WE PITY THE FOOL! Number, please! We pity the fool who is forced to rely on the Posts ever-changing facts: // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, JULY 26, 2011
Charlies clash of the titans: David Brooks is snarking hard in this mornings New York Times. Well take a bit of a guess: He may be making up for some very bad conduct on last Fridays Charlie Rose show.
On that program, Rose produced an eighteen-minute clash of the titansa discussion of the budget mess which matched Brooks with his colleague, Paul Krugman. Brooks told a bit too much of the truth that night. Today, he may be making up for that indiscretion.
Whatever! We thought that Charlie Rose segment was very much worth noting. Well direct your attention to four aspects of the titans discussion. To watch the whole segment, click here:
What would Krugman do: At one point, Rose asked Krugman a simple questionif someone died and made him boss, what would he do about our budget problems? Weve often wondered about that very question as we read Krugmans columns and blog posts, which are often written in reaction to specific unfolding events.
How would a King Krugman handle this problem? We were glad Rose asked. We thought Krugmans answer was very much worth recording:
For the record, we assume that Krugman is talking about letting all the Bush tax cuts expire, not just those on the highest earners. In the end, he says that even that amount of new revenue wont be enough. Unless were mistaken, three, four percent of GDP is a lot of new revenue. Current US GDP is something like $15 trillion. Using your multiplication skills, you can compute the amount of recommended new revenue from there. (Start by computing one percent. Then, multiply by three or by four.)
We were surprised by Krugmans assessment. By the way: In our manufactured public discourse, voters constantly hear about the alleged need for spending cuts. They virtually never hear about the alleged need for new revenue. One side has played this game very hard, for decades. The other side has sat and stared.
Brooks on all the hatred: Brother Brooks got way out of line when Charlie asked about something he called the dysfunctionality of government. In his first answer, Brooks pretty much trashed the Republicans. In his follow-up answer, he began walking that heresy back:
Is the hatred equally strong on both sides of the aisle? We dont know, but if it is, that doesnt explain why the Dems are being so much more flexiblewhy they would exhibit so much less resistance to doing a deal with the devil.
We think Brooks statements here deserve examination. We will only note that this demonization of major Dem leaders dates back to the demonization of Clinton, then Gorea demonization which career liberals leaders, to this very day, largely prefer to avoid. If youre a liberal, your leadership is largely in the baghas been for a long time.
A talking-point shot down: At one point, Brooks recited a highly misleading talking-point; Krugman shot it down. This talking-point is everywhere. Do liberals know how to approach it?
Government spending has leaped up significantly! When Republicans make that familiar claim, they fail to note that the level of taxation has dropped down significantly at the same timealso in significant part because of the recession. Their talking-point is highly selectivebut do liberals now how to respond? (In this July 6 blog post, Krugman went into more detail about what all that new spending is.)
Krugmans emerging theme: A profoundly counterintuitive theme has been emerging from Krugmans journalistic work. When Charlie asked about all the deficit panic, he expressed this theme again:
Say what? Our most respectable pundits and journalists are in fact deeply foolish? This is a highly counterintuitive claim, and Krugman has been taking this theme even farther in recent months, arguing that academic authorities in the world of economics are routinely behaving like total fools too, even in their high-profile professional work.
Such a claim is highly counterintuitive. It contradicts every presumption we have about the way our society works. And yet, we ourselves have often found this claim to be truewhen weve reviewed the work of our educational experts over the past forty years, for example.
Man [sic] is the rational animal! This iconic claim lies at the heart of the western worlds self-understanding. This iconic claim is painfully inaccuratebut the authority figures about whom Krugman increasingly speaks will never say so.
They sit at the top of a broken discourseand they have no plans to leave.
PART 2PITY THE FOOL (permalink): We pity the voter whos trying to follow the debt limit/budget debate.
More precisely, we pity the voter who tries to get relevant facts from the Washington Post or the New York Times, two of our greatest newspapers.
How hard can it be to get basic facts from these, our most famous political papers? Consider what happened last Friday night, when a visibly angry Barack Obama held a press conference shortly after John Boehner walked away from the budget talks. (In news reports the next day, each paper used the term visibly angry to describe Obamas demeanor.)
