Classic tactics from Washington: Find a popular program and threaten to kill it if Congress doesn’t fork over some dough. As the Washington Post reports:
Federal officials are warning Congress that funding cuts and program delays will create a gap in weather satellite coverage starting in about 2016. That’s when a key polar-orbiting satellite is expected to exceed its design lifetime, with no ready replacement.
This is the oldest trick in the bureaucratic book. Threaten that any budget trimming will lead to highly popular, high-profile programs being cut to the bone. One reason this hackneyed and ancient bureaucratic defense mechanism remains popular: journalsts can be reliably trusted to fall for it.
“Cuts lead to modest savings in obscure programs which may marginally reduce services and inconvenience some,” is not nearly as good a story as “Orphans to starve thanks to austerity cuts.”
It’s not only a better story, taking the bureaucrats’ press release and running with it saves time. Journalists are overworked; if a perfectly usable story walks in the front door, they have little incentive to dig deep. And often enough, journalists have relationships with the bureaucrats whose interests are threatened by cuts; helping a source push a story the source likes is part of the backscratching that journalists need.
It’s worth noting this now because the next few years will see a lot of budget cuts. The public needs to develop an appropriately cynical attitude to the inevitable tearjerker stories. And journalists need to feel some pushback if they don’t do their jobs. It’s important for the public to understand what budget cuts will really do to various agencies and programs; journalists need to develop the analytical skills that will enable them to get behind the propaganda and tell us what the cuts really mean.
Older readers will remember when the National Lampoon sold magazines this way:
That is no way to run a government.