This Is Why the TD Fails
Sunday, July 02, 2006 :::
Last weekend, the Times-Dispatch ran a hopelessly shallow front page piece on pork in the Virginia budget. I wondered how such puffery could find its way into the pages of the region's only daily. Today, I have an answer, and it comes from the paper's political editor, Gordon Hickey.
It's one of those rare pieces where an editor says, essentially, that the paper's readers are either too lazy, too stupid, or both, to grasp the issues he and his staff place before them. Regarding the paper's coverage of the recent budget tussle, Hickey writes:
During the long budget impasse, we also frequently published a box showing how much extra money we taxpayers were spending on our elected officials. That's where the $219,000 figure comes from.
We thought people ought to know, and we thought they'd be bothered by it.
If they were, they didn't tell us.
What's that all about?
Could it be that people have become so inured to huge numbers that just plain old large numbers don't faze them? After all, the government wasted more than $1.5 billion after Hurricane Katrina. The amount of money that has disappeared in Iraq is astronomical, and since the actual amounts are a secret, we may never know the billions spent there.
Conflating Virginia's spending with that of the federal government is a neat trick, but dead wrong. And there were more than a few of us who noticed Hickey's precious bug on the cost of the special session. It quietly disappeared very early on. Was it because of a lack of outraged letters to the editor? Was it because the sums were, as Hickey says, too small to notice? Or was it because some believed it was a small price to pay in the fight over a mammoth tax hike? We shall never know.
Which brings us back to the softball coverage of the pork tucked away in the budget. I've written about the dubious legality of these funds more times than I care to remember. The TD considered -- briefly -- the same angle in their own story, but chose to ignore it. The answer as to why now seems clear:
Here's a little perspective. Our lawmakers voted to give $50,000 to the Valentine Richmond History Center, $12,500 to the Autism Center of Virginia, $30,000 to the Barksdale Theater, $25,000 to Northstar Academy, $50,000 to the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia, $25,000 to the Visual Arts Center of Richmond, and $12,500 to the Alliance to Conserve Old Richmond Neighborhoods.
If the elected officials hadn't p-p-p-poured away $219,000, all of those worthy organizations could have received twice as much.
In other words, Hickey & Co. were eager to shame the legislature for taking per diem payments during the budget showdown because it showed how irresponsible and sluggardly the worthies really are. Nevermind that the payments were perfectly permissible and legal (if regrettable).
But when it comes time to legislative largesse that may be illegal, or at least very close to it, the TD turns a blind eye. Unless those per diems cut into the amount of impermissible pork. Then...well...that's just another outrage.
Circular logic at its best.
::: posted by Norman Leahy at 7/02/2006