The Democrats and most economists believe that the economy requires a stimulus package. Obama, being a moderate kind of guy, chose a moderate number for the size of the stimulus, as compared to the numbers suggested by economists. The Republicans, on the other hand, staked out an insanely far-right position: a spending freeze. (A freeze? Holy crap, we dodged a bullet in the last election. What if McCain had actually followed through on the Hooverian rhetoric?)
So the media, incompetent approval-seekers that they are, dutifully accepted those two positions as representing opposite ends of the spectrum and has presented them as such. The result is a "debate" wildly skewed towards the right.
This happens on many issues. In the lead-up to the Iraq war, the right staked out the "we must invade" position, while the left took to a moderate "let's wait and see" position. So the media dutifully framed the debate that way, effectively making the new center the "we'll probably invade soon, but we'll pay a little lip service to waiting first."
One major sin of news coverage, especially on TV, is the way certain points of view just get excluded from consideration — even if many of the best-informed people hold those views. Most famously and disastrously, the case against invading Iraq was just not heard in the months before the war.
And still it happens. According to the invaluable Media Matters, the idea that the Obama stimulus plan might be too small — a view held by many well-known economists — basically went unreported on broadcast news during the stimulus debate. Out of 59 broadcasts addressing the plan, only 3 mentioned concerns that the plan was inadequate. And it’s actually even worse than that: one of those three involved Harry Reid talking about longer-term goals on health and education — and one of the other two was me.
Meanwhile, it’s rapidly becoming clear that yes, the plan was too small.
The future of our economy is at stake. And it's at risk because the Republicans are better at framing the debate and the media are too cowed to correct for it.