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Print view: Slate's Annie Lowrey spanned the globe keeping Rick's script alive
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KEEP SCRIPT ALIVE! Slate’s Annie Lowrey spanned the globe keeping Rick’s script alive: // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, AUGUST 23, 2011

We’ve just met a pimp named Maria: All in all, Rick Perry has cuffed Michele Bachmann to the curb since he entered the White House race. That said, it’s worth reviewing the way major journalists have reacted to recent ludicrous claims by the plu-horrible Bachman.

First: Congratulations to the Washington Post editorial board for their aggressive editorial in Saturday’s paper. Bachman had invented a stupid new claim explaining her (perfectly honorable) career as an IRS lawyer. In the process, she called the IRS “the enemy.” In response to this massive bad judgment, the editors did the sort of thing journalists should do:

WASHINGTON POST EDITORIAL (8/21/11): [O]ur objection to her statement goes beyond the fact that it may not be true and beyond the bellicose language. We find it disturbing that someone seeking to lead this country and become its government’s CEO would view any of its agencies as the enemy…

Respecting the IRS isn’t the same as loving the tax code. If Ms. Bachmann thinks that this country has an irrational, confusing, loophole-laden tax law, well, join the party. Who doesn’t? If she thinks the nation is overtaxed, she is entitled to that opinion, too.

But the Internal Revenue Service and the 107,621 (as of fiscal 2010) people who work there aren’t responsible for the law or the level of taxation. For those, you can thank Ms. Bachmann and her fellow members of Congress.

There was more. But the editors’ effort was good.

Second: Congratulation to the Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler for his fact-check of a different Bachmann groaner, concerning allegedly massive spending under the crazy Obama. We’ll only disagree with Kessler’s ultimate rating; he gave Bachmann just two Pinocchios for her groaning, repeated misstatement. According to Kessler, “her statistic, while technically correct, [was] deliberately misleading.” In the end, technical accuracy should be no defense when the public is misled deliberately.

That said, Kessler did what a journalist should. His piece should have run on page one.

Sadly, this brings us to our third example. It involves CNBC anchor Maria Bartiromo, who ate away at the nation’s brains on Sunday’s Meet the Press.

Bachmann had made a ludicrous claim about the price of gas. But uh-oh! When guest host Savannah Guthrie asked Bartiromo about the claim, Bartiromo tried hard not to answer:

GUTHRIE (8/21/11): Well, there are big promises happening on the Republican side too, Maria, and I wanted to ask you to give us a reality check on one of them. Michele Bachmann is saying that she can bring back, in a Bachmann administration, $2 a gallon gasoline. She also said within one quarter her policies would effect a turnaround in the economy. What would you say?

BARTIROMO: Well, I mean, I think it is extraordinary that the country does not have an energy policy. I mean, how long have we been talking about the fact that we are so reliant on international oil? I don't know. Probably the silver lining in this whole economic slowdown, recession, whatever you want to call it, is the fact that oil prices have come down.

Guthrie had asked a double question. That’s always a bad idea; it helps people like Bartiromo avoid answering either one. In this case, Bartiromo bafflegabbed hard, avoiding response to the ludicrous claim that Bachmann could restore $2 gas. But uh-oh!

Guthrie noticed the lack of an answer, then came back with a follow-up question. This produced Bartiromo’s second straight non-response:

GUTHRIE (continuing directly): But can one president effectuate that much change in these commodities markets? I mean, is that an over-promise?

BARTIROMO: One president can exhibit leadership, set the tone to where we're going, and that's really what we need. Whether or not she can do that, bring gasoline down to $2—but at a minimum we need a plan. People need to know where they’re going. They want a vision. And, at this point, we're continually reliant on international oil, which is a major issue.

“Well, let's talk about leadership and the president,” Guthrie then said, accepting her defeat.

Can we talk? CNBC pays Bartiromo to do two things. She is paid to look amazingly good and to support the corporatist notions which please the financial audience. Bachmann had made the world’s dumbest claim. Bartiromo had no plan to say so.

In a real journalistic culture, some Meet the Press “suit” would have done the following, perhaps at Betsy Fischer’s direction: He would have siezed Bartriromo by the scruff of her neck; he would have booted her down the stairs, out the door, across the sidewalk and into the street. He would have told her never to come within a hundred miles of an NBC camera.

You don’t live in that kind of culture. Maria will be back.

And Harold made two: The Potemkins were posing hard on this program. Moments later, Harold Ford pretended to throw his own two cents on the pile:

FORD: I would have to think if you are—we're fortunate around this table to be dutifully employed, some people with more than one job. The reality is, if you have a jobs plan, put it out. The same as I would say for Michele Bachmann. If she has a plan to get gas prices down to $2, she ought to give it to President Obama and let him implement it now so Americans can be spared the agony.

Two, I hope the president does what E.J. said. I hope he's bold. E.J. and I may define bold differently, but he's got to come out, I think, with a plan to create certainty around regulations…

“If she has a plan!” The Potemkins are very skillful.

Surely, Dionne spoke up, you say. Readers! Will we ever learn?

Special report: There’s no surviving the Times!

