Thursday, September 11, 2008

Republicans exploiting serious flaws of the press in ever more dangerous ways

With regard to Paul Krugman's September 12th colunm, Blizzard of Lies:

All of this frighteningly shows what an enormous problem the press is.

There are two big problems:

1) So many people in the press think it's their job to be equally "nice" to both sides, regardless of what the truth is. The goal should be as well as possible to convey important truths in a non-misleading way (It's not enough that what's written is literally true, if you know it will mislead a large percentage of your readers about something important, and you are very capable of writing it in a way that won't mislead), and an accurate way. Until there's a change in press culture and morays greatly towards this, there will be serious problems, and the country will be at great risk of making disastrous decisions like we did in the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections.

2) There are enormous positive externalities to serious quality news reporting. Thus, we can greatly increase welfare and efficiency by subsidizing it, for example with a well constructed program like the investment tax credit for serious investigative reporting. Without subsidizing it, corporate organizations will have an extremely strong incentive to only do what maximizes profit which is a great deal of fluff and sensational reporting and relatively little serious and expensive investigation and analysis. Just look at what's happening at the Los Angeles Times right now. The world is a lot more complicated than it was in 1810, the primitive time Republicans want to take us back to (you know, the good old days, when people fended for themselves, average life expectancy was under 40, and those who were old were by far the largest group in poverty). A big problem with the press today is that they have to report on complicated economics and science when they majored in journalism -- and on very short deadlines. They really need large staffs of in-house experts in economics and science who can work closely with them on their articles, but profit-wise this is a money loser, and won't happen if we leave it to the pure free market. The enormous positive externalities from these things have to be subsidized or we're at much greater risk of more George W. Bushes. The costs of not addressing these externalities are absolutely enormous.