Most people understand the economy through the news—how it’s doing, what the new laws are, and what experts predict for the future. For better or for worse, that means journalists largely dictate our common knowledge of economics issues. What’s the media’s responsibility as they cover the economy? Media Matters senior fellow Matt Gertz joins Steph and Paul to ponder the question: does economics have a media problem?
Matt Gertz is a senior fellow at Media Matters, a progressive research and information center dedicated to comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media. Matt’s work focuses on the relationship between Fox News and the Trump administration, news coverage of politics and elections, and media ethics. His writing on the Trump-Fox feedback loop has appeared in The Daily Beast, HuffPost, and Politico Magazine, and he has discussed his analysis on MSNBC, NPR, and Comedy Central.
Media Matters website: https://www.mediamatters.org/
Who Fact-Checks the Fact-Checkers? https://civicskunk.works/who-fact-checks-the-fact-checkers-da45dc63e00c
How local ‘fake news’ websites spread ‘conservative propaganda’ in the US: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/nov/19/locality-labs-fake-news-local-sites-newspapers
Study: Major media outlets show improvement at debunking Trump misinformation on Twitter: https://www.mediamatters.org/donald-trump/study-major-media-outlets-show-improvement-debunking-trump-misinformation-twitter
Our website: http://pitchforkeconomics.com/
Our twitter: @PitchforkEcon
Our instagram: @pitchforkeconomics
Nick’s twitter: @NickHanauer
Annie: Hey guys, I’m Annie, one of the producers here. We’re putting together an episode that’s going to come out in a few weeks about the cost of prescription drugs in the United States. It probably won’t surprise you to know that last year one in four Americans reported that they or a family member did not fill a prescription because it was too expensive. If that’s happened to you, we want to hear about it, so leave us a voicemail and we’ll include it in the episode. The number is (731) 388-9334. Can’t wait to hear from you.
Matt Gertz: 14, 15% of Republicans will say that they trust the press. Some of that is no doubt because now the president of the United States goes out and says that the media is fake news and that journalists are the enemy of the people.
Stephanie Ervin: You’d think that there would be a mirroring from the media in wanting to cover stories and issues that people care about.
Paul Constant: We’re not talking about fake news or disinformation campaigns. These are just human beings. We all sort of need each other to remind us what the important things are.
Speaker 4: From the offices of Civic Ventures in downtown Seattle, this is Pitchfork Economics with Nick Hanauer, a conversation about how capitalism actually works.
Stephanie Ervin: I’m Stephanie Ervin. I run a lot of our advocacy and campaign work here at Civic Ventures.
Paul Constant: I’m Paul constant. I’m a writer at Civic Ventures. And relevant to this episode, before I worked here at Civic Ventures, I was a reporter at The Stranger, which is an alternative weekly here in Seattle.
Stephanie Ervin: So Paul, when you got into this work of being in the sort of advocacy space, you’re now officially an advocate instead of just a journalist?
Paul Constant: I would say it was an advocacy journalist before, but now I’m full on in the advocate space, yes.
Stephanie Ervin: Since you have sort of moved over to the advocacy space in this economic realm, how would you critique your old profession and how it covers economic issues, what you wish was reported on or how you wish things were covered?
Paul Constant: Well, when I was writing about economics issues, I could never quite shake the feeling that I was in over my head, that I was working with in a field that I didn’t quite understand. And now that I’m on the advocacy side, I can see a little more clearly the problem, and the problem is that the media does a very bad job of covering economics issues. There’s a lot of both sidesism, there’s a lot of credulousness when they cover issues like the minimum wage or overtime or policy issues that benefit the vast majority of workers. You will see a lot of stories about the minimum wage, for instance, that talk exclusively to owners and don’t bother to talk to any workers. That is not just playing into the hands of trickle downers who want to cut wages, but it’s also just bad journalism. It’s not covering involved in a story. And I think there are a lot of reasons for that.
