AGC, ARTBA slam AP story on road stimulus

Did the highway construction portion of the stimulus bill really create any jobs? If you read Monday’s article from the Associated Press, you might think no. You might even be led to the conclusion the AP wanted you to come to: that the highway stimulus funds were a big waste of money.

I’d normally link to the story to let you see for yourself, but the AP in recent months has threatened to sue bloggers and news organizations that use or link to their material without prior consent. So Google around and see for yourself. Nonetheless the Associated General Contractors of America and the American Road & Transportation Builders Association have come out with strongly worded rebuttals. To quote from the AGC press release:

“As we cautioned the story’s two authors in advance, the fundamental assumptions in today’s Associated Press story are flawed. It is virtually impossible to measure the impact of $4 billion by looking at the overall employment figures for an industry experiencing a $137-billion drop in activity–especially when only one in twenty construction workers stand to benefit from those stimulus funds.”

ARTBA was even more critical:

“The Associated Press (AP) gets an “Incomplete grade overall on its January 11 article…and an “F” on presentation for potentially, if unknowingly misleading policy makers and the general public…

Since I still get some of my news the old fashioned way, via dead tree pulp tossed onto my driveway every morning, I did read the AP article. And as fits a dying media brand it was pretty bad.  The AP didn’t cite any numbers or original research or offer any web addresses where you could go look for this information. They just summarized the “conclusions” of a number of academics and university researchers, most of whom remained unnamed. That’s understandable, given that most journalists are mathematically illiterate, to say nothing of scientific or statistical illiteracy.

To add insult to an already injured piece of bad journalism, it would have been useful had the AP  tried to find out if the federal stimulus money was used to replace state and local highways funds so those states and regions could divert highway dollars to other programs. That would explain the lack of any significant job increases. And most thinking people would like to know if their federal tax dollars for highways are coming out the other end of the pipeline as money for goofball non-transportation related pet projects in bankrupt states like California. Or the AP might have taken a clue from the many news and commentary pieces that have come out in the last six months that noted it would be difficult if not impossible to put a number of “jobs saved or created” by any part of the stimulus bill.

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But that would be journalism, the good-old shoe leather type, which AP seems to have abandoned in favor of the “trust us, we’ve talked to the professors,” mode of reportage. Give them credit for this though: the AP did assign 11 reporters to fact check Sarah Palin’s new book.