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How to Read the News: Look for the Bigger Picture

This will be the first of many blog posts where I’ll give you a quick look into how I read (watch and listen too) the news.  A big hat tip right off the bat to Dean Baker whose Beat the Press has been a major inspiration to write.  Dean’s relentless pursuit of accuracy and honesty in reporting has truly re-shaped the way I interact with the information that shapes my understanding of the world around me.

Simply put, news and information is constantly being shaped and all too frequently it is being shaped based on premises and assumptions that should be questioned.  Here’s an example from an article in today’s Columbus Dispatch on increasing teacher retirements:

Teachers can now retire at any age and get full benefits if they have worked for 30 years. But starting in 2015, the age and years-of-service requirements would gradually rise. By mid-2026, teachers couldn’t retire with full benefits until they are 60 years old and have worked 35 years… By working more years, educators can fund their benefits longer and improve the condition of the pension system, said Nick Treneff, spokesman for the State Teachers Retirement System.

What’s notable in this story is not what is said, it’s what’s not.  We’re often led to believe that we have no choice and that there is no substantive context for the reductions in public services, programs, investments, and benefits.  Even people who know exactly how hard teachers work – my wife is one, I can attest – are often promulgating the idea that retirement benefits must be curtailed to keep the budget in line.  The same argument is often made about “entitlements” at the national level like Social Security.

But there are plenty of options that could be chosen besides making teachers work more or have less benefits – we could cut tax breaks for the wealthy, increase taxes on big profitable corporations, and so on.  We’ve seen billions of dollars in cuts in the past year, and there are so many effects – but you have to learn to read between the lines.

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