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Home Publications Blogs Beat the Press "Are Americans Better Off Today Than They Were Four Years Ago?" The Question That Exposes Incompetent Reporters

"Are Americans Better Off Today Than They Were Four Years Ago?" The Question That Exposes Incompetent Reporters

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Sunday, 02 September 2012 21:44

While the source is not clear, someone developed a simple way to identify incompetent news reporters. If you hear a reporter ask people in President Obama's administration, ideally in a belligerent tone, "are the American people better off than they were four years ago?,"the reporter is trying to tell you that they are not qualified to do their job.

The reason we know that the questioners are incompetent reporters is that this is a pointless question. Suppose your house is on fire and the firefighters race to the scene. They set up their hoses and start spraying water on the blaze as quickly as possible. After the fire is put out, the courageous news reporter on the scene asks the chief firefighter, "is the house in better shape than when you got here?"

Yes, that would be a really ridiculous question. Hence George Stephanopoulos was being absurd when he posed this question to David Plouffe, a top political adviser to President Obama on ABC's This Week. Bob Schieffer was being equally silly when he asked Martin O’Malley, the Chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, the same question on CBS's Face the Nation.

A serious reporter asks the fire chief if he had brought a large enough crew, if they had enough hoses, if the water pressure was sufficient. That might require some minimal knowledge of how to put out fires.

Similarly, serious reporters would ask whether the stimulus was large enough, was it well-designed, and were there other measures that could have been taken like promoting shorter workweeks, as Germany has done. That would of course require some knowledge of economics, but it sure makes more sense than asking if a house is better off after it was nearly burnt to the ground.

[Typo corrected 9-4-12]

Comments (32)Add Comment
Truth is told.
written by Pamela , September 02, 2012 11:25
It doesn't work this time because it is a complex answer. My 401K plan has doubled so my savings is better off. We created 4M jobs in the private sector but lost hundreds of thousands of public sector jobs. Coporations have higher profits and CEOs are better off then they were before and last I heard CEOs are part of the America people; but how may are voting for Obama. The auto industry was saved so those people feel better off; but new hires wages are lower and Capped. Old timers are better off; but new hires not so much. It is fun for these reporters they are just as bad as unamerican as congress.
Nuance
written by James, September 02, 2012 11:55

in politics always will NOT work. Too complicated to explain to average American.

401K double might be also influenced by when you get in - timing is everything. If your portfolio had been around since late 1990's, then it's a different story.
Even if one is worse off than four years ago, one should ask if that is a reasonable expectation
written by John Wright, September 03, 2012 1:02
Even if one feels worse off than four years ago, one could explain this as understandable, and possibly unpreventable, in a number of ways.

1. The earlier "better" economic time sample view may have influenced by an artificial bubble (housing) that wasn't sustainable so it is invalid to compare a euphoric high of the past to more tempered view today.

2. The forces of globalization may have started to move international living standards toward a common mean. Given resource constraints, this could imply the USA living standard will move down while other countries will see theirs move up. It may be completely unjustified to expect a constantly improving lifestyle for Americans.

3. I feel less well off as my ignorance of the foolishness of many of the USA's financial institutions was replaced with some awareness of exactly what high finance and their captive government regulators were doing, and possibly still are doing, over the last decade. So perhaps ignorance can make one feel better off, but that is not something to feature in a newspaper article.



...
written by sglover, September 03, 2012 1:26
Of course clowns like Stephanopoulos and Schieffer are where they are precisely because of their willingness to wallow in stupidity without guffawing. Baker's great, but he's forgetting the **real** job of these circus acts.

I really wonder how many people actually waste time on those Sunday "public affairs" farces. I have a hard time believing that their audience isn't dwindling as quickly -- possibly more quickly -- as the general TV audience.
...
written by foosion, September 03, 2012 5:50
"Yes, we're better off. Four years ago the economy was in freefall and now it's growing, although much more slowly that we'd like. There is much work left to be done, but we're moving in the right direction. The economy would be improving faster if congressional Republicans hadn't opposed everything we've tried, even policies they used to support. Romney/Ryan will just return us to the failed policies of the Bush era."

Is that so difficult?
Duh, Next Question
written by Last Mover, September 03, 2012 6:28
Of course Americans are better off than they were four years ago.

CEOs, MNCs, bankers, creditors, mortgagers and servicers, auctioneers, doctors, nurses, lobbyists, lawyers, private contractors for the military, the list goes on and on for anyone connected to the 1% who run the country.

Take yourself for example, reporters for MSM.

Why do you ask?
It's the economy, Low-rated comment [Show]
...
written by liberal, September 03, 2012 8:44
Craig blithered,
It is a reasonable expectation for economic activity and related indicators to be better, even if individuals may not be better off.


