Failing the ‘homework assignment’

It’s been about two weeks since President Obama issued a challenge of sorts to the press corps. “[H]ere’s a little homework assignment for folks,” he said. “Go ask the Republicans what their jobs plan is if they’re opposed to the American Jobs Act, and have it scored, have it assessed by the same independent economists that have assessed our jobs plan…. Have those economists evaluate what, over the next two years, the Republican jobs plan would do.”

That was 12 days ago. Since then, we’ve seen some evaluations along the lines of what the president had in mind — independent economists have said the White House’s American Jobs Act would boost job creation, while the jobs plan from Republicans wouldn’t.

This is no small realization. It’s easy to take it for granted — the results are in line with expectations — but this isn’t just a question in the political fight over jobs; it’s the question. Which side is offering a jobs plan that works?

Greg Sargent makes the case today that the media covering the debate is failing.

Obama and the Senate GOP have both introduced jobs plans. In reporting on the Senate plan, many news organizations described it as a “GOP jobs plan.” And that’s fine — Rand Paul said it would create 5 million of them. But few if any of the same news orgs that amplified the GOP offering of a jobs plan are making any serious effort to determine whether independent experts think there’s anything to it. And independent experts don’t think there’s anything to it….

Why aren’t these facts in every single news story about the ongoing jobs debate? Why aren’t they being broadcast far and wide?

I’m trying to think of the reasons for this. Economists are not infallible — they very well may be wrong. But still: News consumers are entitled to expert opinion in navigating an intensely partisan debate that is expected to continue for months and be central to the 2012 campaign.

Greg explores some reasons why news organizations are dropping the ball on this, and they’re compelling explanations. If I had to guess, I’d say the root cause is a familiar one: a reporter could tell news consumers that empirical data shows the Democratic plan would work and the Republican plan wouldn’t, but to say this out loud would be to invite accusations of “bias.” Forced neutrality reigns, facts be damned.

But for those who care about reality, the truth is unambiguous: the GOP “jobs plan” wouldn’t make things better, and the American Jobs Act would. One side’s numbers add up, the other side’s don’t. One side welcome objective, independent scrutiny, the other side doesn’t. One side’s plan is a serious effort, the other side’s isn’t.

From a political perspective, I’m hard pressed to imagine what could be more important than these realizations — during a jobs crisis, during a jobs fight in Washington — but most of the establishment media seems inclined to give Republicans a pass. Reality is too impolite to repeat in public.