THE THREE PERCENT ACCUSATION! The GOP made a rather weak claim. But Dan Eggen bungled again: // link // print // previous // next //
WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 18, 2009
Specters fingerprints: Did Arlen Specter really say those things about his Republican colleagues? If so, why have his colorful, newsworthy comments gone so little mentioned?
Last Friday, Ryan Grim penned this report at The Huffington Post. Specter says various newsworthy things, in particular, he claims that many fellow Republicans were secret supporters of the stimulus package. Heres the most colorful part of Grims report:
Indeed, Specter had already quoted a fellow Republican solon. This solon praised Specters pro-stimulus stance, but said he would have to vote no on the package:
That was remarkably newsworthy stuff. But to whom had Specter been speaking when he made these colorful comments? Somewhat oddly, Grims report didnt say. Perhaps for that reason, these alleged statements by Specter have been cited almost nowhere in the mainstream press. (They havent even gotten much play on the liberal web.) As of this morning, Nexis records only two citations of Specters colorful fingerprints comment. Heres one of the two, by Karen Heller, in Tuesdays Philly Inquirer. (From Hellers account, youd tend to think that Specter made this newsworthy comment speaking to her in an interview.)
To whom did Specter make these remarks? Grim probably should have spelled that out in his reportbut later, he posted an UPDATE. Listen to the audio, it said, and it offered a link you could click. But we havent been able to make the audio work. Two associates have tried and failed too.
To whom did Specter make those remarks? Beyond that, can you make the audio work? Weve tried, and failed, for several days now. As quoted, Specters comments are highly newsworthy. Why havent these remarks made the news?
Cable pundits have speculated, at length, about Republican motives concerning this package. But according to Nexis, no one has asked Specter to elaborate on his striking remarks. Assuming the audio can be heard loud and clear, that strikes us as fairly remarkable. To whom did Specter make those remarks? Can you make the audio work?
THE THREE PERCENT ACCUSATION: How poorly does the upper-end press corps handle matters of substance? Consider what happened in Sundays Post, when Dan Eggen tried, for the second time, to discuss Republican claims about pork in the stimulus package.
Last Friday, Eggen largely bungled a news report on this topic (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/13/09). His report appeared beneath a groaningly imprecise headline: Despite Pledges, Package Has Some Pork. As we noted, Eggen made no attempt, at any point in his piece, to quantify the amount of pork encompassed by the word some. According to Eggen, many Republicans said that the final bill was still larded with wasteful spending. But at no point were these critics asked to quantify this claim.
How much pork might there be in the package? In Sundays Post, Eggen took a second shot at the topicand he bungled all over again.
Fridays headline had spoken of pork; Sundays headline talked about gifts. (Certain Firms, Industries Got Last-Minute Gifts in Stimulus.) But in this, his second try at the topic, Eggen manage to include an actual number when he cited the GOPs complaints about all the wild Democratic spending. This passage was better than Fridays attempt. But it wasnt better by much:
Republicans were talking tough, according to this second report; Dems had allegedly larded the bill with pork, as part of a spending spree. But this time, omigod! Eggen actually included a number! Republicans had identified $25 billion in such provisions, the scribe magisterially said.
Presto! THE HOWLER had gotten results! In Fridays report about that pork, Eggen didnt require Republicans to quantify their complaints at alland we howled about this omission. Two days later, he cited a price tag. But uh-oh! Another number was groaningly AWOL from this second report.
According to Eggen, Republicans had identified $25 billion in spending provisions which were questionable or non-stimulative. Presumably, Eggen referred to this list by New Jersey Rep. Scott Garrett; we cant find the quoted language anywhere else, and Garretts list of bogus spending matches the amount Eggen cites. But readers! The price tag for the stimulus package as a whole came to $787 billion! Incomparably, we asked our mathematical staff to do some long division.
The bills overall cost was $787 billionand Republicans claimed $25 billion in larded-up pork. We waited anxiously by our phone as the analysts divided that 25 by that much-larger 787. And then, at last! We had the number! The GOPs allegation of pork and lard came to 3.2 percent!
Thats right! According to Republican allegations, only 3.2 percent of the bill constituted a spending spree involving larded-up pork! Only 3.2 percenta rather minuscule amount. Youd almost think that this percentage might have appeared in Eggens report. But given the way this press corps works, numbers like that will appear in the Post about the time pigs, and related pork products, fly. Modern journalists dont do policy, as Eric Boehlert noted last week. And uh-oh! When such scriveners try to do policy, their lack of practice shows.
What a truly remarkable number! By Eggens account, Republicans had made a three percent accusation! They were alleging that only 3 percent of this bill was larded-up spending-spree pork! From that fact, a sensible person might well suspect that the actual percentage was substantially smaller. But it didnt seem to occur to Eggen that this was a very modest allegation. He didnt serve readers by converting the Republican claim ($25 billion) into a helpful percentage (3 percent). He didnt ask Republican leaders why their claim of larded-up pork involved a small part of the bill.
For ourselves, we dont really know what we think of the overall bill. In large part, we arent real sure because of reporting like Eggens. Even at the very top of the press, there has been very little attempt to examine critiques of the stimulus package. The claim that the bill was larded with pork was one of the most ubiquitous criticisms. But Eggen wasnt up to the task of conducting even the simplest analysis. The claim doesnt seem to amount to much. But with reporting this weak, who can tell?
Percentages were invented a long time agobut they havent yet arrived at the Post. It was rude to say it, but do you see why we used a key word last Friday: Dumb? The GOP had made a three percent allegationand three percent is a rather small portion. Eggen, given two shots at the prize, just kept forgetting to say.
Reinforcing a rather weak claim: Meanwhile, it actually matters when claims about some pork appear in headlines in the Post. In the wake of Eggens initial report, we saw this universally acknowledged truth acted out on two occasions.
On Friday morning, the headline on Eggens report talked about some pork. That evening, Charles Krauthammer appeared on Special Report and fulminated thusly:
According to Charles, the stimulus bill was probably the greatest abomination in American legislative history. To support this remarkable claim, he sampled straight from Eggens report. That $8 billion for rapid transit made this the worst bill in American history! But uh-oh! Eggen had made a very weak attempt to examine complaints about that rail money. For Kevin Drums take on that very provision, you know what to dojust click here.
Charles, of course, would have thundered like that no matter what Eggen reported. A more serious consequence of Eggens report appeared in the next mornings Post. A self-professed Democratic voter had read the reportand she had picked up on the claim about pork. As we read her letter, we couldnt help wondering if this lady had perhaps gotten tooken:
The lady seemed to think the bills provisions for high-speed rail were pork, although Drum, for example, had said just the opposite. Had this lady perhaps gotten tooken by Eggens slapdash reporting? Along with his failure to quantify the GOPs allegations, Eggen had offered a fleeting review of the provisions for high-speed rail. But this lady had read what he wrote, and shed stolen a glance at that headline. What happened to no pork in this bill? she angrily sat down and asked.
Her letter appeared in the Post the next day, reinforcing a rather weak three percent accusation. On Friday, a headline had pimped GOP talking-points. The next day, this letter did too.