I think that journalists aren’t really math people, speaking generally, broadly. There are of course data journalists and things like that, but I know that several journalists I talked to were sort of suckered in by anecdotes like a coffee shop that they like to go to, the owner said, “The $15 minimum wage is going to kill me,” and the journalist would then write it up because it’s a story, and it’s a good story and it’s a sad story, “This place that I love is going away if the $15 minimum wage… ” And there were often no attempts to look at any of the information behind the numbers they were talking about, to fact check, to even talk to an economist or find another side because it was more of a heart story to them than a head story.
And I think that even the way that I covered the $15 minimum wage, I was too swept up in this is the fair thing to do and the right thing to do. And I wasn’t interested in what it meant economically for the city.
Stephanie Ervin: You were interested in the moral cause.
Paul Constant: Yeah, the moral cause of it. When I look back and read some of the things I wrote about the minimum wage, it’s kind of embarrassing just because I didn’t know what I was talking about. I had a feeling and I happened to have been on the right side, but it was not as informed as it could have been because, honestly to reporters, I think economics is pretty intimidating. They tend to come to it with the idea that it’s a science and that it requires intense years of study and a graduate degree and all sorts of graphs and charts and things like that when really most reporters I know are pretty smart people who can pick up things pretty quickly. And I think it would have only taken a week for me to do a really intense feature on the minimum wage that would have been substantial and correct.
Stephanie Ervin: I wonder though if we’re not giving journalists the same, not pass that we give everybody else, but the acknowledgement that maybe it’s not that they’re bad at math, maybe it’s that they are and have been a part of the same culture that we have that has been dominated by this one story about how the economy works and who it serves and why and when. Everything is through that lens and you don’t even see that lens being applied when it’s applied to your natural thinking because it’s just innate to our cultural norms now. If that’s more what has happened in journalism is that they’ve just been a part of the same society we’ve been a part of for the last 50 years, and they’ve been indoctrinated in the same story about how things work.
Paul Constant: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think I was being a little bit glib when I said reporters are bad at math, although I am bad at math, but I think that I was not a small business owner, I didn’t know anything about how these things actually play out in the economy, and so I did have a lot of received wisdom. When I was in high school during the Clinton era and the understanding was that, the free market decides who the winners and the losers are, and it was. It was just received wisdom. It wasn’t until I started here and did pretty significant reading into economics that I understood that too is a frame and that too is a story.
Stephanie Ervin: Right. So it’s lucky today that we have someone to help us wrestle with some of these questions about how the media approaches and covers economics, and what’s maybe stopping different media outlets from covering it in a way that we think is more favorable to our sort of new narrative about how things work.
Paul Constant: Yeah, and speaking as somebody who worked in journalism, I’m really excited about this guest. His name is Matthew Gertz. He’s a senior fellow at Media Matters, which is an amazing organization that does work sort of inside and outside journalism, looking at the ways that journalists affect the stories that they’re working on and the way that they sort of shape the narrative, both wittingly and unwittingly. So he’s a really smart, thoughtful person, and I’m really glad that we had the chance to talk to him.
Matt Gertz: I’m Matt Gertz. I’m senior fellow at Media Matters for America, which monitors, analyzes and reports on conservative misinformation in the mainstream and right-wing media.
Stephanie Ervin: Do you think the media accurately portrays economics?
Matt Gertz: I think they spend very little time on economics and what they do tends to not be very good. In general, economic policy issues don’t get a lot of attention, especially in the current national media environment that we’re in. I understand the situation, certainly the president creates a lot of news to talk about, but broader economic stories just don’t get told that frequently in broadcast TV news and cable news, which is where a lot of Americans find out about what’s happening in the world. When it is covered, generally what we see is that conservative voices dominate the debate. Conservative media have invested quite a lot into economic policy discussions and debate. You see on Fox news, for instance, lots of commentary about problems like homelessness and poverty, most of it wrong, but they spend the time to do the discussion. And so that creates a sort of spillover effect where the mainstream media ends up responding to and commenting on the news coming out of the right.
