David R. Henderson  

My Run-in With the Washington Post

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I didn't put "media bias" in the title because this isn't exactly a case of media bias: it's more a case of media bullying. I was the health economist with Martin Feldstein's Council of Economic Advisers from September 1982 to July 1984. The first day of his time there, the day after Labor Day in September 1982, Marty held a meeting of the whole staff, professional and support. One of the things he emphasized was that we should never talk to the press. If someone from the press called, we were to refer that person to his office.

In late October, I received a call from Spencer Rich, who was covering health policy issues for the Washington Post. He had heard, correctly, about some secret meetings I was involved in with people from Health and Human Services, OMB, the Treasury, and a few other agencies (I've forgotten which) about how to rein in the growth of Medicare and Medicaid spending. Was I attending these meetings, he asked.

DRH: My boss, Martin Feldstein, has made it clear that I'm not to talk to the press. If you want to talk to him, I'll give you his number.

Rich: Will you ever be willing to talk to me?

DRH: Yes.

Rich: When?

DRH: After I've left this job.

Rich: Well, I'll see if I can help make that happen.

DRH: 'Scuse me?

Rich: Maybe if you don't talk to me, I can help you lose your job.

DRH: Good-bye.


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COMMENTS (9 to date)
Tracy W writes:

Judging by the dates, he wasn't successful?

More generally, strewth. What a gall!

JH writes:

Sounds more like a run-in with Spencer Rich than with the Washington Post.

J. Daniel Wright writes:

More anecdotes, please.

RWK writes:

Every outlet is biased, and I agree that on balance US newspapers tend to be left leaning.

Yesterday and today's anecdotes don't really strengthen the case that there is a systematic liberal bias, but they are amusing stories.

John Jenkins writes:

I like how one can clearly set out that the story you are about to relate isn't about media bias and people will still think that's what you're talking about and criticize you because the story doesn't go toward proving media bias.

It's like people have their own internal narrative and are more wed to that than to actually reading what is written.

kurt writes:

@RWK
They're statist, which does not automatically imply left-leaning. It's not like the fourth branch of government disappeared during the Bush years...

guthrie writes:

Wow... I imagine not based on your reaction, but my first thought was 'was he joking?'

John Goodman writes:

I too interacted with Spencer Rich years ago. None of this surprises me. BTW, on health care and entitlement issues, Rich WAS the Washington Post.

David R. Henderson writes:

@John Jenkins and John Goodman,
Thanks.
@guthrie,
Clearly he was joking. I didn't tremble at what he could do to me. But it was a bullying joke in bad taste.
@J. Daniel Wright,
More anecdotes to follow. One is a contrast between how Spencer Rich reported on a policy issue and how Robert Pear of the NYT reported on the same issue. That contrast heightened my respect for Pear.

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