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Daily Howler: Edwards dared to talk about trivia. This morning, the punishment starts
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EDWARDS SPEAKS! Edwards dared to talk about trivia. This morning, the punishment starts: // link // print // previous // next //

MARC SANTORA’S WET LEG: Every so often, they try to write about topics that actually matter.

When they do, you see why they prefer earth tones and haircuts—and pointless letters a college girl wrote in the 60s. And about the morals of the father of the boy friend of the daughter of one of the candidates!

We refer, of course, to Marc Santora’s helpless report in this morning’s New York Times—his report about Giuliani’s health proposals, which the Republican hopeful finally discussed yesterday, up in New Hampshire.

A few weeks ago, we marveled as the mighty Times boasted about this proposal’s significance (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/13/07). Today, we see what happens when one of their lads tries to explain what it is.

How many ways can a plan be obscured? With apologies, let us count the ways:

The role of the government: In paragraph 3 of his report, Santora presents the heart of Giuliani’s proposals (some of which may be perfectly reasonable). As usual, it seems that Rudy was thundering hard against those “socialist” Dems:
SANTORA (8/1/07): In his speech here, he excoriated Democrats for advocating a ''socialist'' solution to solving [sic] the problem of the nation's 44.8 million uninsured, saying the party's candidates encouraged a ''nanny government'' by proposing a greater government role in health care.
Uh-oh! The Dems are “encourag[ing] a 'nanny government' by proposing a greater government role in health care.” But readers, so is Giuliani, a point Santora fails to note! Indeed, Santora has already told us, in paragraph 1, that Giuliani wants to “move from the current employer-based system to one that would grant substantial tax benefits to people who buy their own insurance.” Yep! Giuliani wants to take the burden off employers—and move it onto the federal government, which would subsidize purchase of health care! This, of course, would represent “a greater government role in health care”—the very thing Giuliani hates! But Santora fails to spot the contradiction as he continues to type. Here is a fuller passage:
SANTORA (pghs 3-5): In his speech here, [Giuliani] excoriated Democrats for advocating a ''socialist'' proposing a greater government role in health care.

Instead, he proposed tax exemptions of up to $15,000 per family, allowing individuals to direct that money toward the purchase of health insurance and other medical spending...

And to help the poor or others struggling to afford health insurance, Mr. Giuliani said he would support vouchers and tax refunds, but he gave no details about how he would pay for them.
Jesus Alou! Readers, let’s state the obvious: Those tax exemptions, vouchers and tax refunds all constitute the “greater government role in health care” Giuliani supposedly opposes. In fact, these proposals are similar to some proposals currently being made by Big Democrats! As Santora continues, it’s clear that he understands such facts. But for some reason, he only reports “stark contrasts” between the proposals.

Seeing stark contrasts: In some ways, Giuliani’s proposals differ from those of the current Big Dems. But in other ways, his proposals are quite similar. But Santora fails to articulate this fact—indeed, he only sees the “stark contrasts” that Rudy himself is pimping. Read through this fuller passage. Note the chaos of paragraph 6:
SANTORA (pghs 4-6): [Giuliani] proposed tax exemptions of up to $15,000 per family, allowing individuals to direct that money toward the purchase of health insurance and other medical spending. He also said he opposed any government mandates that would require people or businesses to buy insurance...

And to help the poor or others struggling to afford health insurance, Mr. Giuliani said he would support vouchers and tax refunds, but he gave no details about how he would pay for them.

Mr. Giuliani's vision stands in stark contrast to the plans offered by the leading Democratic candidates. Both Senator Barack Obama of Illinois and former Senator John Edwards of North

Carolina have proposed bolstering the employer-based system by requiring corporations to buy insurance for their workers, and raising taxes or rolling back tax cuts to increase subsidies for health care for the poor.
Santora speaks grandly of Giuliani's “vision;” it “stands in stark contrast to the plans offered by the leading Democratic candidates.” But that’s absurdly misleading. It some ways, it’s baldly untrue.

Yes, there are “stark contrasts” to be found in this passage. For example, Obama and Edwards would require corporations to buy insurance for employees; Giuliani would not. On the other hand, Obama and Edwards propose “increas[ing] subsidies for health care for the poor”—and as we see in paragraph 5, Giuliani proposes the very same thing! After failing to note this blinding fact, Santora evades the stark contrast which does exist in this part of the program; starkly speaking, Edwards and Obama have said how they’ll pay for these subsidies (by “raising taxes or rolling back tax cuts”), and Giuliani will not. According to Santora, Giuliani “gave no details about how he would pay for” his vouchers (his subsidies)—but that doesn’t mean that they won’t bear a price tag. (Quite possibly, Giuliani would have to pay for these subsidies the same way Obama and Edwards will—by taxing somebody else.) But Santora skips quickly past that unflattering fact, seeing only “stark contrasts” with Dems.

In paragraph 6, Santora reports “stark contrasts” where there are also similarities—and he fails to articulate one “stark contrast” which cuts in the Democrats’ favor. The Democrats are telling it straight. As usual, Rudy is not.

