbiage is one reason why people don’t read old-fashioned newspapers.

But never mind the banal journalese; check out the question-begging: “Virginia will do less for its residents ….” Really? Is it impossible to spend more intelligently? Was the Virginia state budget such an unassailable masterpiece that a cut of $1 translates into an exactly representative amount of service forgone? What about $10? What about $1,000? Is there no room at all for economizing in Virginia?

And what about the other side of the spending/revenue question? If Virginia spends more, it has to tax more. Tax whom? Tax Virginians, that’s whom. It’s perfectly reasonable to have a debate about balancing the “do less” with the “take less,” but the reporters and editors of the Washington Post do not even recognize that such a question exists. It’s as though revenue comes into commonwealth coffers ex nihilo.

You can predict what comes next: The reporters call every interest group dependent upon state handouts — oh, the poor arts administrators! the agony of the MFAs! – and give them a forum to whinge about how horrible it will be to have spending reduced all the way down to 2006 levels. Does anybody in the world, anybody in Virginia, think a little fiscal restraint is in order? Down in the seventeenth (!) paragraph — which is to say, down in the part of the story that’s only going to be read by these reporters’ mothers, the people quoted in the story, and me – yes, we learn that “conservatives applaud attempts to hold the line on state spending on health care,” and get a quote from Americans for Prosperity. But those parasites on the public purse protesting the proposed cuts — how many are identified as liberal groups? Zero, though organizations such as the Legal Aid Justice Center obviously merit such a description.

Speaking of the Legal Aid Justice Center, here’s a bit of history about the group from its own materials:

The U.S. Congress drastically reduces federal funding for legal aid providers nation-wide and imposes significant restrictions on the representation of low-income clients.  CALAS [a predecessor organization] begins to examine its options to continue serving clients zealously while maintaining the existing federal revenues.

That is from the Legal Aid Justice Center’s organizational timeline — the date of its founding, its major anniversaries and milestones, etc. The fact that its endless, incessant fight to keep itself awash in taxpayer dollars gets its own line item speaks volumes, does it not? And it also suggests that a few trims might be in order.

The reporters make much of the fact that Virginia has 100,000 more residents now than it did in 2006, but make no attempt to break down spending on a per-capita basis. They allege that cuts will hurt the urban poor while sheltering the suburban middle class, but do not show how that will happen, nor do they consider (again) the other side of the equation: Who gets taxed how much to pay for what?

As for the illiteracy, there are a lot of things in the story that just don’t make any sense. Maybe the WaPo is cutting back on copy editors. At the risk of jinxing myself by pointing out errors, these jumped out:

In Martinsville, a the former textile-manufacturing hub that now has the state’s highest unemployment rate ¿ 20.3 percent ¿ city School Superintendent Scott R. Kizner said his district faces painful choices no matter what negotiators do.

Spanish-style question marks in original. Not sure whether that means they’re unsure of that 20.3 percent number or what. Also, notice that this district faces painful choices regardless of what’s in the budget — so why is it being used to illustrate a story about budgetary problems?

Not sure what this means:

Kizner and other schools advocates have been bracing for the hit, realizing that 35 percent of the state’s total general operating budget goes to education and cannot not be shielded in the face of a $4 billion budget gap.

There’s a bit about how fast Virginia’s education spending has grown in recent years. But how fast has per-capita government spending grown? If they’re cutting back to 2006 levels, what did 2006 look like, in real per-capita spending, compared to 2004 or 2000 or 1996? There are answers to these questions, but not in the Washington Post.

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