THURSDAY, MAY 15, 2003
SENIORITY SYSTEM: You cant believe a thing he says, Jonathan Chait said, speaking of Bush. Bush has a rather flexible idea about telling the truth, E. J. Dionne said on Tuesday (Bush is from the say-anything school). In this mornings Post, meanwhile, the editors complain about the Bush administrations latest charade and masquerade; the House tax bill was about as a phony as a tax bill could get, but the new White House effort is even more dishonest. And on page one, the French government is quoted saying that it is the victim of an organized disinformation campaign from within the Bush administration. Youd like to think that couldnt be true. But of course, it most likely is.
But then, a Culture of Lying has surrounded Bush at least since the fall of 2000, when the candidate began dissembling hard in his effort to get to the White House. At the crucial first debate with Gore, Bush lied about his budget plan, then accused Gore of using phony numbers and fuzzy math when he described the budget plan accurately. The next day, the fun really started, as Bush and aides toured the country, tossing off palpably bogus factsand saying that they showed Gore was lying. It truly takes a low, slimy man to call the other guy a liar on the basis of facts which hes simply made up. But a Culture of Lying surrounded Bushand the press corps already knew not to notice. In the past few weeks, complaints from the mainstream press have been heard. But this culture is a thing that they made.
For the record, there was one journalist who spoke in real time, discussing Bushs post-debate lying. Her piece appeared on October 17, 2000. The sub-headline? Bush seems to be having trouble with math lately. Heres how the article began:
During the first presidential debate in Boston, Gov. George W. Bush accused Vice President Al Gore of using fuzzy math when Gore pointed out that Bushs plan would spend more of the surplus on tax cuts for the wealthiest 1 percent of taxpayers than on education, health, prescription drugs and the national defense combined.Somehow, this scribe had managed to notice Bushs October 4 flip-flop, which we described in yesterdays HOWLER. Then, she noted a nasty ironyan irony that would somehow elude the mainstream press:
Bushs attack on the vice presidents mathematical calculations has a dual irony. First, Bush was using fuzzy math himself While Bush accused his opponent of using fuzzy math, the Republican candidates own statistics were partisan-created rhetoric rather than substantiated facts.We dont know of any other journalist who noted this basic pointwho noted that Bush was accusing Gore of the very thing he, Bush, was doing. The journalist then laid out some basic problems with Bushs fake, phony facts:
Gore was correct in his statement about Bushs budget figures. In Bushs plan, the tax cut for the top 1 percent of Americans ($620 billion) is greater than total domestic spending on education ($47.6 billion), health ($131.9 billion), prescription drugs ($158 billion), and national defense ($45 billion) combined.This journalist wasnt the only scribe who explained where Bush got his numbers. As we saw yesterday, other scribes explained that Bushs $223 billion only included his income tax cuts, completely ignoring the $236 billion in estate tax cuts he proposed. (We noted something else which this journalist didnt; even in Bushs income tax figures, he was talking about the year 2005a year when many of his income-tax cuts for the highest earners wouldnt yet have taken place.) But this journalist did something no one else didshe realized that this meant Bush was a liar. She didnt use the L-word herself; more politely, she noted the irony of Bushs claims. But as we saw yesterday, mainstream writers werent even up to this task. Instead, mainstream journalists were rushing about, looking for ways to make Bushs behavior seem reasonable. Bush was simply using different assumptions from Gore, one scribe said. Mainstream scribes were already involved in creating the Culture of Lying.
Who wrote this October 17 critique? Why, it was Melanie Ho, a UCLA senior, writing in the Daily Bruin. While mainstream journalists cowered and quakedand told the world what a liar Gore wasa college student was somehow able to note the irony in what Bush was doing. Weve often asked if high school students could get away with work like the press corps. In the fall of 2000, only Melanie Hoa college studenthad the courage to get this tale right.
Who created the Culture of Lying? Manifestly, your press corps did. Ho knew the factsand saw the irony. In Washington, store-bought scribes had their eyes to the ground. A Culture of Lying has resulted.
TOMORROW: Speaking of our Culture of Lying, get a load of the astounding Janet Maslin.
