Monday, July 25, 2011

Hiding the Truth in Plain Sight

Here's another post by Dean Baker in his Beat the Press blog pointing out how the media "reports" facts in a way that people are "informed" but have no way of understanding what they are told. They are given numbers, but unless you are an expert, the number has no context so you really don't know what it means:
Why Can't the Post Use Percentages in Discussing Proposed Cuts to the Military?

In a relatively lengthy article discussing potential cuts to the military budget, the Post never once told readers what baseline projected spending is, nor what the cuts would be as a share of baseline spending. The Post told readers that the military had prepared for cuts of $400 billion over the next 12 years, but now it seems possible that the cuts could be as large as $800 billion.

Wow! Those are really big numbers. And no responsible newspaper would ever print them without giving its readers some context, since virtually none of them will have any ability to assign meaning to these numbers.

The baseline budget shows that the government will spend approximately $9.5 trillion on the military. (This does not count veterans benefits and some other costs associated with maintaining the Defense Department.) The $400 billion in cuts would imply a reduction in the budget of a bit more than 4 percent. If the cuts reach $800 billion then the cuts would be a bit over 8 percent of the budget.

By comparison, the Gang of Six have proposed a reduction in the cost of living adjustment for Social Security that will reduce average benefits by close to 6 percent. The largest cuts would hit the oldest beneficiaries with beneficiaries in their 90s seeing benefit reductions of close to 9.0 percent.
Baker is hinting that the media doesn't use percentages for the same reason why a magician doesn't stop and show you how he is doing his sleight of hand. They really don't want you to understand. The "news" doesn't want you to realize that these "big" cuts in the military are smaller than the cuts in social programs. This is the way you can have "transparent" government with an electorate that has no clue of what's going on. The press leaves everybody like rubes at the carnival amazed at all the hoopla and excitement but without understanding anything. But having their pockets picked by the carnies who have set up the "transparent" system.

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