Telling the truth extremely slowly/Very dumb anecdote file: Now that Rick Perry is booting out Bachmann, the very dumb anecdotes may go away—although Chris Matthews was still pimping one familiar bit of deception on last night’s Hardball:
MATTHEWS (8/17/11): What is this soddy-buster part to Rick Perry? We’re trying to figure him out. I compared him to Bull Connor with a smile the other day. Maybe that was too far. But I’m still learning about this guy.
He didn’t like the basis of the Civil Rights Act of ’64. He didn’t like the public accommodations being based on the interstate commerce clause. He questions, he says we shouldn’t have the voting rights anymore. He says we should have—he talks about secession. He talks about states’ rights.
Why does he use these terms like, "I don’t like the Voting Rights Act, I want to get rid of it, it’s out of date, I don’t like the constitutional basis for the Civil Rights Act, I’m talking up secessionism, I’m a states’ rights guy?”
Why does he talk like that? I just want to know why he uses those words over and over.
Now that Perry is a candidate, Chris is adding to his list of objections. The points on his list deserve careful study, something you won’t get on Hardball. But for the past two years, Chris has been skillfully toying with his tenses to make it sound like Perry “talks up secession” a great deal of the time. He has done this again and again and again, treating his viewers like low-IQ fools.
In 1999 and 2000, this is the sort of thing Matthews relentlessly did to send George Bush to the White House.
Perry “talks about secession?” Well actually no, he pretty much doesn’t. But Chris has played this game for two years. He kept it up last night.
In Sunday’s Washington Post, Paul Waldman wrote an intriguing piece about this unfortunate part of mainstream “press corps” culture. As we read the piece, we were struck by several things Waldman didn’t say.
Waldman started with the grand-daddy of them all—with a very consequential bit of press corps behavior. He took us back to the winter of 72, to a famous and furious White House race.
He named two very famous names, accusing one man of a “gaffe:”
WALDMAN (8/14/11): If you aren't old enough to remember it, you've probably heard the story of the most consequential presidential campaign gaffe of the modern era. In 1972, Maine Sen. Edmund Muskie responded to a series of attacks by the Manchester Union Leader with a news conference outside the paper's offices. Standing in the New Hampshire snow, the candidate for the Democratic nomination condemned the paper for, among other things, attacking his wife. The Washington Post's David Broder began his story about the incident this way: "With tears streaming down his face and his voice choked with emotion…"
Though Muskie insisted that his facial wetness came from the snow, the idea that a candidate would cry created a scandal. Muskie, thought until that moment to be his party's inevitable nominee, soon saw his campaign flounder and die.
Back in 1972, this was a very big deal. This incident may have doomed Muskie’s chances, thus re-electing Nixon.
Waldman says Muskie committed a “gaffe”—but is that a fair assessment? As he continued, Waldman began to recount a very odd part of this tale:
WALDMAN (continuing directly): The less well-known part of this story is that some influential journalists had decided long before that there was something slightly off about Muskie. In his 1977 book "Reporting: An Inside View," legendary journalist Lou Cannon wrote that, after playing poker with Muskie, he concluded that the senator was too temperamental to be president. "What does a political reporter do with this kind of insight?" Cannon asked. "As in this instance, it is rarely written as a hard news story the first time the thought arises…What we reporters tend to do is to store away in our minds such incidents and then use them to interpret—to set a context—for major incidents when they occur.”
Wow. “Some influential journalists” had previously reached a judgment about Muskie’s temper. In the case of Cannon, this judgment was reached based on a poker game! Waldman might even be taken to semi-imply that David Broder’s front-page report in the Washington Post was an expression of this prejudgment. But he doesn’t say such a vile thing.
