Daily Howler logo
LET THEM EAT MILQUETOAST! E. J. Dionne serves you milquetoast RE Hagel. Go see if the liberal web cares: // link // print // previous // next //

LET THEM EAT MILQUETOAST: Remember—big press corps “liberals” never tell you how the mainstream press really works. Consider a paragraph that doesn’t appear in E. J. Dionne’s column this morning. Dionne lists four mistakes George Bush has made in selling his Social Security program:
DIONNE (3/9/05): So far the president has made at least four mistakes. He assumed he could convince the country that Social Security faces a crisis requiring urgent action. He thought he could accentuate the positive—those "personal accounts" really do sound great—without laying out what they would cost. He counted on getting good-government points by "facing up" to Social Security's long-term problems without proposing any hard steps to fix them. And he figured that some Democrats would fall his way simply because that's what has always happened before.
Bush has made four mistakes, Dionne says. But here’s the paragraph that doesn’t appear—the paragraph that never gets typed:
DIONNE, EXTENDED: Of course, it’s easy to see why Bush could have made these mistakes. During Campaign 2000, the mainstream press did let him praise the wonders of private accounts without ever telling the public that benefits cuts and major borrowing would be involved in his plan. And the mainstream press corps did praise Bush for “facing up” to Social Security’s long-term problem, even as he was baldly disguising the huge costs involved in his plan. For five years, the press did cover for Bush on this subject, helping him defeat Al Gore in the process. It’s hardly surprising that Bush, as president, seemed to think he could get away with the same flim-flam again.
No, Dionne would never type that paragraph, although what it says is patently true (links below). Remember, big “liberal” pundits never discuss the actual working of their cohort. Result? Pseudo-con kooks get to yell “liberal bias,” and citizens never hear the truth about the way the press really functions. But so what? For “liberals” like Dionne, life is simpler this way. Yes, the public gets grossly misled in the process. But those checks from the Post never bounce.

Yes, Dionne’s the type of Milquetoast Liberal with which the Post litters its op-ed page. And when you hire Milquetoast Liberals, this is the sort of disinformation you end up receiving:

DIONNE (continuing directly): The "crisis" claim didn't fly because it wasn't true....As for personal accounts, their more forthright advocates acknowledge that paying for them will require either substantial tax increases or borrowing on the order of $2 trillion. Bush has finessed this nasty detail, hoping that such brave Republican legislators as Sens. Lindsey Graham and Chuck Hagel would take the hit for delivering the bad news.
Milquetoast in—Swiss cheese out. In this passage, Dionne becomes the ten millionth scribe to mislead the public about those transition costs. According to Dionne, “advocates” who are “more forthright” than Bush say that private accounts will require roughly $2 trillion in borrowing. He says this even though Dick Cheney himself has said that the borrowing will be at least three trillion dollars—and even though non-partisan sources compute a much higher figure. Anyone reading that passage would think that private accounts will require $2 trillion in borrowing. In fact, the CBO has placed the figure at $15 trillion over fifty years; the CBPP has said $4.9 trillion in the first twenty years alone. An actual “liberal”—no, an actual journalist—would let you know such basic facts. Instead, Dionne does something truly remarkable—he lets “advocates” of the plan define the facts of this debate, and he ends up misleading the public. Who but a Milquetoast does that?

Meanwhile, only a Milquetoast Liberal would still cite Chuck Hagel as a “brave Republican legislator.” On Sunday, Hagel dissembled wildly on Face the Nation, badlly obscuring the benefit cuits involved in his proposal (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/7/05), And last night, the flim-flam continued when Hagel played Hardball (full details below). By the way—what did Hagel obscure last night? Omigod—he obscured the transition costs of his plan! But that’s how it goes with Milquetoast Pundits. On Tuesday night, a Republican senator goes on TV and baldly flim-flams those transition costs. The very next morning, he’s praised in the Post as a guy who’ll be honest about them!

No, liberal pundits like Dionne won’t tell you about the way the press works. Nor will they tell you the truth about Hagel. But just as Dionne won’t be truthful about the press, the liberal web won’t be truthful about Dionne. Dionne, smart and decent, is a tough guy to dislike. So you’ll read about his Milquetoast here, and you’ll read about it nowhere else. Only pressure from below will make Dionne change. And that pressure will not be forthcoming.

Let’s face it—liberal bloggers like to smooch with liberal stars of the mainstream press. Why, you could almost say that these bold liberal bloggers are part of a “faint-hearted faction.”

VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: Why did Bush think he could pull off this scam in 2005? Easy! During Campaign 2000, the mainstream press corps did praise Bush for his “bold leadership” on SS. Those “nasty details” were completely obscured, and Gore was trashed, for being so “negative.” The public deserves to know these facts, but they’ll never hear them from mainstream “liberal” pundits. Luckily, you can read the full story here. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/15/02, 5/17/02 and 5/20/02.

THE LATEST FROM SENATOR FLIM-FLAM: Last night, Senator Flim-Flam—sorry; Chuck Hagel—was busy disguising those transition costs when he played some Hardball. At the start of the interview, Chris Matthews asked Hagel about all that borrowing. “How much federal borrowing from abroad will be required for you plan to work?” the host asked. Hagel’s reply was pure sophistry:

HAGEL (3/8/05): Chris, first, what we have in Social Security today is actuarily unsustainable, meaning we have a $3.7 trillion unfunded liability over the next 75 years. So we’re already in debt, right now, $3.7 trillion in Social Security. Now you start there.
That statement is weirdly inaccurate. An “unfunded liability” is not a “debt” (although the reason for Hagel’s conflation would some become clear). According to the SS trustees, the payroll tax will produce $3.7 trillion less in the next 75 years than we need to pay full promised benefits. But that doesn’t mean we’re “already in debt” by that sum. If we assume that the trustees’ projection is accurate, we can address the shortfall in several ways. For example, we could raise taxes to make up the shortfall, in which case no “debt” will ever be incurred. Or we could cut those future benefits; no “debt” will be incurred this way either. Third possibility: We could borrow in the future to make up the shortfall, in which case we would incur large debt. But we aren’t “already in debt, right now, $3.7 trillion;” that statement is an odd conflation. But uh-oh! As Hagel continued, it became clear why he was offering this sweet sleight-of-hand:
HAGEL (continuing directly): What my plan would do...over the 75 years that the $3.7 trillion in unfunded liabilities must be paid is take some of the debt, put it at the front end, spread it out so that we can pay for a transition that gets us solvent within 75 years and all years thereout we will have a solvent Social Security program.
Hagel pretended that he was taking existing debt and paying it now instead of later. And duh! This is a way to avoid admitting that his plan would involve large new borrowing. But omigod! Matthews actually seemed to know that he was getting hosed by Hagel. The talker restated his question:
MATTHEWS (continuing directly): But the money we’ll be paying seniors over the next ten years will actually be money we’re borrowing from abroad, wouldn’t it? The checks are basically being financed—the money going to seniors now retired, for the next ten years, will be coming from U. S. borrowing in China and Japan. Isn’t this the same problem that confronts the Bush plan?
The answer to that is obvious: Yes. So Hagel said the opposite: No. He then recited his silly presentation again, and Matthews went on to new topics. (We suggest that you read the full transcript.)

Let’s make sure we understand the costs of a plan like Hagel’s. In Hagel’s plan, we reduce future benefits to create full solvency. Simultaneously, we borrow big money to fund the transition to private accounts. According to Dionne, these are the “nasty details” that “brave Republican legislators” like Hagel are going to tell us all about (unlike Bush). But on Sunday, Hagel obscured his benefit cuts with a bit of World-Class Obfuscation. And last night, he obscured his plan’s large-scale borrowing with that perfect flim-flam. But so what? In the modern Washington press corps, what happens when a guy like Hagel does that? Simple! He gets praised for his candor, the very next day, by a major “liberal” pundit! And go ahead—check the web to see if your favorite liberals are upset.

Hagel has been in Full Flim-Flam Mode as he unveils his exciting new plan. Result? A Post liberal praises him for his candor! But go ahead—check the web. Try to find someone scolding Dionne. Of course, Hiawatha Bray is much more important; your heroes will rail against him.

FURTHER NOTE: Some points on Matthews’ typical weak performance:

First: Note that Matthews seems to think that the transition will occur in the next ten years only. Matthews asked a relevant question last night. But he seldom seems to understand basic facts about this topic.

Second: Note that Matthews seems to think that all the borrowing will come from abroad. Presumably, some borrowing would come from Japan and China. Fore some reason, Matthews seems to think that that’s the only source.

Third: Most important: The question not asked. How large are Hagel’s benefit cuts? It’s the first, most obvious question—and Matthews, haplessly, never asked it. In fact, if you watched the entire interview, you might not realize that Hagel’s plan involves any benefit cuts at all! But so it goes when a flim-flamming pol hooks up with an inept ranter.

