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IN SEARCH OF AMERICAN NORMS! Broder’s cohort luvved Ken Starr. Today, they luv somebody else: // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, JANUARY 29, 2009

Media Matters gets it right: Media Matters gets it right in this detailed piece about those CBO reports/studies/analyses/documents. (In fairness, it took four folk to accomplish the task, as you can see from the author tag-line.) Oh. Our. God. Here’s what the summary says:

MEDIA MATTERS (1/28/09): In numerous instances, the media have falsely stated or suggested that a CBO analysis of less than half of the economic recovery bill examined the entire bill, resulting in the false suggestion that the analysis, in the words of the Politico, "shows very little money will be spent in the first six or so months after enactment" of the recovery plan. But as the AP noted, the CBO analysis did not "cover tax cuts or efforts by Democrats to provide relief to cash-strapped state governments to help with their Medicaid bills." Six days later, some outlets were still making the false suggestion.

Oh. Our. God. You’ll note that this summary doesn’t claim that the CBO analysis “turned out not to exist.” Instead, the authors correctly state that some in the media have falsely stated or suggested what the analysis said. By the way, those misstatements continued on cable last night. On CNN, Amy Holmes misstated what the initial analysis said, prompting Anderson Cooper to explain what the CBO’s second analysis said (just click here). But sigh! A few minutes later, Ali Velshi powered ahead with more bungling:

COOPER (9/28/09): Let's talk about the time-line, because over—a lot of people have been reporting different things over the last week or so about how quickly this money's going to be spent. What are, what's the facts there?

VELSHI: OK.

There was some reporting that only about 38 percent of it would be spent within the first 18 months, by next September. That looked like it was jumping the gun. The Congressional Budget Office, which is the nonpartisan budget arm of Congress, has now done a more full report, and says that about 64 percent of this money will be spent in the first 18 months. The Obama administration says it's 75 percent. So, there's still some discrepancy there. That, of course, is a complaint of Republicans. You want to get—you talked to David and Paul Begala about this earlier. We're all trying to get the best bang for the buck. And, sometimes, that means, in some cases, at least, the soonest bang for the buck. Still some discrepancy, but it looks like everybody's in agreement that the lion's share of it will be within the first 18 months.

COOPER: About 64 percent. All right, Ali Velshi, thanks. Appreciate it.

From that, you might have thought that the CBO first said one thing (38 percent), then said something different (64 percent) in “a more full report.” That, of course, is simply inaccurate. But Cooper thanked Velshi anyhoo. Who cares if the guy is still wrong?

Back to Media Matters: Its report doesn’t make the silly, Hannityesque claim that the initial analysis “did not exist.” Speaking English and acting like grown-ups, the authors simply listed those people who misstated what the analysis showed and said.

Some progressives have a certain view about these sorts of incidents. Conservatives endlessly spread BS around, they may think; it’s cool when we respond in kind. Sorry. Conservatives get to spread BS around because they’re backed by major societal power. (And because the career liberal world has endlessly refused to fight back, going back many years.) Corresponding progressive foolishness won’t be treated that same way by our organs of power. For example: When liberals spend five days claiming that a report/study/analysis doesn’t exist—even though they’ve linked to the document—big news orgs won’t start repeating this silly claim. Instead, they will most likely view these people as fools. When we do this as a group, they’ll regard our future work accordingly.

In our view, progressive interests will be served if we insist on high intellectual standards. Conservative power flourishes best when all such rules get thrown away—when any damn fool can say any damn thing without regard to elementary sense. (If we lower tax rates, we get higher revenues! Euro health care is the pits!) In yesterday’s report, Media Matters carefully listed those who misstated what the first analysis said. It’s much more fun to gambol and play. But it’s an insult to liberal readers—and (prediction follows) such conduct won’t help in the end.

Completing the record, here’s what our most prominent TV progressive said on Monday’s program. Sorry, this didn’t make sense:

MADDOW (9/26/09): Throughout much of last week, Republicans cited a Congressional Budget Office report as evidence that Obama’s stimulus plan would not work. They said the report showed that most of the money in the stimulus bill wouldn’t be spent quickly enough; it wouldn’t get into the economy until after next year.

One awkward but very important detail about this CBO report is that it doesn’t exist. Yes. The CBO says they ran some numbers on a small portion of an earlier version of the bill but they did no report like what the Republicans are talking about. They did no report on the current bill that is anything like what the Republicans are alleging. It doesn’t exist, isn’t there, hasn’t ever been in existence. Ever.

That minor detail did not stop the Wall Street Journal’s right-wing editorial page today from citing the non-existent report in an editorial against President Obama’s stimulus bill.

The Journal called the report’s nonexistent findings, quote, “highly embarrassing” for those in Congress, AKA Democrats, trying to push the bill through.

Sorry, that was just silly. Those “non-existent findings” did exist; the findings just didn’t say “that most of the money in the stimulus bill wouldn’t be spent quickly enough.” Did the Journal misstate those findings? Next time, let’s act like grown-ups: Let’s hit them hard for their misstatements without engaging in scripted, Bozellian claims about what “doesn’t exist.”

Some people misstated those initial CBO findings. Holmes and Velshi continued to do so last night. It isn’t hard to state such facts—while bellowing loudly. Media Matters somehow did so, correctly, in yesterday’s report.

In search of American norms: If a federal prosecutor rides up on a charger, are Americans supposed to bow low to his judgment? (Related question: Wasn’t a chap named Kenneth Starr a “federal prosecutor” not too long ago?) We’ve wondered about that for several months, as journalists of every stripe assume the infallibility of Patrick Fitzgerald’s judgments regarding Rod Blagojevich.