EPILOGUE—KEEP SCRIPT ALIVE (permalink): Washington journalists live to recite. More specifically:

When an important new script arrives—a script with plenty of powerful backing—the eager young journalist works very hard to get herself in line with its scripted notions.

Above all else, the young “liberal” journalist mustn’t seem shrill. Nothing can fuck her career up faster than getting labeled that way.

This may explain the way Annie Lowrey began her recent piece at Slate—the report in which she made her peace with the capital’s hottest new narrative. Is the state of Texas—Rick Perry’s state—involved in an economic “miracle?” Look how far Lowrey went in her opening paragraphs, struggling to keep script alive:

LOWREY (8/19/11): On the campaign trail, Texas governor and Republican presidential hopeful Rick Perry has repeatedly boasted about the so-called “Texas miracle,” the state's impressive economic performance in the last five years. This has set the chattering classes off, debating both whether the miracle is real and, if it is, whether the awesomely coiffed politico should be taking credit for it.

The data under contention are these: Texas has created 40 percent of the nation's new jobs since the recession ended, far more than any other state. It entered the recession later than other states and got out of it faster. Its economy is growing twice as fast as the country's as a whole. Its unemployment rate is high, at 8.2 percent, but lower than it is in the nearby "sand states," like Nevada (12.4 percent) and Arizona (9.3 percent). Judging by those statistics, it is fair to call it a lone star in a fairly depressed region, if not an outright miracle.

Lowrey is a professional writer. As such, she knows how to fuzzy up her words to keep a preferred claim alive.

Observe:

In her opening paragraph, Lowrey leaves open the possibility that the “miracle” is “real.” (A debate is on about that, she says.) At the very least, she asserts that Texas has enjoyed an “impressive economic performance in the last five years.”

In her second paragraph, she fuzzies things up even further. Texas may not be enjoying an outright miracle, she suggests or says, using an impressively imprecise construct. At the very least, this leaves open the clear possibility that some lesser type of “miracle” has occurred. But good lord! Look again at how far this hustler went in her quest to keep script alive:

LOWREY: Its unemployment rate is high, at 8.2 percent, but lower than it is in the nearby "sand states," like Nevada (12.4 percent) and Arizona (9.3 percent). Judging by those statistics, it is fair to call it a lone star in a fairly depressed region, if not an outright miracle.

Lowrey didn’t tell Slate readers that the unemployment rate in Texas is higher than in all four states which border it. Instead, she chose to span the globe! She wandered off to two “nearby” states—states with higher unemployment than Texas. Having cherry-picked these states, she used them to tell Slate readers that Texas is a “star” performer—“a lone star in a fairly depressed region.”

Is Texas a star in its region? Once again, here are the figures Lowrey chose to exclude:

Unemployment rate, June 2011, Texas and neighboring states:
Texas: 8.2 percent
Oklahoma: 5.3 percent
New Mexico: 6.8 percent
Louisiana: 7.8 percent
Arkansas: 8.1 percent

When it comes to unemployment, is Texas a star in its region? (In the new figures for July, Texas bumped up to 8.4 percent. Lowrey’s piece had already been published.)

Back to Lowrey, spanning the globe in search of someone, anyone, with higher unemployment than Texas:

We’ve rarely seen anyone wh*re this hard or sell her soul quite so visibly. But this is truly the heart and soul of the gruesome young breed who pose as your modern “journalists,” especially at publications of the alleged “center left.” It’s the way of the world for such career-level hustlers: When a potent new narrative blows in from the right, they must avoid getting branded as “shrill.”

In the current case, hustlers like Lowrey have picked a safe route: They will leave the “miracle” claim alive, choosing instead to argue that Perry may not deserve the full credit. They’ll even please readers with stupid-ass snark about the governor’s comical hair (see above). Clueless readers may thus imagine that they are reading a real critique—even as a stupid new narrative gains additional traction.

Lowrey’s piece was so striking that we’ll let it stand alone today. Tomorrow, we’ll look at the way Jonathan Chait has handled this potent new narrative. That said, we’ll recommend this new Krugman post, in which he makes the same basic point we made in yesterday’s HOWLER:

KRUGMAN (8/22/11): [T]he debate over the alleged Texas miracle is not over whether Texas is in fact a miserable failure. All the critics need to show is that Texas is not in fact the miracle Perry claims. And it isn’t.

[…]

Again, the point is not that Texas is a hellhole. It is that there is no miracle—and Texas experience offers no role model for getting out of the national slump.

Texas is an unusual state. Just by virtue of its size and its history, it’s hard to pair it with any other state. That said, Texas isn’t an economic hellhole or a miserable failure—although it starts to come close if you look at certain measures.

But it would take a blithering idiot to think that Texas has enjoyed an “economic miracle” in recent years—even to think that it’s enjoying a “jobs boom.” That claim represents a self-serving new script—a potent new narrative invented by a highly ambitious White House candidate.

Anyone but a blithering fool would see that claim for what it is. Anyone but a blithering fool—or a “journalistic” wh*re of the type which has done so much harm over the past twenty years.

The Lowreys have been at this game for decades; more on their exploits tomorrow. They sat and said nothing in 1999 and 2000 when potent new scripts sent George Bush to the White House.

Today, the career liberal world sits silently by as these hustlers go at it again.