By the way, Matthews knows the spin on Hagel’s plan. The talker knows that it’s Hard Press Corps Law—you must praise All Thing Hagel:
MATTHEWS (3/8/05): Still ahead, both sides are still fighting it out over Social Security. Now, Senator Chuck Hagel is putting forth his own plan, right down the middle. Will it be acceptable to either side? Senator Hagel will be joining me in just a moment.
Hagel’s plan is “right down the middle.” It’s the law—you have to praise Chuck. Matthews performed his duty last night. Dionne followed through the next morning.

BUNGLING RATHER (PART 2): Flavia Colgan (pretty much) got it right when she tackled Dan Rather’s big bungle (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/8/05). Is CBS driven by liberal bias? Does liberal bias rule the New York Times, as pseudo-con pundit Bob Kohn said? Appearing with Kohn in Scarborough Country, Colgan stated the blindingly obvious: Big news orgs—CBS and the Times among them—had spent the previous dozen years producing bungled stories about Clinton, then Gore! That’s right, kids—Whitewater was a virtual press corps hoax, and no, Gore never said he invented the Internet (one of a hundred phony tales the press corps made up about Al). What kind of “bias” were news orgs showing when they crafted those bungled stories? But alas! Most Americans would be surprised to hear Colgan’s point about Clinton and Gore. Pseudo-con pundits scream all day about the corps’ troubling liberal bias. But for reasons they need to start explaining, “liberal” spokesmen rarely discuss the battering handed to Clinton, then Gore. This produces an absurd imbalance in our nation’s endless Spin Wars. Citizens hear endless cries of liberal bias—but rarely hear a well-formed rebuttal. Indeed, consider what happened to Gene Lyons’ column about the Rathergate mess.

The column appeared on January 12, one day before Colgan’s Scarborough outing. Drawing on a decade of service which started with his book Fools for Scandal, Lyons recalled another time when 60 Minutes bungled this way:

LYONS (1/12/05): Funny, but the last time CBS’ "60 Minutes" broadcast an unsubstantiated, ultimately discredited story embarrassing to the president of the United States, there was no investigation and nobody got fired.
“Well, let me amend that,” Lyons said. “Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr investigated star witness Kathleen Willey’s allegations against Bill Clinton to a fare-thee-well before concluding what any halfway skeptical reporter would have suspected from the first: that she was an unreliable, self-dramatizing person with a habit of embroidering her own history.” Lyons was reminding readers of an earlier bungle by CBS—Willey’s hyper-dramatized, 1998 60 Minutes appearance, in which she accused sitting president Clinton of attacking her in the Oval Office.

And yes, that appearance was also a bungle, although few Americans have ever heard anyone say so. As we’ve recalled any number of times, Independent Counsel Robert Ray (Ken Starr’s successor) ended up denouncing Willey as a liar, saying in his final report that he had considered charging her with perjury (links below). Lyons recalled the once-famous case as his column continued:

LYONS: In short, Willey was at least as shaky a source as Bill Burkett, the retired Texas Air National Guard officer who leaked the now infamous memos to "60 Minutes" supposedly documenting President Bush’s dereliction of duty in 1972...CBS should have been leery of her from the start.

So why didn’t "60 Minutes" pay the price for its credulousness about Willey? Well, the answer sure ain’t "liberal media bias." Even after prosecutors concluded that Willey had lied under oath, TV talk shows kept booking her to trash Clinton. She’d become a star.

Lyons’ question was much like Colgan’s. What kind of bias did those talk shows display—when they persisted in booking Willey even after the prosecutor trashed her in his final report?

In this column, Lyons cited an intriguing parallel to CBS’ latest blunder—a case in which 60 Minutes bungled while in headlong pursuit of Bill Clinton! But did you see Lyons’ column mentioned as the Rathergate report was debated? We saw no one cite the column. But then, it would have been hard to discuss the Willey matter. When the Independent Counsel finally called her a liar, newspapers barely mentioned the story, and liberal pundits have almost never mentioned the matter to this very day. Result? If you try to discuss Kathleen Willey, you’re pretty much starting from scratch. Pseudo-con pundits scream, day and night, about that troubling liberal bias. But Dem-based pundits almost never discuss the trashings handed to Clinton and Gore (more on that as the week progresses). As a result, many pundits may not even know the kinds of facts to which Colgan alluded.

And that may explain why some liberal pundits handled Rathergate so poorly. When Colgan showed up in Scarborough Country, she tried to state the obvious case—Rather had bungled on Bush this time, but CBS (and the New York Times) had bungled on Clinton and Gore for a decade. Colgan made the obvious point, but many other liberals didn’t. In Scarborough Country, as a matter of fact, one intelligent liberal pundit devoted her time to defending Dan Rather. Good grief! The question is obvious. Why would a liberal do that?

TOMORROW—PART 3: Defending Bungla Dan