For our money, this morning’s column by David Broder captures this odd (and oddly un-American) dose of Standard Group Conduct.

Broder is angry because Blagojevich has been interviewed on TV programs. Indeed, in a breach of normal etiquette, he’s even unhappy with two of his most esteemed confreres at the Post! Let’s start with what he says about Gene Robinson’s recent column on this same subject (click here). We too were struck by the part of the column Broder cites in this highlighted passage:

BRODER (1/29/09): To my chagrin, the [Blagojevich] PR offensive seems to be working, not only with TV talkers who often confuse celebrity with more serious attributes, but with journalists who ought to know better.

In a single edition of The Post, two of my most admired colleagues, Eugene Robinson and Dana Milbank, treated Blagojevich as if he were a kind of lovable rascal, a scamp to be enjoyed for the laughs he provides.

Milbank wrote that whatever his shortcomings, "the man's entertainment skills are unimpeachable."

Robinson went further overboard. Blagojevich, he wrote, is "about to be impeached on grounds of loopiness, obnoxiousness and a bad haircut." But, he added, "it is unclear to me what else Blagojevich has done that a duly constituted jury would find illegal.”

Throughout his column, Robinson seemed to conflate an impeachment proceeding (which doesn’t require proof of a crime) with an actual criminal trial. But we, like Broder, were especially struck by the passage we have highlighted. After joking about the governor’s haircut, Robinson said it was “unclear to [him] what else Blagojevich has done that a duly constituted jury would find illegal.” Really? Could that be because Patrick Fitzgerald hasn’t yet presented a case in court—hasn’t even indicted Blagojevich? At this point, how exactly could it be “clear” that the governor has committed a crime?

We were puzzled by Robinson’s statement—because, under the American system of justice, there is little way, at this early date, to know if crimes have been committed. But sigh! Broder is annoyed with Robinson for a different reason. You see, under the journalistic system of justice, it has long been perfectly clear that the Illinois governor is a big crook. After all, a federal prosecutor rode up on a stallion and aggressively said so. And in the way modern “journalists” think, those fellows must always be right.

We don’t mean this as a criticism of Patrick Fitzgerald; it may turn out that his appraisal of Blago is backed by very strong evidence. But he hasn’t presented his evidence yet, except in glancing ways; an American might want to wait to see what the evidence actually looks like. Not Broder! He seems to be sure of what’s true in this case, and he can’t understand why Robinson isn’t. In his fury, he’s even willing to type silly statements like this:

BRODER: Excuse me if I'm not laughing. The people who are treating Blagojevich as a figure of fun apparently have no idea what damage he has done to the state of Illinois. His depredations did not begin with the Fitzgerald tapes. When I was in Springfield almost two years ago for a bipartisan dinner at the Lincoln Library, I was told by prominent Republicans and Democrats, including a widely admired former governor, that the Blagojevich administration was "the worst ever.”

Fair enough—although running “the worst administration ever” isn’t a federal crime. And at the time of which Broder speaks, Blagojevich had already been re-elected to a second four-year term in office—re-elected with the support of most of the state’s Big Dems. That includes most of the Democratic legislators cited in this early passage:

BRODER: [E]ven as Blagojevich has abandoned any pretense of mounting a legal defense of his actions, he has launched a full-scale public relations campaign, hitting the morning talk-show circuit to parade his impudence under the guise of proclaiming his innocence.

It's as if there were no bill of particulars filed against him and approved almost unanimously by the members of the Illinois House of Representatives, who have endured six years of his misgovernment.

Again, it may turn out that Blagojevich has committed crimes in office—but Broder is crying big, silly tears in this particular passage. Have those members of the Illinois House “endured six years of his misgovernment?” If so, they’d already endured four years of such treatment when the gentleman won re-election. Why then did so many members (and even Obama) endorse that second run?

Has Blagojevich committed crimes? Believing in American norms, we’d have to say we don’t know yet. To appearances, others favor different norms—norms which say we must bow low when federal gumshoes ride up on white horses. We must assume that their judgment is sound. We must bow low to such lords.

Perhaps our memory is too sharp. But in our distinct recollection, Kenneth Starr was once such a horseman—and his judgment turned out to be poor. Broder, of course, bowed low back then too. Question: Why are so many major liberals bowing low each night, right there on cable?

It was assumed at that dinner: In Broder’s mind, the following highlighted passage helps us see Blago’s bad guilt:

BRODER: Excuse me if I'm not laughing. The people who are treating Blagojevich as a figure of fun apparently have no idea what damage he has done to the state of Illinois. His depredations did not begin with the Fitzgerald tapes. When I was in Springfield almost two years ago for a bipartisan dinner at the Lincoln Library, I was told by prominent Republicans and Democrats, including a widely admired former governor, that the Blagojevich administration was "the worst ever."

At the time, Fitzgerald was already working his way up Blagojevich's chain of command, bringing in one official after another, convicting them and then offering some leniency at sentencing in return for their testimony against higher-ups.

It was assumed at that dinner that eventually Fitzgerald would have the pieces in place to show that Blagojevich was at the center of this criminal conspiracy. It was the urgency of stopping the governor from carrying out his reported plan to sell the Senate seat to the highest bidder that forced Fitzgerald to move when he did.

To people like Broder, the fact that Fitzgerald has been working on this case for four years helps suggest the governor’s guilt. We can imagine a different thought, in which this fact might even suggest that a criminal case just ain’t there. But then, we don’t believe in assuming the Perfect Judgment of men who ride up on white chargers. Fitzgerald’s judgment may turn out to be quite sound. We prefer to wait.

“It was assumed at that dinner,” Dean Broder says. But that has long been the problem.