Withholding the most basic facts: It’s the law! Before he finishes, Santora has to showcase his cohort’s greatest skill—the abject refusal to present basic facts, now matter how blatantly relevant. This sad press corps custom comes into play when Giuliani baldly misleads the average people in his New Hampshire audience.

Again, it’s not like Santora doesn’t know that Rudy is treating the voters like rubes. Omigod! At one point, he even says so, ever so quickly:
SANTORA (pgh 8-10): Using explicitly partisan language, perhaps intended to stir memories of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton's failed bid to reform health care as first lady more than a decade ago, Mr. Giuliani cited horror stories and selective statistics about health care in foreign countries that provide universal coverage. Mr. Giuliani said that a ''socialist'' model would bankrupt the government.

''That is where Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards are taking you,'' he said. ''You have got to see the trap. Otherwise we are in for a disaster. We are in for Canadian health care, French health care, British health care.''
Omigod! At one point, Santora actually says it; Giuliani presented “selective statistics” about health care in other countries! But, just as Giuliani misleads his audience, Santora keeps Times readers barefoot and clueless. With the Democrats, “we are in for a disaster,” he quotes Rudy saying. “We are in for Canadian health care, French health care, British health care.'' And Santora—wet, hot liquid running down his left leg—fails to let his readers know the world’s most obvious facts:
KRUGMAN (7/9/07): [E]very available indicator says that in terms of quality, access to needed care and health outcomes, the U.S. health care system does worse, not better, than other advanced countries—even Britain, which spends only about 40 percent as much per person as we do.

Yes, Canadians wait longer than insured Americans for elective surgery. But over all, the average Canadian's access to health care is as good as that of the average insured American—and much better than that of uninsured Americans, many of whom never receive needed care at all.

And the French manage to provide arguably the best health care in the world, without significant waiting lists of any kind. There's a scene in ''Sicko'' in which expatriate Americans in Paris praise the French system. According to the hard data they're not romanticizing. It really is that good.
By one respected measure, the French provide the best health care in the world! But the weak little boy with the wet, hot leg just couldn’t bring himself to type it! He just couldn’t make himself note the groaning, howling problem with Giuliani’s presentation. Why are American voters so clueless about the basics of world health care? Because weak, weak boys—weak boys like Santora—know that mustn’t ever present these obvious, elementary facts. It’s Hard Pundit Law, and Santora knows it! Occasionally, Krugman will present these key facts. And nobody else ever will!

As Krugman continued his column that day, he asked a very important question. Sadly, the passage which closed his column describes Santora’s “report” to a T:
KRUGMAN (continuing directly): All of which raises the question Mr. Moore asks at the beginning of ''Sicko'': who are we?''

We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals; we know now that it is bad economics.'' So declared F.D.R. in 1937, in words that apply perfectly to health care today. This isn't one of those cases where we face painful tradeoffs—here, doing the right thing is also cost-efficient. Universal health care would save thousands of American lives each year, while actually saving money.

So this is a test. The only things standing in the way of universal health care are the fear-mongering and influence-buying of interest groups. If we can't overcome those forces here, there's not much hope for America's future.
Who are we? the columnist (like the film-maker) asked. Just what kind of people are we? Sadly, Santora’s news report helps us answer that question.

Among other things, we’re a deeply uninformed people. We’re kept clueless by “the fear-mongering and influence-buying of interest groups”—and by people like Giuliani, calling the world’;s bets health care a “disaster.” And oh yes! We’re kept clueless by weak little boys at the Times—weak lads with hot, sticky legs.

THE HERO WITH A THOUSAND NARRATIVES: Gag us! Later, Santora typed heroically. This is impossibly bad:
SANTORA: The ideas he outlined, steeped in a bedrock conservative faith in the ability of the free, unfettered market to solve problems, are similar to those advocated by President Bush.

The president's proposals have failed to gain traction and Mr. Giuliani did not try to address the central criticisms of moving away from an employer-based system.

For instance, he offered no assurances that insurance companies would not ''cherry pick'' by insuring only healthier people, or by charging much higher rates to more vulnerable people-like those with chronic diseases.
Omigod! How bad is that? Before he can list some shortcomings of Giuliani’s presentation, he has to say that Giuliani’s “ideas” are “steeped in a bedrock faith.”

Really? How does Santora know that Giuliani’s proposals aren’t driven by the desire to keep paying off big insurance companies? “Steeped in a bedrock conservative faith!” At the pinnacle of American journalism, does Santora fail to know that he’s typing the language of endless GOP pamphleteers?

Special report: Edwards speaks!

PART 1—EDWARDS SPEAKS: It’s intriguing to see that Edwards spoke just as the great New York Times was correcting.

