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||THOSE STUBBORN FACTS! Will the press be troubled by Newts misstatement? Recent history says they wont care:|
WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 30, 2002
TRY TO BELIEVE THAT HE WROTE IT: In yesterdays column, Paul Krugman calls attention to Senator Grassleys misleading letter in last Fridays Times. Once again, The Krug is too kind. Grassley declaimed on the Bush tax cuts. Try to believe that he wrote it:
To the Editor:
What an astonishing letter! Some observers claim that 40 percent of the cuts went to the top 1 percent? Readers, which observers dont make this claim? Those who are misinformed or lying! Grassley knows thisand hopes that you dont. His letter offers every misleading construction devised by GOP spin-doctors pushing Bushs cuts. His letter is a masterwork of spin, bad faith and deception.
Re Springtime for Hitler, by Paul Krugman (column, Oct. 18): I stand by my call for unbiased tax data in policy debates. Some observers claim that 40 percent of last years tax cuts went to the top 1 percent of taxpayers. The Joint Committee on Taxation, Congresss official, unbiased source, says the top 1 percent will receive 27 percent of the income tax cuts in 2006, the latest projection available. Taxpayers with incomes of $200,000 and less will receive the majority of the tax-cut benefits, with 67 percent.
The real story is that despite those cuts, the top 1 percent of taxpayers will still pay 33 percent of federal income taxes. They will receive a lower share of the income tax cut, 27 percent, than their burden, 33 percent.
The joint committee says the taxpayers who will receive the greatest reduction in their tax burden have incomes between $10,000 and $40,000. Those with incomes between $10,000 and $20,000 will enjoy a reduction of 13.6 percent. Those with incomes of more than $200,000 will see their burden reduced by 6.1 percent. Intellectual honesty demands putting tax data in context.
Washington, Oct. 24, 2002
And how can such letters still be written, three years after the cuts were proposed? It is possible becausewith the exception of Krugmanthere are very few scribes who show any sign of giving a fig about fiscal facts. Indeed, in the months after Bush was elected, the administrations most ludicrous factual presentations were often echoed in our major newspapers (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/5/01).
Grassleys letter wouldnt be possible if we had a functioning press. Neither would the following letter, which appeared in Mondays Times:
To the Editor:
If it is true? The writers construction can be read two ways. But many Americans are still in doubt about such basic facts as this. Theyre in doubt because dissemblers like Grassley still work to deceiveand because our press corps is soft on the facts.
Re Dead Parrot Society (column, Oct. 25): Paul Krugman is fueling partisanship and class warfare. Comments like the Bush administration lies a lot and the president is as slippery and evasive as any politician in memory only serve to tear the country apart as it fights terrorism and tries to respond to volatile economic conditions.
If it is true that 40 percent of the Bush tax cut goes to 1 percent of the population, then it is also true that 60 percent goes to people who are not wealthy
New York, Oct. 25, 2002
In yesterdays column, Krugman discussed the disinformation which surrounds the estate tax. He discusses a basic way we manage to be misinformed:
KRUGMAN: [T]he estate tax debate illustrates the pervasive hypocrisy of our politics. For repeal of the death tax has been cast, incredibly, as a populist issue. Thanks to sustained, lavishly financed propaganda
millions of Americans imagine, wrongly, that the estate tax mainly affects small businesses and farms, and that its repeal will help ordinary people. And who pays for the propaganda? Guess. Its amazing what money can buy.
But theres another reason why Americans are misinformed; theyre misinformed because of the press. In contemporary press culture, a three-step dance has routinely been played regarding Bush fiscal matters:
Whatever happened to stubborn facts? They play little role in modern press culture. The Grassleys can dissemble as much as they likeand the boys and girls in your press corps dont care.
- Krugman recites the basic facts.
- The rest of the press corps pretends not to notice.
- Andrew Sullivan pretends that hes wrong.
Does your press corps care about stubborn facts? Lets see how hard they work to correct Newt Gingrichs gross misstatement from Sunday. In Josh Marshalls latest posting, he seems to show that Gingrich was deliberately dissembling on Meet the Press. Does the press corps care about such matters? In recent years, theyve have shown little concern. To your vacuous Washington press corps, it only counts if you dissemble about your blow jobs, or maybe about where you got your clothes. Result? Dissembling presentations infest our discourse. Grassley ought to be ashamed of his letter. But dont worrywith the notable exception of Krugman, your press corps wont even say Boo.
THIS FAR AND NO FARTHER: Several readers sent us Eleanor Clifts current on-line piece, in which she echoes Dana Milbanks recent line. Clift: The notion of George W. Bush as bipartisan is a myth. In fact, the president is guilty of crass duplicity. Readers perused the following passage and thought Clift might be sampling THE HOWLER:
CLIFT: How does he get away with such crass duplicity? The media doesnt want to disturb the story line. Gore was the prevaricator; Bush was intellectually challenged. So when Bush fiddles with the facts, the media doesnt see malevolence.
Our readers are too generous to Clift. Like any iconoclast in the press corps, she is careful to stay within boundaries. For example, she opens like this:
CLIFT: When Clinton lied about sex, his critics claimed he couldnt be trusted to tell the truth about anything. When Al Gore bragged about his role in creating the Internet, the Bush camp treated it as evidence of a congenital default in the former vice presidents DNA. Gore could never again be believable.
The Bush camp came after Gore? Sorry. By the time Bush began mentioning the Internet in March 2000, the press corps had been flogging the nonsensical tale for a year. In this passage, Clift offers a standard press construction; she takes the misconduct of her own cohort and lays it off on someone else. (Pundits also love pretending that late night comedians have created the corps silly slanders.) As press corps regulars routinely do, Clift protects her own breed in this passage. In fact, Clifts own press corps dissembled about Gore far morefar morethan the Bush campaign ever did. There is, simply put, no comparison.
And how about Clifts closing passage? To our taste, she tiptoes there too:
CLIFT: How does [Bush] get away with such crass duplicity? The media doesnt want to disturb the story line. Gore was the prevaricator; Bush was intellectually challenged. So when Bush fiddles with the facts, the media doesnt see malevolence. They see a man whos not articulate, who doesnt speak with lawyerly precision. And they cant believe how believable he is.
Sorry. Pundits have peddled that excuse since October 2000. We find it profoundly unconvincing.
The media doesnt want to disturb the story line, Clift writesoffering one of the gum-toothed self-critiques permitted inside the media. Media regulars are allowed to chide the corps for wanting to stick to story lines. But they are not allowed to ask why these lines were preferred to begin with. For example, why did the corps go so easy on Bush budget thruststhe tax cuts, the estate tax, the private accounts? Could it be because the corps opinion leaders are all multimillionaires who benefit from the Bush budget plans? Its the law: Pundits are allowed to say that their cohort obeys story lines, but they mustnt ask where the story lines come from. In this case, these story lines began with the corps Clinton backlash, and (almost surely) with its changing class interest. You will read many columns by Clift without hearing her wonder about that.
We agree that Bush has received a free ride. But Clift shows little curiosity about why that might be. But for the record, the Bush campaign had little to do with the nonsense known as inventing the Internet. That campaign was made a great cause by the press. Eleanor Clift surely knows thats true. She also knows that good pundits dont say it.