The Washington Post's difficulties in separating its news and opinion pages showed up again in a piece by David Fahrenthold that warned the public against Senator Bernie Sander's agenda in his presidential campaign. The piece is headlined "how Bernie Sanders would transform the nation."

Fahrenthold is quite direct about his opinion of Sanders. He begins by referring to Sanders' proposal to have free tuition at public colleges, then tells readers:

"And, once government was paying for college, colleges would run by government rules. Sanders’s rules. For one thing, Sanders thinks student centers are a waste of government money. He’d make sure they didn’t get any more of it.

"If he becomes president, Sanders would spend an enormous amount of money: $3.27 trillion. At the very, very least. But he is not just a big-spending liberal. And his agenda is not just about money.

"And his agenda is not just about money.

"It’s also about control."

 Got that? Bernie Sanders wants to control everything. Better not vote for that guy.

As folks familiar with Washington politics know, government largess comes with varying degrees of control, depending largely on who the beneficiary is. For example, TANF, the government's main benefit program for low income families, comes with all sorts of controls, including work requirements. When Planned Parenthood gets government money, it has to commit itself not to spend any on of it on performing abortions.

On the other hand, the government hands out tens of billions a year in tax breaks to homeowners on their mortgage interest and imposes virtually no controls. It gave big companies subsidized loans through the Export-Import Bank and also imposed almost no controls. And, it gives drug companies patent monopolies—threatening to arrest competitors—again with no controls.

The government already gives substantial aid to colleges, largely in the form of subsidized loans and Pell grants. The government already puts conditions (i.e. control) on the institutions that get this money. Will Sanders put more controls in place if the government is picking up the full bill? Perhaps, but presenting this as a zero/one story, as Fahrenthold implies, is just silly.

It also would have been helpful if Farenthold tried to express the $3.27 trillion figure in a way that provided information to readers rather than just scare them with threats of "enormous" spending. This sum is equal to a bit less than 1.4 percent of projected GDP over this period. By comparison, at their peak, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan raised military spending by 1.8 percentage points of GDP compared to the pre-9/11 level.

 

Later the piece goes on to warn people about Sanders' proposal for a universal health care plan. Sanders has argued there can be large savings from eliminated private insurers and the massive paperwork burden they impose on both patients and providers.

Farenthold notes this, then warns readers:

"Left undecided: Exactly how would it hold down costs, with so many new enrollees? How would it deal with unhappy customers, in a system in which Congress would be both the funder and the national complaint department?"

If Farenthold's goal was to inform readers rather than scare them he might have pointed out that countries like Canada that have universal Medicare-type system pay on average close to half as much per person for their health care as we do in the United States. They have comparable health care outcomes in aggregate and much better outcomes for lower income people.

The issue about a national complaint department might not seem so problematic to people who have heard of "Medicare." 

Anyhow, we get it. The Washington Post really does not like Bernie Sanders and is willing to ignore standards of journalistic integrity to try to undermine his campaign. We'll see how they do.

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