On Sunday—only eight years too late!—the Times rewrote some treasured old trivia. The paper had pimped this sh*t for eight years. And then—just like that!—it was gone:
NEW YORK TIMES CORRECTION (7/29/07): An article last Sunday about politicians' choice of clothing while campaigning referred incorrectly to the role of Naomi Wolf in Al Gore's 2000 presidential campaign. She was a consultant on women's issues and outreach to young voters; she was not Mr. Gore's image consultant and was not involved in his decision to wear earth-toned clothing.
Omigod! How funny is that? With a single stroke of the pen, the history of modern trivia changed! For eight long years, this gruesome newspaper told us that tale about Wolf and Gore. Now, we’re told to forget all about it! How sad that we can’t just forget something else—the way world history got changed in the process, as this most gruesome American paper conducted its War Against Gore. (Note: We still don’t know why the Times still says that Gore made a “decision to wear earth-tones.”)

Readers, how funny was that? To see the greatest American paper rewrite what it had said for eight years, with just a stroke of the pen! But of course, the Times has moved on to new treasured trivia! And that’s why John Edwards was speaking.

Then, it was earth tones; today, it’s those haircuts. And that big house. And that speech, at that college. (And necklines; and letters from the 1960s; and the moral failings of the father of the boy friend of the daughter of one of the candidates.) And this time, they’ve gone after Edwards quite hard. Which is why the gentleman spoke; just click here to watch the tape. It’s also why the press corps’ lads and lassies soon began crying:
EDWARDS: This is all—just to be clear about this. You remember the Swift Boat stuff in the 2004 election? This stuff's not an accident. Nobody in this room should think this is an accident. You know, I'm out there speaking up for universal healthcare, ending this war in Iraq, speaking up for the poor. They want to shut me up. They want—that's what this is about.

Let's distract from people who don't have health care coverage. Let's distract from people who can't feed their children. Let’s distract from people who can’t pay for their medicine. Let's talk about this silly, frivolous, nothing stuff so that America won't pay attention.

They will never silence me. Never. I’ll tell you that right now.

EDWARDS: If we don't stand up to these people, if we don't fight them, if we don't beat them, they're going to continue to control this country. They're going to control the media. They're going to control what's being said. They do not want to hear us talking about health care for everybody. They don’t want to hear us talking about a fair tax system. You think these people who make $100 million a year, you think they want to pay their fair share of taxes? That’s why they hire all those lobbyists for in Washington, D.C. They hate listening to people like me. Well, I’ve got bad news for them. They’re going to have to listen to me for the next eight years as their president.
As we said just a few weeks ago: If we could wave a magic wand and tell the voters just one thing, it would be this: Ignore them when they come at you bearing trivia (“this silly, frivolous, nothing stuff”). When they come at you bearing trivia, every alarm bell in your head should go off. You should instantly ask yourself: Why are they selling me trivia? See THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/20/07.

Whatever motives may be involved in their love of trivial nonsense, Edwards gave a very clear picture of the shape of modern “journalism.” As with the earth tones, so with the haircuts; for whatever reason, the group we still describe as a “press corps” just luvvs to zero in on “this silly, frivolous, nothing stuff.” In 1999 and 2000, they talked about earth tones—and about the string of silly “quotations” they themselves had invented. As a result, the U.S. Army is bogged down in Iraq. And yet, these idiots talk about haircuts—and play the fool about health care plans.

But uh-oh! The weak-minded boys and girls of the press don’t like it when they’re described so clearly. This morning, Adam Nagourney writes one of the saddest “news reports” we’ve ever seen in a newspaper. According to Nagourney, Edwards was “unsmiling” when he said those bad things! At one point, he even types this:
NAGOURNEY (8/1/07): These days the Edwards campaign has taken on the appearance of Dean 2.0, and listening to Mr. Edwards is often akin to reading the postings on an angry blog.
Good. God. Almighty. If that appeared in an op-ed column, you’d grimace at the lack of discipline. But today, this appears in a news report! This is now the New York Times’ idea of reporting “the facts.”

But then, Nagourney and Santora appear side-by-side today, taking up most of page A12. If you purchased your country’s greatest newspaper, you got a helpless report about health care—and an angry rant about alleged ranting. (Note Nagourney’s description of Joe Trippi: “a college dropout with chronic diabetes.” So there! Take that, beyotch!) But make no mistake—Edwards gave a perfect description of modern American upper-end “journalism.” Eight years ago, they talked about tones. As of Sunday, they were no longer there!

Just how perfect was Edwards’ portrait? Tomorrow, we’ll return to that Gail Collins column, the one last week about “tangerine day.” Whatever their actual motives might be, this “press corps” simply revels in trivia—and in a handful of mindless narratives. Eight years ago, they reveled in earth tones—the earth tones they’ve suddenly disappeared. Today, they talk about haircuts—and fruit. And Collins—loathsome then, as now—knows all about silly and frivolous.

THURSDAY—EDWARDS SPEAKS, PART 2: Gail Collins knows silly! (And sneering. And snide.)

FRIDAY—EDWARDS SPEAKS, PART 3: No one (but Krugman) knows health care.