CRISIS FATIGUE

February 28th, 2013

Crisis fatigue: we’ve all got it. With good reason.

Last year it was the Debt Ceiling standoff. At New Year’s, it was the famous Fiscal Cliff. Now it is the awkwardly-named Sequester. A month from now, the threatened shutdown of government. After that, the debt ceiling. Again.

In all, that ‘s five cliff-hanging, manufactured budget and spending “crises” in less than a year. No wonder the public – and the media – are sick of it.

The challenge for news organizations is to retain some grasp on reality while reporting the political bluster.

Obviously, if the President barnstorms around the country warning darkly of the worst consequences of the sequester, that has to be reported. When he and his cabinet secretaries talk about defense jobs that will be cut, children who will be cast out of Headstart, air traffic controllers that will be furloughed, airport security lines lengthened, all of that should and will be on the evening news.

When Republican leaders insist that they have made all the compromises, that the government is spending us into penury, that the sequester was really the President’s idea in the first place, that our national security is threatened – all those claims should and will get airtime and ink and digital digits.

But at the same time, news organizations need to point out the smoke and mirrors on both sides.

They need to explain that not all the most drastic cuts need to be made immediately, if at all. They need to remind their readers and listeners that agencies retain some flexibility in how they administer the reductions and, most important, that Congress and the President can reverse and replace the sequester at any point.

Today, on the eve of the sequester deadline, the media are doing it. The off-lead headline of the Washington Post: “Sequester Spin Gets Ahead of Reality: Despite alarms, rhetoric, neither side can be sure how badly cuts will hurt.”

The New York Times’s off-lead: “Parties Focus on the Positive as Budget Cuts Draw Near.” “The sword of Damocles,” writes Jonathan Weisman, “turns out to be made of Styrofoam.”

NPR debunked some of the most extreme claims this morning and Chuck Todd on MSNBC did a good, two-minute, “sequester-made-simple” segment that pointed out that each side was nakedly playing to its political base.

What no news organization has needed to point out is the simple truth: this is no way to run a government. No one has needed to say that this makes Washington look silly. Nobody has taken the time to say that the whole Sequester debate has damaged U.S. credibility abroad.

That would be too obvious.


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