Shaping the Story
By Arnold Kling
A majority of Senate Republicans appeared to break Tuesday with two decades of GOP orthodoxy against higher taxes, voting to advance a plan to abruptly cancel billions of dollars in annual tax credits for ethanol blenders.
The story continues in this vein, for paragraph after paragraph. The Post is instructing its readers that the most important fact about the ethanol subsidy vote is that it demonstrates the hypocrisy of the Republicans, who say they are for lower taxes but in fact want to increase taxes on ethanol blenders.
Ordinarily, I do not spend time on media criticism. But this approach to writing the story on the ethanol vote truly outraged me.
1. The most important thing about the ethanol subsidy is that it is bad policy, as the Post editorial page and even previous supporters acknowledge.
2. The next most important thing about the ethanol subsidy is that it is a classic case of rent-seeking. The beneficiaries are relatively few but relatively well organized. It is in the interest of politicians to vote to keep it, even though it is against the interest of most of their constituents.
3. Finally, if you still think that the important issue in the vote concerns what it says about your willingness to raise taxes, then certainly the Democrats are being hypocritical by voting as a bloc to keep the subsidy. Why is it the alleged Republican hypocrisy that gets all of the focus?
4. In explaining the defeat of the Republican attempt to end the subsidy, the article focuses on the actions of Grover Norquist. However, Norquist’s influence is presumably on Republicans. But most of those who voted to keep the subsidy were Democrats, and the story offers no insight into how they were persuaded.
All in all, this was shockingly bad journalism.