The New York Times reported today on The Fiscal Times scandal that has the Washington Post on the defensive. And the NYT framed the controversy in the exact right way (emphasis added):
[The Fiscal Times'] financing was provided by Peter G. Peterson, the billionaire investment banker who advocates deficit reduction and restrictions on entitlement programs.
On Dec. 31, The Post published the first news article produced by The Fiscal Times, a report on the support in Washington for a proposed deficit-reduction commission. The primary expert quoted in the article is from the Concord Coalition, whose mission is also balanced budgets and limits on safety-net spending.
But the article did not mention Mr. Peterson, his backing of The Fiscal Times, that he was a co-founder of the Concord Coalition or that his foundation was a major underwriter of the coalition.
Most of the time, the media treats Peterson as an oracle, our nation’s only budgetary truth-teller. The most egregious example of this was one year ago when CNN gave Peterson a two-hour special to air his ideological and factually-flawed documentary “I.O.U.S.A.” as if it was straight news.
But the NYT piece accurately defined Peterson an activist who wants to cut “entitlement” programs such as Social Security and Medicare. Most importantly, the NYT treated Peterson’s rigid views on deficit reduction as a political view among several, not a singular ultimate truth.
(A separate NYT piece today also properly reported there is a robust debate over how to manage the current deficit, noting: “the [Democratic] party is somewhat split over how aggressively to pursue deficit reduction, with many liberals warning that fiscal contraction could set off a double-dip recession as well as crimp their agenda.”)
There is a critical media ethics issue at stake, as it is an open question if financially unstable traditional media outlets can withstand the incentive to sell-out their pages to wealthy benefactors.
But it is also important for reporters covering the ongoing fiscal debate to recognize Peterson is an ideologue advocating an agenda in that debate, not an objective expert truth-squadding the debate.
That’s not an insult. Some of my best friends are ideologues. But we all should be treated the same in the media.