Leonhardt: ‘I don’t think assigning blame is what our job is’

CJR
New Washington bureau chief David Leonhardt told Greg Marx that The New York Times must avoid “being overly affected by the conventional wisdom” — as it was while covering the housing bubble:

When I look back on my 11 years as an economics reporter, I have this weird mix of feelings about my coverage of the housing bubble as one of the things I’m proudest of and also the source of one of my biggest regrets.

Covering the deficit has been similarly challenging, when almost no “objective truths” are “universally acknowledged”:

For example, we cover the deficit as if the notion that the U.S. is on an unsustainable fiscal path is an objective truth. There are some people who essentially reject that truth, but we don’t let the existence of that opinion sway us from covering the deficit story in a way that acknowledges that we have long-term unsustainability problem.

…we didn’t get together as a bureau at any point and decide the deficit was a problem, nor did the press corps as a whole, any more than we got together as a bureau and decided that the fact the earth orbits the sun was a fact. The funny thing is making these calls is not always obvious, and yet we can’t escape making them.

Still, Leonhardt rejects criticism that coverage of the debt-ceiling debate should have blamed Republicans for the crisis:

I don’t think assigning blame is what our job is. But if what he’s saying is that the two parties here played different roles, and that one party played a larger role in actually getting us to the last three days, in which there was a question about whether the debt ceiling would actually be raised, I think that’s true, and both parties would agree with that as well. …

And it is the press’s job to report that, and not to say on every single question there’s 50% of responsibility with this party and 50% of responsibility with that party. Readers can decide whether in fact it is a good thing to not go about business as usual.

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