Bryan Caplan  

What I Learned About Journalists This Summer

Journalists and Five-year Olds... Gavin Kennedy, Adam Smith, and...

Arnold's very down on journalists:

When you get an answer that works with five-year-olds, you can move on to try and explain it to journalists. For journalists, the market only exists to cause problems (it's like Matt Ridley's complaint that the press makes it sound as if your genes are there to cause disease.) What solves problems, in this view, is the wisdom and good will of leaders.
He's not alone - how often have I heard economists say "Journalists!" and roll their eyes?

After a whole summer of experience with the media, however, I come to wonder what all the fuss is about. I'm impressed by how reasonable, fair, and honorable the journalists I've dealt with have been. Even though I've written a controversial book, journalists have, by and large, been not only pleasant, but attentive.

The average journalist I talked to would make a very good economics student. In fact, if they gave me a semester of their time, I think I could make most of the journalists I've talked to models of economic literacy.

Yes, there have been a few missed appointments, and last-minute cancellations, but a lot fewer than I would have expected. And while some were quite critical, hostility and "ambush tactics" were virtually non-existent.

Now you may protest: Selection bias! You wouldn't be entirely wrong. There's a right-wing slant in my list of appearances. But there was still a good mix, and I can't say that the mainstream liberal media treated me badly.

So what's the deal? My best guess is that media hostility is a two-way street. If you have a big chip on your shoulder, the media pick up on it and respond in kind. But if you defend controversial, politically incorrect ideas with a smile, most journalists will return the favor.

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COMMENTS (10 to date)
Thomas writes:

A smile is nice. But more important is what a journalist writes. I would want more than a prospectively good student. I would want someone who actually grasps economics and writes accordingly.

FC writes:

From your list, the "average journalist [you] talked to" is probably in the ninth decile. Talk to the truly average journalist, the kind who work for community papers and small TV stations. You'll be glad they aren't your students.

Josh writes:

I think the problem with the media is not that they don't understand economics, it's that economics does not make for good stories. The free market is all about the fact that we don't need strong leaders and huge government programs to solve our problems. A headline that reads "Today the government did nothing again because the free market will lead to better outcomes" isn't going to sell many papers. People want to read stories that begin "Government introduces sweeping new program to solve all your recent problems".

But Bryan's book was so controversial that it makes it a good story. That's why he's gotten so much love.

David Thomson writes:

Bryan Caplan has got to stop lying to himself. He is something of a left-wing whack job. Caplan’s foreign policy positions are similar to those of Noam Chomsky. He is also contemptuous of Christians and is most assuredly pro-abortion. Those are the primary positions leftist journalists care about. Everything else is of secondary importance. Thus, when Professor Caplan meets with these folks---they think he is a cool dude. This is especially true when it comes to the abortion and gay marriage, the secular sacraments of today's postmodernist culture.

jurisnaturalist writes:

Bryan, I think the journalists may have been sympathetic to your ideas, as expressed above, minus the leftist rhetoric. But I think they also see people as sheep to be manipulated and told what to do.
Also, I think they think you are less relevant than you are, so they consider you less of a threat. Thus they just smile and nod and act politely.

Brad Hutchings writes:

Precisely because you have written a controversial book, journalists have, by and large, been not only pleasant, but attentive. Calling out democracy is the intellectual equivalent of wrecking a train on purpose. You're absolutely right though... If you play along with their game and really stir the emotions of the audience, they'll treat you great. It's in Ann Coulter 101.

Tracy W writes:

I have never had anything much to do with journalists in person, but every time I've known what is actually happening in a story that is in the newspapers, I know that the journalists have stuffed the facts up. Even in a one paragraph report on the time my Dad fell off a bridge, they got the name of the park wrong.

TGGP writes:

David Thomson, I can't remember Caplan ever writing about abortion or gay marriage. He has talked about the movie "They Live" being a reductio ad absurdum on Noam Chomsky. Why don't you google chomsky and "democracy now" to see what he thinks of the system compared to Caplan. You are a fool.

8 writes:

All you need to know about journalists:

Connie Chung to Newt Gingrich's mother, "Why don't you just whisper it to me, just between you and me?"

Most journalists will give you a fair hearing, but they're always looking for something to hang you on. It's when you feel comfortable that you say something you believe is off the record.

Gary Rogers writes:

On a personal level, there is no big deal. Journalists are professionals, somewhat educated and people just like the rest of us. I could easily see getting along with them in a social setting. The trouble is that their motivation to present the sensational conflicts with my motivation to learn the truth.

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