Push Pundits Over Fiscal Cliff

If I hear the term “fiscal cliff” one more time, I’ll push a media pundit off a real one.

There is a big difference between fact-based reporting and hype. Just as there is a distinction between political grandstanding and reality.

Can the media and Congress please retire the term fiscal cliff? It’s a manufactured political crisis, not a real one, like terrorism or climate change.

The dubbed “cliff” is a series of federal spending cuts and tax increases scheduled to take automatic effect on Jan. 2 — from reducing defense spending to cutting cancer research — if a deal isn’t reached. Yet this was never intended as a real threat. Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans, for completely different reasons, want it to happen.

To quote Macbeth: “It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Politicians set arbitrary deadlines for action — then they change them. When the debt ceiling needed to be raised — amid cries that previous amounts spelled U.S. destruction — they did. President George W. Bush’s rationale for invading Iraq changed four or five times as war progressed.

Whatever your political persuasion, let’s agree that obstruction is not governance. Scare tactics are not governance. Just as bombastic commentary isn’t news. For instance, Fox said it was treasonous to criticize a president (Bush) in a time of war. That is, until we got a Democratic president — and then it wasn’t.

Media is the Fourth Estate; its job is to be watchdogs of government. Not the lapdogs of special interests. It is incumbent on the press to make clear distinctions between news and opinion — and to call out those who manipulate reality to suit their own selfish ends.

In short, news organizations need to work harder to ground economic and political coverage in facts. When the media attempts to frighten listeners, it traffics in thinly veiled propaganda, not reportage. Republicans were shell-shocked after Obama’s re-election. Obama was an incumbent — and whether you loved or hated the sitting president, that status brings built-in advantages. Given the electoral map, even die-hards had to consider a close race could go either way.

When Nate Silver, a statistician and algorithm whiz, made his predictions, it wasn’t to play party hack. The fury he encountered in conservative circles, like the deification he received in liberal ones, was off base on both counts.

The facts aren’t liberal (MSNBC) or conservative (Fox). Truth is in the center, sans spin. And that’s where media should be. It should not champion politicians based on party; it should hold them accountable for their actions and prevent them from stonewalling inconvenient truths — whether it's Obama giving Wall Street bankers a pass or Mitt Romney's refusal to release a decade's worth of tax returns.

Ad forecasters succumbed to the same game.

A Pivotal Research November report predicted the post fiscal-cliff crash could result in a $9 billion revenue loss to media companies. I’m not sure how the $9 billion figure was determined, but if Pivotal is worried, maybe it should suggest ad lobbyists pressure Congress to cut a workable deal, avoiding its dire forecast.

Congress was given a charge by the founding fathers: Do the people’s business. Not the Fortune 500s. One way is to change the rules of the Senate; chuck the filibuster so solid political reforms can pass. Another is for the press to challenge politicians entrusted with the public welfare, not simply parrot catchphrases for sound bites.

The only things falling off the cliff are objectivity and sanity.

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