A couple months ago I linked to some excellent media criticism by NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen.
The "Sphere of Legitimate Controversy" defines the scope of "acceptable" debate. . . At the heart of what's "acceptable" is the "Sphere of Consensus" -- the stuff that's deemed self-evidently true and is never questioned. . . Outside the Sphere of Legitimate Controversy is the "Sphere of Deviance" -- the crackpot notions that serious, sensible, sober-minded people don't take seriously. Opinions that fall into this zone don't get bad coverage, they get no coverage.
With this in mind, WaPo reported today that economists are increasingly coming around to the opinion that the recently-passed stimulus bill is probably too small. As Paul Krugman notes, the media consigned this possibility to the Sphere of Deviance during the debate on the stimulus bill:
One major sin of news coverage, especially on TV, is the way certain points of view just get excluded from consideration — even if many of the best-informed people hold those views. Most famously and disastrously, the case against invading Iraq was just not heard in the months before the war.
And still it happens. According to the invaluable Media Matters, the idea that the Obama stimulus plan might be too small — a view held by many well-known economists — basically went unreported on broadcast news during the stimulus debate. Out of 59 broadcasts addressing the plan, only 3 mentioned concerns that the plan was inadequate. And it’s actually even worse than that: one of those three involved Harry Reid talking about longer-term goals on health and education — and one of the other two was me.
Meanwhile, it’s rapidly becoming clear that yes, the plan was too small.
Notwithstanding WaPo's suggestion that economists are only now coming around to this view, lots of economists (including Krugman) said the stimulus bill was too small while it was being debated. This was so obvious that even I could see it:
People who are shocked by the size of the stimulus ought instead to be shocked by the magnitude of the problem it’s intended to address. There’s an excellent argument that the stimulus ought to be twice as large as the one being contemplated.
Unfortunately, this got no publicity at all, and coverage was instead dominated by Republican claims that the stimulus was much too large. In this media environment, centristy centrists won undeserved media acclaim for making the stimulus smaller and less effective in exchange for the three Republican votes that were necessary to secure its passage. Today's WaPo report suggests that the establishment media may be incorporating more economic reality into what it considers the Sphere of Legitimate Controversy. Perhaps this will affect coverage of the insane spending freeze House Republicans are pushing.