Good Stories Gone Bad

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On Thursday USA Today published a piece saying that February’s stimulus money has “gone overwhelmingly to places that supported President Obama in last year’s presidential election.”  Matt Yglesias comments:

The insinuation of the piece is that the stimulus bill’s funding streams are being artfully manipulated or something to disproportionately direct resources toward Obama-loving constituencies….[But] the secret to the riddle seems to be that areas that benefit from federal spending formulae tend to support the Democrats. Not as a result of short-term fluctuations in voting patterns or federal spending levels, but as a structural element of American politics.

Actually, that’s not quite right.  It’s weirder than that.  I just got around to reading the piece, and aside from the factual statement in the lead, it doesn’t insinuate that the money is being unfairly distributed.  In fact, every single paragraph after the lead quotes people saying that there’s nothing dubious going on and the money is just being distributed by formula.  The piece doesn’t quote a single person, not even Sarah Palin, suggesting that there’s any monkey business going on here.

But if there’s no hanky panky, why bother publishing the story in the first place?  My guess: it’s the old problem of reporters not being willing to spike a story when it doesn’t pan out.  Brad Heath spent a bunch of time analyzing stimulus spending, but when everyone he called told him there was nothing amiss he just hated the idea of spending all that time and not getting anything out of it.  So he wrote it up anyway, ending up with a nonsensical piece that basically rebuts its own reason for existing.  Dumb.

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