Dec
16
2010

NBC Follows Comedic Code in Earmark Reporting

The earmarks story is a peculiar genre of journalism wherein you focus on how much government spending is directed to legislator-specified projects–generally without pointing out what a tiny fraction of total spending this is, or that without the earmarking this money would be spent anyway, on some project chosen by the executive branch. Then you rattle off a list of earmarked projects, often provided by a partisan source, which are generally chosen not for their inherent wastefulness but for their comedic potential.

Thus NBC Nightly News' Kelly O'Donnell on December 14:

Senator McCain's staff pointed to a few examples they call unnecessary spending: $208,000 for beaver management in North Carolina, $235,000 for noxious weed management in Nevada, $413,000 for peanut research in Alabama, and $247,000 for virus-free wine grapes in Washington state.

Now, all these are locally important agricultural products and/or problems, which would seem to be natural candidates for earmarks. But they are actually good candidates for mockery, given some basic laws of humor:

  • Peanuts are funny because peanuts are funny. (Substitute "wheat research in Kansas." See, not funny.)
  • Wine grapes are funny because wine is funny–it makes people drunk! And drunks are funny.

For the life of me, though, I don't understand why noxious weed management is supposed to be funny. Maybe Nevada is funny?

About Jim Naureckas

Extra! Magazine Editor Since 1990, Jim Naureckas has been the editor of Extra!, FAIR's monthly journal of media criticism. He is the co-author of The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error, and co-editor of The FAIR Reader: An Extra! Review of Press and Politics in the '90s. He is also the co-manager of FAIR's website. He has worked as an investigative reporter for the newspaper In These Times, where he covered the Iran-Contra scandal, and was managing editor of the Washington Report on the Hemisphere, a newsletter on Latin America. Jim was born in Libertyville, Illinois, in 1964, and graduated from Stanford University in 1985 with a bachelor's degree in political science. Since 1997 he has been married to Janine Jackson, FAIR's program director. You can follow Jim on Twitter at @JNaureckas.