Read The New York Times, The Washington Post, or the domestic cable news websites, and you'd think the American economy was combusting before our eyes. Foreign newspapers, however, are much more sanguine on their English-language sites. Should we be reading international business news sites instead of our own?
Consider coverage of Obama's stimulus package, passed yesterday in the House of Representatives. The Post featured an article on its homepage with the dubiously punny headline, "Between Barack and a Hard Vote." The piece described the conflicting interests of the GOP. Vote for the plan, and seem like a sell-out; vote against it, and risk condemning a bill that could create three million jobs.
"With an $825 billion economic stimulus bill up for a vote in the House today, those two competing notions are headed for a head-on collision. How can Republicans avoid getting squeezed?"
Head-on collision? Is that what we're calling the first of two standard congressional votes?
The Times covered the Obama stimulus plan with the headline, "Obama Says 'Not a Moment to Spare' on Stimulus Plan." The article is by turns informative and panicked: "The numbers in the president’s program, while astronomical, seemed to defy precision," it says of the plan's budget. In confronting this challenge, it continued glibly, Obama "could set the momentum for his first year in office and, perhaps, help determine his place in history."
The Times of India took an entirely different tack, eschewing the political melodrama and focusing on the U.S. markets' reaction to the impending vote. "Wall Street Trades Higher on Stimulus Vote," its headline read.
"The U.S. stocks continued to climb for the second straight trading session, bolstered by hopes of the new regime coming with a mammoth more than 800-billion-dollar stimulus plan," the article read, citing "positive investor sentiment" as a reflection of the bill's potential. U.S. bank stocks like Citi [C], JPMorganChase [JPM] and Bank of America [BAC] rose nearly between 10% and 20% each, it noted. Investor confidence may only be a mirror for the economy, but it's closely tied to consumer confidence, and ours is a consumer-driven economy. So why don't the U.S. papers have this stuff up front?
Al Jazeera English ran an encouraging article entitled, "Obama Confident on Stimulus Vote." The BBC also led with a headline about Obama's "confidence." Both articles make specific mention of compromises suggested by Republicans that were later written into the bill, and discussed how accountability will be structured in the new plan.
The Fox News website, by contrast, made the bill's passage sound like the work of braggarts: "House Speaker Pelosi and Democrats kick off victory celebration before $816 billion economic stimulus package even passes," read the sub-headline for an article with the conspiratorial title, "The Fix Is In."
The blogosphere, Web news' demented step-child, tooke the panic even further. The New Yorker explored the "doomer" subculture in its last issue in an article entitled, "The Dystopians," in which it described a litany of wonkish characters—one who lives on a fully-stocked houseboat, at the ready for the fall of civilization—that have embraced the inevitability of the dissolution of our economy, government, monetary system and social order (and write about it online). Blogs like "Gloom and Doom Report" read with surprising cogency, even if they're written in all capital letters.
If for no other reason than to preserve our sanity, perhaps we should stick with the eminently-moderate Marginal Revolution. On that same blog, economist Tyler Cowen presented href="http://www.marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2009/01/why-progressives-should-be-skeptical-about-the-fiscal-stimulus.html">his argument for how American of all persuasions—even progressives—could worry less about the stimulus plan.