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THE REPORT THAT DIDN’T EXIST! Ryan Grim said it didn’t exist. Then, he linked you to it: // link // print // previous // next //

In which we turn into them: I don’t know why we do this. (The analysts have been sent from the room.) One of our favorites (no name allowed) wrote this yesterday, and angry readers agreed: “The Sunday talk shows were filled with conservatives (it really is a new era on Sunday mornings, isn't it?) trashing the Obama recovery plan and demanding more concessions in exchange for their votes, despite the fact that they have almost no leverage in the Congress.” A link went to this New York Times report, which quoted Boehner and McCain.

For ourselves, we didn’t remember the Sunday shows being filled with conservatives. And so, we decided to check it out! Here are the actual Rep and Dem guests, all of whom appeared in stand-alone segments. For the first four shows, we can provide word-counts for the segments:

Fox News Sunday:
John McCain/R (2334 words)
Charles Schumer/D (2398 words)

Meet the Press:
Larry Summers/D (3415 words)
John Boehner/R (2018 words)

This Week:
Nancy Pelosi/D (3190 words)

Face the Nation:
Joe Biden/D (3486 words)

State of the Union (successor to Late Edition):
Lindsey Graham/R
Kent Conrad/D
David Plouffe/D
Michael Bloomberg/NYC

Among political guests, Reps were vastly outnumbered by Dems. On the first four shows, Reps got out-worded, three-to-one. And yet, we were somehow convinced that we’d gotten the shaft, just like we always do.

I don’t know why we want to do this. This represents the mental world of Hannity, Brent Bozell, Bernie Goldberg. Did we really struggle through all that sludge so we could be just like them?

THE REPORT THAT DIDN’T EXIST: It would be hard to be a bigger hack than one progressive is this morning. For many years, we complained as the Bozells, the Hannitys, the Goldbergs, the Coulters played conservative readers for fools. But this week, it’s been the turn of the liberals. Below, you see Steve Benen’s opening paragraphs. As you read them, you enter the mental world of Hannity, Goldberg, Bozell:

BENEN (1/27/09): AN ACTUAL CBO REPORT ON STIMULUS.... The report from the Congressional Budget Office, purportedly showing that the Democrats' stimulus proposal would be ineffective, did not exist. A more reliable document really was released by the CBO late yesterday, however, and the results are far more encouraging. Indeed, the CBO found that implementing the stimulus plan "would have a noticeable impact on economic growth and employment in the next few years.”

Kevin Drum took a look at the numbers and came away with a positive impression.

Did you follow the logic there? Yesterday’s document is “more reliable” than the one which didn’t exist!

Forget about Kevin’s positive impression, which may well be perfectly justified. (For Kevin’s post, just click here.) Consider instead the ludicrous, time-wasting, rube-running process by which we reached this point. In particular, consider Benen’s continuing claim that the CBO’s first report/document “did not exist.” This claim is just as absurd today as it was last Friday evening, when it made its debut on the web. And by the way: This latest document from the CBO comports quite perfectly with the first—with the report-which-didn’t-exist. If this document gives us a “positive” vibe, then the initial CBO document could have done so too.

That first report “did not exist?” We’ve been amazed, down through the years, to see progressives cast themselves in the Bozellian mold, offering bits of abject nonsense to trusting, misused readers. But this foolish episode does take the cake. Let’s recall where it started:

The problem began last Friday evening, with this weak piece by Ryan Grim at The Huffington Post. Within a few hours, Josh Marshall had linked to it under this plaintive headline: “BETTER MEDIA, BETTER GOP, PLEASE.” Marshall offered no explanation of what the media had done wrong. (Or the GOP, for that matter.) Instead, he posted the first three paragraphs of Grim’s report. Reading Marshall’s quickie, crowd-pleasing post, you would have thought (if we may borrow from Twain) that reports of a recent analysis/study had been greatly exaggerated. Indeed, you would surely have thought that no such CBO report/analysis/study had ever existed:

GRIM, AS EXCERPTED BY MARSHALL (9/23/09): Reports of a recent study by the Congressional Budget Office, showing that the vast majority of the money in the stimulus package won't be spent until after 2010, have Democrats on the defensive and the GOP calling for a pullback in wasteful spending.

