Thomas Friedman at the NYT has a column up that helps us understand why our democratic dialogue is in so much trouble:
In case you missed it, a story circulated around the Web on the eve of President Obama’s trip that it would cost U.S. taxpayers $200 million a day — about $2 billion for the entire trip. Cooper said he felt impelled to check it out because the evening before he had had Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, a Republican and Tea Party favorite, on his show and had asked her where exactly Republicans will cut the budget.
Instead of giving specifics, Bachmann used her airtime to inject a phony story into the mainstream. She answered: “I think we know that just within a day or so the president of the United States will be taking a trip over to India that is expected to cost the taxpayers $200 million a day. He’s taking 2,000 people with him. He’ll be renting over 870 rooms in India, and these are five-star hotel rooms at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. This is the kind of over-the-top spending.”
When Anderson followed up, he found that the expense associated with the trip is way, way less–likely to be around $5 million a day. Then Cooper established how quickly the bogus statistic of $200 million a day tumbled through the blather-rama media:
Cooper then showed the following snippets: Rush Limbaugh talking about Obama’s trip: “In two days from now, he’ll be in India at $200 million a day.” Then Glenn Beck, on his radio show, saying: “Have you ever seen the president, ever seen the president go over for a vacation where you needed 34 warships, $2 billion — $2 billion, 34 warships. We are sending — he’s traveling with 3,000 people.” In Beck’s rendition, the president’s official state visit to India became “a vacation” accompanied by one-tenth of the U.S. Navy. Ditto the conservative radio talk-show host Michael Savage. He said, “$200 million? $200 million each day on security and other aspects of this incredible royalist visit; 3,000 people, including Secret Service agents.”
The problem here is that nobody other than Cooper is getting off their dead asses to do journalism. There is too much money and attention in color commentary. This isn’t about liberal or conservative bias; this is about checking your numbers and being honest enough to reveal your sources and validate your claims. Isn’t this why God made interns?
There is a policy question here: I don’t know how I feel even about $5 million/day trips. In the case of India, the US does a LOT of trade with India, and it’s the world’s largest democracy. It might even be worth a much greater figure. And do I want my president at the G20? You betcha. I might even be willing to pay $200 million for the trip. Maybe. But we’ll never have that discussion in a world where, apparently, people have decided they have a right to their own “facts.”