Have Reporters Gone “Pong Slayer” On The Stimulus Bill?

Whose In Defense of The Stimulus Bill, Which Republicans Have Given A Bad Name-themed op-ed today do you prefer: E.J. Dionne’s in the Washington Post or Gail Collins’s in The New York Times? I’m partial to Collins’s (it’s the Pong reference or, the use of a Pong story in the service of larger lessons such has How Press Coverage Happens).

Of the bill Collins writes, “By now, the public has gotten the idea that it’s all a big waste.” And how has the public “gotten” this idea?

[T]he [bill’s] opponents focus on things with names that sound frivolous or funny. This is an old game that works for almost any form of human communication. Let me explain with a story. When I was beginning my career as a reporter, I once covered a shooting in which the victim was gunned down while playing an arcade video game. This was so long ago that the game in question was Pong.

It was not a very interesting crime, and under normal circumstances it would have vanished in the daily ebb and flow of New York City police reports. However, the shooter made the terrible mistake of including a colorful detail, and he became the Pong Slayer, whose every court appearance merited additional coverage…

…If you’re walking around and happen to see a very large but very battered stimulus bill hobbling by, give it a pat on the back. It’s been Ponged within an inch of its life.

In the Post, Dionne writes:

Republicans — short on new ideas, low on votes and deeply unpopular in the polls — have been winning the media war over the president’s central initiative…

In just two weeks…Obama and his advisers have been forced to learn basic lessons on the run. For starters, the media cannot be counted on to be either liberal or permanently enchanted with any politician. Arguments left unanswered can take hold, whether they make sense or not…

At County Fair, Eric Boehlert details how “arguments left unanswered” have “taken hold” (that is, the role the press has played, as he writes, “in tilting the stimulus ‘debate’ in the GOP’s favor.”), something he criticizes Dionne for not detailing.


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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.