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Daily Howler: The Tribune hates fake facts—in its comic strips. Everywhere else, they're encouraged
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TRIBULATIONS! The Tribune hates fake facts—in its comic strips. Everywhere else, they’re encouraged: // link // print // previous // next //

SNOW JOB: Uh-oh! A troubling strain of self-congratulation began to sweep some liberal circles when Bush’s Treasury Sec, John Snow, announced that Bush might do “add-ons.” (These private accounts wouldn’t replace part of Social Security; they would be in addition to the traditional plan.) The self-delusion is fairly widespread. It isn’t just that Senator Biden praised the idea on Meet the Press, in a hopeless, woeful appearance. No, it’s even worse than that. Last night, Amy Goodman even praised the idea on Hardball:
MATTHEWS (3/3/05)? What do you make, Amy, of the fact that the secretary of the treasury, the chief salesperson, after the president, for this proposal, said he really isn`t going to fight that hard; he might sign a bill that doesn`t include a diversion of money from the trust fund to these personal accounts?

GOODMAN: Well, I think it is very important, because Social Security is a safety net that is absolutely critical to save. And the American people understand that.

Careful, Goodman! Add-ons are a very shaky idea, for reasons we explained on Tuesday (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/1/05). Noam Scheiber has also explained the problem at The New Republic. But we think we can do it more simply.

Simple story: A savings account can’t be “in addition to” traditional SS unless traditional SS is still there. Therefore, for any new savings account to be an “add-on,” Democrats must first insure that future promised SS benefits will remain in place, uncut (at least for middle- and low-income earners). But according to the SS trustees, the program faces a $3.7 trillion shortfall over the next 75 years. Like the sainted Senator Moynihan before him, Bush wants to address that shortfall by cutting future promised benefits. Democrats should struggle to keep that from happening. But doing so will take lots of new revenue—yes, tax increases. It’s hard to imagine how you could finance “additional” savings accounts after you had financed that. And by the way—Bush would never permit such a thing, not in a million years.

What does this mean? Simple. Unprepared Democrats like Joe Biden have to stop praising the notion of “add-ons.” Instead, they need to start speaking up in praise of those future promised benefits. They have to look for ways to ensure that those benefits will still be there for future retirees. Once they’ve done that, there surely won’t be money for any “additional” accounts.

What will Bush do, if he’s eventually forced to propose these “add-on” accounts? Simple: He’ll leave the current funding shortfall in place, then set up those “additional” accounts. But that will leave that $3.7 trillion shortfall in the traditional program. Next step? In a future Congress, benefits will have to be cut to make the traditional system fully solvent. This brings us back to what Bush is now seeking: A major drop in guaranteed benefits, paired with private accounts.

The objective for Dems is very clear—they need to guarantee those future promised benefits. Any action which fails to do that opens the door for future mischief. And make no mistake, excited liberals; Bush and his team are much, much smarter than the current Dem leadership. You like to pretend that Bush is a dummy. But Dummy Biden sat on the air and foolishly praised a very bad plan—even as he rattled off bogus figures about traditional SS, bogus figures that came straight from Bush. Accept it: Bush is smarter than current Dem leaders. Biden proved that on Meet the Press. (For more proof, keep on reading. Key words? Gulp—Barack Obama.)

Secretary Snow was playing Good Cop—and some libs couldn’t wait to fall for his snow job. Readers, Dems must guarantee future promised benefits. There is no way—no way—to get “add-ons.”

TRIBULATIONS: Every so often, you just have to enjoy a good laugh at the ways of the mainstream “press corps.” This week, the Chicago Tribune provided the humor when its deeply conscientious editors rushed to fact-check Boondocks.

Yesterday, public editor Don Wycliff explained what happened. Two Boondocks strips had been pulled this week, and readers had written in to complain. One had even used the term “censorship.” Wycliff replied, in high dudgeon:

WYCLIFF (3/3/05): Let the record show that what Mr. McWilliams calls censorship we at the newspaper call editing. What he and a dozen or so other readers were complaining about was the decision of Geoff Brown, the associate managing editor for features/lifestyles, to not publish the Monday and Tuesday "The Boondocks” strips.

Brown said the problem was the same on both days: "The Boondocks” creator Aaron McGruder had characters stating as fact things that were not.

