WHERE'S THE OUTRAGE! Junk economics got you down? We join Krugman in asking for outrage: // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, AUGUST 1, 2008
RETURN OF PAULINE KAEL: As far as we know, Pauline Kael never actually said it. (She certainly never said it to us.) By legend, though, the New Yorker film critic marveled at Nixons landslide win in 1972. Why was she puzzled? No one she knew had voted for Nixon, Kael legendarily said.
Uh-oh! We thought of that non-comment comment when we read Gene Robinsons column todayand when we watched his gruesome appearance on last evenings Countdown. Going back to the Nixon days, there has been a certain type of liberal who is quite expert at losing elections. If you doubt it, just read Nixonland. Or this part of Robinsons column:
Bull-roar like that makes liberals feel goodand it can lose an election. Whatever you think of the past days events, McCains snarling accusation is different from that. But you wont find out by reading Robinson! The pundit offers this cleaned-up account of events leading up to the flap:
Obama made a prediction about Republicans, Robinson said. He didnt say that Obama had mentioned a certain Republican by nameJohn McCainor that he actually made the prediction at three Missouri stops, not one. You learn those things if you read Jonathan Weismans news report in the Post. (Though Weisman only quotes the use of McCains name at one of the stops, thus muddling the facts about the two others.) But you learn something different from Robinson.
But then, the hackistry was even worse if you watched last evenings Countdown. In a sadly typical performance, Keith-O played tape of Obamas three commentsomitting all references to McCains name. Then, he dragged out Howard Fineman. The pundit who slandered Gore for two years is now reliably pro-Obama. But whichever side hes playing on, dude seems to play the same games:
Consummate hackistry. Part of the answer to Keith-Os question was obvious; on Wednesday, Obama used McCains name in his riffs on this subject, as he hadnt done in the past. But so what? In full interviews with Fineman and Robinson, no one ever mentioned this fact. Indeed, that elementary fact was never mentioned in the full segment on Countdown. (Except, perhaps, in one possible reference. If you didnt know the fact coming in, you didnt know the fact going out.)
On Wednesday, Obama cited McCain by name. You might think that matters, or you might think it doesnt. You might think its smart, or you might think its dumb. But elsewhere, people are being told that it happened; indeed, its one of the basic facts to which the nations voters are reacting. On CNNs 360 Degrees, for example, Roland Martin said this to guest host Wolf Blitzer last night:
Who is Roland Martin? Hes a black talk-show host from Chicagoa regular on CNN. Fairly plainly, hes voting for Obama. But whether you agree with his view of this matter or not, at least he gave a full set of facts to people watching that program. (As did Blitzer.) Watching Countdown or reading Robinson, liberals are massively kept in the dark. Dems and libs are kept barefoot and pregnant. Were allowed to be dumb and happy. We just arent given the facts.
In todays column, Robinson massages the facts about several matters. (Note his comment about what military officials in Iraq and Afghanistan seemed to think. And we chuckled at the innocence of his take on celebrity.) But as a matter of electoral politics, race is a dangerous subject for Dems and libsand many libs are still clueless about that.
For ourselves, we agree with Martins assessment; Obama made a mistake on Wednesday. (If you want him to win, that is. Otherwise, knock yourselves out!) But watching Olbermann, reading Robinson, liberals are turned into the know-nothing dopes Kael was purported to be. It isnt just that Robinson doesnt try to explain how this matter may look to swing voters. Like Olbermann and Fineman before him, he isnt even willing to say what the flap is about!
We thought of Pauline Kael as we read it. In our view, this is how a certain type of liberal has sometimes managed to lose elections. Whatever his view of this matter might be, Robinson cant quite bring himself to consider how this might look to the mass of votersto voters who may not share his general outlooks. He wont lower himself to print basic factsthe facts that cut against his case, the facts that might influence voters.
So go ahead! Put on your bell-bottoms and start complaining about those ridiculous Nixon voters! In those days, some of us got barefoot and pregnant on our own. Today, though, celebrity media stars will help us accomplish the process.
WHERES THE OUTRAGE: Paul Krugmans column is very important, though we disagree with his outlook a tad. He complains about McCains junk economics on the subject of offshore drilling. He notes that McCain doesnt seem to understand his own cap-and-trade proposal. He notes that Martin Weitzman, a Harvard economist, now estimates a five percent chance that global temperatures will rise by more than 18 degrees Fahrenheit; this will effectively destroy planet Earth as we know it (Weitzmans words). Near the end, he notes the publics typical ignoranceand he seeks more outrage:
Regarding Obama, this is partly a matter of politics; outrage is tricky when running for office. (Unless you dont care if you win, that is.) But well have to disagree a tad with the credit Krugman gives to those news orgs. We understand why Obama might mute his words. In our view, the news orgs have fewer excuses.
