Sargent is a liberal writer; would he have written so favorably about a study that pointed to a different conclusion? But the basic approach of connecting credible new research to a current political debate is one that analysts across the spectrum—and mainstream reporters—can emulate.

Reporters would also be wise to adopt the simple linguistic approach of Jeanne Sahadi at CNN/Money, who eschewed the obfuscating term sequestration by translating that word with roots in Latin (sequestrō, meaning to “set aside”) into plain English.

“It’s just a fancy word for automatic, across-the-board cuts in funding,” Sahadi wrote. The point was reiterated by her colleague Annalyn Kurtz, who wrote that sequestration is “just jargon for automatic, across-the-board cuts in funding.”

Finally, for journalists around the country who may be just tuning into the sequester debate in earnest and trying to unpack it for their audiences, there are a bevy of useful resources. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office produced a handy primer last fall on the economic effects of the sequester.

And a newer CBO report shows that a range of austerity measures, including sequestration, could reduce economic growth by 1.5 percentage points—nearly half the average annual real increase since 1948.

Other documents with useful background information include:

• A 394-page Office of Management and Budget report that provides both an overview and the fine print on sequestration cuts

• A Congressional Research Service report last October on job losses

• A January CRS report on which programs will be affected or exempted

Of course, for the time-strapped—and which journalists aren’t?—there’s also Dylan Matthews’s comprehensive, chart- and photo-laden sequester FAQ, posted Wednesday afternoon at The Washington Post’s Wonkblog.

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


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.