Waldman semi-implies that claim. But because he was writing in the Post, he almost seemed to know that he mustn’t say it. And how odd his writing is! Seeming to give us the inside dope, he produces a quote from Cannon’s book, but he draws no direct links from that quote to the press corps’ crying game. And of course, he fails to mention what Broder confessed in the Washington Monthly, some fifteen years later:
BRODER (2/87): Within 24 hours, Muskie's weeping became the focus of political talk, not just in New Hampshire, but everywhere the pattern of the developing presidential race was discussed. His tears were generally described as one of the contributing causes of his disappointing showing in the March 7 primary. Muskie beat McGovern by a margin of 46 to 37 percent, but his managers had publicized their goal of winning at least 50 percent of the New Hampshire Democratic vote. Underdog McGovern claimed that the results showed Muskie's weakness and his own growing strength. Muskie never recovered from that Saturday in the snow.
In retrospect, though, there were a few problems with the Muskie story. First, it is unclear whether Muskie did cry.
Say what? On the front page of the Washington Post, Broder reported, in real time, that Muskie had “tears streaming down his face.” But fifteen years later, he wrote a lengthy piece in which he said it was unclear whether Muskie actually cried—even as he agreed that Muskie “never recovered” from the incident!
This is a deeply puzzling part of the way Nixon won re-election. As Waldman notes, that famous Muskie incident was extremely “consequential.” But even now, in last Sunday’s Post, Waldman mentioned what Cannon wrote—but failed to mention Broder’s confession.
To this day, are voters allowed to know such facts—if they involve the sainted icons of the mainstream “press corps?”
Much of Waldman’s report is interesting—if you don’t mind the practice of being told the truth very slowly. We thought two other part of his piece were worth flagging. In this passage, he keeps avoiding a very basic fact:
WALDMAN: You know a gaffe has made its mark when it becomes the subject of late-night monologues. Stewart and Colbert offer biting satire of the candidates, while Leno, Letterman, Fallon and O'Brien deal in broad strokes—but all tend to focus on one or two characteristics of each major political figure, and nearly every joke becomes a variation on that theme. John McCain was a grumpy old man, George W. Bush was dumb, John Kerry was a stiff patrician, Al Gore was dishonest and self-aggrandizing. Every politician is defined by what is allegedly his or her biggest character flaw.
If the candidate's misstep doesn't hew to the stereotype, chances are it'll be soon forgotten. During a 2008 stop in Oregon, then-Sen. Barack Obama noted that he had visited "57 states" during his presidential campaign. Despite the efforts of some GOP partisans, the mainstream media quickly moved on; most journalists assumed Obama knew the right number and had simply misspoken. Today, if Bachmann says something that sounds like an awkward attempt to ingratiate herself with voters, reporters won't speed-dial their editors. If Romney makes a factual error about the founding fathers, it will be greeted with a yawn. He's supposed to be the insincere one without a handle on human interaction, and she's supposed to be the dolt.
The result is profoundly unequal treatment of candidates. Get branded as dishonest, and reporters will pore over your statements to see if you've ever strayed from the truth; if they find that you have, they'll assume it was an intentional deception and not a mistake. (Just ask Gore, who never actually claimed that he invented the Internet.) Get a reputation as a fool, and the same error will be presented as yet more evidence that you lack the intellect for whatever job you're seeking.
In this passage, Waldman still writes as if he’s discussing real mistakes (“gaffes,” “missteps”) committed by the candidates. In fact, some of the “gaffes” he cites were real mistakes—but some of these “gaffes” simply weren’t. “Just ask Gore, who never actually claimed that he invented the Internet,” Waldman writes in this passage. But over and over, for two solid years, “reporters” kept claiming that Gore had said that.
Waldman never seems willing to tell you: Some of this shit is simply made up. And as he continues, he recites one part of the press corps’ creed, whitewashing colleagues quite nicely:
WALDMAN (continuing directly): There's nothing partisan about it. Think about the 2008 election. When McCain was unable to recall how many houses he owned, the stories about it were as good a mark as any that the character judgment reporters were making about him had shifted. No longer the much-admired "maverick," McCain had become just another rich, out-of-touch Republican. But his opponent got off no easier: When Obama was secretly recorded saying that white working-class voters in the Rust Belt, in the face of their economic struggles, "cling to guns or religion," it allowed reporters to place him in the stereotype of Democrats as cultural elitists. Both episodes became major stories.
“There’s nothing partisan about it,” he says. Sorry. That’s press propaganda.
