It depends on what the definition of 'we' is


In 1973, a Swedish shrink came up with a name for it, but editors have known about the phenomenon for centuries.

After robbers held employees hostage for six days in a Stockholm bank, it was discovered that many of the captives developed a bond with their captors. They refused to testify against them and raised money for their defense.

Stockholm syndrome gained international press a year later when newspaper heiress Patty Hearst was kidnapped by Cinque and his Symbionese Liberation Army, only to be seen later on bank security cameras holding a machine gun during a robbery.

So it was hardly a surprise when Harvard's Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy released the results a study of press coverage of the 2008 presidential campaign thus far. It found 63 percent of the news stories about the campaign focused on political and tactical aspects of the campaign. The candidates' ideas and policy proposals -- the very thing the voters might need to select a candidate closest to their views -- were mentioned in a mere 15 percent of the stories.

You see, political reporters hang out with politicians and their handlers, who spend all their time concentrating on tactics and not on the ideas and policies that concern voters.

It is a fundamental aspect of human nature that must be confronted constantly by editors and reporters. Just as objectivity is foreign to the human genome, it is ingrained in people to assume the traits of those with whom they daily associate.

There's not an editor worth his salt who's not had to remind some beat reporter, columnist, editorial writer or copy editor where his allegiances must always lie. He is not writing for the police officer who described the scene of the crime. He is not writing for the principal he interviewed about problems with the school bus scheduling. He is not writing for the city council member, the trustee, the commissioner, the legislator, the governor or even the president.

When he thinks "we," it should not be him and those he covers. When he thinks "we," it should be him and our readers. It is a never-ending struggle.

Due to this symbiotic and somewhat incestuous nature of the news reporting business, too often the focus on what is being reported and for whom is subverted.

Take for instance some of the reporting and commentary by certain media around the state on the dip in tax revenue for state and local government coffers due to an economic slowdown.

In chorus with the whining of the poor, poor, put-upon bureaucrats who simply can't make ends meet with less money came a lengthy editorial this past Monday on KVBC-TV, Channel 3, saying we must adequately fund our vital government services. This is the television station owned by state university system Chancellor Jim Rogers, who has defied Gov. Jim Gibbons' call to prepare plans for trimming spending because tax revenues aren't meeting projections.

Then there was the eminently predictable headline on a Las Vegas Sun editorial: "Cutting to the bone," which boldly proclaimed, "The fact is, Nevada's businesses are hardly hurting, and they could certainly pay modestly higher taxes that would preclude the need for budget cuts."

They've been hanging around with bureaucrats so long that they feel their pain, but not yours.

The "fact is" our taxes are tied inextricably to the health of the state's economy. When sales were booming, the sales taxes were pouring in at rates topping double-digit increases year over year. Likewise the gaming taxes.

But now that businesses aren't selling as much and gamblers aren't losing as much, employers and employees aren't taking home as much money. Many who depend on new home construction -- carpenters, roofers, painters, real estate agents, landscapers, appliance sellers -- are out of work or having to live with less income.

In fact, despite the modest downturn in property values, property taxes will keep going up for years to come -- 3 percent a year for residential property and 8 percent a year for businesses -- because of the cap imposed by the Legislature.

But heaven forbid that "public servants" ever have to tighten their belts so long as taxpayers can be socked for an ever greater portion of our income. After all, it is all "their" money for the taking, we should be grateful they let "us" keep some of it.

Thomas Mitchell is editor of the Review-Journal and writes about the role of a free press and access to public information. He may be contacted at 383-0261 or via e-mail at tmitchell@reviewjournal.com.

 

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