Right side, wrong reasons
The Michigan Daily - Tuesday, May 31, 2005 - 5
Flushing good journalism
KARL STAMPFL.:};, _:: 4A,
BY EMILY BEAM
Americans are clueless about econom-
ics. I can't say I'm surprised, but a study,
performed by Harris Interactive and
reported by The New York Times last
April, did come up with some fairly star-
tling results. Less than half of high school
students could define a budget deficit. A
frightening number of adults didn't under-
stand that they would risk losing money to
inflation if they kept their savings at home.
As an economics major, I understand that
people will roll their eyes if I accidentally
throw in a reference to rational behavior
or pareto optimums. But there's a big dif-
ference between drawing Edgeworth box
plots and knowing enough to avoid the
post-Depression fear that the banks will
lose all your money when the stock market
comes crashing down. The study couldn't
have been timelier, however, in light of the
Social Security debate that is still raging.
While President Bush thankfully finished
up his 2005 Mega Social Security World
Tour earlier this month, we know this
issue isn't going away any time soon.
Overall, Americans don't like Bush's
plan for Social Security privatization. I
would suspect that after being bombarded
for five months with apocalyptic predic-
tions for their financial futures from both
parties, we would probably be sick of
the whole issue more than anything else.
Despite more immediate matters like
those painful gas prices, public opinion
polls are finding that Americans do still
care, and they do not support privatization
as Bush presents it.
While it's fantastic that Americans
appear to be waking up to the problems
of privatization, I'm scared by the reasons
for their opposition. I'm realizing that I'm
perhaps foolishly assuming that the pub-
lic is concerned about the $1 trillion dol-
lar transition cost. They probably haven't
considered the impact of overestimating
the future strength of the stock market, or
that Bush hasn't yet directly addressed the
problem of solvency. The issue itself isn't
black-and-white; the "ownership society"-
promoting Republicans are right when
they talk about the need to revamp Social
Security, though this "crisis" still pales in
the face of the mess Medicare is causing.
Reform is necessary, but alternative plans
have been weak and unpromising - the
Democrats suggested raising payroll tax
rates, and even President Bush suggested
raising the limit on taxable income. Cur-
rently, Social Security taxes are not with-
held from any income earned after the
first $90000. Raising the limit could gen-
erate a hefty amount of revenue - but no
one mentions that, because of employer
matching requirements, it could also hurt
a lot of small businesses that employ a
handful of highly paid workers. It's not
just taxing the rich; it'd be taxing the not-
necessarily-so-rich business owners that
pay their wages.
I can get all wrapped up in the pros and
cons of privatization; I can even draw my
pretentious little graphs, filled with joy
that for once, I stand in the majority. And
then I turn on C-Span, and a caller rants
about how he worked so hard for 50-odd
years and now the government wants
to take that all away from him. Yes, sir.
You've got it. The crazy Republican con-
spiracy is after you, finding new ways to
screw every single American - espe-
cially you. They will come in the night
and rob you of all you've ever earned,
and then they will laugh and make some
ridiculous comment about how they've
saved the New Deal.
Maybe I'm overly naive, but I like to
think that the Republicans aren't trying to
ruin Social Security as a part of their plan
for ultimate world domination. It is, how-
ever, too bad that their ideas are wrong
and that most Americans have no idea
why. Will we become informed someday?
That same Harris Interactive poll did find
a slight increase in economic knowledge
since 1999, but we've got a long way to go.
Maybe we just need another Terri Schiavo
to alert people to the need for financial
awareness, just as she indirectly did for
living wills. It's a lot harder, though, to
find martyrs to highlight the real issues
behind the touted "ownership society"
than the "culture of life." Until then, I've
got my fingers crossed that congressmen
will listen to their constituents, but just not
pay attention too closely.
Beam is an LS junior and the Dailt's
associate editorialpage editor.
ample call to
a radio talk
ing the news that a
alleging U.S. sol-
diers had flushed a
Quran down a toi-
let had caused anti-
American riots in
the Middle East resulting in the deaths
of 15 people: Do those people at that
magazine have journalistt degrees?
Does reporter Michael Isikoff even have
a high school degree? Why didn't they'
know that the story would cause riots
and directly cause those people to die? I
mean, howstupid could they be?
Agree with him? Let's review.
Number of days a senior Defense
Department official possessed the entire
story, with the right to veto any disputed
fact or anything that could have put peo-
ple into danger: 11. Number of changes
he made to the story: 1 (it had nothing to
do with the Quran allegations; Newsweek
corrected the error).
Number of days the magazine was on
newsstands before it occurred to anyone
in the United States that the story could
have a violent impact once translated into
Any other questions?
Whv did Newsweek trust an anon -
ttous source who turned out to be spout-
ing false allegations?
The source - a high-ranking Penta-
gon official whose identity is still pro-
tected - had been reliable in the past.
Anonymous sources are an acceptable
t So wh are they acceptable?
One word: Watergate. An unnamed
source, famously known as Deep Throat,
helped Washington Post reporters Bob
Woodward and Carl Bernstein uncover
the scandal that prompted President Rich-
ard Nixon to resign. Anonymous sources
shed light on stories that would not have
been unearthed otherwise.
But isn't reporting on the story anti-
American - whether its true or not
- because it turnsforeigners against the
Some people think it is. Others remem-
ber the purpose of a free press, the back-
bone of any democratic society, which
acts as a watchdog, uncovers wrongs and
makes sure that they don't happen again
for the good of all mankind.
So Newsweek didn't make a mistake?
