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||JUST THE FACTS! We will get full facts about Bushs plan? At THE HOWLER, we begin a great study:|
MONDAY, JANUARY 13, 2003
GOING BOLDLY: On Face the Nation, Bob Schieffer was reciting the spin-points. Here he was, discussing the Bush tax cuts with John Breaux (D-LA):
SCHIEFFER: Senator Breaux, one of the, sort of whats become the Democratic mantra is thisthis class warfare. Do you think thisthis is class warfare thats going on here?
Weep for a nation which has such men heading up its discourse. Its impossible to know what Schieffer is asking, but every GOP spinner in town has yelled class warfare about Dem critiques, and Schieffer also seemed to say that Dems were conducting that warfare. (Breauxs answer makes it clear that he took Schieffers question that way.) Later, discussing the Bush plan with Joe Klein and Dan Balz, Schieffer offered this shopworn point:
SCHIEFFER: Well, as you heard John Breaux sayand I must say I agree with himI think at this point, they dont have the votes to pass any component of this plan. But you have to say it is a bold stroke, and this president is about bold strokes.
You have to say that the plan is bold! But why on earth do you have to say that? As weve seen, the notion that Bush put out a bold plan is a prime White House spin-point (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/10/03). Every good GOP spinner has said it. And, although the statement added nothing whatever to the discussion, Schiefferhosting Face the Nationsomehow felt that it had to be said.
Is your press corps spilling with liberal bias? In this mornings Post, Howard Kurtz offers an intriguing portrait of Schieffer:
SCHIEFFER: During the 90s, Schieffer also struck up a friendship with George W. Bush when his brother Tomnow the U.S. ambassador to Australiabecame partners with the future president in the Texas Rangers. Bob and W. went to ballgames together, played golf, attended spring training. Hes a great guythat doesnt mean I agree with him, says Schieffer, adding that the situation became a little awkward when Bush ran for the White House but that hes never gotten favorable treatment.
Should major journalists strike up friendships with pols? Obviously, nothey should not. From Kurtzs piece, the timeline of the Schieffer-Bush friendship isnt clear. But one thing is clear; the claim that Schieffer has never given Bush favorable treatment is absurdly inaccurate. One of the most striking performances of Campaign 2000 occurred on July 8, 2000 when Schieffer and Gloria Borger (then co-host on Face the Nation) guested on CNBCs Russert program. Schieffer and Borger battered Gore from stem to stern over various matters (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/11/00). Then, Russert mentioned Candidate Bushs visit to Bob Jones University. Readers, can you say pander bears?
RUSSERT: When a lot of the revelations came out about Bob Jones University, and some of the things they had said at Bob Jones University even about his father, George W. Bush seemed genuinely startled and unaware.
According to Russert and Borger, Bush just didnt know about Bob Jones University! He was a victim of bad staff work, Borger said. As the conversation continued, Schieffers statements were simply amazing:
BORGER: Yeah, he was. I think he was very startled by it. It was pretty bad staff work for him. I think he got himself in a situation he couldnt believe. I mean, the notion that George W. Bush is a Bible-thumping conservative Republican of that ilk is something thats sort of hard to believe.
SCHIEFFER: In fact, were you [Russert] not the one who asked him the question, did he know what they had said about his father at Bob Jones? I think you were. And I believe thats the first time he had heard that.
Surely, Schieffer was the only sentient American adult who couldnt figure out why Bush went to Bob Jones. Here at THE HOWLER, we defended Bush against press attacks, noting that no previous GOP hopeful had ever been criticized for visiting the school. (Why did the press hammer Bush for this conduct? Dudes! It was a John McCain spin-point!) But Schieffer did a Full Grovel this daypretending that he couldnt even figure out why Bush ever went to Bob Jones. Why did Bush go to Bob Jones? Duh! To court an important South Carolina constituency, as a string of major Republicans had done before him. Schieffer couldnt have faked it more fully. His performance this day was utterly foolishone of the great panders of a pander-strewn campaign.
RUSSERT: We went to a commercial break, he said, I had never heard that before.
SCHIEFER: And I take his word on that. I to this day cannot figure out why George W. Bush went to Bob Jones.