Stephanie Ervin: So what surprises me about your comment that there’s a lack of overall coverage, and this is obviously from my lens as a political person, is that the number one issue for voters, always, in every poll ever, is the economy. And certainly, when people are having hard times and the economy is not in great shape, people are experiencing the kind of inequality we’re experiencing now for example, you’d think that there would be a mirroring from the media in wanting to cover stories and issues that people care about and are top of mind. Is that not how that works?
Matt Gertz: It depends. To some extent that happens, but these outlets are also responding to their audiences and they’re trying to present a slate of information that will lead to more viewers, more readers. And economic news tends to be somewhat less sexy than other topics that can be covered, and so less attention gets paid to it in the long run. I don’t want to overstate this obviously, but there’s a substantial body of newspaper journalism and a lot of great reporting happening online. But when you look at the sort of news hole in its entirety, I think economics are not commanding that top position that polling numbers would suggest they should be getting.
Paul Constant: When I was a reporter here, I covered the first tea party protest in Seattle.
Stephanie Ervin: Did you really? That’s amazing.
Paul Constant: I did.
Matt Gertz: This is the official tax day protest or-
Paul Constant: Yeah, the very first one at Westlake park, just down there in downtown Seattle. And I think a lot about one of the conversations I had with somebody who was there, he was in his 30s, early 30s, I think, he was a young white man, and I said, “Why are you here?” And he said, “I am mad about the deficit.” And I said, “How did you feel about the deficit growing under George W. Bush?” And he’s like, “I wish I’d known about it then, but I’m here now,” and I’m willing to bet he’s not out there in Westlake park right now protesting Trump’s increase in the deficit. And so that to me was maybe the biggest sign that these crowds are certainly influenced by reporting on the subject, the deficit was a big deal on Fox news when Obama was president.
Matt Gertz: It was. I was at Media Matters at the time when the tea parties were getting spun up, and one thing that we reported in some detail was a really overwhelming number of reports coming out of the local publications in which they were interviewing people about why they were there, and the people were saying, “yeah, I saw about the tea parties on Fox news.” There was a real effort by that network to spin up coverage around the tea parties. They had a series of their hosts recording live from the sites of particular tea parties. I think Glenn Beck was at the Alamo for one of those.
Stephanie Ervin: Of course he was.
Matt Gertz: Yeah. I mean, they were running dozens of segments, including letting people in the Chirons at the bottom of their screen where they could sign up to attend a local tea party. They were really effectively functioning as a megaphone for that movement, trying to get more attention put on it. And yes, I would say the amount of coverage the deficit has received on Fox news, since president Trump’s election, is relatively small.
Stephanie Ervin: Do you think other than sort of how it’s characterized during different administrations, are there differences in how… Or is there anything to know about how debts and deficits get covered in general? We think of deficits obviously from our economic point of view as not being a huge problem or a big spending programs as being something that pays for itself. Is it different across outlets or are they all treating debts and deficits similarly?
Matt Gertz: I mean, there are some differences, but I think broadly mainstream journalists think of debt and deficit as one of those nonpartisan or bipartisan issues that they can sort of have an opinion on. Journalists are generally trained to not show bias around particular topics, and debt deficit’s not one of those cases. You see a lot of questions as to politicians that have embedded assumptions that debt and deficit is a sort of crisis situation. I think as the presidential campaign, sort of the primary process takes off, we’ve seen lots and lots of questions getting asked about, how can you pay for this program or are you really sure that you can do it? And that’s something that just came up less frequently, I think, during the period in which various Republicans were trying to put out massive tax cut plans. Some of that is because conservatives have this whole sort of fable about tax cuts bank for themselves, and while that is is obviously false, it is a response that is apparently remarkably difficult to get anyone to admit is false.
Stephanie Ervin: Yeah, so I want to hit on that a little bit, in particular the democratic debates, I assume you’ve been watching them.
Matt Gertz: Yes.
Stephanie Ervin: All of them have this frame and I initially, when we were watching them, I was screaming at… Our office watches them all together, which I don’t know if that’s a great idea, but it is something we do.
Paul Constant: That’s a lot of screaming.