That pathetic reformulation doesn't address Dean's point.
analogy problem
written by xpostfactoid, September 03, 2012 10:18
If the house was fire-damaged four years ago, it would be reasonable to ask how rapidly and effectively repair had proceeded.
Are you kidding?!?
written by El Ronbo, September 03, 2012 10:50
Shrinking economy now growing - recession ended.
One war ended.
Job losses tht were over a half million a month turned around in to job gains every single month for two years.
Bin Laden dead, no foreign terrorist attacks on US soil.
Stock markets up about 60%.
Record corporate profits.
Less prejudice (ended DADT, wider acceptance of same sex marriage).
Better access to health care for children.
Improve Medicare (stays solvent 8 years longer, Medicare Part D donut hole closed, free annual wellness check)


Not only are things better, we can see that it would have been worse if McCain had won: war with Iran, auto industry down the tubes.

..., Low-rated comment [Show]
Stimulus:Bubble Economics? It Pops Quickly & Goes Away!, Low-rated comment [Show]
..., Low-rated comment [Show]
...
written by AlanInAZ, September 03, 2012 11:11
What is ironic to my mind is that the demographic that supports Obama the least is the well off senior white population, particularly white males, yet this group has gained financially during the last four years largely due to the recovery of the stock market.
...
written by Michele, September 03, 2012 11:14
I can only speak on what Ive seen and my personal opinion and experience. As to the reference to the unemployed.....I see help wanted signs in just about every other business. Four years ago, I saw none. The local help wanted site is loaded with jobs, as is the De.pt of Unemployment. SO, this is indeed better now than it was 4 years ago. I have to wonder how many of these unemployed are not willing to take a job that they view as " beneath them". Ive always taught my kids that if it is an honest living, it is better than no living. Underemployed is better than unemployed. Having a paycheck is better than not. Our economy is slowly recovering.....if something is just slapped together for the sake expediency, it will not weather a storm....if it is well thought out and given a solid foundation, while it may take longer to do it the right way, it will be something that can withstand a great deal more than the expedient solution.
What numbers are you using, Bob?
written by Summers, September 03, 2012 11:14
Four years ago, the economy was in free-fall, losing 750,000 jobs a month. The Dow dipped to 6600 by February of 2009. There was widespread fear of a massive depression. Since the stimulus kicked in, the job losses stopped and we've added 4 million private sector jobs while the Dow has just about doubled. You can argue that the recovery has been too sluggish and debate the reasons - I'd counter-argue that what we went through in 2008 was more than a simple downward cycle, it created a massive fundamental change in our society. People don't trust the banks, use their homes as ATM's or max out credit cards as much any more. But the argument to make against Obama is whether the recovery should be further along, not if we're better off than 4 years ago. That argument is stupid, unless you've completely forgotten what 2008 was like.
...
written by Jay, September 03, 2012 12:10
It is funny when some of these reporters think they have come up with an "ah ha" "gotcha" type question. It's the classic when did you stop beating your wife type of question. I really don't understand what people like George Stephanopoulos get paid to do. They could easily just pick a person off the street, hand him/her a $50, and get more thoughtful questions.
No Analogy Problem
written by AndrewS, September 03, 2012 1:03
Stating "the house was fire-damaged four years ago" implies that the house Obama inherited from Bush the Lesser was no longer engulfed in flames which is not true. If you consider that actually putting the fire out was Obama's job one and now the rebuilding is slowly getting going in spite of obstruction at every step, GD-right we're better of now than four years ago.
my answer
written by Ethan, September 03, 2012 5:01
If they asked me whether the American People are better off now then they were four years ago, I would say, "They are better off than if the Republicans had been in office for the last four years."
..., Low-rated comment [Show]
Carl's way
written by tom, September 03, 2012 8:57
1.BOLI records show 4 million jobs lost is false
2.Under Bush both wars were off budget and Obama can't be blamed for both of them stretching out to ~ a decade
3.Blame for bubble can't be blamed on CRA
4.Kaiser Foundation has a quiz about ACA if you are so smart take it and find out what is really does
5.Republicans met on Inauguration Day to plot how to not cooperate with President Obama
On the other hand,
written by SqueakyRat, September 04, 2012 5:09
the fire chief could mention that the house is no longer on fire.
The Counterintuitive Answer?
written by Pierre Bastien, September 04, 2012 9:28
Perhaps the Obama camp would've been better off with the surprise answer, "No, we're NOT better off than we were four years ago." Would've given them a chance to bash the Repubs a bit.
I am pretty sure
written by myiq2xu, September 04, 2012 10:17
that Obama doesn't know beans about putting out fires either.

The question is a succinct way of asking whether a President deserves a second term. Obama gave his first term a grade of "incomplete." That's what you get when you don't show up for class.
...
written by Conrad Baylor, September 04, 2012 11:06
One problem with your firefighter analogy: "Fireman" Obama didn't just promise to put the fire out. He also promised to rebuild the house. And on that promise, he simply hasn't delivered.

It's time to fire the fireman and hire a builder.
Fire Chief is not a surgeon
written by UmaSpankhurst, September 04, 2012 1:45
Really? The "nuance" argument again? That was a loser for Kerry, remember. You can be as nuanced as you wanna be, but simple messages resonate. And calling people names and dismissing their concerns is a serious character flaw.

