Anatomy of a bad editorial.

The St. Petersburg Times today chose to opine on a litany of grievances with Here is the St. Petersburg Times lambasting Governor Rick Scott’s (and the FL legislature’s) budget. Each list item summarizes the apparent job-killing cut, ending with an estimation of the number of total jobs lost.

I am not familiar with Florida’s budget. Nor am I feeling particularly educated by the St. Pete Times’ editorial. And that’s unfortunate. Clearly Florida must either raise revenue or slash spending. I can infer that the editorial board of the St. Pete Times would have preferred higher state taxes to offset some of the spending reductions — but why should I have to ponder?

A good editorial addresses the problem, and provides an alternative solution if it objects to one that has already been made. If it’s preempting an event, it should provide guidance on the way forward. Merely outlining ways in which the state slashed jobs isn’t going to cut it. But maybe the St. Pete Times doesn’t want to come out in favor of higher taxes on its editorial page.

I’m also confused about the editorial’s math. List item one is “state workers,” but then separate list items include public schools and universities (also public schools, but we get what they mean). Are we double counting?

Let’s dissect this, too:

Scott says he’s only interested in private sector jobs. State employees buy houses, cars and appliances, too — even if they have not had raises in five years.

Did he say that? Thats a bold political statement — certainly one worth quoting directly. If he didn’t say some variation of this, then don’t say he says it. Come on.

And nevermind that state government can only eliminate government positions. Even if Rick Scott hated the private sector, he couldn’t directly cut its employment. Now, he could have supported tax increases…that would certainly have a bearing — albeit indirect — on private employment.

Presumably, any meaningful spending reduction results in some reduction in the number of employees. But maybe this reduction is too much. Relative values are needed for perspective. What does cutting 4,500 workers actually mean? How much is that relative to total employment? How much is that relative to alternative budget scenarios that the paper might have favored?

I’m bemoaning this because it is a glaringly bad example of an editorial. Too bad RealClearPolitics featured it today — it got infinitely more play than it should have. But the broader issue is that newspapers are supposed to be the ones countering political rhetoric that is high on critique and low on substance and solution. Being a contrarian mouthpiece means that this venerable paper is adding decibels to the echo chamber rather than filtering the din. And too many papers take this route.


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