For the record, we would support that general principle. In a newspaper, comedians, humorists and cartoon writers shouldn’t be allowed to use fake facts to set up their hilarious punch lines. If a comic strip is pimping false facts, an editor might well decide not to run it. But what was the alleged fake fact in Boondocks—the fake fact the Tribune refused to run? All of a sudden, the Tribune is being extremely careful about these troubling misstatements:
WYCLIFF (continuing directly): One strip showed a character, Caesar, looking at a newspaper...and relating to another character, Huey, the news that "[President] Bush got recorded admitting that he smoked weed.” ...

Funny, perhaps, but only if you ignore that Bush was not recorded admitting that he smoked marijuana. As Brown pointed out in a heads-up memo in advance of the strip's publication date, "All reputable news sources reporting [on] the tapes were careful to draw INFERENCES, but no one can say Bush admitted to drug use."

Holy mackerel! All of a sudden, the Tribune is really a stickler for facts! It’s true—you had to infer that Bush smoked weed from the recorded phone call at issue. But the “inference” slapped you right in the face if you listened to what Bush said. In fact, you had to torture all earthly logic to avoid the obvious inference. Yes, if human beings can reason at all, George Bush has now said he smoked weed.

So yes—all of a sudden, the Chicago Tribune is being a bear when it comes to permitting fake facts. The Trib just won’t permit fake facts—if they appear on the comics page, and if the facts cut against Bush. But we couldn’t help asking an obvious question: Why doesn’t this mighty paper pursue fake facts on its news pages, too? In fact, those pages are littered with phony facts, and no one seems to give a good golly! Of course, the phony facts that the Tribune allows are fake facts that serve to help Bush.

Let’s examine the issue we’ve looked at all week: How much would transition costs be if we adopted Bush’s private accounts? If the Tribune is such a bear on fake facts, why did the paper print this misleading report by Jill Zuckman?

ZUCKMAN (3/2/05): Senate Democrats plan to hold forums in New York, Philadelphia, Phoenix and Las Vegas on Friday and Saturday to continue raising questions about the wisdom of Bush's plan. Democrats, by and large, say that diverting money from the traditional Social Security program would undermine it and hurt the economy by adding a couple of trillion dollars to the national debt.
Really? Is that an accurate statement? In fact, Harry Reid, the top Senate Democrat, was roasted by the Post just last week for saying that the private accounts would add $4.9 trillion to the national debt, just in the first twenty years! Indeed, even Dick Cheney has said that the private accounts would cost more than “a couple of trillion dollars.” But you’d never know that from reading the Tribune! Last Saturday, for example, Zuckman profiled Rick Renzi, a GOP congressman from Arizona. Renzi is a moral man. And you could tell that, because Zuckman wrote this:
ZUCKMAN (2/26/05): And if a voter has a worry, then most likely Renzi shares it. For example, he's nervous that a market downturn could leave those who opt for private accounts in the lurch. And his brow furrows at the notion of borrowing a trillion or more dollars to create personal accounts and shore up the current system.
Slick! Zuckman’s slick phrasing was technically accurate! The borrowing would come to “a trillion or more dollars,” just the way the experienced scribe said! But would a Tribune reader ever know how many “more dollars” are involved in this process? Searching through the Tribune’s files, we can find no attempt to explain how large the borrowing might be. Instead, we keep reading low-ball accounts—slippery accounts that are technically accurate but grossly misleading, like this one:
ZUCKMAN (2/18/05): Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan gave Bush's idea for private accounts a muted endorsement Thursday as he testified before the House Financial Services Committee.

"These accounts, properly constructed and managed, will create a sense of increased wealth" for middle- and lower-income workers, Greenspan said.

But Greenspan said he has concerns about the cost of putting such a plan in place, estimated at about $2 trillion.

