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LATEST VICTIM! Richard Cohen—the CIR’S latest mark—hopes you’ll get mad about race:


TOOL TIME: This morning, Richard Cohen does the honors. The Slacker King recites the “20/12” spin-point late in his Washington Post column:

COHEN: [A]ffirmative action sets one race against another. It elevates race—sheer skin color—to an importance it should not have. Under the Michigan system, an “underrepresented racial or ethnic minority” gets a 20-point bonus even if he or she is the child of a dentist or Wall Street analyst. A perfect scorer on the SAT would get a measly 12 points.
Ironically, Cohen’s column runs under the following headline: “Failed College Math.”

Does UM’s admission policy “elevate race to an importance it should not have?” That is a matter of judgment. But Cohen produces a misleading pair of facts—and leaves out many others. Readers aren’t told that, along with those 12 points for SATs, applicants can get 80 points for their GPA, 10 points for attending a rigorous high school, and 8 more points for taking tough courses (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/20/03). Cohen hopes that you will get mad about race—so he tells you the facts that he hopes will enrage you. Whatever the justice of UM’s system, this system of rhetoric is quite well-known. Sadly, rhetoric like Cohen’s has played a key role in our national tragedy, race.

Reading Cohen, one gets the impression that Michigan gives extra points for race—and for nothing else. That, of course, is completely untrue—but you won’t ever learn it from Cohen. You won’t learn that white kids who come from poverty backgrounds can get those 20 bonus points too. You won’t learn that applicants can get 16 points if they’re from the Upper Peninsula—an area that is mainly white. And you won’t learn that other elements of UM’s system also tend to favor whites. For example, 4 points can go to alumni kids, who are predominantly white. Those 10 points for a rigorous high school? Most often, they will go to kids from the ’burbs or from private schools, who will most often be white. And how about that 12 points for the SAT—a test for which affluent kids can gain special preparation? Why can’t Cohen tell you the truth—that whatever we decide about UM’s system, it includes provisions that favor whites as well as that 20 for blacks?

Cohen doesn’t explain how the UM plan works. But then again, this is Richard Cohen—so he may not know his subject. As we’ve told you in the recent past, Cohen is one of the corps’ greatest slackers. Signs within this morning’s piece suggest that his sloth is at work once again.

Where does Cohen get his facts? His column starts with a silly deduction—and with a quote from the current Newsweek:

COHEN: In its Jan. 27 cover story on affirmative action, Newsweek tells us that less than “7 percent of Harvard’s current freshman class is black, compared with 12.9 percent of the overall population.” The implication is clear: This is a low, unacceptable figure that can be remedied only by the application of affirmative action.
Race-men will cheer Cohen’s weird deduction—that Newsweek, by stating elementary facts, has forced a “clear implication” upon us. But how hard has Cohen worked to master his subject? As we work our way through his piece, it seems that Newsweek may be all he has read. In paragraph 5, he again cites the Newsweek piece; in paragraph 6, he quotes a former UM president (the quote was “also in Newsweek,” he says). In fact, Cohen gives no sign of having read anything but the Newsweek piece—which may explain why he seems to know so little about UM’s plan. (The weird deductions that litter the piece are, of course his and his only.)

But then, Cohen has long been a slacker (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/24/02). In November 1999, he based a ranting column on a “quote” by Naomi Wolf—a “quote” which had never appeared in print, except in an old, mistaken Esquire which someone apparently gave him. In August 2000, he spent a column attacking Joe Lieberman for a phantom “quote”—for a statement which had actually been made by Lieberman’s opponent, George Bush! As Michael Kelly has long made clear, phoning in an op-ed piece is pretty much par for the course at the Post. But here is Cohen, at it again—clipping facts from a Newsweek piece and showing little sign of knowing how the UM plan actually works.

In this case, Cohen’s sloth may have made him a mark. Like a string of Slacker Pundits before him, he repeats the misleading “20/12” spin—a spin-point devised by the Center for Individual Rights, a conservative Scaife organization (see below). In doing so, he becomes a tool of conservative spin. Of course, the press corps’ slackers may not even know whose spin it is that they’re actually mouthing. Comically, Cohen is quite upset at that UM ex-prez. Again, we emit mordant chuckles:

COHEN: The university’s former president Lee C. Bollinger writes (again in Newsweek) that he knew when he went to Michigan in 1997 that “affirmative action in higher education was under siege from the right”—a sweeping characterization that must include me and the two-thirds of Americans who oppose such programs.
Sorry, Richard—that does include you. When you recite bogus spin from the latest Scaife org, yes, you’re a part of the right.

Tomorrow, we’ll continue to look at UM’s admission plan. Does the system have merit? That’s a matter of judgment. But Cohen’s latest slacker performance is nothing more than “failed college math.” Has Michigan really given in to low standards? We’re not sure—but low standards prevail when the slacker Cohen gets paid his big bucks by the Post.

CENTRAL FUNDING: There’s nothing wrong with repeating some org’s talking-point—unless the point is misleading. And the “20/12” spin-point is grossly misleading, as Jim Pinkerton helped us to see (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/20/03). That spin-point came from the CIR—and the CIR is funded by Scaife. This morning, Cohen does act as a tool of the right. To check out the funding, click here.

Bush says quota/quota/quota. Thursday: Kaus was right.

The Daily update:

(DON’T) TAX THE RICH: If John Tierney’s report in the Times is on target, Tarek Zahow is the guy Bush is after. Tierney asked voters in a tony suburb what they thought about estate taxes. Most people opposed repeal. But Zahow thought repeal was quite fair:

TIERNEY: The closest encouraging word for the Bush plan came [from] an Egyptian immigrant, Tarek Zahow, who commutes to his 70-hour-a-week job from a much less upscale neighborhood 15 miles out of town. “Of course I’m for tax cuts,” Mr. Zahow said. He said he supported the White House’s proposal, even though he realized the affluent would receive most of the money, and favored eliminating the estate tax even if it applied only to millionaires.

“I’m nowhere near a million in assets, but I might be someday,” he said. “I don’t think it’s fair to have a tax for just a few people. Charge everyone the same.”

“Charge everyone the same,” Zahow said. But that’s what estate tax repeal makes impossible. Just think how the system will work if the estate tax is killed. If the estate tax is repealed, Zahow—and other working people—will have to pay tax on the money they work for. Meanwhile, children of the very wealthy will pay nothing on the money they’re given. What kind of “values” would that reflect? What kind of system taxes policemen, nurses, teachers and welders, but gives lucky kids of the wealthy free rides? After all, for children of the very wealthy, inheritance is a form of income. Why should income from labor be taxed, but this income show up free of charge?

“Charge everyone the same,” Zahow said. Duh! That’s why we support an estate tax.