Back to Obama on Friday night: As he began his visibly angry press conference, he described the deal he had been offering Boehner. If you had been reading our biggest newspapers, you probably would have been puzzled by some of the things you saw Obama sayespecially by the things he said about his proposal for additional revenues:
According to Obama, he had offered Boehner a deal which involved $1.65 trillion in spending cuts and $1.2 trillion in additional revenues. Thats roughly a 4-3 ratio.
For starters, you might have been surprised by Obamas claim that this was an extraordinarily fair deala deal that was unbalanced in the direction of not enough revenue. (You might have been surprised by that claim because previous reported deals had tended toward ratios of 3-1 or 5-1, spending cuts over new revenues.) But more specifically, you might have been surprised by Obamas claim that his request for $1.2 trillion in new revenue was actually less than the amount of new revenue the Gang of Six had proposed.
At Friday evenings conference, Obama said the Gang of Six had proposed $2 trillion in new revenue. But all week long, you had read in your nations most famous newspapers that the Gang of Six had proposed one trillion dollars, or roughly $1 trillion, in new revenues. For example, you had read these things in the New York Times just one day before the press conference:
Hulses piece was a front-page news report; his account was largely echoed by an editorial that same day. But then, if you double-checked your facts in the Washington Post, you still were told that the Gang of Six had proposed (roughly) $1 trillion in new revenue. Again, well match a front-page news report with an editorial:
According to all accounts in these two famous papers, the Gang of Six plan would have involved $1 trillion, or roughly $1 trillion, in new revenue. Now, Obama was saying that the Gang of Six plan had involved two trillion dollars! On that basis, he was saying that his own proposal for $1.2 trillion in new revenues was smaller than the Gangs proposal. According to Obama, he had been calling for taxes that were less than what the Gang of Six had proposed.
Pity the fool who tries to resolve a conflict like this by reading the Post or the Times! The next day, each newspaper simply changed its account of what the Gang of Six had proposed; the papers offered no explanation for why their number had suddenly changed. If you read the Washington Post or the New York Times, you arent supposed to notice such things. But by the next morning, each paper had simply changed its figure, bringing its account in line with what a visibly angry man said:
Pity the fools! They arent supposed to notice such things when they read the Post and the Times. But in this Post news report and this Times editorial, readers were now told that the Gang of Six had proposed two trillion dollars in new revenues. As far as we can tell, neither paper offered any explanation for the overnight change in their facts.
For today, well leave the story right herewhile noting that this pseudo-journalistic conduct is nothing new at the Post and the Times. Before the week is done, well return to the halcyon days of yore; more specifically, well return to August 2000, when these Potemkin newspapers (and the Associated Press) pretended that they were explaining the size of Candidate Bushs tax cut proposal. From one day to the next, the numbers would change at these famous newspapers, without anyone making the slightest attempt to explain the reason for the ever-changing, contradictory accounts. Indeed, contradictory accounts of this seminal matter would even appear, side-by-side, on the very same page of a given days newspaper! Editors at these famous newspapers didnt noticeor just didnt care.
As we deathlessly said at the time: If voters werent completely confused by that point, it could only mean one thing. It meant they werent reading the Post!
Lets return to last weekends change in the numbers. In this case, some readers may feel that they understand the conflicting accounts of how much new revenue the Gang of Six did propose. Well guess that very few readers could really explain this in anything like a full-blooded waywe certainly know we couldntalthough the conflict does seem to involve those baselines to which Obama briefly alluded.
That said, there was no way for the average reader of the Post or the Times to understand the sudden change in the numbers which occurred at both newspapers last Saturday. That reader is supposed to flip his newspapers pages each day, nodding assent as he sees basic numbers change without explanation.
When papers are willing to function this way, it isnt clear why they bother including numbers in their news reports or editorials at all. But one thing is abundantly clear: Whatever such work is supposed to be, it plainly isnt journalism. Rather, its the type of Potemkin journalism which signifies a banana republic.
Its the type of which emerges from the pages of a banana republic press.
Tomorrow: Part 3 (so many choices!)