Is it true? Have big news orgs noted the fact that McCains claim on drilling is junk economics? Well accept Krugmans assessment. He made the same point, in a bit more detail, on last evenings Countdown:
But has the press really been pretty good in saying this is nonsense? On balance, wed be less charitable. We havent heard outrage about the fact that yet another Republican White House candidate doesnt seem to understand his own policies about the most important issues. We havent heard outrage about the fact that McCain is spreading notions about drilling that are factually ridiculousjunk economics. During Campaign 2000, Krugman himself kept sounding the alarm about this problem and Candidate Bushand his colleagues sat around and stared into space. In our view, the same thing is happening again when it comes to McCains groaning ignorance.
Havent we seen this movie before? If the Republican candidate doesnt understand his own cap-and-trade policy; is pushing a claim about offshore drilling that is factually ridiculous; is thereby helping the public believe things which are factually wrong: Then that should be a front-page, stand-alone news story, much like McCains unsupported claim about Obamas cancelled visit to the troops. Outrage is dangerous for a pol. We would like, for once in our lives, to see some outrage from the press corpsoutrage about howling ignorance and ridiculous statements. They insisted on letting Bush do this. Now, McCain gets the pass.
And yes, wed like to see them get outraged for once about the publics ignorance. Who is planning to tell the public that they have to get off their butts?
Were assuming that Krugman is right on the basic facts. We share a reaction: Wheres the outrage? But the outrage we still cant make out is the outrage we dont see in the press.
As de Vise began, he had some good newsand some bad. Marylands passing rates had gone up. But uh-oh! The tests were different:
Passing rates had gone upbut the tests had been changed! As we noted on Monday, this led de Vise to a basic questiona basic question big journos have ducked for lo, these many years:
Were Maryland students smarter this year? Or could it just be that the tests were easier? In a rational world, journalists would be asking these questions every year, whether passing rates went up or not. But journalists have rarely asked such questions, even as some states have shown large score gains on their own state tests which students cant match on other measures. DCs test scores went up this year tooand nobody at the Washington Post wondered (much) about the state of those tests. Under current arrangements, its always possible that the difficulty of a states tests has changed from one year to the next. If we actually care about test scores, journalists should be watching this constantly.
We thought de Vise did an excellent job with a subject the press corps loves to avoid. Indeed, our analysts stood and raucously cheered as he sketched some basic facts:
When a state lowers the passing score, that is a fairly obvious change. More significant are the types of changes that can occur, intentionally or inadvertently, without the publics knowledge. And by the way: When a state education spokesman (or a DC education official) make a statement on these matters, the statement isnt necessarily true. Intentionally or inadvertently, such claims can be wrong. Journalists should be checking behind them.
How could journalists perform such a task? Before we answer, lets describe the minor gong-show accompanying this years change in the Maryland tests.
First, there was no disclosure that the tests had been changed when the score gains were announced. Here at THE HOWLER, we like Nancy Grasmick. But this isnt all that impressive:
Grasmick didnt even recall the change? Jeez. A competent person would have to consider such a change in evaluating the new test scores. And while Peiffer may believe that this years results are absolutely comparable to those in the past, that shouldnt be a matter of opinion; unless were completely delusional, thats a type of claim that should be empirically demonstrated in a technical manual. Unless were remembering wrong, that was an ethical requirement of testing companies back in the 1970s, back when a half-dozen norm-referenced tests were the dominant force in testing. (The Iowa Test of Basic Skills and the California Achievement Tests, for example. We think were recalling ethical requirements of the American Psychological Association.) When the ITBS would create a new edition of its tests (every seven years), they wouldnt just say the new tests were as hard as the old ones; they were supposed to be able to show it. A great deal turns on these annual tests. Creating them is not supposed to be a matter of opinion or guesswork.
But uh-oh! Now that fifty different states (plus DC) are constructing fifty-one different sets of tests, does anyone bother with traditional niceties? We have no idea. But this was the part of de Vises piece that struck us most like a gong show:
Sorry: To us, that sounds shaky. There are ways to demonstrate that two tests are equally difficult. It sounds to us like Maryland may have relied on more traditional assessments, like the flight of birds, though its hard to tell from de Vises report, which gets a bit murky here. (And no, that eighteen-point jump on the fifth-grade test doesnt fill us with confidence.) But then, with fifty different state boards of ed now devising fifty-one different testing programs, wed assume that corners are being cut as these tests are developed.
Do the states present technical manuals each year, demonstrating the level of difficulty? Wed love to see de Vise start asking; wed love to see him report what he finds. In recent years, there have been obvious problems with some state testing programsand journalists have tended to look away. In the following passage, the word illusory should form a challenge to newspapers like the Post, which has done very little work on this subject in the past:
You have to ask yourself what's going on here? Not in the press corps you dont!
Jennings on the wages of sin: As de Vise finished, one big education honcho pondered the wages of sin:
Good for Jennings! For ourselves, we first saw that sin back in 72. (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/8/05. Scroll down to Demise of a brilliant idea.) As near as weve been able to tell, sin hasnt died out since then.