Funny thing is, there is no such report.

“We did not issue any report, any analysis or any study,” a CBO aide told the Huffington Post.

That was it! After reading Marshall’s post, trusting readers might surely have thought that the CBO “did not issue any report, any analysis or any study” about the stimulus package. But in fact, the CBO had issued such an analysis; more precisely, the agency had issued an analysis of the large infrastructure component of the package, an analysis which was well worth considering. Indeed, shortly after the passage Marshall quoted, Grim had actually linked to the CBO’s report/analysis/study—to the three-page document which didn’t exist, if you were willing to put your faith in the likes of Marshall.

That’s right! Right there in his HuffPo report, Grim linked to the CBO report/analysis/study. Even today, you can link to it too! For the record, the CBO analysis-which-didn’t-exist carried this actual title:


In our view, that was a rather lengthy title for a report/analysis which didn’t exist. For our money, Grim never really managed to explain what was wrong with the CBO’s work (more below). Nor did he really explain what was wrong with two news reports to which he disapprovingly linked. (One report was by the Associated Press, one by the Washington Post.) And by the way, what sort of hack-work can you get at The Huffington Post? This was the utterly ludicrous headline sitting atop Grim’s report:

Controversial CBO Report On
Stimulus Turns Out Not To Exist

Did The Onion buy HuffPo when no one was looking? According to the headline, the controversial report had somehow turned out “not to exist.” And yet, in paragraph 6 of that very story, Grim had managed to link to it! This pretty much proves what the experts have said; no one reads past paragraph 3 of a Huffington Post report. At any rate: Through the miracle of the web, Grim had linked to a three-page study/report—a report which didn’t exist!

Quick background: If you want to understand the way we rubes got run by “progressive” “leaders” all weekend, the sleight-of-hand Benen continues today turns on a tiny semantic distinction. The analysis which the CBO produced wasn’t really a “report,” your leaders will tell you, if you click and click and click till you find their “explanation.” Empowered by this perfect nonsense, they proceeded to run us rubes all weekend, handing us the perfect nonsense Benen still dishes today. (You’ll note that Kevin sidesteps this matter.) But in fact, the CBO had prepared an analysis of a large part of the stimulus plan, presumably at the request of members of Congress. (Duh. That’s one of the agency’s functions.) Just for the record, let’s get clear on the time-line:

Thursday, January 15, 2009: Judging from the title of the CBO document, the CBO analyzed the House stimulus plan as it existed on this date. Grim didn’t say otherwise.

Sunday, January 18: The CBO analysis was “released to lawmakers” on this day, the AP later said.

Tuesday, January 20: The AP filed this news report, to which Grim disapprovingly linked, about the CBO’s “findings.”

Wednesday, January 21: The Washington Post published this news report on the same topic. Grim linked here too.

So let’s see: To all appearances, the CBO analysis concerned a large part of the stimulus package as it existed on January 15. The analysis was sent to members of Congress three days later; the AP ran its news report two days after that. In his piece at The Huffington Post, Grim seems to complain that the CBO’s report was outdated in some significant way. (“Significant changes have been made to the part of the bill the CBO looked at,” he wrote. He didn’t quantify or describe these changes, or say when they may have occurred.) But as such matters go, the news reports by the AP and the Post struck us as rather timely. Had significant changes to the stimulus package been made by the time these reports appeared? We have no idea, since Grim made no real attempt to say. But when the AP’s report hit the wires, it was apparently discussing the stimulus package as it had existed just five days before. Had something significant changed in the interim? Grim forgot to say.

