The first full week of the new administration is over and how did The Grand Rapids Press report on politics in the nation’s capitol? There was only one story that dealt with foreign policy, a story based on a CBS interview with Vice President Joe Biden that we have already analyzed. Articles that focused on the stimulus plan put forth by the Obama administration dominated the rest of the week.
The Stimulus Plan Without Substance
Five stories on the economic stimulus plan were published in The Grand Rapids Press throughout the week, three from the Los Angeles Times, one from The New York Times and one Associated Press (AP) story. The primary focus of those stories was on the partisan tensions around the stimulus plan. In a January 28 article, the AP reporter writes:
“With Democrats enjoying a comfortable majority and expected to fall in line behind Obama, they don’t need help from GOP lawmakers to win House passage of his top priority of economic recovery. But Obama wants Republican support to illustrate his promise of a new style of politics that rejects partisan gridlock.”
This AP story was filled with commentary on the partisan clash on the stimulus package and The Press version of the original AP story omitted any content that provided details on the plan. Here is one example of what was omitted:
“The House measure includes about $550 billion in spending and roughly $275 billion in tax cuts in hopes of spurring the economy and helping those directly affected. Much of the spending would be for items such as health care, jobless benefits, food stamps and other programs that benefit victims of the downturn.”
A New York Times story on January 29 continued this trend by focusing on the partisan aspects of how the House voted on the stimulus plan. Again, no details of the stimulus package were included in the story. A January 31 article from the Los Angeles Times looked the new administration’s use of e-mail as an organizing tool to push the stimulus plan and that the new Organizing for America team was encouraging people to host “house meetings is to inform neighbors about the president’s proposal and to help the people you know connect the recovery plan to their lives and learn more about why it’s so important.” Unfortunately for readers, there were no details of the recovery plan, only commentary on unnamed “Liberal groups” who were running ads across the country in favor of the stimulus plan.
The last two stories on the stimulus plan focused on the GOP response (1/31) and conservative talk radio’s take (2/1) on the Obama economic plan. The article on the GOP response included some comments from Republican lawmakers, but it was dominated by criticisms from a GOP lobbyist Vin Weber who said, “There is not a coherent Republican message at this moment,” in opposition to the stimulus plan. The article also cited Don Sipple, a longtime GOP communications strategist who said, “I don’t think there’s very much Republicans can do on economic matters right now, other than get out of the way … then let the chips fall where they may.”
After five articles on the economic stimulus plan readers would be hard pressed to know anything about what the stimulus plan would actually do and who would benefit from it. There were no independent or non-partisan voices in these stories, such as William Greider, journalist and author of several books on the US economy. Another glaring omission in the coverage was voices from working people and members of the public who have been most negatively impacted by the recent economic crisis.
Presidential Dates, E-mail Access and Tax Records
The remaining three stories from this past week on the new Obama administration dealt with the tax records of Obama’s choice for heading up the department that will deal with health reforms, former Senator Tom Daschle. The story mentions that, “some tax issues had emerged in connection with the nomination” of Daschle, but that the administration is confident that he will be confirmed. While the tax records of potential cabinet members is relevant, there was no information on Daschle’s history as an elected official, his qualifications in dealing with health reform issues, or his relationship to the health care industry.
The last two stories on the new Obama administration for the week of January 26 dealt with personal aspects of the new president. A February 1st article from The New York Times focused on President Obama’s use of his BlackBerry and which people were allowed access to his new e-mail address. This was the longest story on the new administration for the past week, with a total of 1,379 words devoted to who has access to the President’s e-mail. The article framed the story similar to the way the news reports on Hollywood celebrities by saying, “It is now the ultimate status symbol in a town obsessed by status.” On the same day (2/1) there was also an AP story that told readers that the new White House couple is struggling to maintain their traditional Friday night date night, since the new President is very busy.