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Daily Howler: Will Obama raise your taxes? To Howard Kurtz, it's a ''mathematical detail''
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REALITY DOESN’T BITE! Will Obama raise your taxes? To Howard Kurtz, it’s a “mathematical detail:” // link // print // previous // next //

REALITY DOESN’T BITE: We’ve often marveled at the culture of the life-forms still widely described as a “press corps.” We’ve told you this: Within their culture, the very notions of “fact” and “reality” barely seem to exist.

“Facts” play almost no role at all in this group’s odd mental culture.

That in mind, consider Howard Kurtz’s “Ad Watch” report in Saturday’s Washington Post. As you do so, remember that Kurtz is smarter than most of his colleagues.

Kurtz discusses John McCain’s latest ad, which tags Obama as a big taxer. Having quoted the text of the ad, Kurtz offers this analysis:

KURTZ (8/9/08): The charge that Obama voted to raise taxes on people making $42,000 stretches a valid point. Obama voted for a nonbinding Democratic budget resolution that would not have raised anyone's taxes. But it did envision phasing out most of the Bush tax cuts, which would have that effect...

The ad is selective in saying that Obama would raise taxes on seniors and "your family," omitting that he would target only families, Social Security recipients and those with capital gains earning more than $250,000 a year. And it is misleading in charging that Obama wants to raise taxes on small businesses, offering the lame explanation that many affluent taxpayers who would be affected by the income tax increase also happen to own small businesses. The commercial also leaves out Obama's proposal for a middle-class tax cut.

Wow! According to Kurtz, McCain’s new ad is “selective” and “misleading.” Its initial claim is a “stretch” (more on this point below); it “omits” and “leaves out” elementary facts which contradict the impressions it seeks to promote. Challenged about one of its claims, the McCain campaign has offered a “lame explanation,” Kurtz seems to say. (The “lame explanation” to which he refers isn’t found in the ad itself.) In a rational world, you’d think the headline here would be obvious: John McCain runs bogus ad!

But this isn’t a rational world; this is the world of the insider “press corps.” Kurtz’s headline repeats McCain’s misleading claim—without noting the fact that the claim is misleading. (“McCain Paints Obama as a Tax Hound.”) And you can’t really blame the editor who crafted that headline. This is the remarkable way Kurtz chose to finish his piece:

KURTZ (continuing directly from above):But more important than the mathematical details is the portrait the senator from Arizona is trying to paint of his opponent as an untested leader whose domestic policies are obscured by the media spotlight.

Truly, that’s amazing. According to Kurtz, McCain’s ad misleads voters every step of the way, about the basics of Obama’s tax policies. But so what? As he finishes, Kurtz describes these misleading claims as “mathematical details.” “More important,” he says, “is the portrait McCain is trying to paint.”

The logic of that comparison escapes us; in truth, there’s no real “logic” at work in that passage. But once again, we urge you to note the peculiar culture of these unusual life-forms. According to Kurtz, McCain’s ad blatantly misleads the public about whether their taxes will be raised or lowered. But in his world, this computes as a “mathematical detail.”

Whoever invented these extra-terrestrials got many programming details right. Indeed, as CNN viewers have seen through the years, Kurtz is remarkably life-like. But in designing Press Corps 2.0, we’d advise this fleet’s creators to include more feints in the direction of respect for facts—for basic human reality. Reality counts in the human world—or at least, until recent years, it always did as a matter of theory.

Worse than Kurtz says: On Saturday, the Post wrote an editorial about this same ad—and they went harder on McCain’s central claim than Kurtz did (just click here). Was McCain merely “stretch[ing] a valid point” with his claim that Obama once voted to raise taxes on people making $42,000? The editors are tougher than Kurtz on that claim, calling it “unacceptably misleading” and “dishonest.” But then again, what’s the real diff? In the programming of these androids, the question of whether your taxes get raised is just a “mathematical detail.”

Reality doesn’t bite 2: A long-time reader reacted to Friday’s post about the “reality” of off-shore drilling. We had noted Rachel Madddow’s attempt to start a discussion about the “reality” of that proposal:

E-MAILER (8/8/08): I understand your point about Rachel Maddow's comment, but what she said was an opinion, not a fact. Some disagree with her opinion. Some experts believe a decision to increase offshore drilling would immediately lower the price of gasoline, even though it would take years before the new drilling produced more oil. They claim that the oil market responds not only to current supply and demand, but to projected future supply and demand.

