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BEYOND SELF-PARODY! In a full-page, eleventh-hour report, the Times moves past self-parody: // link // print // previous // next //

A great big pile of inept: Good god! Did Big Ed actually say that?

Last night, we were watching the opening segment of the Ed Show. (To watch the full segment, click here.) About three minutes into the program, Big Eddie played tape of John McCain on the Senate floor, bashing some fellow Republican solons. By the time Big Ed went on the air, McCain’s statement had been discussed for hours on the liberal web.

But so what? Before playing the tape of McCain’s attacks, Big Eddie offered this framework:

SCHULTZ (7/27/11): Even Senate Republicans know that Boehner’s bill will never fly.

MCCAIN (videotape): What is really amazing about this is that some, some members are believing that we can pass a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution in this body, with its present representation, and that is foolish. That is worse than foolish.

That is deceiving. That is not fair to the American people. To hold out and say, “We won't agree to raising the debt limit until we pass a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.”

It's unfair. It's bizarro. And maybe some people who've only been in this body for six or seven months or so really believe that.

SCHULTZ: Well, with Boehner’s plan dead in the Senate, it’s up to Mitch McConnell to line up enough Republicans to sign on to Harry Reid’s plan.

Boehner’s plan may well be dead in the Senate, but that isn’t what McCain was talking about. Duh! Boehner’s plan doesn’t have a balanced budget amendment. Three minutes into his written opening monologue, Big Ed grossly bungled the point of this high-profile statement.

Who the fig is writing the monologues at poor hapless MSNBC? We asked ourselves that as we watched Big Ed, in part because we had already watched the opening monologue Melissa Harris-Perry was forced to read as guest host on last night’s Maddow Show.

How about a bit of background? In the past two days, Kevin Drum did some excellent posts about the ongoing pseudo-discussion of possible “default” or “downgrade.” In this post, he specifically said that we have been “throwing the word ‘default’ around too casually.” (His headline: What Does “Default” Mean?) In two subsequent posts, he noted how confused he is by current reporting about possible default or downgrade. “What am I missing here?” he asks in this post. “I feel like I must be an idiot or something. Is the answer something so obvious that no one ever mentions it, or something so arcane that it never gets explained in lay terms? Or is everyone else crazy?”

No, everyone else isn’t crazy, and Kevin isn’t an idiot or something. But the nation’s journalists are often highly incompetent and/or feckless. Even at our biggest newspapers, they have made little attempt to explain what a “default” is, as opposed to a “downgrade.” That includes whoever wrote the monologue Harris-Perry read last night. “Downgrade” and “default” are two different things; the New York Times even started explaining this fact in yesterday’s Business Day section! But this news didn’t seem to have reached the staffers who wrote last night’s opening monologue.

“Default” and “downgrade” are two different things—unless you’re a well-paid writer for the Maddow Show. In that case, you made poor Harris-Perry read an opening monologue which completely conflated the terms. If you want to share the confusion, just click here, then watch what Harris-Perry starts saying about six minutes in. (Her monologue also conflates Obama’s debt limit plan, whatever that is, with his unrelated proposal to dump the Bush tax rates on high-end earners.)

As best we can tell from the sketchy reporting, the United States can receive a “downgrade” without going into “default.” Even the New York Times got around to explaining this matter yesterday. But as a general matter, the “press corps” has relentlessly failed to explain these basic concepts, and the massive confusion was all over last night’s Maddow program. (Ezra Klein came on as Harris-Perry’s guest and introduced even more confusion.)

We liberals have of course been told, in a million ways, that this is a super-intelligent show, hosted by Our Own Rhodes Scholar. When OORS goes on vacation, she gets replaced by the ex-Princeton prof. But Maddow’s staff is deeply inept on a wide array of domestic topics. To share the latest ball of confusion, just click that link and move ahead to the six-minute mark. Something bad could happen next week. But do you understand what it is?

Nothing will happen because of the bungles in last night’s written opening monologues. But your “journalistic” culture has been like this for decades. In the end, a nation simply can’t function this way without all the wheels flying off.

Special report: Banana republic press corps!

PART 4—BEYOND SELF-PARODY (permalink): This morning, the New York Times finally moves beyond the point of self-parody.

It does so in a full-page spread on page A14 of its news section. The move beyond self-parody gets underway in the Times’ banner headline. No, we aren’t making this up:

“As 11th Hour Nears, a Look at the Debt Ceiling”

No, we didn’t make that up. Right there in its banner headline, the New York Times announces that it’s taking “a look at the debt ceiling.” But it’s only doing so now, as the eleventh hour nears!

