Morning Edition had a segment on efforts to counter the Trump administration's proposal to cut foreign aid, including money going to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. The segment featured a comment from Bill Gates, whose foundation also supports this fund.

Gates noted the lack of support for foreign aid and attributed it to the media's tendency to highlight failures, where money is poorly spent or stolen, as opposed to the success stories. While there is undoubtedly some truth to this argument, the more likely problem is the fratboy reporting on budget issues that gives the audience zero context.

In the case of the Global Fund, when people hear about it they are likely to hear that the U.S. will spend up to $4.3 billion this year. This might lead people to think that we are devoting a substantial share of the budget to this fund, at the expense of other programs and/or raising people's taxes.

In fact, this sum is roughly to 0.1 percent of the budget, it comes to roughly $13 per person for everyone in the country. For another comparison, it is roughly 36 times the excess cost (the amount paid beyond what it cost to protect a normal president) of Donald Trump's secret service protection. In other words, it would not be the reason that people are paying taxes they consider high.

Polls consistently show the public grossly overestimates the share of the budget going to foreign aid, with median estimates in the range of 25 to 30 percent of the budget, when the total is less than 1.0 percent, even when being very generous about what counts as aid. This is likely due at least in part to the fratboy reporting on aid, which gives people no information whatsoever.

It is amazing that National Public Radio, the New York Times, and other leading news outlets continue the bizarre practice of reporting large numbers without context, even when everyone knows it is not providing information to the vast majority of their audience. It is a very simple matter to express a budget number as a share of the total budget or to use some other comparison that would give it meaning to listeners and readers. However, news outlets refuse to do this.

They instead engage in mindless fratboy reporting where they carry through the ritual of giving a large number that means absolutely nothing to the people who see it, and then pretend they have done their job. This is a major reason people are hostile to programs like foreign aid, TANF, food stamps and other programs that benefit the poor here and elsewhere.

Yes, I know many people are racist and hate these programs for that reason. But many people who are not especially racist (i.e. they vote for people like Hillary Clinton) also believe that 30 percent of our budget goes to foreign aid or TANF. If these programs actually did cost that much much money, there would be good reasons for not supporting them, since they don't have that much to show.

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