NRO's Media Blog Notes 'Textbook Case in Media Bias' in WaPo Virginia Budget Story

March 10th, 2010 4:18 PM

The sour economy has forced many Americans to tighten belts, and everyday Americans expect the same from their government. But that's practically unconscionable to the Washington Post as witnessed by its March 10 article, "Va.budget plan would shrink general spending to 2006 levels."*

Here's how Post staffers Rosalind Helderman and Fredrick Kunkle launched into their lament of the pending budget cutbacks:

RICHMOND -- Virginia will do less for its residents, and expect local governments and private charities to do more, under a new state budget likely to have an impact for years to come. 

With Virginia facing what lawmakers say is the grimmest financial picture in memory, the House of Delegates and Senate adopted budgets last week that would shrink general spending to about $15 billion, or no more than was spent four years ago. In other words, Virginia would spend about the same amount on services as it did when there were 100,000 fewer residents and many fewer were in economic distress. 

What followed was a typical laundry list of scenarios the writers insisted "could" happen, including "[c]riminal defendants who cannot afford an attorney appear[ing] in court without one." Of course, seeing as the Constitution requires that indigent defendants be provided a public defender, it's quite odd for the Post to conclude any judge "could" let a trial proceed with a defendant unrepresented for lack of counsel. At any rate, National Review's Kevin Williamson has an excellent takedown of the article and its numerous liberal assumptions, which I've excerpted below (emphases mine):

"A new state budget likely to have an impact for years to come"? What could those words possibly hope to indicate? Does not every state budget have an impact for years to come? How does one spend $15 billion and not have an impact for years to come? Meaningless verbiage is one reason why people don't read old-fashioned newspapers.

But never mind the banal journalese; check out the question-begging: "Virginia will do less for its residents ...." Really? Is it impossible to spend more intelligently? Was the Virginia state budget such an unassailable masterpiece that a cut of $1 translates into an exactly representative amount of service forgone? What about $10? What about $1,000? Is there no room at all for economizing in Virginia?

And what about the other side of the spending/revenue question? If Virginia spends more, it has to tax more. Tax whom? Tax Virginians, that's whom. It's perfectly reasonable to have a debate about balancing the "do less" with the "take less," but the reporters and editors of the Washington Post do not even recognize that such a question exists. It's as though revenue comes into commonwealth coffers ex nihilo.

You can predict what comes next: The reporters call every interest group dependent upon state handouts — oh, the poor arts administrators! the agony of the MFAs! — and give them a forum to whinge about how horrible it will be to have spending reduced all the way down to 2006 levels. Does anybody in the world, anybody in Virginia, think a little fiscal restraint is in order? Down in the seventeenth (!) paragraph — which is to say, down in the part of the story that's only going to be read by these reporters' mothers, the people quoted in the story, and me — yes, we learn that "conservatives applaud attempts to hold the line on state spending on health care," and get a quote from Americans for Prosperity. But those parasites on the public purse protesting the proposed cuts — how many are identified as liberal groups? Zero, though organizations such as the Legal Aid Justice Center obviously merit such a description.

For the full critique by Williamson, click here.

*That was the online headline. The Metro section print edition headline reads "Va. lawmakers plan to do less with less."