Stephanie Ervin: And every debate I’ve screamed at the screen and accused the moderators, the host of MSNBC, talk shows, the host of CNN, different programs of just using all these really Republican frames. And as I was thinking about it the other day, I thought about it more in terms of neoliberal frames, like they constantly are asking how that’s going to increase taxes for middle class people. They don’t talk about the benefits of any of the ideas in terms of what universal coverage reduces in terms of financial burden for individuals or overall systemic burdens when you take an idea like that to scale. How is it possible that we have that in the democratic debates, even with what’s considered sort of friendly media, we still are having all these questions start from a really neoliberal framing? Is it because journalists don’t know better? Is it because that psychology is so embedded as established fundamental knowledge?
Matt Gertz: Something I think about a lot is back in 2008, during a debate, I think it was in New Hampshire, Charlie Gibson was moderating, he was asking a question for [inaudible 00:15:05], he was basically…. Started from the premise of your plan is going to raise taxes on two teachers who live in New Hampshire, who make like some wildly high figure, it was like $200,000 a year-
Stephanie Ervin: Are there any teachers making 200 grand a year?
Matt Gertz: The audience breaks out laughing at this just because the idea that this is what people would be making was so wildly out of touch. I think that there is at the pinnacle of the media, where you have your own television show and you make large sums of money, there is a sort of lack of understanding of what a middle-class living is in most parts of the country. And I think that that affects a lot of the framing around tax brackets, certainly.
Stephanie Ervin: So I’ve also been really involved with the gun violence prevention movement, in Washington state and nationally. And for us, it took a long time to get our local media to bend to the idea that gun control was an unhelpful frame, that it wasn’t an unbiased frame like they thought they were using it. It was full of bias, and full of assumptions, and full of language that was loaded, for lack of a better term, and it took us a long time to try to sort of untrain our local press from using that language and starting every piece of coverage with sort of a gun control frame. And again, I don’t think it was out of malice that they were using that frame. I think it was out of an education that was dated.
Matt Gertz: Yeah. I mean, I think a lot of it is just these are the sort of assumptions that we started our life in journalism with, and there’s not really a need to change them that much. I think it certainly applies in the gun violence prevention space and a… Yeah, I think it applies to a lot of economic policy as well. There was a period of time in which there was sort of broad agreement on the need to reduce debts and reduce deficits on a sort of bipartisan basis, and that was, at the time, not based on a lot of sound science. And now the political will isn’t there either. And I think journalists are confused and don’t really know how to handle that.
Stephanie Ervin: They’re just sort of left wanting what the conventional wisdom has maybe moved past, where they’re-
Matt Gertz: Yeah, and it leads to that situation where you’d need to be sort of constantly retraining them.
Paul Constant: GDP and unemployment numbers are always used as sort of the thermometer for the economy. It’s a shorthand that they use to talk about economic issues. And in a lot of ways, it’s completely divorced from the average American life. Even the unemployment rate doesn’t directly correlate to… If wages are down and everybody’s employed, then you still don’t have a great economy. Do you think there’s an over-reliance on the number reporting? Is that just a consequence of what it is to be a reporter or is there a better way to talk about the economy?
Matt Gertz: I mean, I think some of it is just that it’s easy. I mean there are numbers that they can report out, which seems to be a sort of unbiased way to provide a sense of how the economy is doing. There’s sort of that need to avoid seeming like you have your own opinion about whether the economy is doing well by sort of citing these figures. But yes, I mean when you cite a figure like the stock market, which does not really touch on the lives of most people who don’t have stocks or don’t have any significant amount of stocks, you’re certainly going to be swaying the debate in a very particular way and you’re going to be encouraging types of economic behavior that are not really in the best interest of most people but are in the best interest of the stock market.
