Newspapers, above all, must stick to facts

Newspaper editorial boards have no more leeway in civic discourse than anyone else. They are entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts.

Mike Owen
Mike Owen

It is always disappointing to see a reputable newspaper miss a chance to raise the level of political debate.

In one sweeping ideological rant, the Dubuque Telegraph Herald editorial board adopted false, political spin as its message and discarded legitimate research without reference in (1) complaining that the state of Iowa “offers a totally free insurance package to employees” when this simply is not true, and (2) asserting without evidence the idea that pay for public employees is competitive with private employees.

Regarding the first point, the newspaper’s complaint simply defies common sense.

Once and for all, let’s get one thing straight: Health benefits are part of compensation for work performed. Benefits are not “free,” any more than a paycheck is “free,” and it is absurd for anyone to suggest otherwise. Public employees receive those benefits because they put in the hours and provide the services as agreed upon by both employee and employer. They are not a gift.

Furthermore, any reduction of those bargained benefits would presumably be compensated with increased pay on the wage/salary side — unless the TH is making a case for a unilateral pay cut without offering any reason for it.

Ironically, the July 18 editorial comes about 13 months after the TH itself declared the public pay assertion to be “NOT TRUE” — the newspaper’s headline in a story noting the myth that obscures the very real pay gap favoring private-sector employees over public-sector counterparts. That story cited research by the Iowa Policy Project and others. IPP’s report may be found here. The IPP report has continued to be cited by many to correct the mythology on this issue and has yet to be substantively refuted by anyone, the TH editorial board included.

Newspaper editorial boards have no more leeway in civic discourse than anyone else. They are entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts. We should be able to expect that principle in every editorial, especially from newspapers that have given us a reason to expect it.

Posted by Mike Owen, Assistant Director