Estimated at about $2 trillion—by whom? The CBPP estimates the cost at $4.9 trillion for the first twenty years. According to Paul Krugman, the CBO estimates the cost at $15 trillion over a five-decade span. But would any Trib reader have any idea about the real estimates that have been offered? On February 17, William Neikirk served up this loud howler:
NEIKIRK (2/17/05): The president's plan estimates transition costs at $754 billion over only six years, and presumably well beyond $1 trillion during the first decade of operation. Some critics claim transition costs of the Bush plan could total more than $2 trillion over 10 years.
Huh? Some “critics” “claim” it could cost “more than $2 trillion over ten years?” Two weeks earlier, Dick Cheney had said that the plan would cost $800 billion in the first decade and “trillions more after that.” But Tribune readers aren’t being told that. One day earlier, for example, Zuckman had written this cant:
ZUCKMAN (2/16/05): Under Bush's plan, workers under 55 could voluntarily send 4 percent of their wages into a private savings account in hopes of earning more money for retirement than they would if the same amount was deposited into the Social Security system. Democrats, however, say it would cost several trillion dollars to start the private accounts, ballooning the budget deficit and undermining the traditional program.
“Democrats” say that? Dick Cheney said that!! But for some reason, the Tribune has never reported what Cheney said. (Or the CBO. Or the CBPP.) Instead, the paper keeps low-balling the transitions costs—and attributing the low-ball claims to Dems. And of course, all this bullsh*t is A-OK—as long as it’s kept to the Tribune’s news pages! At the Tribune, fake and misleading facts are OK—until they show up in cartoons.

By the way, how alert were Tribune editors during Campaign 2000, when the paper was printing fake facts about Gore? Let’s assume that we don’t have to ask. Did George Bush say that he smoked some weed? Editors are touchy about such a statement. But editors must have been in the Bahamas when the paper’s Washington bureau chief, James Warren, published this utter embarrassment—this repulsive string of fake, phony facts, the fake facts that turned an election:

WARREN (3/19/00): Poor Al Gore. We pick on him, but we like him. Al Gore is very nice. He's a good guy. But he keeps getting in trouble for taking credit for things he had nothing to do with. Remember first he said he was the inspiration for the book "Love Story." Remember that? That wasn't true. Then he said he invented the Internet. Remember that? That was false. Then just last week he claimed to have exposed the Love Canal scandal. That was false too. You know what's ironic? The only thing he'll really be able to take credit for—getting George W. Bush elected.
Al Gore said he invented the Internet! By this time, a stream of half-witted Tribune writers had been making the fake claim for a good solid year. And by the way, how fact-challenged was the hapless Warren? Gore’s misquoted statement about Love Canal occurred in November 1999. Four months later, Warren weirdly reported that Gore had made the statement “just last week.” It’s hard to be more clueless than that. But somehow, the Tribune’s concern about fake facts failed to trigger at this juncture. The paper continued printing utter bullsh*t about Candidate Gore right through the November election.

We’ve told you this again and again—if they didn’t exist, you couldn’t invent them. The Chicago Tribune hates fake facts—in its comic strips, about Bush. All other fake facts? They’re encouraged.

ONE MORE MAJOR DEM DIM-WIT: On February 6, Cheney said the transition to private accounts would cost $800 billion in the first decade, and “trillions more after that.” But no—the Chicago Tribune has never reported this to its readers. Nor has the paper ever reported the estimate by the CBPP—$4.9 trillion in just the first twenty years. Nor has the Tribune mentioned that reported CBO estimate—$15 trillion in all.

Of course, many Dems are too stupid to cite these facts too. Try to believe that he actually said it! The Tribune’s Jennifer Skalka reported:

SKALKA (2/15/05): Illinois Sen. Barack Obama chided President Bush on Monday for proposing a federal budget that Obama says falls about $4 billion short of honoring the nation's commitment to veterans.

"Four billion dollars is a lot, but it's not a lot when you consider the overall [Department of Veterans Affairs] budget or the fact, for example, that the president is looking to borrow one trillion dollars in order to finance his Social Security scheme," Obama told reporters in Chicago.

Incredible. Eight days after Cheney’s statement, the hapless Obama—everyone’s favorite—was pleasantly telling Chicago reporters that the transition would cost just one trillion dollars! And let’s remember the crucial context. The Washington Post’s survey made it clear—support for Bush’s plan disappears when voters are told about its high costs. But so what? Hapless Democrats—dumb-bells like Obama—just keep misstating, way low!

No, you really can’t get dumber. Let’s go ahead and name it—malfeasance. But the Tribune printed Obama’s fake fact. The eds never said Boo about it.