The analysts ran all about the room after spying that headline. Some seemed to be in physical pain; others cackled almost maniacally, recalling the unmistakable cry of the wounded hyena. Why were the analysts in such disarray? Duh:

Here at THE HOWLER, we began noting, weeks ago, that the Times was already weeks or months overdue when it came to the obvious questions it addresses in today’s feature. This morning, it finally starts to address these brutally basic points. And the paper is too far gone to see how foolish it sounds, announcing that it is taking the steps only now, as we near the eleventh hour.

We thought the headline moved past self-parody. But good God! This is the way the Times long report starts, as written by Cooper and Story. Again, we aren’t making this up:

COOPER AND STORY (7/28/11): For a time it seemed safe for many people going about their summers to try to ignore the debt ceiling drama playing out in Washington. If Wall Street so far has not seemed overly concerned that the United States was headed toward default, why should anyone else worry? And there is the long history of crying wolf in Washington: in April everyone finally got up to speed on the threatened shutdown of the federal government just in time to see it averted by an 11th-hour deal.

But now, palms in Washington are beginning to get sweaty and President Obama is breaking into “The Bachelorette” to address the nation about the debt crisis. Perhaps the time has finally come for a crash course in all things debt ceiling.

Good God. Good lord. “OMG.” Praise Jesus! It that doesn’t take us past self-parody, then nothing on earth ever will.

We know what you’re saying—it’s just a convention, a figure of speech. But as they start their “eleventh hour” report, Cooper and Story express the worldview of every dimwitted college sophomore who kept delaying his term paper until he was forced to act.

“For a time it seemed safe for many people…to try to ignore the debt ceiling drama.”

So the hapless Timespeople say, seeming to describe their own conduct, seeming to describe the way the liberal world and the mainstream press have behaved for the past twenty years in the face of an endless series of ignored discussions. Our reaction: That may have seemed safe to many people—but what journalist would ever have thought in such terms? What journalist would ever have thought that it’s ever “safe” to behave that way—to leave readers clueless about a long list of obvious questions in the year’s most central debate? Having asked that question, let’s make the facts clear: Quite plainly, it isn’t just “many people” who have “tried to ignore the debt ceiling drama.” Quite plainly, the Times itself is part of that group, or it wouldn’t be answering all these questions in one huge dose, many weeks and months late.

“Perhaps the time has finally come for a crash course,” the pair of Timespeople muse. They teach that course as we near what their editors, with no hint of irony, call “the eleventh hour.”

You can’t get dumber, or more feckless, than the gang which puts out the Times. But then, the culture of the banana republic now suffuses most parts of our upper-end culture. Let’s run through some of the banana-like clowning to which we’ve all been exposed in just the past week.

Concerning that Gang of Six: The Gang of Six plan is back in mothballs, but it came center stage for several days last week. On Tuesday, we discussed one of the ridiculous ways the Times (and the Washington Post) pretended to cover its contents.

The papers staged some banana republic journalism—but the scent of rotting bananas suffused the plan itself. Last Thursday, then again last Saturday, the New York Times linked to the bullet points released by the Gang of Six itself. To review that document, just click this—remembering that the New York Times editors linked to the document twice last week. (Be sure to scan all the way to the end—a large gap occurs at one point.) Regarding what the Gang had proposed on the revenue side, their document included these points:

Bullet points from the Gang of Six:

Say what? On the one hand, the plan would repeal a $1.7 trillion part of the tax code. On its face, that would in itself be a larger tax cut than the 2001 Bush cuts.

Not only that! If the CBO scored this plan, it would “find net tax relief”—that is, a net tax cut—of approximately $1.5 trillion. Once again: On its face, that would be a larger tax cut package than the one passed by Bush.

Wow! The Gang was making it sound like a whole lotta cuttin’ was going on! But so what? The Gang also said that its plan would “provide $1 trillion in additional revenue”—actually, $1.133 trillion when all was said and done. Do you understand how that would work—how a plan that provided $1.1 trillion in new revenue would somehow get scored as a giant tax cut? No you don’t, but neither did anyone else! Here’s what Steve Benen wrote on the day this bafflegab emerged:

BENEN (7/19/11): Without additional information, I haven’t the foggiest idea what could make $1 trillion in revenue look like a $1.5 trillion tax cut. It’s also unclear the extent to which the Gang tackles entitlements. I assume the details will be forthcoming soon enough, and I’ll flesh this out after I get a closer look.

Unfortunately, those details were never forthcoming. As best we can tell, Steve never returned to this puzzling question—and the Post and the Times, in standard fashion, spent the next week faking it. All through last week, the papers stated in news reports and editorials that the plan would produce $1 trillion in new revenue. Then, on Saturday, without explanation, they flipped! Obama had said the Gang called for two billion dollars in revenues; this made his own smaller request seem quite fair. The next day, the great newspapers followed suit, offering no explanation for why they had changed their numbers. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/26/11.

Can that trio of claims be reconciled? We will assume the answer is yes, although it’s clear that the Gang of Six was throwing up gorilla dust to keep different groups of rubes happy. But the plan was center stage for days, and the journalistic clowning was general.

