And a day later, PolitiFact turned its attention to Reid’s response that the bill “will end taxpayer bailouts” and declared it “barely true”—essentially, because the law does not bind future Congresses, and because even if the measure does not prop up failing banks, it may not set aside enough funds to adequately unwind them.
None of this, unfortunately, makes it into today’s NYT story. It’s not hard to understand why—it takes a healthy chunk of space to sort all that out, and the truth and falsehood of competing claims shifts as the claims themselves are modulated. (The GOP position presented in today’s Times, that “government bailouts are still possible,” is far more measured than McConnell’s earlier language; per PolitiFact, it may even be accurate—though it’s doubtful this problem can be solved by adding “super-duper-mandatory” language to the bill.)
But there’s a real cost to allowing these assertions into print unchecked and unscrutinized. Precisely because this is an important point, considerable journalistic energy has gone into adjudicating this dispute, yielding the conclusion that the Senate Democrats are overpromising and the GOP leadership is mostly full of it. If the Times were to come to a different, credible conclusion, great—that’s a gain for readers’ understanding of the issue. But by reprising the he-said, she-said without so much as hinting that there might actually be an answer, the story undercuts all that effort to find out what the truth is—and in the process, suggests that all answers are equivalent. We need coverage that’s better than that.