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POST PATTERN! Darn it! What a terrible time for the Post to publish Eisner’s report: // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, APRIL 6, 2007

FURTHER QUOTATIONS FROM BARTLETT: Yesterday, we hailed Matt Yglesias; Matt had slammed the press corps’ refusal to challenge Saint Rudy’s claim about lower tax rates (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/5/07). And just like that, up jumped Bruce Bartlett, with an op-ed piece in today’s New York Times! Bartlett, a ranking conservative economist, writes “[a]s one who was present at the creation of ‘supply-side economics’ back in the 1970s.” Lickety-split, Bartlett echoed some of the points that Yglesias made:
BARTLETT (4/6/07): The original supply-siders suggested that some tax cuts, under very special circumstances, might actually raise federal revenues...

But today it is common to hear tax cutters claim, implausibly, that all tax cuts raise revenue. Last year, President Bush said, ''You cut taxes and the tax revenues increase.'' Senator John McCain told National Review magazine last month that ''tax cuts, starting with Kennedy, as we all know, increase revenues.'' Last week, Steve Forbes endorsed Rudolph Giuliani for the White House, saying, ''He's seen the results of supply-side economics firsthand—higher revenues from lower taxes.”
Higher revenues from lower taxes? As Yglesias noted, Giuliani himself made this sort of “implausible” claim in accepting Forbes’ endorsement last week—and the mainstream “press corps” said nothing about it. As he continues, Bartlett explains what the original “supply-siders” actually thought about their first famous tax cuts. No, they didn’t think their cuts would produce extra revenue. Repeat slowly: They didn’t think that:
BARTLETT: As the staff economist for Representative Jack Kemp, a Republican of New York, I helped devise the tax plan he co-sponsored with Senator William Roth, a Delaware Republican. Kemp-Roth was intended to bring down the top statutory federal income tax rate to 50 percent from 70 percent and the bottom rate to 10 percent from 14 percent...

We believed that our tax plan would stimulate the economy to such a degree that the federal government would not lose $1 of revenue for every $1 of tax cut. Studies of the 1964 tax cut showed that about a third of it was recouped, and we expected similar results. Thus, contrary to common belief, neither Jack Kemp nor William Roth nor Ronald Reagan ever said that there would be no revenue loss associated with an across-the-board cut in tax rates. We just thought it wouldn't lose as much revenue as predicted by the standard revenue forecasting models, which were based on Keynesian principles.
Duh. “Furthermore,” Bartlett writes, “our belief that we might get back a third of the revenue loss was always a long-run proposition. Even the most rabid supply-sider knew we would lose $1 of revenue for $1 of tax cut in the short term, because it took time for incentives to work and for people to change their behavior.”

So there you have it, again, from Bartlett, whose clarity we’ve praised in the past (for example, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/5/02). Duh! As a general matter, tax cuts do not increase federal revenues; that sort of thing could only happen “under very special circumstances.” Bartlett has explained these points many times, but the Giulianis feel free to keep spouting nonsensical nostrums—knowing that our “mainstream” “press corps” will politely stare into air when they do. And of course, Sean Hannity will keep repeating the “implausible” claims which Bartlett derides in this morning’s column. His listeners will have little way to know that they’re being misled—played for fools.

Why is Hannity free to proceed? Because the “mainstream press corps” has refused, for two decades, to make the points that Bartlett is making. They respect the sovereignty of the kooky-con intellectual ghetto; under the rules they have long accepted, the Hannitys can say any damn thing they please, and our mainstream scribes will stare into air, pretending that they haven’t noticed. They can tell us that tax cuts produce higher revenues. They can say Mars is warming, so Gore must be wrong. They can produce best-selling books filled with ludicrous claims, and no one will say a damn thing about it. In fact, they can say any damn thing they want, and our “mainstream” “journalists” will stare into space. Journos’ lives are simpler—better by far—when they let these deceptions slide by. It’s just so much easier not to engage with the nasty, kooky-con hustlers who have made such a joke of our national discourse. Why not let them say what they please—while we type high-minded thoughts about our various health plans?

