Saturday, May 23, 2009

Stink Tanks

The Wisconsin Policy Research Institute (WPRI) - a conservative group, masquerading as a think-tank - has yet another public policy problem (involving public sector retirement accounts) they are courageously willing to solve for us. [We'll put aside the fact that the findings are false, along with the numbers, and we won't mention the obvious bias and lack of any context in their report.]

Ed Garvery, over at Fighting Bob, exposes the quid pro quo between Journal Sentinel writer Alan Borsuk and WPRI. WPRI writes methodologically weak and analytically sluggish reports, Borsuk pens a front-page story about their crucial findings. Usually WPRIs "reports" are conservative talking-points, masked in a for-the-good-of-all, Paul Revere type of moment or scenario. They are the good guys exposing the waste and corruption in public policy. In actuality, they are using clever rhetorical devices to wrap classic conservative mantra in populist clothing.

Their reports generally are regurgitations of typical conservative talking-points: taxes are bad, government is wasteful, public sector employees are overly rewarded, the market will solve everything, the private sector is the epitome of efficiency, etc.

I know times are hard at the newspapers. But reporters really need to be able to analyze the difference between a party-propaganda piece and actual research. I know it's easy to just get a few quotes from the report's author, bullet a few of the findings, and knock a couple of witty one-liners out for a quick, yet incisive story. But this muddling of the debate by reporters trying to show two sides to every story (or create a second side for controversy and sales) has lowered the level of discussion and wasted precious time on numerous issues as we've been sucked into frivilous debate where there should be none.

WPRIs role is like that of a lawyer - to introduce doubt. They don't want honest and open discussion, they just want their way. And, if the newspapers bite every time WPRI throws out some red meat, in the form of one of their "reports," WPRI can steer the discussion and influence public opinion - often incorrectly and in inequitable ways.

No comments: