By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON — GOP U.S. Senate candidate Eric Hovde has caught all kinds of hell for comments he made last week about the media’s coverage of the poor versus what Hovde asserts is its apparent lack of interest in the fiscal crises American taxpayers face.
Hovde, a Madison millionaire businessman getting into politics for the first time, has been excoriated by some in the liberal press and blogosphere for statements quoted in a story in the liberal Huffington Post.
“I see a reporter here,” he said, according to the piece. “I just pray that you start writing about these issues. I just pray. Stop always writing about, ‘Oh, the person couldn’t get, you know, their food stamps or this or that.’ You know, I saw something the other day — it’s like, another sob story, and I’m like, ‘But what about what’s happening to the country and the country as a whole?’ That’s going to devastate everybody.”
The candidate, facing a four-way race for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in Wisconsin’s mid-August primary, has done a bit of back-pedaling, and his campaign has been forced to do some damage control.
But what if Hovde’s right? Or, in the realm of dogged liberal vs. conservative politics, shall we say correct.
There is a fair amount of evidence that, as Hovde contended, the media at large, from community newspapers and small-town TV stations to the New York Times to the cable news networks, have spent more time dealing with human-interest stories on poverty and government program cuts than it has pursuing complex issues like the deficit.
Hovde has adamantly demanded that the Huffington Post took his comments out of context for, as the candidate’s spokesman said, a sensationalistic story that attempted to paint Hovde as “anti-poor, as an evil, rich Republican.”
Hovde has spent the past couple of days defending his record, itemizing the charities he’s founded and contributed to, and counter punching the Huffington Post, Amanda Terkel — the reporter who wrote the story — and the publication’s pointed headline: “Eric Hovde, GOP Senate Candidate: Press Should Stop Writing Sob Stories About Poor People.”
“It’s unfortunate the Huffington Post took five seconds out of 14-minute speech to take out of context comments that were used for political gain,” Sean Lansing, Hovde’s communication director told Wisconsin Reporter. “The reality is, these are very serious issues, issues that got Eric into race in the first place.
“We are heading for a financial cliff right now. If we do not get our financial system in order and reform entitlements, we are in trouble.”
Root of the problem
That has been the crux of the entrepreneur’s campaign message: Congress needs to rein in a nearly $16-trillion debt and in so doing the federal government needs to get a handle on its ballooning budget.
There’s no doubt about it. Hovde is a millionaire, many times over. He’s made a lot of money as a hedge-fund manager and in real estate. He’s personally staked much of his own campaign.
But Hovde has stayed on message throughout his three-month campaign, further insisting that getting the federal fiscal mess in order will benefit all Americans, particularly the poor.
Lansing said Hovde’s comments targeted a media at large that give comparatively less attention to critical fiscal issues.
“It’s dumbfounding. We just don’t see a lot of attention paid to these issues when we really need to,” the spokesman said. “It’s easier to write a human-interest story than to take a look into the root cause of the problem.”
The Huffington Post piece definitively suggested that, “In fact, journalists already give short shrift to stories about individuals struggling in the recession,” citing a May 2011 National Journal story that tracked the nation’s five largest newspapers, counting how many times “unemployment” or “deficit” appeared in their headlines or first sentences. The analysis found deficit stories far outnumbered unemployment stories.
Somewhat obfuscated in the Huffington Post piece is the fact that the debt ceiling, the political brinksmanship surrounding it, the troubled deal-making between two intransigent parties and the constant fear-mongering about the U.S. government defaulting on its debt-related payments dominated the news nationwide for most of the late spring and summer of 2011.
Chief perpetrator among what economic experts have decried as Chicken Little coverage was the Huffington Post.
“Debt Ceiling Deadline Looms, Default at Stake,” a July 29, 2011, headline declared. Another Huffington Post headline on May 31, 2011, informed: “House Debt Limit Vote: Republicans Vote Against Raising Debt Ceiling.”
The National Journal story asserted:
“That major newspapers and other media outlets have covered the deficit with greater intensity in recent months should come as no surprise given the focus of the politicians and policymakers they cover. The declining mentions of unemployment are perhaps more surprising, as the issue remains salient for millions of Americans.”
Hovde’s campaign argues the two issues have everything to do with each other, and a recent Pew Research Center for the People and the Press report found the national debt and deficit remains near the top of the list of concerns for Americans, consistently right behind the economy.
“In my years of polling, there has never been an issue such as the deficit on which there has been such a consensus among the public about its importance — and such a lack of agreement about acceptable solutions,” said Andrew Kohut, president of the nonpartisan Pew Research Center in Washington, D.C.
The problem, according to budget watchers, is a large swath of the media don’t always cover budgetary and debt issues in the same urgent way the public sees them.
Marc Goldwein, senior policy director for the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, said he believes coverage of poverty issues is important, but sometimes the compelling human-interest story of the day misses “the forest through the trees.”
“Our country is on an unsustainable path. We’re facing the choice between throwing ourselves into a double-dip recession or borrowing forever,” said Goldwein, whose Washington, D.C.–based bipartisan, nonprofit organization aims to educate the public about issues that have significant fiscal policy impact. Debt, deficits and the measures to control them are tops on that list.
For instance, many Americans are oblivious that the federal budget faces some significant cuts and revenue declines at the end of the year. Looming are a 10 percent-across-the board reduction in the federal budget, massive cuts to health-care providers, the possibility of the tax bill rising for some 30 million taxpayers and more.
Some of those austerity measures are due to the so-called Super Committee’s failure to come to terms on a workable plan to draw down the U.S. debt.
If lawmakers don’t waive many of the measures, if all fall at the same time, the Congressional Budget Office has warned of a double-dip recession.
Goldwein said we are not Greece, but we are getting there.
The United States government has many intrinsic financial benefits debt-ravaged countries like Greece don’t. Control of its own currency is one.
Goldwein doesn’t buy the argument that the United States will teeter on the brink of collapse like some European countries, but the U.S. debtload and the failure to make any substantive effort to control borrowing will have an erosive effect on U.S. credit, spiking interest rates and hitting consumers, small businesses, everyone hard.
That’s the best-case scenario, Goldwein said.
“The worst case could be a market panic,” he said.
And that could lead to the kind of financial crisis from which the United States most seems to have escaped. But this time federal initiatives like big-bank bailouts and auto-industry salvation would be much less likely, Goldwein said.
That’s why the budget watcher said it is critical U.S. news outlets keep the public rightly informed on a crisis in the making.
“I think there is a value to understanding the human side of things. But I think the media also needs to understand the human side of debt, deficits and the budget,” Goldwein said. “If we don’t resolve this problem, there’s going to be a lot of pain for a lot of people.”