The Badly-Titled USA Today Story Has Legs

Ken AshfordEconomy & Jobs & Deficit1 Comment

Background here.  Basically, USA Today printed an article which (from the headline) made it seem that Obama was sterring stimulus money to counties that voted for him, while steering it away from counties that voted for McCain.

From the article itself, one can glean that this simply isn't true, and that poorer counties (the ones most in need of stimulus spending) tend to vote Democratic.  One of those correlation-not-causation things.

Even Adam Hughes, the director of federal fiscal policy for the non-profit OMB Watch, explained that “it would be almost inconceivable for [the spending imbalance] to be the result of political tinkering.”

That didn't stop some right-wing blogs from misprepresenting the article.

Nor did it stop Fox News:

Of course, Fox News selectively quoted from the USA Today article, leaving out the parts which showed that the Obama-voting counties traditionally receive more federal aid historically, including many years prior to the election.

Meanwhile, Kevin Drum weighs in:

I just got around to reading the piece, and aside from the factual statement in the lead, it doesn't insinuate that the money is being unfairly distributed.  In fact, every single paragraph after the lead quotes people saying that there's nothing dubious going on and the money is just being distributed by formula.  The piece doesn't quote a single person, not even Sarah Palin, suggesting that there's any monkey business going on here.

But if there's no hanky panky, why bother publishing the story in the first place?  My guess: it's the old problem of reporters not being willing to spike a story when it doesn't pan out.  Brad Heath spent a bunch of time analyzing stimulus spending, but when everyone he called told him there was nothing amiss he just hated the idea of spending all that time and not getting anything out of it.  So he wrote it up anyway, ending up with a nonsensical piece that basically rebuts its own reason for existing.  Dumb.