Stephanie Ervin: I think that’s a good lead into something I was thinking about in terms of the recession. Right after 2008, all of the media coverage that happened after that, there was a lot of really in depth coverage about the state of the auto industry. The newspapers did a really good job of sort of covering the soap opera of wall Street’s collapse and moving characters. I think cable news tracked really quickly the conversations about the bailouts and what was happening in DC in terms of decision making and the treasurer. And then I think we know the big networks brand eventually, I remember them running big hour-long segments about, whether it was Frontline or other series, about sort of the local impact and people’s foreclosures and sort of the lived experience of people who were swept into this subprime mortgage debacle. I don’t remember any coverage that sort of explained what was happening and why that there were all these ideological choice points that led to an environment that was just a terrible casino of Wall Street and a bunch of really bad decision making. And there certainly hasn’t been enough reforms, in my opinion, since then to justify feeling any better, but everybody has sort of walked away from that. I’m wondering what your experience was with that.
Matt Gertz: I think the situation with a story that large is that there’s always some amount of reporting in that area, but that it just doesn’t get… It doesn’t become part of the broader media narrative. It doesn’t really get hammered in.
I remember seeing quite a lot of people who suddenly were experts in this crisis who had not been able to predict it, which is I think fairly unfortunate, but I do think a lot of good reporting came out of that period. The problem always becomes how do you sustain something like that? How do you ensure that as we move into a scenario that seems to echo some of the worst accesses of the period leading up to the great recession, are the proper sirens going off? Is there enough sort of coverage of the situation that we’re in now? And I think part of the situation is that everything that happens in the economy is also happening at a time when the news out of Washington is chaotic, and loud, and taking up a lot of time that journalists would, perhaps in a different world, be spending covering the situation in the economy.
Some of it is also just that the media industry as a whole is in such bad straights that there are fewer reporters out on the beat now than there were at the time of the great recession, at not least because of the great recession, and that leaves us in a situation where we become less informed because there are fewer people to inform us.
Stephanie Ervin: Do you think journalists have permission to do that kind of analysis, not just report on what’s happening but to also try and build out more of the why?
Matt Gertz: I think they do, and I think a lot of them try to. I just don’t know that in the current environment, whether the time and support is necessarily there, especially in a medium like broadcast or cable journalism, to tell those stories.
Paul Constant: Over the last few years, we’ve seen Sinclair take over more and more local stations, and it’s just led me to wonder, is it good business to be a conservative media outlet? Is the market calling for this?
Matt Gertz: So they’ve done a really great job of creating their own audience. And what do I mean by that? So conservatives, since really the Civil Rights era have engaged in a longterm war against the media. They’ve been working very deliberately to try to reduce confidence in the press and to create their own outlets that parallel traditional press institutions. And you see that with something like Fox news, which launches with the slogan fair and balanced, which suggests that the other media outlets are neither. By doing this over a period of time, they’ve managed to send the trust in the press among Republicans down to a really catastrophic level. It’s something like 14, 15% of Republicans will say that they trust the press. Some of that is no doubt because now the president of the United States goes out and says that the media is fake news and that journalists are the enemy of the people.
So by doing this, what conservatives have done is created a group of people who only trust right-wing news outlets, and that’s an audience that they can rely on. So Fox news doesn’t need to get half of the public watching them, they can get several million and make quite a lot of money for the Murdoch family. They’ve built this audience, they have digital media outlets and conservative radio shows and magazines and cable news channels, and they also, in addition to the cases where this is profitable, there are right-wing billionaires who are willing to lose a little bit of money in order to have influence on the public debates. Sinclair, there’ve been studies that show they are more right-wing than the sort of point at which they would be most profitable. So the ownership is willing to take a bit of a loss, relative to what they could otherwise make because they know that they can use it as a propaganda app.
They have a national desk that produces segments that all these stations across the country are required to run. And that’s a particularly pernicious method because you don’t generally expect to get right-wing propaganda on your local news. I think the public tends to trust local news more than it trusts national news. And so when these sorts of propaganda segments pop in, they don’t necessarily see it coming, and so it can have more impact that way.
Stephanie Ervin: So we created this podcast as part of many different channels as a way to communicate to people in a longer form sort of argument space about what’s happening with the economy, how to understand it, all those sort of tricks and trickle down economics, and neoliberalism, but also to give people sort of the confidence to push back. So I think, in some ways, this is our response to the feeling that there’s sort of a lack of good articulation of how the economy works and how it can work for people. What else could we be doing at Civic Ventures other than sort of running our own podcast and trying to get more ear balls every week? What could our shop be doing to try and inform the space in a more sophisticated way or get the media to more accurately tell these stories?
