Dear Traditional Media: Do Better by All of Us on Build Back Better
A large group of advocacy organizations has penned an open letter to “Reporters, Editors, Producers, and Anchors” pleading with them to actually try to inform the public about the Build Back Better plan. They are very polite about it, acknowledging that it’s a difficult thing to do. “The omnibus nature of this bill and the policies therein present many challenges to newsrooms hoping to present a clear understanding of its contents and potential impacts on your readers, your communities, and the economy at large,” the groups, spearheaded by the National Women’s Law Center, write.
But doing so is essential, they say because the “role of federal programs supporting and investing in families remains heavily stigmatized.” They point out that the stigma is against women and against people of color, and that that ”fuels misinformation and misrepresentation about who benefits from public programs.” Despite the fact that the majority of the bill is focused on ameliorating the effects of climate change, and on creating jobs, and that the programs in it help individuals and families at all income levels (excepting the very rich), the traditional media persists in calling it a “safety net” bill.
“As a matter of clarity, we request that in your future coverage of the Build Back Better Act, you more directly describe what is in the legislation, i.e. child care, pre-kindergarten, paid family/medical leave, home- and community-based services, and more,” the groups write and then include a helpful list of the provisions included, to which media is pointedly referred.
“Consider,” they write, “that the care provisions in the BBBA would:”
- Boost businesses and our economy, creating much-needed jobs while also lowering household expenses for working families.
- Help parents to find and afford high-quality child care so that the 2 million women who are still out of the workforce have real, affordable care options to support their return.
- Allow people to stay attached to the labor force when they have a new baby or a serious health crisis strikes through use of paid family/medical leave.
- Expand home- and community-based care for people with disabilities and older adults so that family caregivers can stay in the jobs they need to support their families.
The traditional media has yet to comply with the request, continuing to characterize it, like CNBC does, as a “sprawling social spending bill.” The leap from “social spending” to “social safety net” is an easy one to make, and the failure of most major media outlets to talk about the full scope of the bill and what it would do to promote economic stabilization and stimulus—as well as start to future-proof infrastructure for climate change—makes it that much easier for opponents to dismiss it and keep the focus on the dollar figure.
That’s made even harder when you’ve got conservative Democrats like Rep. Abigail Spanberger, Sen. Joe Manchin, and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema out there giving fodder to Republicans and perpetuating the idea that this bill won’t improve the lives of the majority of their constituents.
In fact, look at that headline from the CNN Sinema interview: “Exclusive: Sinema won’t commit to voting for Biden’s sweeping social safety net expansion.” That allows her to take an extremely corporatist position on the bill. “I won’t support any legislation that increases burdens on Arizona or American businesses and reduces our ability to compete either domestically or globally,” she said. “That’s one of the reasons I said I wasn’t able to support a $3.5 trillion bill.” Never mind that it helps individual people, and that the corporations can afford the taxes the bill would have raised.
Then, to acknowledge that there are individual people and families involved here, she goes to the same trope against which economists have been arguing for weeks: It would raise inflation. “Inflation is a real problem in our country right now,” she said, adding, “I want to make sure that if we are crafting legislation, we are doing it in a lean and efficient way that is fiscally responsible and doesn’t impact things like inflation or make our businesses less competitive.”
What extending the child tax credits to young families and providing paid leave and providing child care and universal pre-K does is relieve burdens on people who are having to pay more for essentials because of inflation caused by the pandemic and all the production and supply chain issues it created. That’s something else that’s been missing from an awful lot of reporting—something that CNN certainly didn’t press Sinema on in that interview.
The disservice this does to President Joe Biden, to fellow Democrats, to Sinema’s constituents, and all Americans is incalculable. And infuriating. It leaves the hard work of informing America about what the bill can do for them on us, their fellow Americans who have to do this heavy lifting of not just figuring it out for ourselves, but telling our friends and family.
A lifelong Blue girl in a Red state, I’m now Senior Political Writer for Daily Kos. On any given day, I’d rather be horseback, but there’s more demand for political writers than cowgirls.