One thing is true: Down through the years, the “press corps” has made up stupid tales about people from both major parties. Apologists will cite this fact as proof that “there’s nothing partisan about it;” this furthers the misimpression that the bullshit is evenly dished. But at any given time, the press corps’ shit isn’t evenly dished; their tales are aimed at the pols they hate, a list which changes from year to year. We’ll set Muskie to the side—but the attacks on Gore were baldly “partisan.”
To this very day, one aspiring career journalist simply won’t tell you. It isn’t allowed in the press corps.
Waldman’s piece is a good example of the press corps’ rolling disclosure. The press corps will often explain its misconduct away by copping to some lesser offense; that is largely the pattern which obtains in this intriguing piece. By the way: Did Muskie cry in the snow that day? The only tape we can find is here. Sadly, it’s only a partial tape. Having said that, do you see tears streaming down Muskie’s cheeks?
Presumably, this could have been settled long ago, with the full tape, which presumably still exists. David Broder said something astounding in 1987. From that day right up to this, Broder’s colleagues have made it a point to pretend that he didn’t.
This is the way a team of Potemkins pretend to be a real “press.”
Special report: There’s no surviving the Times!
PART 3—RICK PERRY’S FAVORITE FACT (permalink): There’s one key fact the Perry campaign wants all scribes to repeat.
On Tuesday morning, Clifford Krauss did repeat that fact—in the opening sentence of his front-page report in the New York Times.
Krauss’ piece appeared above the fold, on the front page of the paper. Trust us: Lusty high-fives were exchanged all around at Candidate Perry’s headquarters:
KRAUSS (8/16/11): In Texas Jobs Boom, Crediting a Leader, or Luck
Texas is home to at least one-third of the jobs created nationwide since the recession ended. The state’s economy is growing about twice as fast as the national rate. Home prices have remained stable even as much of the country has seen sharp declines.
“Texas is home to at least one-third of the jobs created nationwide since the recession ended.” That seems to be an accurate claim—but accurate claims can be misleading, and we’d say this one basically is (more below). But there’s no mistaking an obvious point: The fact which opened Krauss’ report comes live-and-direct from Perry Central. Perry’s campaign and Perry’s supporters relentlessly repeat that fact. By way of contrast, this is the fact about Texas they don’t want journos reciting:
“The unemployment rate is 8.2 percent.”
Given two accurate facts, Krauss chose one for his opening sentence. He also reported that second fact—in paragraph 24, bundled with yet another claim about Texas being a “boom state.”
Krauss opened his piece with the very fact the Perry camp wants you to hear. He buried a more significant fact, softening it with another claim about the alleged Texas “jobs boom.” As such, Krauss’ piece is a textbook example of a type of very bad reporting. In the third paragraph of his report, he seemed to describe what he’d done:
KRAUSS: Even before he formally entered the race over the weekend, Mr. Perry and his allies set out to dictate an economic narrative on his terms. A radio spot last week in Iowa told voters that the governor “has a proven record of controlling spending and creating jobs” and suggested that he could replicate the success of Texas on a national scale. In a budget speech a few months ago, Mr. Perry, who declined through a spokesman to be interviewed for this article, boasted that Texas stood “in stark contrast to states that choose to burden their residents with higher taxes and onerous regulatory mandates.”
But some economists as well as Perry skeptics suggest that Mr. Perry stumbled into the Texas miracle.
According to Krauss’ report, Mr. Perry had been trying “to dictate an economic narrative on his terms.” In the framing of Krauss’ front-page report, Mr. Perry quite plainly succeeded:
Duh. As anyone with an ounce of sense knows, a state with 8.2 percent unemployment is not involved in an economic “miracle.” But so what? Krauss repeated the scripted “Texas miracle” phrase, just as the Perry camp wished. Beyond that, a state with that unemployment rate is plainly not enjoying a “jobs boom”—but Krauss’ editor put that phrase right in the Times’ front-page headline. Many people saw that headline without even reading the Krauss report. They were told that Texas is enjoying a jobs boom—even though it quite plainly is not.
Krauss devoted the rest of his piece asking the question the Perry camp prayed for: How much credit should go to Perry for the miracle of the Texas job boom? In the process, he created a textbook example of a front-page news report which adopts a candidate’s narrative.