Yep! Giuliani can say that tax cuts produce higher federal revenues. Fred Thompson can say that Mars is warming. And crackpots like the Swift Boat Veterans can continue to publish their butt-crazy books. For at least fifteen years, our discourse has been conducted in a long hall of mirrors—because big mainstream journos have endlessly refused to challenge this endless cracked pottery. It’s part of their Millionaire Pundit Values—the code of dishonor that will always exist when a mainstream press corps’ opinion leaders are Nantucket-based multimillionaires.

Sean and Rush have always been off-limits. Our “mainstream” “press corps” agreed long ago—they can say any damn thing they please. Only the Bartletts are allowed to contradict them—and the Bartletts are few and far between. And this corrupt culture will never change unless liberal elites—at mags like Matt’s—scream and yell and holler about it. Matt’s column this week was right as rain. But it was just a small start.

THE PROBLEM WITH HIPPIES: This takes us back to that unfortunate e-mail Josh Marshall published this week. For the record, if the primary election were held today, we would probably vote for Edwards. But that e-mailer’s dim-wit complaints about Clinton do deserve a stronger response than the one Josh offered. Josh made some perfectly valid points. We thought we’d go a bit further.

Fury outrage hiss spit snarl! Let’s hope the mailer is seven years old. Here was his tedious, detailed complaint about Vile Clinton’s fund-raising:

E-MAIL TO JOSH: There needs to be some attention paid to the fact Hillary Clinton didn't actually compete head-to-head on a level playing field with Barack Obama. Does any one honestly think Hillary would have raised $26 million without the help of her husband Bill? The Clinton campaign needs to be pressed on how much Hillary raised at her events and how much was raised by Bill. I suspect she would have reported something close to what Edwards did, $14 million. The New York Times reported last week that Bill was used in 17 fund-raisers over the course of 6 weeks by the Clinton campaign this quarter. Lets say he only raises a quarter million at each event, which is low-balling it considerably, he brings in $4.25 million. Barack on the other hand raised $26 million without the star power of the biggest name in democratic politics. Even more so, the Clinton campaign did not report the overwhelming first quarter numbers they were widely expected to report. The media needs to question why Clinton only reported raising money from only 50,000 contributors when there have been news reports she has access to a list of 250,000 supporters her and Bill have maintained over 20 years. And the American people need to ask themselves if it’s fair that Bill finances his wife's campaign.
Again, let’s hope this mailer is seven years old. He or she has devoted beaucoup time to pondering Clinton’s troubling advantages. Boo hoo hoo—it’s so unfair! But he or she shows no understanding of the dis-advantages Clinton is carrying. But then, e-mails like this help us see the problem with hippies. They show the potential down-side to the increased participation of such folk in our net-rooted politics.

The e-mailer has spent lots of time computing Clinton’s unfair advantages. And yes, it surely is a help when Bill Clinton can help you raise dough. But Candidate Clinton is also working with some huge disadvantages. She’s being called every name in the book by TV preachers like Chris Matthews—and hapless know-nothings like Marshall’s e-mailer have talked themselves into believing they have a very large grievance against her. In part, this stems from fifteen years of crackpot discourse in which lunatics like those in this morning’s Post were permitted to make every damn-fool claim about Clinton—and about her vile, troubling husband. Does Clinton have some advantages in this race? Yes, she does—but so does Obama, on whose behalf the mailer is crying! She is carrying many wounds from the ludicrous discourse of the past fifteen years. We’ll assume the e-mailer doesn’t know that history (a history Obama himself seems to grasp very poorly, in his otherwise dazzling Audacity of Hope). If he did know, it’s hard to see why he’d write such a silly e-mail.