They did. A very regrettable mistake
that may have contributed to the deaths
of 15. But at least they admitted it, unlike
the government, which also erred by not
denying the rumors or predicting the sto-
ry's fall-out. Newsweek apologized and
retracted the story. The government some-
how managed to escape without a scratch.
A public backlash against Newsweek was
deserved, but Americans jumped all over
this scandal until it sounded like maga-
zine staffers were the ones who actually
did the killing.
The whole scandal is a perfect example
of America's distrustof thepress. Part of the
problem is the press, but most of the blame
rests with the public, which often regards
the saying "Don't believe everything you
read" with an unnatural seriousness. Not
everyone is Jayson Blair or Stephen Glass.
The vast majority of what you read in cred-
ible newspapers is factual and responsible.
One of the reasons journalists are gen-
erally distrusted is their rigid self-polic-
ing. You'd never see Microsoft making a
mistake and then publishing an 18,000-
word explanation explaining it, as stellar
papers like The New York Times are apt
to do. That's appropriate; name another
industry with journalism's strict code of
ethics. What isn't appropriate is when the
Times makes a mistake and the Portland
Oregonian spills gallons of ink complain-
ing about it. The press has harped on
Newsweek's gaffe to the point of obscur-
ing the real story behind this whole mess:
what really went on at Guantanamo Bay.
If the army of press focused its attention
on discovering the truth behind the inci-
dent instead of using millions of words
aimed at slyly implying that they're bet-
ter than Newsweek, this kind of thing
wouldn't happen as often.
The cruel irony here is that the minute
journalists start tearing down a competi-
tor's integrity, it takes all of journalism's
reputation down a notch. And the public
notices. Polls show Americans simply
don't trust journalism - mostly because
journalists are like umpires; you don't
notice them until they get a call wrong.
Undeserved criticism often lim-
its aggressive journalism by rendering
reporters scared to take risks critical to
obtaining important stories. Americans
have a choice - trust journalists more
or miss out on the watch-dog benefits the
fourth estate offers.
Stampfl is a Dailyfall/winter administra-
tion beat reporter. He can be reached at
Sometimes, it's not just a summer job
ALEXANDRA JONES N ij Ns E M
JOEL WIGTON s f
OIN THE DAILY'S EDITORIAL BOARD.
E-MAIL FRESA RD @MICHIGANDAILY.COM.
M y head
hands are chapped
at the tips, from
washing dishes and
wiping counters and
tables with bleach-
soaked rags. I've
been son my feet for seven hours straight,
eight if you count the half-hour I spent
walking from apartment to bus stop, wait-
ing for my ride, and trudging up a hill
and across a six-lane road to work - and
time spent standing around before the #2
Inbound comes round to pick me up. God
forbid the AATA install a few benches at
Five lanes of cars rush past me; the
sonic impact of each one zooming by
reminds me of how my daily hassle
(work) is bookended so appropriately
with two little mini-hassles: getting there
and getting home. I turn away from the
road to avoid the smell of exhaust. All
I can fathom doing when I get home is
crashing, in bed, on the couch, floor,
wherever, as long as I don't have to
stiand, walk, smile, transact, serve, clean.
Maybe I'll be able to muster up the intel-
lectual wherewithal i to do some knitting,
but sm pretty much used up for the rest
of the day. I've been working a lot more
sine sunner "beak' (yeah. whatever>
began. but I don tremember how I man-
aged to do homework, put in hours on
extracurriculars or relax at all after
working a full day.
That's how my summer has been so
far. says not sucked dry by my primary
job are spent behind the counter at a less
stressful gig at a locally owned shop-
Those that I have truly free are spent
reacquainting myself with my boyfriend,
who, after six days sans Alex, sometimes
forgets that he lives with another person.
My summer jobs have nothing to do with
any of the 10 or so vocations I'm consid-
ering. I'm not working to save tp cash
for a specific goal, like the cars I'm so
bitterly jealous over or a plane ticket to
Scotland to visit my best friend. I'm not
working to put myself through school.
(Paying out-of-state tuition on $6.50 an
Remember "Calvin & Hobbes," the
one newspaper comic strip in the last 20
years that didn't totally suck? A recur-
ring theme was Calvin's dad telling the
roguish Calvin to do unpleasant tasks,
like cleaning his room, under the pre-
text that suffering through the nastiness
would "build character." I think a lot of
people - parents, students, the patrons
of the various establishments at which
us po' students and other wage slaves are
employed - don't realize that most of us
aren't doing this for "life experience" -
that we're working to live. We calculate
our hours in our heads, curse federal and
state taxes for excising a sizeable chunk
of our barely-three-digit paychecks and
plan our finances around the nebulous
relationship between payday and the first
of the month. People don't realize that
the change they might absently drop into
my tip jar becomes my grocery money
- or that, when they pick the pennies out
of the handful of coins I just gave them
as though they're removing a reviled top-
ping from a slice of pizza, it's like they're
saying, "Eh, this is such a small amount
of money that it's not worth keeping.
However, I'm sure the chick behind the
counter can really put this 0.0004-per-
cent tip to good use."
OK, I'm a little touchy about my need
to scrimp - but you can bet I still find
space in my very limited budget to add a
good half dollar at least to the tip jar at my
local coffee joint. I tip servers at sit-down
restaurants at least 20 percent. If I've
got the change, I'll empty my pockets to
those I meet on the street who look like
they could use it more than I can. And
- just to prove to you that I'm not just
begging for more cash - if I don't have
extra money or change, I'll at least smile,
look my server in the eye while I order,
thank them profusely when it's done, and
give them a little extra the next time I'm
there. You'd want the same thing if you
were on my side of the counter.
.Jones is a Dailyfall/sinter associate
arts editor. She can he reached at
alnajo u msich.edu.