opening shot

Opening Shot

Show us how the game is rigged
January 6, 2012

On November 26, 2011, The New York Times published an investigation of Ronald Lauder’s aggressive use of strategies available to the superrich to avoid paying hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes. It was the kind of story that makes people angry, and something the nation needs more of from its press. As the presidential race unfolds, and competing claims about tax cuts and job-creators pile up, we can’t afford coverage that simply records this debate; we need the press to show us how the richest 1 percent’s share of national income more than doubled between 1980 and 2008, from 8 percent to 18 percent. Show us how the game is rigged. In a recent survey by a Harvard business professor, most Americans thought that the richest 20 percent of households control less than 60 percent of the nation’s wealth; in fact they control more than 80 percent. A misinformed public is not solely the press’s fault. But the press is not blameless either. There is talk that the Occupy Wall Street protests could alter the top-down frame that dominates the press’s political and economic coverage. But the last decade is littered with vows from American journalism to do better: after the phony case for invading Iraq; after Hurricane Katrina. We hope this time will be different.

The Editors are the staffers of the Columbia Journalism Review.