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PUZZLING PUNDIT PROFILES (PART 2)! Who lost the budget, Paul Krugman asks. Incomparably, we help with his answer:

FRIDAY, MARCH 21, 2003

WHO LOST THE TRUTH: “Who lost the U.S. budget?” Paul Krugman asks in this morning’s column. He gives an answer—the Bush Admin did—then describes the kind of dissembling this Admin seems to love so well:

KRUGMAN: The administration has tried to deny this conclusion, inventing strange new principles of accounting in the process. But the simple truth is that the Bush tax cuts have utterly transformed our fiscal outlook, for the worse.
Beyond that, Krugman describes the role of the press in letting this type of dissembling take root:
KRUGMAN: [M]any commentators are reluctant to blame George W. Bush for that grim outlook…[P]undits like to sound “balanced,” pronouncing a plague on both parties’ houses. To accuse the current administration of wrecking the federal budget sounds, well, shrill—and we don’t want to sound shrill, do we?
Timid pundits have stood silently by. In the process, gross dissembling has become a way of life inside the current administration.

But this story begins some years ago, during Campaign 2000. Let’s return to an important episode in that story—one which Americans simply must understand.

A remarkable event occurred in the first Bush-Gore debate, held on October 3, 2000. In his very first statement of the evening, Candidate Bush said this:

BUSH: I want to take one-half of the surplus and dedicate it to Social Security, one-quarter of the surplus for important projects, and I want to send one-quarter of the surplus back to the people who pay the bills. I want everybody who pays taxes to have their tax rates cut.
That was the start of Bush’s very first statement—and it was utterly false. Was it true? Did Bush want to devote one-quarter of the surplus to tax cuts, and one-quarter of the surplus to “important projects?” In fact, Bush’s budget plan called for $1.3 trillion in tax cuts—and $474 billion in new spending (over ten years). In fact, his tax cuts outstripped new spending by a ratio of roughly three-to-one. Nor was it any secret that Bush’s statement was utterly bogus. In the weeks leading up to this seminal debate, this same Paul Krugman had devoted three separate columns to this matter (Bush was routinely making this presentation in TV appearances and on the stump). In short, every reporter in the country knew that Bush’s statement was false. And every scribe surely understood the reason for Bush’s repeated dissembling. Gore was arguing that Bush’s tax cuts used too much of the federal surplus; the tax cuts didn’t leave enough for important new spending, Gore said. Bush’s bogus budget pitch served to reassure voters. Bush pretended that his new spending was equal to his tax cuts. There’s a traditional word for such presentations, of course. And you know what that word is. The word’s “lying.”

But by the time Bush and Gore debated, your “press corps” had picked out a pleasing script for coverage of Campaign 2000. According to this press corps invention, Al Gore was a liar, just like Bill Clinton. And to give this pleasing script real punch, your “press corps” pretended that Candidate Bush was a plain-spoken man who says just what he thinks (a silly portrait they’ve stuck with right up to this day). All coverage of Campaign 2000 was adjusted to fit these pleasing portrayals. And so your press corps got busy on October 4, looking for ways that it could pretend that it was actually Gore who had lied.

Shall we revisit the shameful ways your “press corps” pretended that Gore had lied? During the debate, Gore had read from a newspaper article about a girl in a crowded high school who didn’t have her own desk. Repeat: Gore had read from a newspaper article (from the Sarasota Herald-Tribune). But in the weeks since the piece had appeared, the girl had finally gotten a desk; another student had let her use his, although the school remained overcrowded. Result? The press corps screamed and yelled for a week about Gore’s disturbing problem with the truth. Bush’s rank dissembling—about a little thing like the budget—was almost completely ignored.

For the record, Bush’s fakery about the budget was hardly his only transgression. In this debate, he completely misstated his own prescription drug plan in a lengthy back-and-forth session with Gore. (“You can look at your own web site,” Gore said at one point.) During that session, Bush repeatedly accused Gore of using “phony numbers” and “fuzzy math”—although Gore’s numbers were perfectly accurate (as every reporter surely knew). Later, Bush bizarrely said that Gore had raised more money than he had—although Bush had raised about twice as much (as every reporter certainly knew). And he offered other gong-show misstatements, plainly fudging his clear position on the “morning after” pill, for example. But your Washington “press corps” had a hard script in hand—and your Washington “press corps” was determined to type it. Gore was savaged as a liar—for reading from a major newspaper! Bush’s groaning misstatement about his budget? Every reporter must have known it was false. And they all knew enough not to say so.

Who lost the budget? Your “press corps” did! The invaluable Krugman is far too polite in his comments on this rank, troubling mafia.

VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: In the most perceptive column of the campaign, Post ombudsman E. R. Shipp said that the Post’s reporters seemed to be “assigning roles” in a “drama” as they covered the White House race. Her column, of course, was completely ignored. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/9/02, with links to real-time reporting.

LATEST EXAMPLE: This Admin dissembles the way most people breathe. See Jake Tapper in this morning’s Salon.

NEXT PUNDIT PROFILE: On Fox & Friends, Cheri Jacobus ranted and railed, calling Daschle “the new Hanoi Jane.”

The Daily update

TRUE TO THEIR SCRIPTS: How did “reporters” cover that first debate? In his instructive book, Ambling Into History, the New York Times’ Frank Bruni described his thoughts as he watched Bush stumble, misstate and flounder. “I remember watching the first debate from one of the seats inside the auditorium and thinking that Bush was in the process of losing the presidency,” Bruni wrote. But that’s what Bruni wrote in his book—a book he published in 2002. What did he write in the Times, one day after this decisive debate? See THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/18/02 and 8/1/02—and recall the way your scripted “press corps” made a farce of your White House election.

In that 8/1 HOWLER, by the way, you can review the remarkable statements of several pundits in the wake of that first debate—scribes who said that the pundit corps was refusing to say what it actually thought. For example, here was conservative pundit Tucker Carlson’s remarkable statement:

CARLSON (10/4/00): I think a lot of people—they don’t, necessarily, break down along ideological lines—believe that, you know, maybe Bush didn’t do as good a job as he might have. And yet, the coverage does not reflect that at all. It’s interesting.
Amazing, isn’t it? (And kudos to Carlson for saying what he did.) Americans need to take a hard look at the actual conduct of their “press corps.” By the way: Are you surprised that this dysfunctional breed is concerned now about seeming “shrill?”