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THE WAY THEY WERE! Pundits praised their Watergate work. But what have they done for you lately? // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, JUNE 6, 2005

THE WAY THEY WERE: All weekend long, major scribes congratulated themselves about their cohort’s Watergate work. And they indulged themselves in their favorite pastime—speculation about someone’s motives. “Hero or villain?” they asked, of Mark Felt. And then their guests blathered for days.

But what has the press corps done for you lately? When Pat Buchanan appeared on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, he noted the problems when an FBI honcho leaks secret dope to a major news org. But uh-oh! We were intrigued by a caller from Joplin, Missouri—and by Pat’s halting reply:

CALLER (6/3/05): Good morning, Mr. Buchanan. Every word that you have said this morning—“coup d’etat,” “secret police,” “newspaper,” “leaks”—everything that you’ve said applies to the Clinton Administration and [FBI director] Louis Freeh. Do you consider Louis Freeh a traitor? He left, slithered out of the—out of Washington, D.C. I don’t quite know where he’s hiding now.

BUCHANAN: All right. Let me talk to that. First on the word “traitor,” I want to correct something which the Washington Post did. The Washington Post said I had called Mark Felt a traitor. I have never used the word and I told Chris Matthews I hadn’t used that word and I called the Post when it was in there and the Post ran a correction yesterday...On Louis Freeh—I didn’t know, I don’t know the situation with Louis Freeh, I’ll be honest. A Clinton fellow I talked to just a couple of days ago said exactly what you said, that the FBI was leaking on Clinton. Now if it is, it shouldn’t be doing that and the individual should be fired. Now on the term “coup d’etat,” I understand that Clinton sort of used that term. Now if the FBI is in collusion, or was in collusion, I mean getting material from investigating Clinton—which you have to do etc.—and is using that to destroy a president, I don’t know if that happened, but if that’s going on and we’ve got the FBI yoked to something like the Washington Post, which is a factory of propaganda, and that’s churning that out I would agree with you. But I don’t know the facts on that case.

We’re a bit surprised—to find Buchanan so surprised and so clueless about Louis Freeh. We’re not the prime experts on that matter either, but at least we can get our tenses straight, as Buchanan couldn’t seem to do in his rambling reply, and at least we know that agencies tied to Freeh were still leaking bullsh*t about Candidate Gore as late as the summer of 2000. (To see Tim Russert peddling this pap in a shameful outing, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/30/04, with links to earlier reports.) Your press corps was more than happy this weekend to tell you about they way they were. But how about the way they are? How about the way they were recently? Buchanan was surprisingly clueless on Freeh. But then, this group can be like that.

THE WRETCHED OF THE EARTH: There’s a lot of hoohah in Howard Kurtz’s review of Watergate in today’s Post. But this may be the silliest thing we’ve read in seven years at THE HOWLER:

KURTZ (6/6/05): One other effect of Watergate and the movie "All the President's Men" is that journalism became a more lucrative endeavor than it had been in the old "Front Page" days. While few became as wealthy as Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the advent of television contracts, book deals and movie rights boosted many practitioners into the upper middle class—where critics say they are less in touch with the daily concerns of many readers and viewers.
How wealthy have modern scribes become? According to Kurtz, many of them have been boosted “into the upper middle class!” Why, the next thing you know, some of these toilers will be able to own their own cars!

As we’ve noted, there’s nothing wrong with having a couple of bucks. But how absurd is Kurtz’s assessment? Kurtz specifically says that Woodward and Bernstein are among the corps’ top financial dogs. But just for the record, let’s get clear on what kind of scratch we’re discussing. In April 2003, Lee Hockstader of the Washington Post reported the pair’s latest in-flow:

HOCKSTADER (4/8/03): In one of the largest such purchases in American history, the University of Texas at Austin has bought the Watergate papers of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein for $5 million, the university announced today...

As part of the extraordinary deal to purchase the materials, the university agreed to honor Woodward and Bernstein's long-standing commitment to protect the identity of a number of confidential sources until their deaths, including "Deep Throat," the Nixon administration official whose deep-background information was crucial to The Post's pursuit of the Watergate story.

