One trait of a good reporter is providing facts—facts that may make us uncomfortable, but ultimately force us to ask “is this really true?” That’s what happened to me on Friday when I read the Charleston Gazette’s Ken Ward’s piece Solis plays fast and loose on MSHA budget, in which he accused the new Labor Secretary of spinning the data on mine safety enforcement spending—reminiscent of Chao and Stickler. He wrote:
“…what should I make of the way Labor Secretary Hild Solis tried to spin the Obama administration’s proposal to — when adjusted for inflation — pretty much flat-line MSHA spending for the next financial year?”
Humpph. Can’t that pesky Ken Ward, Jr. lay off the Labor Department for a bit longer? Do I really want to read criticism of Secretary Solis during our honeymoon?
More painful to read was this:
“…when I asked Solis about the MSHA budget during her online chat yesterday, I got a different answer:
The president is requesting $353,693,000, an increase of $6,690,000 above the fiscal year 2009 appropriated level for the Mine Safety and Health Commission (MSHA). That amount represents a 6.5 percent increase above the FY 2009 request. …”
“What?” wrote Ward, noting that Solis is comparing her budget proposal to G.W. Bush’s budget proposal, making a 2 percent increase appear to be a 6 percent increase.
Believe me, I wanted to ignore Ward’s “Solis plays fast and loose on MSHA budget.” I also secretly hoped that Coal Tattoo’s readers would be preoccupied with Mother’s Day activities this weekend and forego visiting their favorite blog. But less than 48 hours later, listening to our own Prez. Obama at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, I remembered the value of the pesky press, especially the likes of Ken Ward.
Mr. Obama noted that the success of the newspaper industry
“is essential to the success of our democracy,”
reminding us that
“Thomas Jefferson once said that if he had the choice between a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, he would not hesitate to choose the latter. …A government without newspapers, a government without a tough and vibrant media of all sorts, is not an option for the United States of America. “
President Obama went on:
“…I may not agree with everything you write or report. I may even complain…from time to time about how you do your jobs, but I do so with the knowledge that when you are at your best, then you help me be at my best. You help all of us who serve at the pleasure of the American people do our jobs better by holding us accountable, by demanding honesty, by preventing us from taking shortcuts and falling into easy political games that people are so desperately weary of.”
So, rather than ignoring Ward’s reporting on Solis’ budget for MSHA, I looked at the Administration’s budget document myself (see page 786). Yes, as Ward reports, the Administration is proposing a $354 million budget for MSHA. That’s an increase of 2.017% over MSHA’s current funding level, but not likely to keep up with the projected annual inflation rate. When Secretary Solis described her proposed funding for MSHA as a 6.5 percent increase, she was comparing G.W. Bush’s proposed MSHA budget for FY 2010 to what had been enacted by Congress for FY 2009. A comparison that begged for a rebuttal—and got one from the Charleston Gazette’s A+ reporter.
I believe Mr. Obama when he says that the press helps him “do his job better, holds him accountable, demands honesty and prevents him from taking shortcuts and falling into easy political games that people are so desperately weary of.” I hope Secretary Solis and the senior officials she’s relying on feel the same way.
To Ken Ward: keep up the good work.
Note: Thanks to Politico.com for providing the full text of President Obama’s remarks and HuffingtonPost.com for the video replay.
Celeste Monforton, MPH, DrPH is an assistant research professor at the George Washington University School of Public Health. On Saturday night, she hob-knobbed at home with her husband and golden retriever while watching the White House Correspondents’ Dinner live on C-SPAN.