Our Garbage Media Strikes Again

CBS News is out today with a story about those cruel, heartless Republican governors who are cutting off the supplemental unemployment benefits of $300 a week that pay more to many workers than actual jobs. This story follows a familiar template: find some sympathetic individual who is adversely effected by the decision:

As of June 26, the 50-year-old Smedley will get cut off from all jobless aid — two months before federal funding is due to expire. She is one of almost 1 million self-employed workers who are hurtling toward a benefits cliff next month in the 20 states where Republican governors are shutting off the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program early. Most of the governors cited a desperate need for workers among employers such as restaurants and retailers that are reopening to the public.

Without PUA, self-employed workers in those states will be stripped of all jobless aid. The temporary program was designed by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, to provide support for a growing group of nontraditional workers in America’s gig economy, who don’t otherwise qualify for regular unemployment aid. To be sure, the governors of those states ending the PUA program also are cutting the extra $300 in weekly benefits directed at millions of other jobless workers who lost their positions with employers. However, many of those workers will continue to qualify for traditional state jobless aid. . .

The 20 states that are cutting off all jobless benefits for self-employed workers are engaging in “cruelty, plain and simple,” said ExtendPUA.org, a group that advocates for a stronger safety net for self-employed workers.

This story follows a long practice going back at least to the Reagan years, when a Reagan program budget constraint would summon forth a story like this current one in which a sympathetic individual harmed by the change in eligibility requirements or benefit amounts would be the focus of gauzy, soft-focus treatment, all the make the point of how mean Reagan was. Ask yourself: how many times has the national mainstream media ever done stories about welfare or Medicare fraud? How about California’s massive unemployment insurance fraud last year, which may have run into the tens of billions of dollars?  Likewise CBS News won’t even consider reporting on whether the supplemental unemployment benefit is providing perverse incentives not to work.

It’s a typical media practice: offer a story-driven account that ignores or obscures the statistical reality underneath, and call it “news.” It can also be classified as a form of “ventriloquist journalism,” whereby the journalist finds a willing individual to give just the quotes the “reporter” is looking for to fill out the pre-conceived story line. Whenever I used to see a journalist (especially an overpaid TV network reporter) interview a homeless person, I always wonder whether the reporter offers to buy the person even a cup of coffee. I’m pretty sure of the answer.

John has already pointed out the difference between the economic performance of red states relative to blue states with regard to the length and severity of lockdowns, as shown in this bar chart:

You can add to this the fact that unfilled job listings are soaring (from the Committee to Unleash Prosperity):

This brings back another memory of the Reagan years. Reagan once held up the help wanted job ads section from some major newspapers, noting that there were lots of jobs going unfilled amidst the liberal outcry of a terrible economy and the need for lavish relief spending. From the reaction you’d have thought Reagan had adopted Jonathan Swift’s Modest Proposal. Some things never change.

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