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       This is a relatively minor irritation, but a recurring one. You get handed a set of facts in a news story, but with no context to put them in perspective. I'm moved to write by an example in the New York Times regarding Sam Brownback, governor of Kansas, now facing an insurgency in the midst of a reelection campaign. It's a clear example of what I'm talking about.

More below the Orange Omnilepticon.

      Brownback is a conservative Republican governor in a Red State; he's been hewing to the ALEC/Tea Party holy gospel of smaller government and big tax cuts. (He's also a bit of a paranoid A-hole "who sucks".)

     Well, after one term of Brownback and his policies at the helm, the Kansas ship of state is sinking so badly a number of Republicans have actually come out and endorsed his Democratic challenger. The New York Times published a quick report July 15, 2014: Democrat is Governor Pick of GOP Group in Kansas.

In a stark challenge to the re-election prospects of Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas, more than 100 Republican politicians and former elected officials on Tuesday endorsed Paul Davis, his Democratic challenger.

Governor Brownback, who swept into office with more than 60 percent of the vote in 2010, faces an unexpectedly tough re-election this fall after spending much of his term pushing sharply conservative policies that have unsettled some members of his own party. Mr. Davis, a state legislator, has criticized Governor Brownback for his support of the largest income tax cuts in state history, cuts that sent revenues plummeting.

     The report by Julie Bosman cites the drastic effect on state revenues from the tax cuts, the downgrading of the state's credit rating, and how the state's economy is struggling, but then closes with three paragraphs giving the response from Brownback's side including this:
John Milburn, a spokesman for the governor, said in a statement that under Mr. Brownback’s leadership, “Kansas has created 53,400 new private-sector jobs, Kansas kids have 676 more certified teachers in the classroom, and recently provided $84 million in property tax relief for hard-working families.”
     And that's the problem. What do those numbers mean? Let's just look at the job creation numbers. If 53,400 people showed up for a party, that would be a huge number - but what does that mean in a state the size of Kansas and its job market? Paul Krugman had already written on Brownback and Charlatans, Cranks, and Kansas a few days ago, to devastating effect, and one of the links he gave provides that missing context. Here's what the Kansas City Star had to say:
The Star compared the Kansas employment statistics with those of six neighboring states as well as the U.S. average. We used the Bureau of Labor Statistics nonfarm employment data, which cover the large majority of jobs in America.

One key takeaway is to look at the percentage of job growth from January 2011 through March 2014:

• Colorado up 8.2 percent (183,000 more jobs)
• Oklahoma up 5.6 percent (88,000 jobs)
• U.S. average up 5.5 percent.
• Iowa up 4.2 percent (62,000 jobs)
• Nebraska up 4.0 percent (38,000 jobs)
• Missouri up 3.7 percent (97,000 jobs)
• Kansas up 3.4 percent (46,000 jobs)
• Arkansas up 2.2 percent (25,000 jobs)

     From this context, it's plain to see Kansas is not seeing a huge rise in employment compared to its neighbors, and as the Star goes on to note:
Brownback in July of 2012 had predicted, “Our new pro-growth tax policy will be like a shot of adrenaline into the heart of the Kansas economy.”

However, the promised rapid addition of jobs has not occurred. Using federal data, here are the job growth rates from January 2013 through March 2014:

• Colorado up 3.2 percent
• U.S. average up 2.0 percent
• Missouri up 1.7 percent
• Oklahoma up 1.7 percent
• Kansas up 1.4 percent
• Iowa up 1.4 percent
• Arkansas up 1.1 percent
• Nebraska up 1.1 percent

Kansas still isn’t on par with the national average or with Missouri, where legislators just last week passed their own tax-cut bill, partly to “keep up” with Kansas.

      This information would have changed the whole import of Bosman's article. It's a shame some copy editor let it slide through without it. The Times editorial board did a bit better job with Kansas’ Ruinous Tax Cuts July 13, 2014 two days before Bosman's piece.
“Our new pro-growth tax policy will be like a shot of adrenaline into the heart of the Kansas economy,” he wrote in 2012. “It will pave the way to the creation of tens of thousands of new jobs, bring tens of thousands of people to Kansas, and help make our state the best place in America to start and grow a small business.”

But the growth didn’t show up. Kansas, in fact, was one of only five states to lose employment over the last six months, while the rest of the country was improving. It has been below the national average in job gains for the three and half years Mr. Brownback has been in office. Average earnings in the state are down since 2012, and so is net growth in the number of registered businesses.

