Saturday, May 1, 2010

Perceptions and incentives

Economists believe that incentives matter, but does the New York Times? When the paper recently ran a sensationalist article on child abuse and the Catholic Church, it did not think it worth mentioning that a major source for the article, an attorney, had been party to 1500 lawsuits against the Catholic Church. When the paper was challenged on their report, the editors doubled down and said the background of the source did not affect the story, that the issue was a red herring. My guess is that people would have reacted very differently to the story if it had given the background of its source, and that the people involved at the Times understand that. Because their source benefits when the Church gets bad publicity, he has an incentive to present only information and spin that puts the Church in a bad light.

Economists believe that people respond to incentives. The media seem to believe that perceptions are more important than reality. Both can be right.

1 comment:

Michael J Oakes said...

The Wall Street Journal publishes a lengthy story of the flaws of the financial reform bill. A key source is a director at Goldman in charge of derivatives operations. Would the Time brush this aside, too?