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WHILE MICHAEL SLEPT! Read Michael Kinsley—then read Cal Thomas. You’ll gaze on the soul of your “press corps:”


THOSE ELUSIVE FACTS: Try to believe—just try to believe—the official way the New York Times is “deciphering” the new Medicare prescription drug benefit. On this morning’s front page, Robert Pear explains the savings which seniors will realize under the plan. Pear reviews a single case study—that of Mary Jane Jones of Midlothian, Virginia. (This is one of the cases reviewed by Bush in yesterday’s speech.) According to Pear, “Jones’s drug costs total nearly $6,000 a year.” Under the new plan, Pear continues, Jones “would pay $3,300, thus saving $2,700, or 45 percent of what she now spends” But then he throws in a disclaimer:

PEAR: Those calculations do not include the premiums, estimated at $35 a month or $420 a year.
Oh! In other words, Jones will actually pay $3720 when you add in her monthly premiums. That isn’t a gigantic difference for the rare person who spends so much on drugs. But Pear’s report is accompanied by a detailed chart, which also excludes the $420 in premiums. (Click here, then click where it says MULTIMEDIA.) For that reason, many people consulting the chart will be grossly misled about the new plan. For example, the chart shows that a person spending $1000 per year will only pay $438 under the new plan. (44 percent, the chart plainly says.) In fact, when you add in the cost of the monthly premiums, that citizen will actually pay $858—86 percent of the total cost. In short: Except for those with eagle eyes, the NYT chart is grossly misleading. This morning’s piece would be much more informative if the chart simply hadn’t appeared.

We won’t attempt to guess why the Times is presenting the prescription drug plan this way. (We’ve seen prior complaints about this construction.) But can we note what is merely obvious? This presentation flies in the face of the theory of NYT “liberal bias.” The presentation adopts Bush’s preferred accounting, and it makes the plan seem much more generous than it actually is. Many people will be misled by this morning’s chart (comically headlined, “Deciphering the Drug Benefit”). Meanwhile, the New York Times’ much-ballyhooed bias? It’s Missing In Action once again.

“Medicare Benefits Are Elusive,” the Times headline says. No kidding! Just look at their chart!

WHILE MICHAEL SLEPT: He was the brightest scribe of a generation. Now, Michael Kinsley has been reduced to penning pallid piffle like this:

KINSLEY: Howard Dean, age 18, walked into his draft physical with a set of X-rays, walked out with a bad-back deferment and spent most of the next year on the slopes at Aspen. George W. Bush joined the Texas Air National Guard and was lackadaisical about fulfilling even that mild commitment. John F. Kerry was a battlefield hero and then a leader of the antiwar movement. Wesley K. Clark joined the Army, served with honor and splash and never left until he was personally booted by the secretary of defense.
Let’s move past the odd but irrelevant error (another Fred Hiatt fact-check exclusive). According to the New York Times, Howard Dean was actually 21 years old when he “walked into his physical.” But never mind! Our interest lies in that next squishy sentence—the one about “lackadaisical” Bush.

First, we pen an incomparable disclaimer; here at THE HOWLER, we simply don’t care what these candidates did with the draft. Most White House hopefuls are in their 50s or 60s; they have long records of public service, records they racked up as adults. We simply don’t care what they did at age 20 (or 24). Based on what we currently know, we just don’t care how Dean handled the draft. Based on what we know about Bush, we don’t care about his record either.

But many other citizens do care, and that’s where our amazement comes in. Was George Bush “lackadaisical about fulfilling that mild [Air National Guard] commitment?” In fact, Kinsley seems to indulge in massive euphemism; the evidence actually seems to suggest that Bush skipped an entire year of his service commitment. As noted, that conduct doesn’t especially trouble us; we don’t think it would affect our vote if we otherwise wanted to support Bush. But is that what Kinsley has in mind when he refers to Bush’s “lackadaisical” effort? Surely, there are more precise ways to describe what this Air Guardsman did.

Of course, no one knows what Kinsley meant, because no one really knows what Air Guardsman Bush did. And we don’t know that for an obvious reason; we don’t know because Kinsley and his entire press cohort have agreed not to ask, not to tell. As we recently noted, the facts about Bush’s Air Guard service were hopelessly muddled in November 2000 (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/26/03). And since that time, no one in the press corps—not Kinsley; no one else—has ever made the slightest attempt to sort out what Bush really did.

Kinsley uses tough talk with the “booted” Clark, but seems to euphemize with Bush. Don’t ask, don’t tell, your press corps has said. Three years later, you’re still asked to read this poofed-up prose from the man who was once a generation’s prime journalist. Don’t ask, don’t tell, your press corps has said. And you complete the Rule of Three. They don’t ask—and you don’t know.

