Deja  Vu on Education Cuts

Wednesday's Example of Media Bias   —   Posted on January 5, 2005

…compare this year’s [Los Angeles Times] story on Governor Schwarzenegger’s proposed education spending to last year’s story on the same topic. The same distortions are employed in exactly the same way…

Yesterday the [Los Angeles] Times runs a Page One story titled Education Budget on Hit List. The sub-head reads: “Governor will propose cutting $2.2 billion. Angry educators blast him for reneging on last year’s agreement to protect school funding.” And the first sentence reads:

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will propose cutting state spending on K-12 education and community colleges by $2.2 billion when he presents his budget Monday, administration officials said.

The story continues to refer repeatedly to the “cuts,” and sets forth reactions from various people to the “cuts” and what they will mean for California’s schools.  Only determined readers who follow this story all the way to Page A21 learn that these alleged “cuts” actually represent an increase in education spending:

But [Finance Director Tom] Campbell said education spending would still go up 7% despite the cut. The increase without the cut would have been double, he said, and the administration could not justify that in a year when so many other programs face drastic reductions.

In other words, education spending won’t be cut by $2.2 billion — rather, it will increase by approximately that amount. But because most readers don’t make it to page A21, they will get the exact opposite impression. Just as the Times editors intend them to. 

… The editors did the exact same thing last year — in a story by the exact same reporter (Evan Halper) on the exact same topic, published exactly a year ago yesterday.  (Well, okay — there was one difference. Last year the editors buried the fact that education spending was increasing on Page A15. This year it’s buried on Page A21. But that’s the only difference between last year’s article and this year’s.)

…There is a pattern here — a pattern of deliberate manipulation of the paper’s readers.  Is it working? You tell me:  Yesterday, I read my (very bright) office-mate the first sentence of yesterday’s article. I then asked her: Assuming that we spent roughly $42 billion on education in this state last year, how much will be spending this year under Arnold’s plan?  Her answer: just under $40 billion. (The correct answer would be just over $44 billion.)

Somewhere, an L.A. Times editor was smiling. Because that’s just what he wanted her to think.