Adjusted for inflation, that $5 million would be worth even more today! Meanwhile, how much money is out there for lesser-known stars? A few months ago, we mentioned the bucks involved in March 2001, when ABC hired Claire Shipman. Right now, you’re trying to remember which one Shipman is, but she’s well paid for her relative anonymity. “ABC will pay Shipman big money—more than $700,000 a year—and plans to make her a big player,” wrote Peter Johnson in USA Today. Admittedly, that’s a TV salary, but Shipman is married to working stiff Jay Carney, who recently helped pimp Ann Coulter for Time. Have Shipman and Carney made the “upper middle class?” If you earn more than $350,000, you’re in the top one percent of earners. As Kurtz knows, the Washington press corps is full of people who have made it well past that top perch.

There’s nothing wrong with having a couple of bucks. But as Kurtz’s piece suggests, there is something wrong with having a press corps whose opinion leaders are all millionaires, and that situation now obtains in this country. Among other things, these people are paid for their obedience—for obedience to the High Foppist Values that define the world-view of today’s mainstream press. No one is going to blow such high-paying jobs. And fiery young liberals aren’t going to blow future pay-days by letting themselves get too far out of line. Despite their fiery liberal views, they routinely put their careers ahead of your intersts in pursuit of those large career bucks.

Kurtz hints at some problems we’ve long discussed. But as we’ve told you, the Washington press corps refuses to tell you the truth about their own conduct and culture. According to Kurtz, “many practitioners” of the scrivener’s art have been “boosted into the upper middle class.” Go ahead, enjoy a loud laugh—at their endless refusal to tell you the truth about their own way of living.

THE WAY THEY ARE: By the way, just who are these fiery young liberals, who come to town to do so much good? In Saturday’s Times, David Brooks offered an intriguing portrait of the striving young journalistic class. According to Brooks, this is how DC’s young strivers go at it:

BROOKS (6/4/05): Entering the world of the Higher Shamelessness, they begin networking like mad, cultivating the fine art of false modesty and calculated friendships...

They create informal mutual promotion societies, weighing who will be the crucial members of their cohort, engaging in the dangerous game of lateral kissing up, hunting for the spouse who will look handsomely supportive during some future confirmation hearing, nurturing a dislike for the person who will be the chief rival when the New Yorker editing job opens up in 2027.

And of course they are always mentor-hunting, looking for that wise old Moses who will lead them through the wilderness and end their uncertainty. They discover that it's socially acceptable to flatter your bosses by day so long as you are blasphemously derisive about them while drinking with your buddies at night.

And let’s understand the lay of the land for current journalistic young strivers. If they’re young conservative strivers, they can pursue their futures openly, inside the conservative press corps. But if instead they’re young liberal strivers, they will have to make their way inside the modern mainstream press, with its well-known High Foppist Values. Result? To apply what Slate’s Jack Shafer has said, they can’t discuss what the New York Times and the Washington Post did to Clinton, then to Gore. They just won’t discuss it, and when a fop like Dan Okrent plays cheap-shot with Krugman, they know they have to keep their traps shut—or they run to line up on the side of Great Okrent! Kiss kiss kiss kiss kiss kiss kiss! Can’t you hear what these strivers are saying? And does this help you understand why you don’t hear more, even from fiery liberal publications, about a guy like Louis Freeh? Does this help you understand why such topics disappear?

COMING FRIDAY—BOB WOODWARD’S STREP THROAT: In the wake of the Downing Street Memo, we read back through Bush at War, Woodward’s plu-puzzling book.

