Today Is the Slowest News Day of the Year. Just Look at the New York Times

by Michael Kinsley | December 28, 2013

One day’s New York Times front page. The day happens to be Saturday, December 28, 2013, the Saturday between Christmas and New Year’s Day, probably the slowest news day of the year. Of the six stories that make the front page, only one qualifies as news: A federal judge rules that the National Security Agency may continue to gather phone records of private citizens. Less than two weeks ago, another federal judge ruled the precise opposite.

I’m all for the media taking a broader view of what’s important than just things that happened yesterday. But really: "Turkey Legs Conquer Land of Mouse Ears"? It’s about how turkey legs have become a hot snack item at Disney theme parks. I kid you not.

Three of the other four stories—half the stories on the front page—are essentially the same story: Some people get too much money. The fourth is a variation on the theme: Some people get too little money.



OK, maybe the lead doesn’t tell the story. But the piece goes on, “Turn south, and you head into Palm Springs with its megastores, golf courses and bustling shops. Turn north and you make your way up an arid stretch of road…” OK, the second paragraph doesn’t tell the story either. But the third paragraph reveals that Desert Hot Springs is on the verge of bankruptcy “largely because of police salaries and skyrocketing pension costs.”

Deep into the story, we learn that the average pay and benefits of a police officer in Desert Hot Springs is $177,203, compared with a median household income of $31,356. This will be the city’s second bankruptcy. Its first, in 2001, came after losing a $10 million lawsuit by a developer over affordable housing.



So that’s it for page one. Inside is a “too little money” classic: “In Battle Against Fraud in Free Phone Service, the Poor Might Pay the Price.” Fifteen million Americans get 250 free minutes of phone time a month—and a phone—under a Federal program actually called “Lifeline.” To qualify, you have to meet some income requirements or be on Medicaid or food stamps. But it seems that some people are signing up for more than one phone. So the Georgia Public Service Commision is proposing to require service providers to start charging participants five dollars a month, which in some way is supposed to discourage fraud. Without, presumably, too much trouble, the writer finds one woman who says she will be forced to choose between her phone and her prescription drugs.

No, no, no, New York Times! I’m not going to oppose any government welfare program, however idiotic, at a time when Congress is cutting non-idiotic programs like unemployment compensation. And maybe five bucks a month really will push this woman over the edge. But “she won’t be able to afford her prescription drugs” is the heavy artillery in “too little money” stories, and really belongs in the unemployment compensation piece on page one.

So that’s four front page stories and one big inside story, all presented as separate and unrelated to each other, with variations on the same broad theme of income distribution. A coincidence? Yes probably. Or maybe the New York Times is on to something.

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