What I think you meant was that Maddow's comment was about external realities: amount of oil in the ground, time elapsed to make it available for refining, economic impact of the new drilling, etc.. That sort of real world discussion is refreshing, compared with the usual pap of whether one comment by a candidate is consistent with another comment and who is the bigger flip-flopper.

Indeed. We didn’t mean to say that Maddow’s claim was necessarily accurate. We noted several times that we don’t really know what’s true and false here—in part because the nation’s pundits never stoop to such discussions. Would off-shore drilling lower gas prices? Would it do so within a year, as voters said in the survey which Paul Krugman has cited? To modern pundits, such questions are “mathematical details.” By contrast, what do (uninformed) voters say in surveys? Now that’s a question that is worth asking within this group’s strange culture!

WHERE DOES THE CULTURE OF STUPID COME FROM: An e-mailer shared his pain about reactions to the Edwards matter:

E-MAIL (8/10/08): So I'm reading this interesting New York Times op-ed from a scientist on the anthrax, glance over to the "Most Popular" box. What do I see at positions two and three?

2. Maureen Dowd: Keeping It Rielle
3. Gail Collins: Ken Doll in Lust

I am NOT clicking through. Not not not. Not gonna do it. Ain’t gonna click on Maggie’s farm no more.

With lightning speed, we replied:

REPLY: The mental rot at the New York Times is amazing. But as long as young careerists at the "liberal journals" want jobs there, no one on the front lines of "liberalism" will ever say one word about it.

Case in point: I note that Michelle Cottle had an op-ed published today in the Times.

Yesterday, many web-cats complained about Cokie Roberts’ inane performance on This Week (to share Digby’s pain, just click here).But Cottle is Roberts-in-training, right at one of our “liberal” journals. (Michael Crowley was clucking about Obama’s vacation plans this past weekend too.) For generations to come, the culture of stupid, left in place, will work against progressive interests. But it’s rarely challenged at “liberal journals,” and we think it’s fairly clear why.

Until liberal journals challenge the culture of stupid, the culture of stupid will rule at big news orgs. But liberal journals will never scream at the Post and the Times—unless non-career progressives, from below, scream at the liberal journals.

Conservatives scream at mainstream orgs all the time. On our side, by contrast, Cokies-in-training dream of taking their turn.

How the culture of stupid defeats you: How does the culture of stupid defeat progressive interests? This morning, Paul Krugman reviews the health care conundrum. Single-payer would have been better, he says. But it wasn’t politically feasible:

KRUGMAN (8/11/08): Some health care reformers wanted the Democrats to endorse a single-payer, Medicare-type system for all. On the sheer economic merits, they’re right: single-payer would be more efficient than a system that preserves a role for private insurance companies.

But it’s better to have an imperfect universal health care plan than none at all—and the only way to get a universal health care plan passed soon is to inoculate it against Harry-and-Louise-type claims that people will be forced into plans “designed by government bureaucrats.”

We tend to agree. Single-payer probably would make more sense. And, on a political basis, it probably wasn’t possible. In large part, that’s due to our culture of stupid. Within just the past year, for example, McCain and Giuliani paraded about, making ludicrous claims about the merits of “European-style health care.” Meanwhile, it’s practically forbidden, within our political culture, to discuss the actual merits of actual single-payer systems. Very few voters have ever been exposed to the “realities” of those systems. Harry and Louise rule the world—in part because voters have rarely heard even the most elementary facts.

Have you ever seen your liberal journals wage a campaign against this part of the culture of stupid? But then, we can’t even bring ourselves to tackle this claim from the culture of stupid: If we lower tax rates, we get higher revenues! The culture of stupid is all around you; last week, poor Obama decided that he had to mention this obvious fact. But have you ever seen this done at your “liberal” journals? Or are they really Cokies-in-waiting—simpering children waiting their chance to prance about on the main stage?

Last time, Crowley started the bull-roar about John Kerry’s troubling wind-surfing. This weekend, he was wringing his hands about Obama’s vacation. Within the drama of the press corps, these are your liberal advocates.

Until web progressives go after these Cokies-in-training, this culture of stupid will never change. Or do we want to have them as friends? After all, they’re almost famous.

Krugman on Edwards: Krugman closes his column today with something you’ll see nowhere else. Yes, Edwards’ recent conduct was nearly insane as a political matter. But Krugman notes something else:

KRUGMAN: One more thing: if we do get real health care reform, a lot of people will owe a debt of gratitude to none other than John Edwards. When Mr. Edwards dropped out of the presidential race, I credited him with making universal health care a “possible dream for the next administration.” Mr. Edwards’s political career is over—but perhaps he and his family can take some solace from the fact that his party is still trying to make that dream come true.

