The Breakfast Table

Let Down by the Media

Dear George,

Breakfast is late this morning. I put my 6-year-old on the school bus at 7 a.m., and the coffee seems to have taken too long to kick in. Maybe its because I actually drink tea!

I share your balanced view of crime control and inner-city policing. Your more general point about the complexity of most public-policy issues is, of course, right on the mark. Yet, it doesn’t matter whether the topic is public education, health care, or free speech, politicians routinely look for the position that plays best in the media. Of course, the mainstream media don’t do very much to raise the level of public discourse. New York’s three major daily newspapers were remarkably consistent in their choice of lead stories today. The New York Post: “Museum To Sue City Over Art Flap: No Dung Deal”; the New York Daily News: “Defiant Museum Tells Rudy the Show Goes On”; and the New York Times, “Brooklyn Museum Sues To Keep Mayor From Freezing Funds.” Oh yes, Warren Beatty also gets front-page New York Times coverage for his possible presidential bid. I know that the public likes to be entertained, but would this museum story actually be playing for an entire week if it didn’t have a salacious element to it and the mayor wasn’t using it to score points with conservative voters? The issue of public funding for the arts is actually quite important, and yet there is nothing in the discussion that would help a thinking person come to some position on this public policy issue.

Warren Beatty is another matter. I think he and Donald Trump have got more press on their “presidential aspirations” than Elizabeth Dole or John McCain! Today, Bradley actually released his proposal for a health plan for the uninsured. This is very important for urban areas, especially New York, where so many working men and women are uninsured. To its credit, the Times and Post covered the story, but it is nowhere to be found in the News. Yet, even the most intent reader would find it difficult to evaluate the plan from the coverage in the Post, but at least it was there. McCain’s school-voucher program, another important issue for urban America, was covered only in the Times.

By the time you get my thoughts you will probably be completely exhausted from driving and teaching. Can’t the policy discussion in the media do better than today’s New York papers? Hope your day went well.

Warmest regards,