Every Reporter Writing About Paid Leave Needs to Ask Themselves These Questions

We're not impressed with you right now, Dana Bash.

We’re not impressed with you right now, Dana Bash.

Over at Salon, Donald Cohen and Peter Dreier address a very problematic question from Dana Bash in this week’s Democratic presidential debate. Bash asked the candidates:

Carly Fiorina, the first female CEO of a Fortune 50 company, argues, if the government requires paid leave, it will force small businesses to, quote, ‘hire fewer people and create fewer jobs.’ What do you say not only to Carly Fiorina, but also a small-business owner out there who says, you know, I like this idea, but I just can’t afford it?

Cohen and Dreier rightfully take Bash to task for shilling for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and they present several more acceptable ways she could have phrased the question. It’s important to hold the media to their statements, and to present acceptable alternatives for inquiry.

This has happened time and again; only recently has the environmental movement made strides in their attempts to convince media outlets not to seek out creationists and other anti-climate change forces. While it’s widely accepted as Journalism 101 to report on “both sides” of the issue, it’s important to keep that idea in perspective. Reporting on both sides of the so-called climate “debate” is not about finding one of the handful of people who believes that climate change is a Satanic trick and giving them equal time. It’s about addressing the reality of climate change—the fact that it’s happening—and discussing the pros and cons of various actions to address it, or even the possibility of ignoring it. But you do a disservice to reality when you give a kook a platform and equal time.

That’s exactly what Bash did in the debate. By promoting the “job killer” lie that’s perpetuated by the right—the idea that if bosses pay their hard-working employees what they’re worth, they’ll go out of business—Bash was guilty of lazy journalism. Nations around the world have paid leave programs, and businesses thrive there. Hell, California has a paid leave program, and the unemployment rate there is lower than it’s been in eight years. Did Bash uncover a single fact that proved the “job killer” assertion? If she did, she didn’t share it with the audience or the candidates.

Any reporter in Bash’s situation—or, really, any journalist who is writing about the minimum wage or paid leave or equal pay or any employee issue—needs to ask themselves a few questions before they publish reports with the “job-killing” claim in it.

  • Have I done my due diligence to uncover those supposed job-killing regulations?
  • Do I have data proving these jobs were killed directly by these laws?
  • Have I investigated the situation in similar countries around the world?
  • Can I talk to both the employer and their employees for this report?

When you publish claims of job-killing without any data to back it up, you’re not doing journalism. You’re providing free advertising to conservative interests. And if you try to find the data to back up those claims, you’ll come away empty-handed. We need good people like Cohen and Dreier to call out these reporters for their failures. Change is only going to come if we continue to push the media on this in an effort to increase the quality of public conversation.

Paul Constant

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