WEDNESDAY, JUNE 4, 2003
FACTS COME LAST: The usual suspects are having a ball with John Carrolls memo on liberal bias. Carroll, editor of the Los Angeles Times, was unhappy with reporter Scott Golds report about a Texas abortion law (front page, May 22). Under terms of the new Texas law, doctors must tell patients that having an abortion increases the future risk of breast cancer. In his memo, Carroll said the story showed liberal bias. In response, the usual crowd has been braying triumphantly. Often, as is their long-standing wont, theyve even embellished the things Carroll said.
As usual, eager conservatives have used the occasion to thrash that ol debbil, Liberal Bias. But few observers have made any effort to determine if Carroll was right on the merits. Do Carrolls complaints against Gold stand up? Inquiring minds should want to know. But you simply cant tell from what Gold and Carroll wroteand no one has really tried to resolve the conundrum. In modern press culture, facts come lastand the flap over Gold helps to show that.
Does abortion increase the risk of breast cancer? According to Gold, two big health orgs say no:
GOLD: In February, the National Cancer Institutethe federal governments cancer research organizationasked more than 100 of the worlds experts to review more than 30 studies that have been conducted and attempt to resolve the issue. Their conclusion: Having an abortion does not increase a womans subsequent risk of developing breast cancer. The American Medical Assn. has not taken a formal position on the issue, but most large health-care organizations, including the American Cancer Society, agree with that conclusion.Were not going to mislead people about this, an ACS board member told Gold. We spend $100 million a year on research. We know what were talking about. There is just no research that supports this claim. But Carroll, the editor, wasnt convinced. He criticized Gold for citing the ACS and the NCI without citing a health org with the opposite view. He suggested that Gold should have hunted harder for a medical authority which believes in the link.
Should Gold have done that? Its hard to say. Lets tote up the ambiguities in his piece. We find twoand they must be resolved before we can judge Carrolls criticism.
First: According to Gold, both the NCI and the ACS say that having an abortion does not increase a womans subsequent risk of developing breast cancer. He says that most large health-care orgs agree with that view. But do any big health orgs believe in the link? Golds words imply that such orgs may exist, but he never resolves the point. Note: It may be that all health orgs which take a position agree that no link does exist. Golds article is highly unclear on this matter. If anyone cares about the facts, the confusion here must be resolved.
Meanwhile, another bit of ambiguity gets in the way in Golds piece. According to Gold, studies say that having an abortion doesnt increase the risk of breast cancer. But that construction may be too narrow. In one part of his article, Gold says that some researchers believe that hormonal changes associated with the final stages of pregnancy can help protect a woman from [future] breast cancer. If that is true, then termination of a first-time pregnancy might increase the future risk (since those protective hormones would never develop). (Gold himself suggests this at one point.) The abortion itself wouldnt raise the riskbut for women who had never given birth, the results of the abortion might do so. Did those 30 studies only look at the narrower question? We assume that they studied the broader question, concluding that even a woman who has never given birth suffers no increased risk from abortion. But you simply cant tell from Golds report. Its a point which should be resolved.
People who want to resolve this issue must ask the following questions:
First, are there major health orgs which do believe that abortion increases the cancer risk? If no such major health orgs exist, then Carrolls critique is hard to sustain. By contrast, if credible health orgs do hold this view, then that fact should probably have been mentioned.
Second, what was at issue in those 30 studies? Did the ACS conclude that, even for a woman who has never given birth, there is no increased risk from the results of abortion? If some researchers believe that hormonal changes associated with the final stages of pregnancy can help protect a woman from breast cancer, how can those beliefs be reconciled with the 30 studies?
Did Golds reporting tilt the tale? Does Carrolls critique hold up on the merits? Weve heard a lot of big-time screaming, but few attempts to determine the merits. As always in our hapless discourse, screaming and spinning must come first. Its a hard press corps law: Facts come last.
MUST-READ NYT: Once again, Michael Winerips ed column demands to be read. Well discuss it in full Friday morning.