With less money to spend, Kansas is forced to chop away at its only hope for real economic expansion: investment in public schools and colleges. While most states began restoring education funding after the recession, Kansas has cut K-12 spending by 2 percent over the last two school years, and higher education by 3 percent since 2012.

        The Times followup by David Firestone on July 16, 2014 The Moderate Revolution in Kansas fills in the political aspects to a greater degree.
But the group’s bill of particulars against Mr. Brownback (pdf) — a mini-Declaration of Independence for moderates — goes far beyond what it calls a “reckless tax experiment” that actually raised middle-class taxes and pushing the state’s economy below all of its neighbors. It points out that the governor’s refusal to expand Medicaid had hurt Kansas hospitals and driven people out of rural counties. It accuses him of trying to end the state’s merit selection process for judges so that he could install his own appointees.

And most powerfully, it says he damaged the Republican party by purging those who disagreed with him — exactly the method favored by Tea Party leaders across the country.

       The only question I have from this follow up is, are there really moderate Republicans staging a revolution, or just a bunch who've finally realized they're taking a hit in their own wallets? It would be nice if the Times could provide some further context by looking at other governors who've emulated Brownback, and how well it has worked out for (cough, cough) them…

        Of course, the New York Times still has a long way to go to catch up with Charles P. Pierce.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (8+ / 0-)

    Context can be so important. I'm reminded of a guy who said "Everything's going fine so far."

    And it was.

    Of course, that's what he said while passing the 2nd floor after jumping off the top of a 20 story building...

    "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

    by xaxnar on Wed Jul 16, 2014 at 05:40:21 PM PDT

  •  The only real surprise is the number of (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    unfangus

    Republicans who've had enough of Brownback.

    In my state, Oregon, Republican extremism has poisoned the brand--perhaps beyond repair. The dead-enders slog along, but the party hasn't won a statewide election in a long time.

    The big payoff promised in order to sell tax cuts either never appear at all or are severely shrunk.

    Is the situation in Kansas so dire that the R's can't pretend the problems don't exist? Otherwise, I'd expect them to urge patience.

    To your main point, though, I think one person's "context" is often another person's "bias."

    If we can just get accurate reporting, isn't context our job? Some sources can help a lot by suggesting connections, but active consumers of information enjoy "decoding" it ourselves; the other people are busy watching Wheel of Fortune.

    If your strategy depends on having fewer people show up to vote, that is not a sign of strength. That is a sign of weakness. President Obama

    by Had Enough Right Wing BS on Wed Jul 16, 2014 at 06:20:20 PM PDT

    •  Sins of omission versus commission (4+ / 0-)

      Not telling the full story can be as bad as spreading disinformation. After all the months of news about what a disaster Obamacare's rollout was, where are the success stories? (Well, except for this guy, of course.)

      Once upon a time, the expectation was that journalists would try to tell the complete story - not just the facts but enough context to understand those facts. One reason for the decline of traditional media is that they seem to have forgotten how to do that.

      And in this case it wasn't that hard - the work had already been done at the Times. No one thought to check?

      "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

      by xaxnar on Wed Jul 16, 2014 at 06:41:56 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I agree. The more complicated a story (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        xaxnar

        is the more helpful context can be.

        Unless I'm reading a very detailed account, I don't expect "the full story," though.

        The fact is the traditional media now sells...consumers. Advertisers are renting the space our eyes are pointed at. To gain the largest number of readers/viewers media lambastes us with conflict, sex, or whatever will cause us to pay attention until the next ad.

        Not only has the "news hole" been inverted, the presentation has been re-proportioned. Where media before might tease with a headline or a blurb before a commercial with a majority of their time being more serious, now we get more filler.

        I may have "come of age" after the media stopped supplying context, but I've been reading newspapers since the mid sixties. Sometimes they do, usually they don't. Maybe that's part of the reason they're becoming less relevant?

        If your strategy depends on having fewer people show up to vote, that is not a sign of strength. That is a sign of weakness. President Obama

        by Had Enough Right Wing BS on Wed Jul 16, 2014 at 07:07:43 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Context has a well known liberal bias. nt (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    xaxnar, cjtjc
  •  NYT = Neocon and Neoliberal Paper of Record. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    unfangus

    They let some good work through but there's just no incentive for any commercial media to give an accurate, pertinent picture.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Wed Jul 16, 2014 at 06:56:20 PM PDT

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