Of course, Al Gore still carries those wounds around too, which explains why it would be extremely hard for him to run again this year. But alas! Many fiery young liberals show no signs of understanding that history either. And why should they? Some of their web-sites are being run by the people who trashed Gore so corruptly in 1999 and 2000. And as late as the summer of 2002, some of our very best liberal writers were still telling them (despite knowing different) that Gore had enjoyed every advantage during that two-year campaign. Yep! Liberals have been misled by many people about the history of the past fifteen years. Result? They wonder why Wonderful Gore won’t run. And they wonder why Clinton’s so cautious.

By the way, when Clinton is trashed with endless gender-based insults, our fiery “feminists” keep themselves silent. Does Josh’s e-mailer think that the media should “question why” that’s happening too?
So yes, when we open our politics up, we bring in many new players. In theory and practice, that’s a wonderful thing, but they sometimes arrive with fiery views—and a relative lack of wisdom. This has always been the (potential) problem with “hippies”—in the 70s and again today—and it explains why those who address such players ought to counsel them wisely. This was the problem with hippies in Campaign 2000, when some believed what Frank Rich told them—that Bush and Gore were the same damn deal—and decided they’d cast their vote for Nader. That was a heartfelt hippie decision. But no, it hasn’t worked out real well.

As human beings, we’re all fairly stupid, some of us a tiny bit more so. That remains the (potential) problem with all these hippies—and it explains why Bush’s astounding follies may not send a Dem to the White House next year. In current polling, our three Big Dems are running slightly behind, despite the folly of the past six years. Reason? In many ways, the scripted trashing of one Major Dem serves as a free-floating trashing of all. As hippies trash the Clintons and (sometimes) even Gore, they may not realize they’re defining Obama as well. Fiery hippies may not grasp this fact. Don’t worry—the RNC does.

Yes, the brand names of the two parties play a major role in our electoral politics. As we speak, those hero tales about Saint McCain are being seamlessly transferred to Saint Fred Thompson (“you just believe him”)—and the endless trashing of those feckless, fake, phony, dishonest Dems inevitably stains the reputation of all. But so what? Given eternal human nature, our fiery hippies are always sure that they know how to make the system work. They knew how to do it in 1968—and they’re sure that they know how this year.

PREQUEL—A MAJOR DISCLAIMER: Doggone it! Right when Hamsher and HOWLER had begun to team up, the Post had to publish this howling report! That said, let’s make it clear—what follows is a comment on the work of the Washington Post. It’s not an attempt to judge the merits of those “16 words,” or to judge the Bush Admin’s conduct.

POST PATTERN: We’ve gone out and purchased The Italian Letter, Peter Eisner and Knut Royce’s new book about the uranium-from-Africa claims. And we’re looking forward to reading it with care (it seems to be quite clearly written). But omigod! Our analysts came out of their chairs Tuesday morning when the Post ran this front-page report by Eisner. It’s adapted from the new book (very loosely). The first paragraph went something like this:
EISENR (4/3/07): It was 3 a.m. in Italy on Jan. 29, 2003, when President Bush in Washington began reading his State of the Union address that included the now famous—later retracted—16 words: "The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."
So far, so good, the analysts cried—although they balked a bit at “retracted.” But otheirgod! They began to roll their eyes and cry when they read Eisner’s odd second paragraph:
EISNER (continuing directly): Like most Europeans, Elisabetta Burba, an investigative reporter for the Italian newsweekly Panorama, waited until the next day to read the newspaper accounts of Bush's remarks. But when she came to the 16 words, she recalled, she got a sudden sinking feeling in her stomach. She wondered: How could the American president have mentioned a uranium sale from Africa?
Here we go again, they cried. In fact, Bush hadn’t mentioned a uranium “sale,” they complained; as they could see right in paragraph one, he said that Iraq had sought such a sale, not that a sale was completed. But four years later, the Washington Post still hasn’t resolved this basic distinction. And sure enough, in paragraph 3, another conundrum came in:
EISNER (continuing directly): Burba felt uneasy because more than three months earlier, she had turned over to the U.S. Embassy in Rome documents about an alleged uranium sale by the central African nation of Niger. And she knew now that the documents were fraudulent and the 16 words wrong.
According to Eisner, Burba knew that some documents had been forged. But to state the obvious, the fact that those particular docs were fake didn’t mean that some other sale couldn’t have happened. And it surely didn’t mean that Iraq hadn’t sought uranium at some point, the thing that Bush had claimed.