But then, your society has functioned this way for decades, on both the press and political fronts. It’s easy to say what such nonsense means: You’re in a banana republic.

Concerning that New York Times graphic: Last Sunday, the New York Times came squealing up to the scene of the fire—a fire which has been blazing for years. In a comically titled EDITORIAL/DECONSTRUCTION, an unidentified writer, Teresa Tritch, at last told the public this:

TRITCH (7/24/11): A few lessons can be drawn from the numbers. First, the Bush tax cuts have had a huge damaging effect. If all of them expired as scheduled at the end of 2012, future deficits would be cut by about half, to sustainable levels.

Say what? If the Bush tax cuts expire at the end of 2012, “future deficits would be cut by about half, to sustainable levels?” If that claim is accurate, shouldn’t someone have told readers long before this? Shouldn’t they have been told on the Times front page, as part of a full-blown report? Perhaps as part of a series?

We focused on that statement by Tritch, a statement we’ll examine in a bit more detail tomorrow. But elsewhere in the liberal world, a different reaction occurred. As Andrew Leonard noted at Salon, a strong of major liberal bloggers focused on a graphic which accompanied Tritch’s DECONSTRUCTION. Leonard posted the graphic himself, noting its wide appeal:

LEONARD (7/25/11): Talk about your left-wing blogger link bait! On Sunday, the New York Times published a chart demonstrating the relative contributions to the deficit made by George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Short version: The total cost of new policies initiated during the administration of George Bush: $5.07 trillion. Barack Obama: $1.44 trillion.

Leonard linked to posts by Kevin Drum, James Fallows and Ezra Klein; all had featured the New York Times graphic. And hurrah! The graphic let liberals enjoy a tribal triumph; it let us claim that Bush’s “new policies” caused more deficit spending that Obama’s have (so far). That said, there are obvious shortcomings to that Times graphic, although its presentations can be defended as technically accurate. In an UPDATE to his Atlantic post, Fallows noted some of the problems, sensibly saying that “the point of the chart really isn't partisan responsibility. It is the central role of those tax cuts in creating the deficit that is now the focus of such political attention.”

We agree with Fallows completely. That’s why liberals should focus on Tritch’s written assertion, not on a graphic which will generate instant tribal warfare. That’s why Fallows shouldn’t have headlined his post in the way he did.

The liberal world spent its usual fifteen minutes exulting over that graphic. By now, the children have moved on to other points; we liberals will briefly return to this topic the next time someone else offers a shiny new chart. But we were especially struck by something Leonard wrote at Salon. Leonard seems ready to work for the Times. Here’s what he wrote, directly beneath that shiny New York Times graphic:

LEONARD: Bush's tax cuts and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are the obvious big-ticket items. The tax cuts, in particular, are the structural-deficit-gift that keeps on giving. As the New York Times observes, if all of the Bush tax cuts "expired as scheduled at the end of 2012, future deficits would be cut by about half, to sustainable levels."

Or, as James Fallows puts it more acidly, "It demonstrates the utter incoherence of being very concerned about a structural federal deficit but ruling out of consideration the policy that was largest single contributor to that deficit, namely the Bush-era tax cuts.

But this is not, by any stretch of the imagination, news. Nor is there any evidence that promulgating this information has any effect on the political process or on popular opinion. And there's a very good reason for this: The debt ceiling is not a fight about the deficit. It's a fight over power and the size of government.

“This is not, by any stretch of the imagination, news,” Leonard said—although we can assure you that everything there would come as news to the vast bulk of the public. After that, Leonard made an even more remarkable statement:

“Nor is there any evidence that promulgating this information has any effect…on popular opinion.”

The expiration of the Bush tax cuts would wipe out half our deficit problem! “Future deficits would be cut by about half, to sustainable levels.” But so what! Two paragraphs after quoting this claim, Leonard says there is no evidence that promulgating this information has any effect on popular opinion!

Leonard’s claim is completely correct, of course. There is “no evidence” of this effect because no one has tried to produce it!

This morning, the New York Times makes a fool of itself, although few liberals will notice. To all appearances, “career liberals” tend to think as Leonard does—they think it’s pointless even to try to promulgate information! We “liberals” like to savage the rubes—after making no attempt to tell them the truth about the world. Weirdly, Leonard assures us that there is no reason to try.

You live inside a banana republic. This has been true for several decades. But can we talk? The sheer stupidity of the career liberal world has always been a central part of that deeply ridiculous culture.

The Times makes a fool of itself today. But for about the ten millionth time, the career liberal world won’t notice. We have enabled this ludicrous culture for lo, these many years.

We liberals love to trash the rubes. But for sheer stupidity, for feckless indifference, they don’t hold a candle to us.

Tomorrow: What Bruce Bartlett said. And what we libs didn’t notice.