Matt Gertz: Well, I think what conservatives have learned is the sort of power of a broader network. They’re not just a series of different conservative outlets all existing in their own spaces. They’re constantly commenting on each other’s works and doing it in a way that drives a story out to larger and larger audiences.
I’ll give you an example. So here in Seattle, Como, back in March, your local Sinclair station, did a special on homelessness in The City Called Seattle is Dying. It was, as the name suggests, not terribly favorable towards homeless people or solutions to their problems, but it was quite popular, not only in Seattle but sort of outside of that space. It went on YouTube, got five million views and, thanks to the broader conservative network, started working through the different levels of conservative media. It was on Fox News in primetime on Tucker Carlson’s show within five days, being discussed by one of your local conservative radio hosts. It got picked up throughout the rest of that media ecosystem. It became part of a broader story that conservatives were telling about the dangers of democratic control of cities and how they were really failing to make their city safe for their public. And before you know it, this was a Trump administration talking point and became the sort of Colonel that grew into what seems to be a fairly frightening sounding administration push on homelessness.
So that I think is what I would say that the podcast that you have can’t exist in a vacuum. It needs to be part of a broader network, an ecosystem on the left side that can sort of pull the debate in its direction.
Paul Constant: One of the things that I do here is… I tend to do a lot of coverage, bad coverage, about economic issues, especially the minimum wage. Whenever you see the minimum wage go up, there will be… And not even necessarily a Sinclair company, but another TV, usually a TV outlet, will do a piece when a restaurant closes and they will focus on the closure and they will blame the minimum wage. And even though all of the other prevailing economic indicators are up, unemployment is down and actual wages are up, they will point to this one place, a lot of time it’s a pizza place, and say this is a sign of bad things to come. Even though in the case of Seattle, there was another pizza place that opened in the same exact spot that that pizza place closed. So anyway, my question to you is, what should somebody do if a local outlet is giving bad economic coverage? What is a responsible way for a media consumer to push back on bad coverage?
Matt Gertz: You fight bad coverage with good coverage. You need your own space and voice to push back on it. I think social media is a great way to sort of get in touch with and nudge the reporters in your own sort of space, though obviously, be polite. They probably have to deal with a lot of angry people most of the time. But yeah, I mean I think you fight bad information with good information.
I have to say, a pizza place closing is not exactly… Restaurants close all the time. That’s the thing about the restaurant business, there’s constant churn. And so using that as a hook seems somewhat ridiculous.
Paul Constant: Yeah, it does, but it’s part of a… Again, it becomes a campaign. It becomes a-
Matt Gertz: Of course.
Paul Constant: It becomes, “And here was a an outlet of Zee Pizza,,” which is a small national chain, and people would point to that one store closure where the owner blamed the minimum wage specifically-
Stephanie Ervin: Or my favorite, the Subway sandwich franchise owner, in one part of downtown Seattle, that hated the minimum wage. Meanwhile, there are at least a dozen, at least a dozen, other Subway sandwich franchises-
Paul Constant: She said she couldn’t afford the five-foot long promotion-
Stephanie Ervin: … That still exists.
Paul Constant: But then there were other Subways downtown that were still offering $5 foot longs. Subways are generally pretty bad about this because the franchise model is so exploitative that it-
Stephanie Ervin: Yeah.
Matt Gertz: Oh sure.
Paul Constant: Subway doesn’t make money off of selling sandwiches. They make money off of leaching it out of their franchisors.
Stephanie Ervin: Is there anything hopeful that we can look forward to in terms of media landscape in general or economic coverage? Is that asking too much?
Matt Gertz: I mean, I do think that the movement towards podcasts has been generally good, and it does seem to have lasted enough cycles that maybe that’ll sustain for a while. I think the ability to have these longer conversations is of real value and something that other types of journalism just couldn’t really provide, and so I think that that is useful.
