WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 27, 2003
ALL THE TEA LEAVES ARE BROWN: The California state budget is still a mess, but as Paul Krugman noted in last Tuesdays column, that iconic $38 billion deficit is now a thing of the past. But many scribes keep hangin on; in his column, Krugman noted the inexplicable fact that major journalists still refer, in the present tense, to that famous $38 billion (see THE DAILY HOWLER 8/22/03). And sure enough, two days after Krugmans column appeared, there was CNNs Wolf Blitzer, interviewing Gray Davis on Late Edition. As weve told you many times, basic facts play almost no role in our puzzling, inept public discourse:
BLITZER: At the same time your critics are pointing to mismanagement on your point. They point outand well put some numbers up on the screenthat when you took office in 1998, there was more than a $4 billion surplus in the California, $4.4 billion California surplus, but there is now a $38 billion deficit. They say thats extraordinary, extraordinary mismanagement that warrants your recall.Where in the world has Blitzer been? Should major journalists be conversant with even the most basic facts? As weve said, the California budget is still a mess, with questions about whether the states new borrowing will even hold up in court. But kids: Davis did sign a budget a couple of weeks ago. Even after Krugmans column, Blitzer didnt seem to have heard.
Of course, the major press corps doesnt do windowsand it hates wasting time on the facts. Facts are boringand so confining! Instead, the press corps likes to write profiles of stripper candidates, and it likes to interview Gary Coleman. Result: Basic facts are hard to come by in our journalistic culture.
Which brings us back to another statement in Krugmans column last Friday. Heres what the Timesman said:
KRUGMAN: Meanwhile, California isnt a high-tax state: through the 1990s, state and local taxes as a share of personal income more or less matched the national average, and with the recent plunge in revenue theyre now probably below average.This was part of Krugmans claim that Arnold Schwarzeneggers description of the state economy is pure fantasy. We cited Krugmans statement in last Fridays HOWLER (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/22/03).
An e-mailer tells us that Krugman is wrong here. Indeed, a review of the Tax Foundations annual tables suggests that California has become a bit of a high tax state on this measure in the past five years. As Krugman says, California was near the middle of the nation on this measure through most of the 1990s. In 1995, for example, the state ranked 24th nationally on state and local taxes as a percentage of income. But by 1999, the weather was changing; California now ranked 11th. According to the Tax Foundation tables, the Golden State has ranked 8th in the nation on this measure for the past three years.
Were not expert on these measures; well pass on all relevant clarifications. But as weve told you again and again, our national discourse is fact-o-phobic. For our part, wed be willing to see a few less interviews with Gary Coleman, and a greater effort by the press to describe Californias economy and budget. So far, the coverage has been heavy on California dreamin. When the press corps calls this election a circus, is a bit of projection going on?
MATTHEWS: By the way, theres something inaccurate in your book. Theres something inaccurate in your book, because you said that she was on my show, Hardball, eight times. I would be surprised if she was on once.Fairly clearly, Matthews was disputing the notion that Coulter had made eight appearances to discuss Slander. (This is the apparent claim in the incomparable Conasons mandatory new book, Big Lies.) In fact, two of Coulters Hardball spots were devoted to discussing Slander, so Matthews initial statementId be surprised if she was on onceis extremely strange (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/25/03). But Matthews didnt seem to be saying that Coulter had never done his program at all. In truth, Matthews has faked basic facts for years. He seemed to do so again in this case. But some are overstating what he said in this instance. For our part, we dont want to sit around and fake basic facts about him.
MUST-READ NYT: Jose, Dino and Carlos all said they never would have graduated from high school without Harvey Milk, Michael Winerip writes in todays New York Times. And it kills them now to see the school under attack. Winerip produces another highly informative, heartfelt piece about a topic which has been mightily spun. (As you read and learn from the Winerip piece, note the heartless, foolish comments made by Mike Long in the New York Daily News.)
By the way, is there currently a better journalist at a major press organ than the NYTs Winerip? The scribe is both technically competent and deeply humane. Its hard to find that combination at our major news orgs; in fact, its hard to find either quality! For that reason, theres good news and bad news in Winerips ascendancy. The good news: The Timesman keeps churning superlative work. The bad news? His work stands out because most of the work at our major news orgs is so lacking.
Final note: William Raspberry also got where the rubber meets the road in an important education column last week. Why do poor kids flounder in school? No, it isnt because they have racist teachers. American children deserve your attention. If you want to ponder part of this problem, you know what to do. Just click here.
FRIDAY: As promised, our look at those rank Clinton-haters.