Monday, July 8, 2013

Catch of the Day

Please read this excellent item by Neil Irwin about the reporting about the next Fed Chair choice.
Okay, I'm not sure whether "catch" is right, but it's extremely informative and well-done.

I'm going to strongly encourage you to read the whole thing, but it's basically about how to read the stories about who Barack Obama will pick for the Fed. But it's useful for lots of similar topics. The most famous is probably the VP selection -- although SCOTUS picks are good, too. But it comes up in other cases as well -- it's relevant to reading stories about Senate filibusters and choices of which bills John Boehner and the House will take up, for example.

I think Irwin gets a lot right here, including what I'd recast as several of the interrelated questions careful readers should ask when reading such stories.

1. Why is this story running? It could be driven by new information -- someone who knows something has told the reporter. On the other hand, it could be driven by interest in the question -- lots of people are very interested in who the next Fed chair will be. As readers, we can't know the answer, but we make educated guesses.

2. Related question: how likely is it that the reporter's source(s) actually know the key answers. Irwin is very good on this, arguing that in this particular case those who know something are unlikely to be talking. That's not always the truth, but it's far more likely to be the case when what really matters is one person's thinking.

3. What's the motivation of the reporter's sources? Is it to spread a truth? To launch a quasi-official trial balloon? Or to lobby for a preferred option? It's usually hard for readers to figure this one out, but sometimes clues are there if one is looking for them.

Perhaps there are more, but that's a good start. I get the sense that there's a large space people often don't see between believing everything they see in print (so to speak) and treating everything as partisan nonsense (or, perhaps, things that reporters simply make up). The truth is between those things almost always, at least within the "neutral" press. Reporters don't make stuff up, at least not deliberately; an unnamed source is always a real source, whether there's good reason to protect that source or not. But that doesn't mean that everything sources say is true -- or that reporters can't be swayed by biases (although those biases are almost always professional, not partisan, at least if we're talking about the neutral press). And so one needs to read news articles, and especially this kind of speculative stuff, carefully.

Oh, and: great catch!

1 comment:

  1. Good points. Another motivation for stories of this kind is to shape the discussion about the kind of person and policies associated with a legitimate appointee. For instance, Geithner and Summers are the people who brought you the very bank friendly financial bailout policies. If their candidacies float reasonably in the water regardless, then even if they're not the candidates the discussion is shaped about who and what qualities are legitimate to consider.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Who links to my website?