ON RARE OCCASIONS YOU GET A FEW FACTS: We thought of Jonathan Chaits TNR piece when we read Ruth Marcus in the Post this morning. In TNR, Chait cited basic facts about Reagan tax policy that citizens are rarely asked to hear (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/3/03). Similarly, you can sit through a thousand debates on partial-birth abortion without ever hearing the basic facts which Marcus presents in todays second paragraph. (We also recommend the later quote from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.) Our discourse is fueled by spin, lies and fable; over and over, facts come last. After you take in Marcus facts, you can make up your mind about SCPBA. But time and again, Americans cant make sensible judgments in our press culturea culture where facts come last.
CHAIT: Bush and his allies have three responses to critics who point to the negative effects of long-term structural deficits. The first is that tax cuts will, over the long run, boost economic growth to such a degree that tax revenue actually rises. This is the most extreme claim of supply-side economics, and Bush makes some reference to it in nearly every speech he delivers. The way to deal with the deficit is not to be timid on the growth package; the way to deal with the deficit is to have a robust enough growth package so we get more revenues coming into the federal Treasury, he asserted earlier this month in California.In recent weeks, top spinners have begun adding prime weasel-wordseventually is onewhen they make this iconic presentation. This suggests that the government will lose revenue in the short run, but eventually it will come out ahead.
But as Chait points out in his TNR piece, conservatives sometimes speak more frankly, offering a completely different rationale. Sometimes they drop all the cant:
CHAIT (continuing directly): A second defense, put forward by Bushs defenders but not by Bush himself, is that tax cuts will starve the government of revenue, thereby holding down spending and perhaps even leading to balanced budgets. (One notable thing about this justification is that it contradicts justification number oneeither tax cuts cause revenue to rise, or they cause it to shrink; both cannot be true.)As Chait notes, this contradicts the Bush rationale. Bush said he would cut taxes to bring in more revenue. Others recommend cutting taxes in order to bring in less.
E-MAILER: Ive said this to you on more than one occasionthere is a singularly good reason for MASSIVE deficits...GWs real job, like Reagan before him, is to ensure that all the money is spent, that when a Dem takes office, 33 percent or more is paying off debt. This is called preemptive handcuffs. [Sullivans deletion]This e-mailer suggests that Bush is lying when he says hes trying to increase federal revenues. And he suggests that Bush is lying when he says that hes trying to get back in balance. Indeed, if this e-mailers understanding is accurate, Candidate Bush was probably faking when he promised to pay down trillions in debt. Indeed, if this e-mailers understanding is accurate, then the Bush Admin is probably trying to produce a train wrecka fiscal train wreck which would curtail future spending, and lead to the changes in Social Security which Bush proposed in the 2000 campaign.
What makes this e-mailers outlook so intriguing? This e-mailfrom a Bush supporterimplies that Paul Krugman is right on the money when he says that Bush is seeking that train wreck. Of course, when Krugman wrote such a column last week, conservative bootblacks flew into action, insisting the pundit was out of his mind. He was spinning conspiracy theories, they said. (The herd must always be fed.) But right there on Sullivans widely-read web site, an e-mailer showed how conservatives talk when they arent throwing feed to the herd. Chaits TNR piece has a good many merits, but the strange dichotomy noted above is a valuable part of his primer. For our money, Chait is really too polite when he says the two tax-cut claims contradict one another. These explanations are in mortal combatand as weve noted, the explanation given by Bush seems to fly in the face of all logic.
Does Bush really think that tax cuts increase revenue? Timorous pundits in DCs inner circles will rarely address this claims absurdity; dont expect to see the president asked about this in a press conference. But the next time you hear conservative bootblacks trashing Krugman for conspiracy theories, remember that mailer to Andrew Sullivan. On special occasions, conservatives have voiced this rationale for years. So which is it, consthe lady or the tiger? Its a simple question, lodged in Chaits piece. Its time that we all learned to ask.
TOMORROW: Our grand finale! What ever happened to that consensus about the baby-boomers?