I was taught in junior high journalism that headlines are guide to the content of the article. If the reader skips the article, the headline constitutes the information that the reader takes away. The headline should strive to honestly capture what the article is about.
“Budget Cuts Raise Doubt On the Course of Recover” (NYT, Business section, April 12) blatantly violate this basic rule. The headline warns that experts (not the writer) think that the $38 billion budget cut (and cuts to follow) will harm the recovery. “The budget deal is a bet by the Obama administration that the loss of $38 billion in federal spending will not be the straw that breaks the back of the fragile economic recovery.”
We then learn that the straw is lighter than the lightest of feathers. The $38 billion equals one quarter of one percent of GDP and “joins a growing list of minor problems impeding growth, economists (which ones?) said.”
To underscore the impeding danger, the author tells us that a chief economist of a Chicago investment firm has reduced her growth forecast from 4.2 percent to 3.3 percent. There is no corollary statement her move was prompted by the budget cut. If it were, I imagine she would be laughed out of the investment community.
The article changes tone. We learn that things are looking up. The Fed and private forecasters predict that growth will accelerate. Even more surprising (in light of the dire headline), there are experts who think budget cuts will stimulate economic activity, but one such expert is dismissed as belonging to “a libertarian think tank.” However, other economists (in addition to the libertarian) opine that budgets cuts will have immediate economic benefits “by soothing the nerves of foreign investors.”
The NYT writer saves his strongest ammunition for last: an IMF warning that “the cuts proposed by the Obama administration will be challenging to implement in an environment of weak growth and high unemployment.” As I read this, the IMF is concerned that the administration cannot carry through on the proposed budget because of political considerations, not because of the economic consequences. I cannot really tell from the information in the article.
An accurate headline from an unbiased writer would have been: “$38 billion budget cut no threat to recovery, experts say.”