More broadly though, I have a tough time finding a lot of silver linings in the business model side of things. You do see, online especially, more policy coverage than, I think, there has been in the past. Thinking back to 2008, 2009, I think that space was really fallow and it’s been… To that, I think, the great recession actually sort of spurred some really interesting new focuses on policy, if not, that it generally reaches the TV level. I do think that that has been positive.
Stephanie Ervin: Well, that’s good to hear. And one thing we ask all of our guests who come on the pod is why they do this work, so why do you do this work?
Matt Gertz: I do this work because most people really, really don’t want to. I watch a lot of Fox News in [crosstalk 00:32:27].
Stephanie Ervin: I certainly do not want that job.
Matt Gertz: Exactly, right? And so our joke in the office is that we watch Fox News so that no one else has to, and I’ve been doing it for about 12 years. In my experience, there was not a time when things were like good and normal there. There’s a tendency, I think, among journalists who suddenly discover Fox News through whatever segment has gone viral, to say, “Wow, things are really bad now.” They used to be much better at Fox News, we assume. And I got to tell ya, Glenn Beck was on TV five nights a week in 2009, things were not better. There was a chalkboard with all sorts of weird scary lines being drawn from one figure to another. Yeah, but I do this because I realize that the conservative ecosystem has a substantial amount of power over all of our daily lives. And if we don’t pay attention to it, it just sort of sneaks up on us.
Stephanie Ervin: Well, thank you so much for doing the work and for joining us.
Matt Gertz: Thank you for having me.
Paul Constant: So that was great and it was really illuminating for me. What I came away from that with was the idea that maybe the thing that journalists should keep in mind, as they cover the economy, is that the economy isn’t weather. It’s not something that happens to you that you have no control over. And I think this is really useful and informative because there are so many other issues that this can play into like when you’re writing about race or gender or other systemic issues in our society. I think that there is a tendency in reporters who are working very hard and have to come up with one or more stories a day to just write about it in the sense that, well, that’s the way it is. And when you’re writing about the economy, that is most definitely not the way it is. Or it is the way it is, but it’s not the way it has to be.
And so I think that just that simple shift of an idea of asking why, which is really a journalist’s most basic responsibility in asking why and being like the toddler who just keeps asking why and why and why until you uncover sort of the grand scheme behind things, I think, is very important.
Stephanie Ervin: Yeah, and it’s fun to talk to Matt because he’s so smart.
Paul Constant: Yeah.
Stephanie Ervin: It’s nice to pick the brain of someone who’s really deep in the research of something you’re sort of curious about how it operates. I think that was super fun.
Paul Constant: I think it’s very important to, especially right now with the political era being what it is, to clarify that we’re not talking about fake news or disinformation campaigns. These are just human beings and, like all human beings, we all sort of need each other to remind us what the important things are. And so when I do media criticism, I don’t think that I’m taking down the bad guys, but I’m just reminding people that there might be another story out there. And I think even the best journalists need to remember that from time to time.
Stephanie Ervin: Well, I hope we help a better story get told. It was nice to Matthew Gertz and to you Paul, former journalist turned activist.
Paul Constant: Yeah, he’s a super smart guy. And if our listeners don’t follow Media Matters, they definitely should because they do really important, really interesting stuff.
And of course, this is a huge subject that can be looked at from a bunch of different ways and so keep an eye on your podcast feeds. On Friday, we’re going to be dropping a special episode that’s an interview with my friend and former colleague at The Stranger Charles Mudede, who is one of the very finest writers on economics I know. We’re going to talk about movies and the responsibility of journalists when writing about economics and a whole bunch of other things. It’s a pretty fun conversation. So we’ll see you then.
Annie: Pitchfork Economics is produced by Civic Ventures. The magic happens in Seattle in partnership with the Young Turks Network. If you liked the show, make sure to subscribe, rate, and review us wherever you get your podcasts. Find us on Twitter and Facebook at Civic Action and Nick Hanauer. Follow our writing on medium at Civic Skunk Works and peek behind the podcast scenes on Instagram at Pitchfork Economics. As always, from our team at Civic Ventures, thanks for listening. See you next week.