Taxes vs. Chicken Sandwiches at the New York Times
Today Bob Somerby takes a look at how the New York Times treated Catherine Rampell's story about Mitt Romney's tax plan, the one that cuts taxes on the rich and raises them on the middle class:
Her report totaled 423 words. It was crammed at the bottom of page A10. It didn’t even make the front page of the newspaper’s National section.
By way of contrast:
Last Friday, the Times devoted 1001 words (and some sexy-time photos) to the state of strip clubs in Tampa, where the GOP will hold its convention. (This was the featured report on the National section’s front page.) Today, the Times devotes 861 words to an airy-fairy report about the way the Chick-fil-A chain is viewed in Atlanta, its hometown, with an emphasis on the way those southern (white) folk think about things like this.
Kim Severson’s report about southerners and their chicken appears on page one of the National section, complete with a double headline and a color photo of a guy eating his chicken. Along with its superior placement, it got twice as much space as Rampell’s report about the world’s craziest plan.
There's more, and it's worth reading the whole thing. I'll add a couple of things, though. First, I don't really have the heartburn Bob does over the fact that the Times runs human interest stories, even if some of them are kind of dumb. One man's dumb is another man's intriguing. Second, I'll give the Times a few more weeks to see what they do with the Romney tax story. Rampell's piece was just a next-day report on a piece of news, but it's entirely possible that the Times plans much more extensive coverage of both Obama's and Romney's tax plans in the future, with data collected from more than just a single study. I'm willing to wait a few weeks to find out.
That said, we could indeed wish that our nation's news outlets had a little more time for important but number-heavy policy pieces, especially during presidential campaign season. After all, they've shown in the past that they have the time and ability to make this stuff comprehensible when they apply some resources to it. This is, frankly, even more important than usual this year, since Mitt Romney is very deliberately trying to run the most policy-free campaign I can remember in my lifetime. Given his immense war chest, he'll get away with it unless the national media insists on making it a Page 1 topic.