This why we can’t have nice things anymore.

For nearly a week the media has been pressured to focus on an irrelevant distraction involving President Obama’s silly claim that the “private sector is fine,” when he obviously meant to say something like, “we’ve created some jobs in the private sector but we’ve been losing them in the public sector, so we need more there, and neither is doing nearly well enough.” That’s more or less how he and his aides clarified his remarks after the GOP and Mitt Romney jumped on his foolish original phrasing.

But what should the media be reporting? The economic story of the decade is about what Paul Krugman has begun to describe as an ongoing “depression” — not as deep or serious as the “Great Depression” but still extremely serious for millions of Americans. Their conditions are not getting significantly better more than two years after the official “recession” ended, according to the formal ways economists measure these things.

So the political story of the decade should be focused on who is responsible for getting us here, why it happened, and then why are we failing to make substantial improvements in the lives and hopes of those most seriously affected?

And that’s where the media’s distraction by careless words is so damaging to the country.

I don’t care what this does to Mr. Obama’s reelection prospects. What matters now is whether the American media can be responsible enough to explain to the American people why things aren’t getting better sooner and then critically analyze whether either Party or candidate understands what needs to be done.

That assessment has nothing to do with careless Presidential statements. Instead the causes of this depression arise from incredibly reckless and often criminal conduct by the private banking system, misguided federal policies and spectacularly inept federal regulation starting with the Federal Reserve. And the failure to achieve stronger recovery is the result of a wholesale rejection of economic wisdom that we supposedly learned from the Great Depression but have recklessly ignored in the current depression.

We forgot the financial sector had to be regulated; we forgot the financial sector can tank the entire economy; we forgot that the financial sector can’t be allowed to bet public money for private profit. What do the two parties and candidates have to say about all this? One candidate says we need more regulation, but the regulatory remedies he proposed fall far short of what is needed. The other party is working hard to defund and defang the regulators, and it publicly intimidates the few regulators actually trying to do their jobs. The only words for that are economic terrorism.

The lessons from the Great Depression tell us what we need to be doing to restart the private economy, and it involves a great deal of federal pump priming, along with a lot of federal investment in an equally important but sadly neglected public sector.  But for three years, all of one party and most of the other has been preoccupied with doing just the opposite. Instead of stimulating the economy with more government spending, they’ve been dramatically reducing spending and locking themselves into worse, effectively bleeding an anemic economy. That’s political malpractice.

And the President was at the forefront of this misguided effort in appointing the Bowles-Simpson Commission, comparing the federal budget to a household budget, and telling us it would be okay for a grand bargain to cut back support for the most vulnerable as long as we also raised a little revenue from the wealthiest.

That should be part of the major critique of this President. But instead, we’re hearing bleating from the nanny goats on the other side whose party blocked even the modest efforts to revive the economy, who have repeatedly stopped efforts to rescue the states and prevent hundreds of thousands of layoffs. That’s morally equivalent to blocking the ambulances and first responders from getting to the victims of a train wreck.

In short, whatever one might say about the President’s handling of the economy, the critique coming from the GOP and Mr. Romney is 180 degrees off. Everything they would do would make matters worse. No reporting on Mr. Romney should ignore that.

So the story we’re not hearing is not just that the economy sucks, and not just that the incumbent President has not done enough of what needed to be done, but that his opponents propose to do even less or worse and both parties and the media are focused on phony deficit issues that are not the real crisis we face. There should be a massive tomato throwing at the lot of them, instead of the childish finger pointing the media is reporting.