THE NUMBERS, THEY WERE A-CHANGIN: A clarification on one set of numbers from yesterdays incomparable DAILY HOWLER. At one point, we saw Candidate Bush at Bush-Gore Debate 3, offering this rebuttal to Gore:
BUSH (10/17/00): Under my plan, if you makethe top, the wealthy people pay 62 percent of the taxes today. Afterwards, they pay 64 percent. This is a fair plan.As we saw, these numbersoffered in a variety of contradictory formulationswere routinely offered as a response to Gores claim about that top one percent. For example, we saw Andrea Neal (Indy Star) cite these numbers. Neal said they helped us see Gores pure demagoguery.
Yesterday afternoon, we finally saw where those numbers came from, and what those numbers actually meant. On April 11, 2000, Bush spoke in Cleveland, pretending to have major plans for the poor. On that day, he cited those numbersand explained what they actually meant:
BUSH (4/11/00): Today, the wealthiest taxpayers, those earning more than $100,000, account for 62 percent of total income taxes paid. Under my plan, this will increase to 64 percent.Oh! Bushs numbers referred to income tax only, and they referred to everyone making 100K or up. For the record, this was roughly ten percent of all earners; in 2000, the top one percent were those who earned $319,000 or more. Well assume that this figure was also gimmicked by date, and did not include the high-end income-tax rate reductions that Bush had scheduled for the later years of the decade. By the fall, almost every number out of Bushs mouth had been gimmicked to mislead and deceive.
In short, Bushs figure had nothing to do with what Gore said. But look back at yesterdays HOWLER and watch an array of journalists use those numbers to say what a liar Gore was. A Culture of Lying was being created, and Gore would be sacrificed on a high altar. No oneno onebut Melanie Ho was willing to say what this meant.
DIONNE: George W. Bushs 2000 campaign for the presidency was based in large part on the idea that Bush was honest while Clinton and Gore were liars. The phrase little lies stuck to Gore early, and he never shook it.Say what? Little lies? He repeated the phrase a bit later:
DIONNE: You can be absolutely sure that if an Al Gore White House had comparably misled citizens about the reason for a presidential made-for-television visit to an aircraft carrier, Gore would have been pilloried for engaging in yet another little lie.On the one hand, what Dionne says is literally true. As the press corps conducted its War Against Gore, it concocted a string of trivial lies, which it then pretended Gore had uttered. Consider Bush-Gore Debate I, for example. As pundits ignored Bushs laughably phony facts, the press corps worried about that school desk in Florida. Quite literally, Gore had read a report from a major newspaper (the Sarasota Herald-Tribune) about that troubling desk. Result? The eagle-eyed press corps went into a frenzy about this absurdly trivial lie.
But while the lies they invented were pathologically trivial, the battering aimed at Gore was not little. Once again, here was virtue czar William Bennett, in a fact-averse attack on Gore delivered after Bush-Gore Debate I. Bush was peddling fake facts all over the country as Bennett penned his little attack:
BENNETT (10/11/00): Albert Arnold Gore Jr. is a habitual liar.The lies were little, but the sliming was not. Just before that first debate, for example, the press corps managed to go into a tizzy about that troubling doggy-pill lie. Gore had correctly noted that his mother-in-law and his arthritic dog each took a certain arthritis drug. And he correctly noted that humans are charged three times as much for the drug as dogs. But the prices he cited were wholesale, not retailand the press corps went into a frenzy. On September 21, for example, William Kristol wrote an almost lunatic column for the Washington Post op-ed pagethe very page where Dionne remarked about those little lies. Many politicians are exploitative, Kristol wrote. But no other politician exploits his own family in this way. And yes, the pundit was speaking of Gore; according to Kristol, Gore had violat[ed] the boundaries of family privacy and had exploit[ed] his own kin with he said that his mother-in-law took an arthritis pill. The issue wasnt simple dissembling, the scribe said; no, the issue is Gores apparently conscienceless exploitation of his own family. But then, Gores conduct was hardly surprising. When he kissed his wife on stage at the Democratic Convention, Gore took our decadence to new depths. Believe it or not, this was Kristols conclusion: Al Gore is not a totalitarian. But his willingness to use his family members for political purposes reveals a self-regard and self-absorption, a ruthlessness and lack of restraint, that have taken him into new territory.
Simply put, the Washington press corps had lost its mind in the twenty months it spent trashing Gore. A few weeks later, pundits like Kristol would look away as Bush began building our Culture of Lying. But pundits like Dionne chose to look away too. When we cite the little lies that were charged to Gore, the refusal to look just continues.