FLAT SCREENS, FLAT EARTH, FLAT TAXES: For the record, those toiling, “upper middle class” scribes have been making out well under Bush. “The gap between the rich and everybody else in this country is fast becoming an unbridgeable chasm,” Bob Herbert writes in today’s New York Times. Quoting from David Cay Johnston’s recent piece in the Times, Herbert notes a fact that would likely surprise most Americans:

HERBERT (6/6/05): As far as the Bush administration is concerned, the gap between the rich and the rest of us is not growing fast enough. An analysis by The Times showed the following:

''Under the Bush tax cuts, the 400 taxpayers with the highest incomes...now pay income, Medicare and Social Security taxes amounting to virtually the same percentage of their incomes as people making $50,000 to $75,000. Those earning more than $10 million a year now pay a lesser share of their income in these taxes than those making $100,000 to $200,000.”

That’s right—the very richest Americans pay taxes at about the same rate as the upper-middle class. How much federal tax do different groups pay? Just click here, and Kevin Drum shows you the Times’ key graphic. We don’t quite agree with Drum when he says that “actual federal taxes are virtually flat.” But how much do different groups really pay? Here’s a simplified summary:
If you earn $40,000, you pay roughly 14.5 percent in federal taxes.
If you earn $70,000, you pay roughly 17.6 percent in federal taxes.
If you earn $5 million, you pay roughly 22.3 percent in federal taxes.
If you’re one of the 400 richest Americans, you pay roughly 17.5 percent in federal taxes.
We wouldn’t call that “virtually flat.” But it’s vastly different from the flat-earth tales we’re fed through on our flat-screen TVs.

On TV, shouters try to deceive and dissemble, using spin-points which are designed to mislead. We’ve discussed these spin-points in the past (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/27/03). Here’s Sean Hannity, for example, shedding tears for that top one percent:

HANNITY (1/8/03): If Democrats say “tax cuts for the rich,” which is the mantra—if they say that all the time, don’t we have to define what the terms are? Let me put up on the screen and hopefully you can see it there. If not, I’ll read it to you. According to it, the top one percent pays 37 percent of the taxes.
The top one percent pays 37 percent of the taxes! Spinners like Hannity mouth this claim the way middle-income folks breathe.

For the record, this familiar spin-point is (more-or-less) technically accurate. By “taxes,” Hannity actually meant “federal income taxes,” one of our few progressive taxes. And it’s true—the top one percent do pay a large share of this tax. (How this spin works: You’re supposed to be blown away by the difference between “1" and “37.”) But why do they pay such a large percentage? In large part, it’s because they earn a large percentage of the nation’s income, a fact these spinners leave out of the mix. The next time you hear this misleading point, remember the facts in that New York Times graphic. According to that graphic, people in the top one percent pay roughly 21 percent of their income in all federal taxes. People earning 50-70 grand pay just a few points less.

Of course, we also hear misleading cant from some of our well-known political leaders. Consider George W. Bush, for example. Way back in December 1999, Candidate Bush told us this when he announced his plan to cut taxes on that top one percent:

BUSH (12/1/99): Let us lay down another basic principle: No one in America should have to work more than 4 months a year to pay the IRS. The federal government, in peacetime, has no business taking more than 33 percent of anyone's paycheck.
This has remained a familiar Bush talking-point. But of course, almost no one pays the feds “more than 33 percent of his pay-check.” The Gore campaign explained that way back when, in real time. This was part of a press release when Bush introduced this spin-point:
GORE CAMPAIGN (12/1/99):
FALSE CLAIM #5: George W. Bush Believes That No One Should Pay More Than One-third of Their Income in Taxes...

REALITY: Virtually No Taxpayers Pay Over One-third of Their Income to the Federal Government. Under no circumstances could a married couple making less than $326,000 pay more than one-third of its income in income and payroll taxes combined, even if they took the standard deduction. Based on IRS Statistics of Income data, only 0.2 percent of families pay more than one-third of their income in Federal income taxes.

Just how “flat” are federal taxes? Alas! To the modern press corps, this topic is “wonky.” They don’t bother with data like these—the kind of data which “make their heads hurt.” So the Hannitys keep pimping their misleading claims—and the press keeps staring off into air, leaving voters misled and deceived. No doubt, reporters and editors are off somewhere working their second and third jobs, valiantly trying to fight their way into the middle class.