A Plea for Better Reporting


In the Washington Post yesterday, Michael Fletcher wrote a piece about the Senate fight over unemployment benefits and illustrated it with the story of Dwight Michael Frazee, an unemployed construction worker who is one of the “99ers” — those who have been out of work for more than 99 weeks and whose unemployment benefits have therefore run out. Bob Somerby notes that Frazee is a little unclear on something:

Who does Frazee “blame” for his loss of benefits? Fletcher never makes this fully clear. But the quoted statements would seem to suggest that Frazee blames Obama.

….Does Frazee understand that “Obama and almost all the Democrats favor an extension of unemployment benefits?” Fletcher doesn’t seem to have asked. By the way: If Frazee reads Fletcher’s piece, as he presumably will, will he then understand the politics of this situation? How clearly does Fletcher explain this situation? There’s no “right” answer to that question — but Fletcher’s second paragraph seems to say that no one is trying to extend benefits for people like Frazee. We see other points of confusion as we peruse the piece.

Could you explain this ongoing situation? We’re not completely sure we could — and we’re not sure how much Fletcher helps.

This has been a major failing of the mainstream media for a long time. It’s always “Congress” that’s to blame for bills passing or not passing, not “Republicans” or “Democrats.” But the vast majority of the time, that’s not really the case: it’s one party or the other that’s largely at fault. Oddly, though, given that the press is usually pretty obsessed with horse race politics, they rarely play this up. If you read far enough into most Capitol Hill reporting, you’ll see genteel phrases like “mostly along party lines” or some such, but that’s about it. Unless you’re a fairly careful reader you won’t really realize that in the current Congress Republicans have routinely filibustered and obstructed practically every piece of legislation introduced.

Does Frazee realize that 98% of Democrats are in favor of extending his unemployment benefits and 93% of Republicans are opposed? That it’s not “Congress” standing in the way of his benefits, it’s the Republican Party? Apparently not. Reporters, editors, producers, and anchors ought to be asking themselves why that is. They might find it boring to keep writing headlines that explain what’s really happening, but that’s not much of an excuse for not doing their job.

UPDATE: I screwed up. This is a generally true statement about extending unemployment benefits, which breaks down strongly along party lines. However, it’s not a true statement about extending benefits past 99 weeks, which is Frazee’s problem. In fact, very few Democrats have demonstrated any serious concern about the 99ers.