Taking Issue With -- The PBS News Hour, January 4, 2019

PBS NewsHour misses the real story of the government shutdown, for a tear-jerker. And bizarre border wall arithmetic.

We take issue with two items on Friday’s broadcast –

Issue 1.

Lisa Desjardins, on the “practical effects” of the partial government shutdown, showcased one woman – out of the “dozens and dozens” her producers solicited, and broadcast this –

[Starting at about 7 minutes into the video, the transcript reads:]

Lisa Desjardins:

Our team, our producers have been talking to dozens and dozens of people. And, first, let's talk with a federal employee.

We have asked some people to send in videos of their own stories. This is a woman of — a teacher whose husband is a federal prison guard in New Jersey. Let's hear how she says she's being impacted.

Carrie Sinone:

We have to rework the budget. We have to rework due dates. We have got to negotiate with companies. We have to swallow that pride and ask for extensions and ask for a little bit of understanding, knowing full well we're going to be charged extra interest.

We're going to be charged finance charges, which we're not going to be reimbursed for and we don't budget for monthly, because we do pay our bills on time normally. We have had to tell our children that we need to cut back on some things. Indoor soccer not happening this year.

You know, they see us stressed. And it's not fair and it's not good on them either. It stinks, and it needs to stop.

Sure, it’s wholly unfair to her family to bear the brunt of being caught up in a large political feud. “When the elephants fight, the grass gets trampled,” goes the African proverb.

But (at the acknowledged risk of sounding snarky) the reporting is incomplete. Hearing of the Sinone family’s travails, did our reporter inquire: How much is your monthly or annual income? How much is your teaching salary? (That’s still coming in, isn’t it?) How much is your husband’s federal salary? How long have you had these jobs? What is your family budget? Since this has only been two weeks – only one (or two) missed paychecks . . . . haven’t you anything saved for such a rainy day?

Having two surely respectable household incomes – two stable civil service jobs, probably with generous benefits, possibly union protected – and still not have savings enough to bridge what is still a rather minor mishap – the Sinomes should be complaining less to Lisa Desjardins, and listening more to Suze Orman!

But here’s a scoop! Our reporter herself is an expert on family finance, having authored Zombie Economics: A Guide to Personal Finance by Lisa Desjardins and Richard Emerson – available on Amazon.com.

The PBS crew found another couple, too –

Lisa Desjardins:

We have another example of a couple from Falls Church, both federal workers. They have two children who are special needs and are in therapy, and they're skipping therapy next week, for example, because they're worried about their salary loss because of the shutdown.

They have also been talking to school loan, car loan people to say, hey, we may not make the next payment.

Before getting to the budget questions – their empty rainy-day fund, and the couple’s questionable priorities in cutting off their kids’ therapy first (can’t they spare a smartphone, or a restaurant meal, or a movie before that?) – the gargantuan issue PBS missed is this: We have here two federal employees, with two kids with special needs, and they're so financially stretched that they cut the kids’ therapy . . . So, how’s Government-run healthcare working out for you folks?

There’s an informative (and sympathetic) story to tell here, on the precarious economics of the American Government-employed family, and maybe the inefficacy of government-health, but that’s not the one PBS tells.

Instead, purporting to report on the “practical” economics of the shutdown, it broadcasts a contrived tear-jerker (which, in another context, it would call "playing to its base.")

(Query: Does PBS have a rainy day fund, in case its Government paychecks are also delayed? Where will that base of viewers get its therapy if PBS goes dark?)

Issue 2.

On President Trump’s news conference comments on the border wall (6:28 into the video).

Lisa Desjardins:

The second thing he brought up was . . . the concern [for] terrorists crossing the border. And he referred that question to Secretary Nielsen. . . . We heard this concern a lot, terrorists are crossing the border, but we never know exactly what they're speaking about.

We got specifics today. Secretary Nielsen said Customs and Border Patrol has stopped over 3,000 people which we call special interest aliens. She went on to say, those are aliens who the intelligence community has identified as a concern because of either travel patterns that they have that have identified them as terrorists travel patterns, or these are people that have known ties to terrorism, 3,000 people crossing the border.

When you compare that to the number of everyone who was stopped across the border [evidently 300,000 by her arithmetic], Judy, that's 1 percent. But that 1 percent is a concern that is driving President Trump to ask for a wall.

Judy Woodruff: Fascinating.

Considering that a certain 19 infamous hijackers comprised merely 0.063333333333333% of 300,000, a full one-percent is huge. It’s fascinating, indeed, to consider what if there were a wall then.