So yes, there was a CBO analysis/study/document, despite angry claims to the contrary. Beyond that, it’s hard to know, from Grim’s report, what was supposed to be wrong with that study/analysis, or with the subsequent news reports by the AP and the Post. Both news reports made it perfectly clear that only part of the $825 billion package had been reviewed by the CBO. And both news reports were careful to note that other parts of the stimulus package would get their money into the bloodstream more quickly than the infrastructure component, the part the CBO had reviewed. The AP’s opening paragraph was potentially misleading, but the points of confusion were quickly clarified. And in all honesty, there was nothing wrong with the Post’s report. As a piece of journalism, it was roughly a thousand times more competent than Grim’s faltering effort.

Which brings us back to Benen’s piece about the new CBO report—the report which can be said to exist. Steve doesn’t tell us this, but the new report—the report which does exist—seems to be completely consistent which the first analysis/study. Late in his post, Steve links to Lori Montgomery’s news report in this morning’s Post, in which she describes the CBO’s new presentation. But uh-oh! According to Montgomery, the findings in the new study are quite consistent with those in the first—in the report which didn’t exist. Benen skips over this point.

“Significant changes have been made to the part of the bill the CBO looked at?” Grim offered that claim last Friday, and “progressive” “leaders” howled all weekend about this deeply significant matter. But wouldn’t you know it? Unless something is grossly wrong with Montgomery’s report, it doesn’t seem to have turned out that way. By the way: No major Democrat offered this claim in discussing this matter this weekend.

Kevin says the speed-of-spending in the bill “strikes me as pretty good.” Indeed, this may be a fabulous bill; on that point, we offer no view. But for ourselves, we wasted a ton of time last weekend chasing after the absolute nonsense which got its start in the metaphysical clowning at The Huffington Post. As we wasted this ton of time, we noted that none of the adults involved (Peter Orszag; Paul Krugman; Nancy Pelosi) adopted the utterly ludicrous notion that the CBO study “didn’t exist.” Instead, they did what grown-ups might actually do. They offered sensible, substantive reactions to its content—which they didn’t dispute.

Yes, Virginia! There was an initial report/analysis/document—and the findings in the new report seem to comport with it thoroughly. But so what? “Progressives” savaged the one report; today, they heap praise on the other! Worst of all: In comments sections all over the web, we’ve seen the misinformed posts of angry progressives who got rube-run all weekend long. Examples? Just look at the first three comments on Benen’s new post. When you do, you’ll see a sad sight. You’ll see what the liberal brain look like on silly Bozellism.

We’re always amazed when “intellectual leaders” treat their readers with open contempt. When we started THE DAILY HOWLER, this rube-running was a pseudo-con game, enjoyed by Bozell—and by Coulter. Last weekend, we liberal rubes got a good solid run. And this morning, we’re told to promote a new report/study—a new report which seem to align rather thoroughly with the first one, which didn’t exist.

As always, we thank the professors: Luckily, we still have our economics professors to help us think our way through such matters. We turned to one last weekend:

ATRIOS (9/24/09):
Your Liberal Media
Still happy to run with any Republican horseshit it is fed.
Get used to it.

That was it—though you got a link to this post by Steve. Presumably, you could go there if you needed to know what sort of “horseshit” the “liberal media” had been so “happy to run with.” Steve at least managed to offer some nuance. “The CBO report, as it's been described, doesn’t exist,” he said.

By this morning, it hadn’t existed at all. The new report was “more reliable.”

Final points: Peter Orszag is Obama’s OMB head. When he responded to the first CBO analysis, he was responding to Senator Conrad, a very competent Democrat. Did that mean this was really Democratic horsesh*t? (Should Marshall have demanded “BETTER DEMOCRATS, PLEASE?”) Knowing that Conrad isn’t a servant, a clown or a fool, Orszag didn’t channel the nonsense that wasted your time on the web all last weekend. Behaving as grownups will sometimes do, he gave a substantive response to what the CBO had found. He didn’t tell Conrad that the CBO analysis “didn’t exist.”

On Monday, Krugman wrote an entire column about GOP criticisms of the stimulus package—but he didn’t echo this foolishness either. It seems we’re all Bozell/Hannity now—except twice-weekly for him.

Note: If you’re offended by what we’ve written, lighten up! It doesn’t exist!