Obama's Programming of the Press Has Unintended Consequences

Kevin Drum posts (sorry, I have to quote the whole post or it won't make sense):

From a Washington Post story about wage cutbacks:

Members and employees of the Virginia Symphony Orchestra are bracing for more hard times. The orchestra has had to contend with a $1.5 billion debt....The musicians were furloughed, and the administrative staff, including Johnson, took a 20 percent pay cut. The two moves saved the VSO about $500,000.

Not bad!  At that rate they should have their debt paid off in another 3,000 years.

I know I'm being sort of prickish for even bringing this up, but seriously: at least one reporter and two editors worked on this piece, and apparently none of them were taken aback by the idea of a regional orchestra being $1.5 billion in debt.  At any rate, not taken aback enough to wonder idly if maybe it was $1.5 million instead.  Sheesh.

I don't know, Kevin.   Your guy Obama proposed to deal with a trillion dollars of deficit by seeking $100 million of savings, and everyone in the press nodded their head and said how wonderful that Obama guy is.  On a percentage basis, a $500,000 cut in a $1.5 billion debt is actually three times more impactful than what Obama proposed.   Is it any wonder the press accepted these numbers without skepticism?  Obama has trained them well.


  1. Sam L.:

    Glad it is I am, that the admin folks took a 20% pay cut. Yet (bear with me, now), if the musicians were furloughed, what happens to the income stream? Seems to me, it's dammed, shut off, extinguished, and a whole bunch of other words from "Roget's Thesaurus".

  2. filbert:

    I wonder if it wouldn't help the general comprehension of financial issues if we just retired the terms "billion" and "trillion" and started referring to a billion as a "thousand million" and a trillion as a "million million" or something like that.

    Seems that people's eyes glaze over the difference between millions, billions, and trillions.

  3. Everitt Mickey:

    Who was it that said"

    "If they could do the numbers they wouldn't be Journalists." ?

  4. Brad Warbiany:

    Yeah, count me in with Everitt above. Blaming this on Obama is a bit unfair. The main issue is that a lot of journalists went into a liberal arts major because they "didn't get math" in high school (and I'm not talking calculus, I'm talking algebra). They simply don't comprehend numbers in any meaningful way.

    In fact, I commend Kevin Drum (who I usually consider to be unable to string a few logical thoughts together) for asking whether it was really $1.5M and not $1.5B, because $1.5 Billion debt seems like a pretty high number for a symphony orchestra.

  5. Craigo:

    Sam L is on the money - classic cost cutting strategy - cut the productive work force and maintain a bloated overpaid senior management who can't produce the goods. (Sounds like Park Management ;-)) Oh and if you need to trim senior management without actually cutting costs, create a "Special Projects" department and send them there although I doubt I could blame Obama for that idea.

    The difference between billions and millions is relevant to Parkinson's Law of Triviality (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Color_of_the_bikeshed) that organisations give disproportionate weight to trivial issues. Why check a fact like "billions" when there is just so much texture in a storey that includes "Public relations director Donna Hudgins planted a vegetable garden"? (At least AGW will ensure a long growing season until the O take care of that too)

    What are a few zero's between friends anyway.

  6. JimS:

    I think what this really points to is the fact that most journalists today were journalism majors in college. For a reporter whose going to cover general topics, it seems a combination of history and econ would be the proper preparation, for science reporting some study of science would be nice. Just as results in education were better back when teachers studied something other than education en route to becoming a teacher, reporters were better before they majored in "reporting".