THE MEN TO WHOM KINSLEY DEFERS: For whatever reason, Kinsley’s Cohort decided to pussy-foot hard when in came to Bush’s Guard record. Will they report, letting you decide? Sorry—they don’t plan to go there. Others, though, are less restrained. On Sunday, for example, Cal Thomas reviewed Hillary Clinton’s trip to Iraq in an op-ed piece for the Washington Times. (The column appeared all over the nation.) Unlike Mike, Cal doesn’t watch words. He began with some soft-core clowning:

THOMAS (pgh 1): Two top public officials went to Iraq in the past two weeks. One was President Bush. He was cheered by troops who expressed what appeared to be genuine affection for him. The other was Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y. She found it difficult to locate soldiers wanting to dine with her, according to some press reports.
“According to some press reports,” Cal clowned, offering an attribution which could mean almost anything. But having begun by amusing the troops, Cal showcased his rank, rich corruption:
THOMAS (pgh 2): While praising the troops, Sen. Clinton questioned the administration’s postwar policy, a distinction I find inconsistent. The Nazi leadership believed the troops at Auschwitz also did a “good job.” The policy and the performance go together, don’t they?
Amazing, isn’t it? Can anyone think that Cal is sincere when he calls this distinction “inconsistent?” Can anyone think that Cal Thomas believes this—thinks that anyone who questions postwar policy is therefore disparaging the troops? John McCain keeps questioning postwar policy—and Newt Gingrich just questioned postwar policy much more aggressively than Clinton did. Therefore, according to Thomas, McCain and Gingrich don’t support the troops! Who on earth could believe that he means this? But oh yes—to stir the rubes further, Thomas quickly drags in the Nazis! Clinton has adopted the very same posture as the Nazi leaders regarding Auschwitz, he says! Surely, a human being can’t get more fake. Surely, nothing could be more fake or dishonest than this porn from this fake “Christian” man.

But readers, look back over these two op-ed columns and gaze on the soul of your “press corps!” The Kinsleys checked out long ago—abandoned you and your most basic interests. Meanwhile, the Thomases drive as hard as they can—and baldly lie to their readers. Meanwhile, what kinds of idiots can these readers be, to swallow down such mind-boggling bullroar? In the next few years, we’ll continue to learn—and there is no sign, no sign on earth, that Kinsley’s cohort plans to discuss it. Clark was “booted,” Kinsley says, while Bush was just a bit “lackadaisical.” If Americans want to understand the world that exists, they must understand these two columns.

ANDREW SULLIVAN’S MEDIEVAL CRACKPOTS CAN LICK OSAMA BIN LADEN’S MEDIEVAL CRACKPOTS: Then there’s Andrew Sullivan. To his credit, Sully attacks medieval impulses—when they appear in the Middle East. But then, working hard to reel in the rubes, he publishes medieval porn from our own Western sector. Try to believe that he actually published this yesterday, right there on his site:

“CIRCLING COMMUNIST WITCH”: “Greetings from the Hillary-hating right sector of your fan base.

“I realize the focus of your piece is political strategy and politicians’ efforts to manage public perceptions of where they stand on the political spectrum. Nevertheless, the question of Hillary’s sincerity as an Iraq hawk deserves more than passing mention. There’s no maybe about it; her posturing in this regard lacks any shred of real (as opposed to political) credibility. I’m reminded of the age-old Soviet clamoring for ‘world peace’…

“Let’s hope few voters are so inept at the identification of flying creatures as to mistake this circling communist witch for a national security hawk.” - more friendly feedback on the Letters Page.

Wow! Can’t wait to read more mail like that!

We all get the occasional overwrought e-mail (although we don’t think we’ve gotten one quite this kooky). But Sullivan doesn’t delete crackpot e-mails; instead, he cuts-and-pastes them, using them as feed for the herd. Sullivan’s e-mailer embraces the language of medieval mental illness (witchcraft!). And Clinton is also a Communist, of course. So Sullivan throws this porn to the rubes, and adds one note: Send twenty dollars.

Clinton’s a Nazi. No, Clinton’s a Communist. No, Hillary Clinton is really a witch! Incredibly, this is the current world of the pseudo-con right. And oh yes, one more thing: Michael Kinsley’s Leisure World crew doesn’t plan to say Word One about it.

FOR THE RECORD, NOT THAT THAT MATTERS: In fact, the lumber industry may have gained from the war in Iraq. It doesn’t really matter, of course, since Barbra Streisand—oops, Barbra Streisand’s assistant—never actually said that it would. But several readers sent us links. To see one, just click here.

By the way, one more day, and no correction of Krauthammer’s screamers. At the Post, you can make up “facts” as much as you like. Just do it on Fred Hiatt’s watch.