In a primer on how to conduct an interview relying almost solely on Republican talking points, PBS NewsHour anchor Judy Woodruff discussed the new budget plan with White House Budget Director Peter Orszag on Wednesday night.
Woodruff's first question isn't necessarily a Republican talking point, but it might as well be.
JUDY WOODRUFF: $3.66 trillion, is that a number you can actually grasp?
Seriously, members of the mainstream media need to stop acting like they suddenly have the vapors over big government spending. The Republicans weren't the only ones to preside over the most reckless spending in our government's history over the last eight years, on a war of choice and tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans in an environment of profligate deregulation and zero investment in infrastructure and our citizens' future. Mainstream news outlets and their anchors and talking heads watched it all unfold while expressing little or no concern at the time.
Woodruff's second question is like a GOP talking-point smorgasbord.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, just two of the terms I heard applied to it today were, number one, "radical," and the other one was "taking from the rich to give to the poor." Is this about redistributing wealth in this country?
I guess she couldn't fit "socialist" in there. (When did Judy Woodruff start sounding like a Fox News anchor?)
Orszag explains, rather, that the Obama administration's aim is "a greater sense of shared responsibility" and later reveals that roughly only 5% of Americans would see their taxes rise while 95% would receive a tax reduction. You know, what Obama ran and handily won the election on -- a more equitable system. But suddenly this is shocking, the election and his mandate ancient history.
Woodruff then dispenses with what she "heard," figuring it's easier to quote the talking points verbatim:
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, the person President Obama had asked to be his commerce secretary, Senator Judd Gregg -- who later, as we know, backed out -- had this to say today about your budget proposal. He said, "This plan is once again a missed opportunity for American taxpayers." He said, "It raises taxes on all Americans, implements massive new spending, and fails to make any tough choices to control the deficit."
Of course this has the extra gotcha benefit of coming from the guy Obama originally tapped to be his commerce secretary.
Next, once again Woodruff is "hearing" more criticism. But as opposed to "two of the terms" she "heard applied to it today" without providing any attribution for them, this time she specifies the criticism comes from Republicans but oddly prefaces her comment with "I guess." It's unclear whether she does this to deflect the transparency of her reliance on GOP talking points or as a consequence of not doing her homework. Or both.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, the most frequently repeated criticism, I guess, from Republican [sic] I've been hearing is they say you want to raise taxes on the nation's entrepreneurs, small-business owners, at the very time when the country's in a recession. And they're saying, what's the incentive going to be, then, for these people to grow their companies and hire and create jobs?
Woodruff's line of questioning, one GOP economic meme after another, continues nearly unabated throughout the remainder of the interview. Woodruff, a veteran journalist who's done some excellent work over the years, is better than this. Sadly, these days she seems more willing not just to fill in for Jim Lehrer but to follow in his frequent autopilot footsteps when questioning guests, giving the often false NewsHour impression that the quality of an interview is due to its length instead of its depth.
Just how reliant is Woodruff on parroting Republican talking points? Want to guess how many times she poses a question citing a criticism of an actual economist rather than a Republican?
Yes, in an eight-minute-plus discussion about the new budget plan, in the midst of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, PBS NewsHour and Woodruff don't have time not to play politics.
(Ed. note: There is a discussion between two economists on the same program here, which could be a separate post of its own. One of the two best economists NewsHour could find to discuss the budget plan? Douglas Holtz-Eakin, former economic policy adviser to John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign...no bias there. Incidentally, he's also the genius who famously claimed that Senator McCain "helped create" the BlackBerry.)