I know as a Democrat, I'm not about to vote for Obama again. He could have addressed the economic disaster, but chose the ACA disaster instead and at the worst possible time. So maybe the reporters should ask the fire chief why he felt the need to operate on the neighbor's kidney while the fire raged next door. There's nuance for you.
Aha, 3 republiKKKans on this blog!
written by The Steel General, September 04, 2012 3:04
The question is a succinct way of asking whether a President deserves a second term.

Are you kidding? The question is a SLEDGEHAMMER way of asking, Did you do a good job, there's nothing subtle about it.




@Conrad Baylor

One problem with your firefighter analogy: "Fireman" Obama didn't just promise to put the fire out. He also promised to rebuild the house. And on that promise, he simply hasn't delivered.

Aha, there it is again, the 'promise' smear! Obama didn't promise no such thing, that's just what LYING RYAN claims, but he LIES about that.

As for promises, of the 506 promises Obama made:
190 or (37,55%) rate as Promise Kept
72 or (14,23%) rate as Compromise
83 or (16,40%) rate as Promise Broken
49 or (9,68%) rate as Stalled
112 or (22,13%) rate as In the Works

Of 40 promises GOP made:
11 or (27,50%) rate as Promise Kept
4 or (10,00%) rate as Compromise
11 or (27,50%) rate as Promise Broken
3 or (7,50%) rate as Stalled
11 or (27,50%) rate as In the Works

So Obama does extremely better than them, they aren't called Republican'ts for no reason.

Really? The "nuance" argument again? That was a loser for Kerry, remember.




I know as a Democrat, I'm not about to vote for Obama again.

Really? the pretending to be a disappointed Democrat spiel again? That's sooo old, can't you get new material?

He could have addressed the economic disaster, but chose the ACA disaster instead and at the worst possible time.

A clear case of a false dilemma, since solving the Health Care crises was and IS the basis of turning the economy around. Firstly, you can't have a good economy with loads of sick people. But secondly, taking away the basic fear of losing your job means losing your health care, means much more flexibility in job choosing.


So maybe the reporters should ask the fire chief why he felt the need to operate on the neighbor's kidney

Blah blah ....
The reporters should have asked if the fire would not have been put out much faster if the fire chief didn't have much of his crew sitting at home being sick.

The nauseating implication is that RepuKKKes think that Health Care is a some type of luxury we as a country just can't afford. But that paradigm explains very well their reactions to the whole issue:
They see it as just another scam by the undeserving poor, aka, African-Americans.
Their hypocrisy knows no bounds.
Other metaphor-relevent questions:
written by Calming Influence, September 04, 2012 7:17
* "Did any influential group insist that you should throw gasoline on the fire?" (Republican deficit hawks)
* "Did any influential group throw up roadblocks that kept you from using the tried and tested firefighting tools you had (i.e. stimulus)?" (Republican House/filibustering Republican Senate minority)
It's a softball question
written by Ohio Rick, September 04, 2012 8:11
"If you hear a reporter ask people in President Obama's administration, ideally in a belligerent tone, "are the American people better off than they were four years ago?,"the reporter is trying to tell you that they are not qualified to do their job."

I agree. It's also true that anyone who has trouble answering this question shouldn't be in politics. It's the sort of softball question I'd plant with an "interviewer" if I had the chance.

It's not a "have you stopped beating your kids" question. It's a "why aren't your kids better behaved" question...the answer is "My kids are the best behaved in town and I can prove it. Anybody who says different hasn't a clue as to what he or she is talking about."

The firefighter metaphor
written by Rodent, September 04, 2012 9:36
The question makes sense if the firefighters were spraying the house with gasoline. And when they were paying for the gasoline with your money.
More fuzzy thinking!
written by rolland amos, September 07, 2012 4:42
To those Democrats who threaten to punish Obama for not cleaning up GW's mess fast enough: really? Is putting a Republican president into office really a good remedy for what's ailing the country? Consider this: the next president will probably appoint at least 2 new Supreme Court justices. Two plus 5 equals 7: seven conservatives vs. two liberals on the Supreme Court? What a disaster that would be. Plus another war - with Iran? What's a GOP administration without a war!?
What's the criteria?
written by mike green, September 08, 2012 11:10
The problem with journalists asking stupid questions is the equally stupid attempts to answer them. The best (and easiest) response to the question of whether I'm better off today than four years ago is simply: What's the criteria?

If the journalist than says job growth, economic condition of the nation, employment, etc. The followup is simply: Did you prepare for this interview with the data for the arbitrary criteria you chose or did you expect me to arrive here having done your homework for you?

After than snarky statement, you then pull out of your back pocket a matrix that shows 15 different economic categories from 2008 compared to today. And you hand it to the journalist and asks him/her to put that on the screen and let Americans judge for themselves.

I guarantee that interview will be the most repeated interview of the campaign.

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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.

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