Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Providing Context

I once taught a journalism class. Sadly I had a rather poor text to use. I wish I had access to Dean Baker 35 years ago to help me with gems of advice like the following.

Here Dean Baker in a post on his blog Beat the Press is scolding the Washington Post for failing to provide adequate context to understand some numbers it published:
Shocking News: Not Everyone Who Got Stimulus Money Paid Their Taxes!

The Washington Post called readers attention to this shocking item today in an article on a new report from the Government Accountability Office that found stimulus recipients owe $750 million in taxes on $24 billion in stimulus payments. Of course people cheat on their taxes on non-stimulus income also.

It would have been helpful to compare the rate of cheating on stimulus with non-stimulus income to determine if compliance was especially bad with stimulus income. The Internal Revenue Service reported that $345 billion in taxes went uncollected in 2006, more than 4 percent of total income in that year. This suggest that the rate of tax evasion with stimulus funds (@ 3.1 percent) might be somewhat lower than with income more generally. The Post should have included this comparison.
Funny. This is a lesson that every journalist should learn early in his schooling. But apparently the Washington Post hires "journalists" who haven't learned the basics.

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