This week, Vermont’s Public Broadcasting ConglomerateTM has been releasing Part 2 of its (obligatory full name here) VPR – Vermont PBS 2022 Poll. And today’s story about one result is a study in journalistic imbalance.
The article is about the above question: Would you recommend that a young person stay in Vermont or leave?
The total result goes right down the middle: A bit more “leave” than “stay” with a sizable tranche “not sure.” Within that, however, Republicans were far less sanguine on Vermont as land of opportunity. A full 63% of Republicans said “leave.” Among independents, that number was 32%, and for Democrats it was 43%.
That’s perfectly fine fodder for a think piece. But the story that came out of the VPBCTM sausage factory was basically PR for a tired Republican talking point. A talking point that’s been repeated so often, for so long, that it’s become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Before we get to that, we have to consider the people quoted in the story. Since it’s about Republican skepticism regarding opportunity for young people, they quote one current UVM student and one former — both of whom have roles in the Scott administration. Franklin Cody is the president of the UVM College Republicans, and a “Constituent Services Representative” in Scott’s executive office. His administration role gets the barest of mentions, and is buried in the tenth paragraph: “Vermont, with its Republican governor — who Cody works for — is a bit more complicated, politically, than many outsiders imagine.”
The other young Republican is Delaney Courcelle, former head of the UVM College Republicans and Scott appointee to the Vermont Commission on Women. Is it any surprise that Cody and Courcelle parrot the Administration line that Vermont is a bad place for young people because of “the cost of living and high taxes”? Were these two really the best representatives of Vermont youth?
Now, let’s talk about the problem of self-fulfiling prophecy.
Step with me into the Wayback Machine. Destination: Detroit in the early 90s. The Detroit Tigers were then owned by Tom Monaghan, the founder of Domino’s Pizza. He’d hired former Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler to be team president.
Schembechler’s tenure is remembered for three things: He fired legendary broadcaster Ernie Harwell, he set the stage for one of the worst decades in team history, and he led the clarion call for a new ballpark. He complained at every opportunity that Tiger Stadium was a terrible place to go with outdated facilities in an unsafe neighborhood. I remember him saying at one point that the team shouldn’t be “chained to a rusty girder.”
Tiger Stadium is gone now and the team has a new stadium with nice amenities but no soul or heritage. At about the same time, new Red Sox ownership took the opposite tack, resisting the temptation to build anew and investing in its aging crown jewel, Fenway Park.
The Tigers wrote their own narrative of their ballpark as a rundown dump in a crime-ridden area. Vermont Republicans have been doing the same thing for years. Gov. Phil Scott never misses an opportunity to say how terrible things are in Vermont and how this group or that is fleeing en masse. There is truth in what they’re saying, but (a) they’re leaving out all the good things Vermont has to offer, and (b) it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Of course most Republicans believe young people should flee the state; their leaders have been filling their ears with that argument.
Meanwhile, there’s little to no evidence for the assertion beyond the anecdotal, just as there’s no evidence to support the idea that older people or rich people are fleeing Vermont in droves because of high taxes. But that doesn’t stop Republicans from saying it, and the constant repetition drives it deep into Republican minds.
In sum, this apparently dramatic finding exists in a closed feedback loop: Republican leadership hammers home a point, Republicans believe it moreso than others. The article itself is yet another feedback loop, quoting young Republicans tied to the Scott administration repeating said administration’s talking points. And it’s all regurgitated by the generously resourced news operation at VPR/VTPBS.