Why will you see that from Krugman, and from no one else? Simple. Sex is part of the press corps’ “reality.” Health care for millions is not.

THE CULTURE OF PIMPING MCCAIN: Many readers have been struck by this new piece from the Phoenix New Times, an alternative Arizona newspaper. In it, Arizona journalist Amy Silverman recounts her long-time experiences with McCain—and with the national press corps’ love affair with the sanctified solon. Based on long experience with McCain, Silverman never bought the silly portrait of McCain as a moral sun god. But big mainstream journalists had their novel, and they were determined to type it.

An e-mailer was struck by the following passage, in which Silverman describes her interactions with two giant media stars during Campaign 2000. McCain is hanging close today because of past pimping like this:

SILVERMAN (8/7/08): Even as the 2000 race heated up, coverage of McCain remained positive. No one, it seemed, had a harsh word for the straight-talking war hero. So when national media called, I felt an obligation to help.

I spent a lot of time working with producers for 60 Minutes to gather background research for a piece Mike Wallace was doing on McCain, only to have it deep-sixed when Wallace decided to do a positive story about the senator. Ditto for Sam Donaldson. I should have learned after Wallace that the press was willing to overlook political warts when it came to McCain, but since I'd had a long conversation with Donaldson's producers, in which I explained just what had happened with 60 Minutes, I didn't expect the same to happen with 20/20.

From what I know, McCain didn't insert himself into the mix at 60 Minutes or 20/20; Wallace and Donaldson simply liked him.

Wallace’s 60 Minutes profile of McCain aired on June 6, 1999. Donaldson’s 20/20 piece aired on September 8 of that year.

With lightning speed, we replied to our e-mailer. Here’s what we said about that part of Silverman’s lengthy piece:

REPLY TO E-MAILER (8/10/08): In 1999 and 2000, the pro-McCain journalistic misconduct was quite extreme—and it was completely open and acknowledged. With a few exceptions (Joe Klein, the late Lars-Erik Nelson), major "liberals" didn’t say boo about it. It was all OK. So was the concomitant demonization of Gore, which was even more extreme than the sanctification of McCain.

Example: At one point, Mike Wallace announced that he would quite 60 Minutes to work for McCain if McCain got the nomination.

In part, McCain is fairly close to Obama today because the liberal world sat around for the past dozen years while the lionization unfolded. Our side refuses to compete.

Here’s the full text of what Wallace said about the sanctified solon. He made his confession to Howard Kurtz, in 1998. Kurtz’s piece was right on the money about this absurd love affair:

KURTZ (6/8/98): The plain truth is that a growing number of journalists want John McCain to run for president. The fact that he's just flirting with the idea makes him all the more desirable.

Mike Wallace, who turned down the chance to be Richard Nixon's press secretary, says of McCain: "I'm thinking I may quit my job if he gets the nomination. . . . I'm impressed by his independence, by his willingness to take on the tough ones. By his honesty about himself. As I look at the current crop, there's something authentic about this man."

David Nyhan, a Boston Globe columnist, has introduced McCain at luncheons attended by his colleagues and other movers and shakers. While he is a liberal and McCain a conservative, Nyhan says, "I like him because he's gutsy. I like him because he's an interesting person. I like what he did on campaign finance. I like what he's done on tobacco. I like his war record. . . . There's an army out there waiting for this guy."

Al Hunt has written in his Wall Street Journal column that McCain "is the most courageous and one of the most admirable men I've ever known in American politics." Columnist Mark Shields has touted the appeal of "McCain's against-the-grain leadership coupled with his riveting personal history."

Esquire's Charles Pierce put it this way: "If John McCain doesn't run, the mandarins of the chattering class may throw [an] ensemble hissy fit.”

Pierce was right on the money too, in that mocking assessment in Esquire.

The clownish sanctification of McCain went on for many more years. Even as they made him a saint during Campaign 2000, they clownishly made a demon of Gore. And guess what? At your fiery “liberal journals,” each part of this deal was A-OK. The demonization explains how the GOP ended up in the White House eight years ago. The sanctification helps explain why the GOP is still in this race.

Over the course of the past dozen years, our side refused to challenge this ludicrous press corps conduct. Today, we refuse to discuss this remarkable, obvious history. Have you ever seen a liberal journal discuss this embarrassing history? The silence is deafening. The effects are still all around.

Back to Silverman: Arizona journalists never bought the sanctification of McCain. Tomorrow, we’ll post the full text of a column similar to Silverman’s—a column from 1999.