A Washington Post article referred to "$85 million in government loans to GM and Chrysler in 2009." Oh well, no one gets everything right.


Of course this is a typo, but one that an editor should have quickly caught. However it is worth pointing out that if the Post had the habit of expressing numbers in a way that made them meaningful to readers, it is unlikely they would have missed this one. Specifically, if they described the number as a share of the budget (@ 2.4 percent, if written correctly), it would likely have caught their attention if they had written it as 0.0024 percent of federal spending.

Obviously the Post is not alone in writing out big numbers that are meaningless to 99 percent of their readers. This is the standard practice in reporting. However it really amounts to a silly fraternity ritual. The job of reporters is to provide information to their audience and this does not do it and they know it. I have never found a reporter who could tell me with a straight face that when they write that we are spending $210 billion on transportation over the next six years that this number has any meaning to their readers.