The listed subsidies add up to $1.76 billion. But even given the Times’s acknowledgment that its data was not comprehensive, it was striking that the list left out major projects which dwarfed those that were included. Phil Mattera of Good Jobs First made this point in a blog post:

For example, the Times lists a total of $338 million for Boeing, including $218 [million] from South Carolina. Yet it has been estimated that the package Boeing got by locating a new Dreamliner assembly line in the Charleston area could be worth some $900 million.

Apple is said to have received a total of $119 million, yet the Times fails to include more than $60 million in subsidies the company got for a data center in North Carolina.

The Times $100 Million Club also misses some major recipients entirely, including Volkswagen, which got more than $500 million in connection with an assembly plant in Tennessee, and ThyssenKrupp, which got more than $1 billion in subsidies for a steel mill in Alabama.

And these only include deals dating back to 2007, which is the period the Times used in compiling its $100 Million Club. The larger Times database seriously understates the size of major deals that took place earlier. For example, it lists only $19.3 million for GlobalFoundries in New York State, even though the company took over a $1.2 billion deal originally offered to Advanced Micro Devices (which isn’t listed at all).

For various reasons, most of these awards aren’t yet in the Good Jobs First database, either. (Purdy of the Times wrote via email that the Subsidy Tracker “data only made up 44.1 percent of the dollar value in the $100 Million Club.”) And accounting for these subsidies would not have changed the Times’s $80 billion annual figure, which was derived from state government program costs and not company-specific incentives.

Still, there’s a clear take-away for other reporters coming to this beat: as you’re getting up to speed, don’t rely solely on the Times database (or any other single source). Other useful resources include both the Subsidy Tracker and state databases where they exist—like New York’s Public Authorities Information Reporting System, known as PARIS, which was not used by the Times. Then, of course, there are clip searches on Google and Nexis, and the accumulated knowledge of people and institutions who have been on this story for years.

Despite these objections, the Times package represents welcome attention to an often-overlooked problem. The series, and its thoughtful critics, should be read widely by journalists—many of whom, we hope, will tackle these subtle issues in their own markets.

Follow @USProjectCJR for more posts from this author and the rest of the United States Project team.

 

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David Cay Johnston covers fiscal and budget matters for CJR’s United States Project. He is a reporter with 46 years of experience, including 13 at The New York Times; a columnist for Tax Analysts; teaches tax and regulatory law at Syracuse University Law School; and is president of Investigative Reporters & Editors (IRE). Follow him on Twitter @DavidCayJ.