Groan! Four years later, the Washington Post still hasn’t resolved these basic problems—problems a careful, first-time reader would stumble over in Eisner’s report. Four years later, the Post is still conflating sought-and-bought, and is still willing to cheat on an obvious fact—the fact that those famous forged docs were laughably fake doesn’t contradict Bush’s statement. And no, these problems don’t get sorted out in the rest of Eisner’s report. Are they resolved in Eisner’s book? On that, we will withhold judgment.

But then, these problems have dogged the reporting of this story ever since Joe Wilson’s New York Times column—ever since the Times didn’t make Wilson resolve the problem of bought-versus-sought. (His column would have been more helpful if the Times had made him do that.) But then, this is the way our major news orgs typically cover the news in this era. They’re endlessly willing to “novelize” facts to make a story read more smoothly. For the most part, this lazy journalistic approach has badly harmed Democratic and liberal interests, as an upper-class press corps has taken its leads from various kooky-con sources. Al Gore said he invented the Internet? The Post and the Times couldn’t sort that out either. By now, we can see where it led.

No, the Post didn’t make Eisner resolve the problems that exist in those first three grafs. And the Post didn’t make him address a problem which he does address in his new book—the fact that the Brits still say the “16 words” were justified. Eisner and Royce consider that problem in pages 163-167 of their new book—but no, it isn’t mentioned in the Post. Result? Conservative readers will see the Post as biased. They hear about the British claim all the time—and understandably, they’re going to wonder why it’s not treated in Eisner’s report. It’s a basic part of this tale—and the Post, for ease of narrative, simply decided to dump it.

Lazy, hapless, in love with good stories—this is the soul of the modern “press corps.” Four years later, they still present a front-page story a careful reader would puzzle about. Who knows? This may be the best they can do. But as long as the mainstream press is an upper-class clan, these lazy habits will hurt Dems and liberals much, much more than they help.

THE NOVEL STARTS EARLY: What does it look like when modern journos novelize a pleasing tale? At the start of their book, Eisner and Royce quote Bush’s sixteen words. Then, in their book’s sixth paragraph, they offer this:
EISNER/ROYCE (page 3): The shocking sentence, which topped off a litany of evidence against Saddam Hussein, was central to the Bush administration’s attempt to rally public support for the likely invasion of Iraq. But the statement that night [1/28/03] was particularly surprising to many members of the American Intelligence Community, as Bush’s assertion appeared to be based on information they had already dismissed as lacking credibility. Within hours, Bush’s charge was questioned and criticized, and the statement became the single most controversial point in the State of the Union speech. After the March 20, 2003, invasion, pundits began to refer to the president’s claim, in shorthand, as “the 16 words.”
Every word can be defended as technically accurate—but that account is also slippery. You might not realize that Bush’s “shocking statement” produced absolutely no public discussion in the days and weeks which followed his speech. (See THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/28/03. Scroll down to “The Daily update.”) And you might not realize that Bush’s claim was never described as “the 16 words” until July, after Wilson’s column appeared. The first such usage in Eisner’s own Post came on July 13, 2003, for example. But yes, that’s “after March 20.”

None of this affects the heart of this story, or the judgments which have to be made about Bush. But all of it is novelization. That paragraph—just the sixth in the book—makes this story more dramatic. (David Remnick did the same thing in the New Yorker piece we critiqued at the link above). And uh-oh! As long as we have a millionaire-driven press corps, such slippery habits will, on balance, hurt the interests of liberals and Dems. Did Al Gore say he invented the Internet? Quickly, our “press corps” ranked the silly, history-altering claim: Close enough for journalistic work!