Schieffer and Borger embarrassed themselves with their ludicrous outing on Russert. Now we learn that Schieffer and Bush are friendsand that you just have to say how bold Bushs plan is. Is there something wrong with Schieffers overall coverage of Bush? That, of course, is a matter of judgment. But Schieffers performance on Russert helps you see how thoroughly Campaign 2000 was actually spun.
THOSE STUBBORN FACTS: Facts are malleable things. Last Thursday, President Bush visited a flag factory in Alexandria, VA, to promote the merits of his budget proposals. Early in his speech, he said this:
BUSH: You hear a lot of talk in Washington, of course, about, you know, This benefits so-and-so or This benefits thisthe kind of, the class warfare of politics. Let me just give you the facts; that under this plan, a family of four with an income of $40,000 will receive a 96 percent reduction in federal income taxes. Now, that may not mean a lot of money to some of the big shots. It means a lot of money for the family of four making $40,000. The income taxes would drop from $1,178 a year to $45 a year. Thats real significant money for this family.
Let me just give you the facts, Bush saidand then he gave an absurdly selective fact, one designed to mislead, not illuminate. That family of four may reap those big savings, but most middle-income people arent families of four, and wont gain anything like that amount. What facts did Bush forget to mention? In 2003, tax-payers earning $29,000-46,000the middle fifth of all earnersgain an average of $289 under his plan. In truth, Bush wasnt really giving the facts. He was giving a fact which he likes.
Do voters deserve a full set of facts? And are journalists committed to that objective? In the coming weeks, well critique the way the press corps presents basic facts about Bushs plan. For now, though, scribes dont seem to be breaking their backs to get basic facts on the record. For example, heres how Bushs talking-point was treated on Saturdays Beltway Boys:
MORT KONDRACKE: Well, and weve got some, weve got some film here to demonstrate what the two sides are saying. Lets watch it.
At that point, were all supposed to enjoy a good laugh at how much money Mort will be saving.
FRED BARNES: Right, starting with Daschle and then Bush.
KONDRACKE: Yes, right.
TOM DASCHLE (on tape): This plan is obscene. It is wrong in how it is directed to the wealthy. It is wrong in how it is timed to benefit the rich not this year but years beyond this year. It is wrong in that it doesnt target stimulus at all. This is the wrong plan, and I think the president really ought to be embarrassed.
GEORGE W. BUSH (on tape): You hear a lot of talk in Washington, of course, about, you know, This benefits so-and-so or This benefits thisthe kind of, the class warfare of politics. Let me just give you the facts; that under this plan, a family of four with an income of $40,000 will receive a 96 percent reduction in federal income taxes. Now, that may not mean a lot of money to some of the big shots. It means a lot of money for the family of four making $40,000.
KONDRACKE: Yes, well, you know, people making $200,000 will make out, will, will, will feel pretty good tooor a million dollars.
BARNES: And then there are big shots like you
KONDRACKE: Who get even more. Anyway
Was something wrong with that presentation? That is a matter of judgment. On tape, Bush presents a highly selective factand little attempt is made to put it into a larger perspective. Is Bushs plan a good idea? That too is a matter of judgment. But surely, voters deserve a full set of facts. In the days and weeks ahead, well check out the press corps performance.
THE FACTSJUST FINAGLE THE FACTS: Dont miss Peter Kilborns oddball outing in this mornings New York Times. Kilborn attempts to describe the way Bushs plan will affect four American families. What makes his presentation so odd? One of the familiesthe Taylors of Atlantawouldnt tell him how much they earn! But no matter. Despite that discouraging lack of information, Deloitte & Touche somehow told the Times how much the Taylors would save under Bush! The Taylors could save about $2300 this year, Kilborn somehow managed to tell us.
Kilborns piece is badly damaged by the argumentative frame he hangs on it. The headline? Judging the Tax Plan, Four Families Shrug/Cuts Not Expected to Have Much Effect. The Times often frames this type of story this wayits families often say that the tax cuts wont have much effect, and that the money should be spent on the less fortunate. (Stephen and Lisa Ducharme, with two of their children, say the tax cut money should go to those worse off than they are.) We learn nothing at all from this anecdotal information, and were distracted from the actual facts which Kilborn actually provides. Here at THE HOWLER, we were especially intrigued by the Villas of Helena. More on their story tomorrow (we hope).
TOUGH TUESDAY: We may not be able to publish tomorrow. If we cant, well be back the next day.