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Home Publications Blogs Beat the Press NYT on Farm Bill: A Classic in Non-Informative Reporting

NYT on Farm Bill: A Classic in Non-Informative Reporting

Saturday, 29 December 2012 07:59

Those of us old-timers who think that news reporting is about conveying information were seriously bothered by an NYT article on a plan for a one-year extension of the current farm bill. These bills usually run for 5 years. There had been plans to reduce the subsidies from the level in the previous bill in order to reduce the budget deficit. A one-year extension will not allow these savings to be realized.

However readers of this article would be unlikely to have any idea of the budgetary impact of this extension. The piece told readers;

"An extension would most likely wipe out billions of dollars in savings that lawmakers in both the Senate and House had achieved by cutting some farm and nutrition programs. The Senate bill would have saved about $23 billion. About $4.5 billion in savings would have come from cuts to the food stamp program."

Okay, most people don't have a clue how large or small these numbers are. If the point is informing readers why not express the numbers as a share of the budget. NYT readers understand percentages.

But this complaint can be directed at most budget reporting. What makes this piece stand out is that it gives readers no idea of the time frame. Would the savings of $23 billion come in the first year or is this over 5 years? The article provides no clue as to the answer. (I'm pretty sure it's the latter.)

Anyhow, it should not have been too difficult to explicitly indicate the time-frame over which these savings are expected to take place. As it reads, this article provides almost no useful information to readers about the implication of the proposed extension on the farm bill.

Comments (2)Add Comment
Senate Farm Bill Was For 5 Years
written by Robert Salzberg, December 29, 2012 7:42
Here's the link:

article actually needs more info
written by pjm, December 29, 2012 11:10
Dean, I actually think the relevant info is more than just the percentage, time is also relevant. It may be useful for readers to also know, through some measure, how quick is the pace of budgeting decisions. Assuming budget cutting is the goal, if the Congress decides to adjust .1% of the deficit, let's say, that's only a scandal if they are only capable of enacting a handful (or a score) of budget changes each session.
I harp on this because many might not realize how achingly slow the legislative process is in the US. Even sophisticated commentators aren't aware of how dysfunctional our system looks in comparison to other democracies.
(small example,the Senate confirmation process vs "shadow" cabinets, functioning units even before the elections are held - the the list of such inefficiencies is long though most fall either in the category of "separation of powers", "super-majority requirements", though the lack of coherent disciplined parties is another dimension which is not only a problem for democracy but for efficiency as well).

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About Beat the Press

Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He is the author of several books, his latest being The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive. Read more about Dean.