It's Not Washington, It's You

I wasn't going to write about this, but then something shocking happened: Chris Cillizza wrote something I agreed with. So now I have little choice.

Here's what I'm talking about: a reporter named Sam Youngman wrote a piece for Politico about how despicable Washington journalistic culture is and how he's so glad he went back to Kentucky to be a real reporter after his heady days of flying around on Air Force One. Now you might think that as someone who is often critical of the Washington press corps and sometimes of Washington in general (although it's complicated) I would be saying "Right on, brother!" But I'm not.

The first problem is that Youngman's story reads as much like a tale of his own douchitude as it does an indictment of Washington journalists. For instance, no one forced him to treat the image-making of national politics as though it were the beginning and end of every story. And certainly, no one forced him to do this: "The first couple years, I spent almost every night downing bourbon—and sometimes indulging in harder substances—at Capitol Lounge before walking back to my studio apartment in Eastern Market, occasionally with some female congressional staffer whose name I was almost always too drunk to remember. (I later sought out and apologized to as many of those women as I could. To the ones I missed: I'm profoundly sorry for my behavior.)" It sounds like Youngman is in steps 8 and 9, which is all well and good, but most Washington journalists, whatever their other sins, aren't alcoholics doing things to women they later feel compelled to apologize for.

The next (and much larger) problem is that while Youngman may be critical of his personal behavior, he slips into the passive voice when talking about his journalistic behavior. "By the 2012 campaign, a race almost entirely devoted to image creation and protection, and entirely devoid of romance and meaning, I had grown resolute in my belief that as a profession, we had lost our way," he writes. "I do not recall the issue of, say, poverty coming up a single time in all my coverage, despite the fact that 46.5 million Americans were living in poverty that year, the highest number in at least 50 years." Gee, if only he had been in a position to do something about that! By, oh I don't know ... writing a story about poverty, maybe? But it didn't "come up" in his coverage, so the only solution is to get out of Washington, I guess. But now, he's back doing real journalism, talking to voters instead of relying on polls.

Which brings me to Chris Cillizza, a Washington Post reporter/blogger whom I ordinarily think of as part of the problem of Washington journalism. Though I'm sure he's a nice guy, most of the time he seems consumed to an unhealthy degree with strategy and tactics, approaches policy as if it's for losers, and characterizes every momentary blip into the polls into one of those "game changing" moments that is supposed to change everything but actually changes nothing. All that notwithstanding, Cillizza has the right response to Youngman:

Second, and this is the one that really irks me, is the idea that unless you are talking to "regular people" every minute of every day, you are not doing "real" reporting. There are LOTS of ways to do political journalism. Some people spend months (and even years) doing investigative reporting. Others master covering a metropolitan area by, literally, getting out and walking through the community daily or weekly. Some political reporters — and I think WaPo's Dan Balz and New York Times' Jonathan Martin are two of the best at this — travel regularly to states to write from the ground about the political climate and mood. Then there are people like me, who largely do our reporting and analysis from Washington.

All of these ways of reporting are worthy — if (and this is a big "if") you are telling people something they don't know, shedding light on their elected officials or otherwise making the public more fully informed. How you do that matters far less to me than whether or not you do it well.

Precisely. You can spend your time talking to real people and still produce crappy journalism that obscures more than it illuminates. You can write about polls all day and actually have something interesting and enlightening to say. There are reporters who spend untold hours scouring budgets and committee reports and all other manner of boring policy arcana, seldom talking to regular folks, and that's valuable too. And whatever the problems of the Washington press corps are (and there are plenty), they're the product of choices people make. If Youngman isn't happy with the choices he made when he was a Washington journalist, that's not Washington's fault.


What endlessly strikes me in minimum wage pieces done these days is the missing sense of proportion: whether the piece is pro, anti or down the middle. I can see the same articles being written by the same authors whether it was back in 1968 when the wage was $10.75 an hour (adjusted) or in 2013 if the wage were either $5.15 or $20.

Proportion: a one dollar an hour minimum wage hike would transfer all of one-quarter of one percent of GDP from the top 80% of earners who take 98% (yes, that’s ninety-eight) to the bottom 20% who take 2% (two). Are the 80% who earn more than $9 an hour going to tell the 20% who earn less that their efforts are no longer needed — stay home from work?

A $15 an hour minimum wage would transfer $560 billion — less than 4% of GDP — from the top 55% who take 90% of overall income to the bottom 45% who take only 10%. Same “we wont need you anymore” question.

BTW, fast food which accounts I think for 1% of employment tends to be the regular example in these essays. Fast food takes the biggest hit: lowest tarting point and highest labor costs, 33% (price increase caused by doubling minimum wage only 25%). Wal-Mart on the opposite extreme (but closer to average) has a higher starting point and lowest labor costs, 7%. Raise Wal-Mart wages from $10 an hour to $15 an hour and prices rise 3.5% in my simple (but ballpark) calculation. Ronald should do pretty well anyway if half the labor force gets an average $8000 a year raise.

Some dollars will switch from Nostrums to Target: low income consumers tend to buy from low income labor.

Ghetto schools don’t work because half the students (and teachers!) don’t see anything waiting for them in the labor market to make striving worth the bother.

100,000 out of 200,000 Chicago gang age minority males are in street gangs for the same reason.

The proportion side of the story might better get through — especially to progressives — were the problem labeled “The Great Wage Depression” instead of the saccharine “inequality.”

PS. The big answer to the Great Wage Depression as well as to private means-of-production possession of the government (capital-ocialism?) is something originated by industrialists on the European continent post WWII, with the object of avoiding a labor race-to-the-top to prioritize rebuilding: centralized bargaining — where by law everyone doing the same job in the same locale (could be the whole country in some industries) works under one unified contract with all firms (Jimmy Hoffa accomplished something like this for truck drivers for the whole country with his national master contract).

Centralized bargaining is now found across the world from French Canada to Indonesia. Wal-Mart closed 88 big-boxes in Germany because it could not compete paying the same wages and benefits as the competition. Meantime super market workers and airline employees in the US would kill for sector-wide bargaining. The usefulness — the compelling need for this kind of labor market setup here would be too obvious if we thought in terms of the “Great Wage Depression” (or some slicker phrase).

PPS. Obama has a unique opportunity here to build political capital. Reforming the American labor market is so badly — so desperately — needed by so many people that he wouldn’t have to trade off anything anywhere else to pursue it — get away from re-arranging the deck chairs and change the cultural DNA.

I’ve been reading up on the election and it is so surprising that the Republicans who only occasionally rise above “zombie” class (Mitt was at least human) are forever neck-and-neck with Democrats. Problem is Dem progressives live in DC/academic land where everybody knows certain issues are “the relevant” issue and they are on the right side of most. But in the countryside where people see in proportion (that’s where we came into this movie) they don’t see the Dems doing anything to change their struggling lives in any broad brush way at all. Time for the Dems to wake up and smell the political opportunity.

My Uncle Jace recently got a new green Cadillac ATS Coupe by working parttime from the internet. try here exit35com

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