This morning on NPR I heard a classic NPR-like story. It was a discussion of budget cuts and the potential effect on NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration). The story can be found here.
As I said, it’s a classic NPR story. The reporting is excellent; the sources are strong; the background is thorough and well-researched. However it seemed to me that there was an unspoken bias to the story: NOAA is important, the message of the story goes, and as such budget cutters ought to be very careful with what they choose to cut. Remaining unasked were questions of whether there might be other ways to organize the provision of such services. For example, much of the weather data provided by NOAA is ultimately piped through commercial handlers (media, websites, etc.). Could they pay for a privatized piece of the administration, and use revenues so generated to fund the truly public missions (e.g., hurricane tracking)? Could foreign governments “subscribe” to such services? I have no idea if either of these is at all reasonable, but the story contained what seems to me an unexamined assumption: if something is important, government should support it. Now, I generally agree with that proposition, but I do think that treating it as an assumption constitutes bias.