As the liberal world has done for decades, the liberal world failed to complain about this conduct. In these ways, the liberal world has long practiced self-defeat.
Luckily, Perry’s economic narrative is being challenged elsewhere, though not with sufficient clarity, a point we’ll examine tomorrow. For today, let’s adopt a narrower focus. Let’s consider that accurate claim—the Perry-dictated accurate fact which anchored Krauss’ report.
“Texas is home to at least one-third of the jobs created nationwide since the recession ended.” That seems to be an accurate claim. Why isn’t it all that important? Why should Krauss have paired it instantly with the state’s unemployment rate?
In a post we’ll discuss a bit more tomorrow, Kevin Drum says the following: “Texas has created lots of jobs in the past two years: 40 percent of the nation's total.” Instantly, Drum pairs that fact with the state’s unemployment rate. But even if we accept that 40 percent figure, is that really “a lot of jobs?”
We would suggest that it pretty much isn’t. While waiting for further analysis from economists, here’s why we would say that:
Forty percent of nothing is nothing—and forty percent of a little isn’t necessarily a lot. Much later in his front-page report, Krauss provides some context to that “jobs boom” claim. The highlighted passage appears in paragraph 26:
KRAUSS: This time around, the state has not escaped the downturn. The unemployment rate is 8.2 percent, a full percentage point below the national rate but still higher than other boom states like North Dakota and Wyoming, and Texas has one of the highest percentages of workers who are paid the minimum wage and receive no medical benefits.
And Mr. Perry could still be tested before next year’s election. Oil prices have fallen almost 30 percent since April, and a broad economic slowdown could depress prices further. Texas will also feel the pain as Washington cuts spending on the military and space exploration, and the state trims spending.
Still, over all, Texas remains in an enviable position. The state has created more than 260,000 jobs since June 2009, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, and the state’s economy is growing at an estimated annual rate of about 3 percent, compared with the national growth rate in the last quarter of 1.3 percent.
According to Krauss, Texas has created 260,000 jobs in two years. That may be “at least one-third of the jobs created nationwide,” according to the formulation Krauss used in his opening paragraph. But that doesn’t really mean that Texas has created a whole lot of jobs. Much more clearly, it means something different—it means that the U.S. as a whole has produced almost none.
By normal metrics, the U.S. should have created well more than three million jobs since June 09 just to keep pace with population growth. But according to Krauss’ formulation, the country has instead produced 800,000 at most. According to one of Drum’s links, “the Dallas Fed, earlier this month, reckoned that” the nation has produced 524,000 jobs during that period. That is miserable job growth for the nation. And “at least one-third” of miserable growth does not constitute a “jobs boom.”
(Compare to Krugman’s recent explanations about the way you have to consider the size of the denominator when reacting to such statistics.)
And “at least one-third” of miserable growth does not constitute a “jobs boom.” This is especially true given some of the factors people have cited about the Texas economy, including the state’s high population growth.
Does 260,000 new jobs in two years constitute a Texas “jobs boom” or a “Texas miracle?” We would say it does not. Almost anyone would have understood that if Krauss had simply mentioned that 8.2 percent unemployment rate at the start of his piece. A state is not involved in a miracle, or in a jobs boom, if it has that rate of unemployment. But alas! Krauss buried that second fact at the end of his lengthy piece, tarting it up with a script-friendly claim about those other “boom states.”
The unemployment rate in Texas stands at 8.2 percent. Whatever good things one might say about the Texas economy, no one with an ounce of sense would think that a state with that unemployment rate is somehow enjoying a “jobs boom.” But on Tuesday, that Perry-dictated claim sat at the top of the Times front page. It broadcast a key piece of PerryThink to millions of New York Times readers.
This is very much the way certain candidates win White House elections.
“Mr. Perry and his allies set out to dictate an economic narrative on his terms.” On Tuesday, the Times took dictation.
The career liberal world didn’t even say boo. Tomorrow, we’ll ask you: Why is that?
Tomorrow: Which part of “no jobs boom” don’t career libs understand?