The Media Can Lead Us Away From The Fiscal Cliff
There is a storm coming, a tempest of words from political left, right, and center (what remains of it, anyway), in advance of the nation’s journey to the edge of the fiscal cliff in January.
The news media—disengaging from the fall follies of the election—had best get its act together to report on those words during what could be the most economically- and socially-crucial weeks in recent history.
The key phrase is “could be,” because the looming specter of an enforced sequestration of the federal budget—a 10-year program of heavy tax increases coupled with deep reductions in government spending—could be held off or banished depending on the will or whim of the returning Congress. And the media have the power to play a key role in the as-yet-unwritten outcome.
A vigorous and free press manipulates the primary lens through which the people view government. More to the point, the media, whether traditional or social (and the border between the two is become more porous every day), can focus on the national nervous system, transmitting to Washington assent, dissent or skepticism of virtually every executive or legislative action.
The buzz of the people, magnified by a clear media lens, can cause even the most stubborn Hill or White House denizen to rethink hasty, unwise or simply dangerous policy decisions. How the media’s lens projects the public’s view of the fiscal cliff just over the holiday horizon may affect the outcomes of dozens of congressional floor debates, intra-party negotiations, Hill-executive compromises and, ultimately, either consensus or catastrophe.
The fear of failure is palpable, and is reflected in dozens of headlines and stories now pushing their way through the discarded Obama and Romney campaign flotsam.
Alarms blare from the Wall Street Journal, “U.S. Stocks Stumble Following Election as Fiscal Cliff Looms”; from CNN, “World worries as U.S. fiscal cliff looms” and Stocks plunge 2% “U.S. stocks fell sharply, as investors focused on how Obama will avoid the fiscal cliff following his reelection”; from Bloomberg, “Dow Poised for Lowest Since August on Fiscal Cliff Concern.”
It must be the primary media issue beginning now. If ever there was a time for reporters to embrace fully the who, what, why, where and when rules of story-telling, this is the time. In-depth analysis is crucial not only to illuminate how we got to the cliff’s edge, but to reveal the policymakers who, despite many opportunities almost a year ago to head the fiscal wagon train toward smoother terrain, did little to avert the impending plunge.
Perhaps, just maybe, a determined media can shed enough light on the politics of decisions that got us to this tipping point to inspire, cajole or simply force the Congress and the president to face up to their responsibilities, put the partisan cats back in their bags, and lead us away from the precipice.
If the media cannot do that, then of what good are they at all?
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