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Daily Howler: Stanley dreamed another drama. We were thrilled when a blogger complained
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HAMLIN KNOWS DRAMA! Stanley dreamed another drama. We were thrilled when a blogger complained: // link // print // previous // next //

The Howler gets results: This is our third day on a one-day diversion—but last night, The Howler got results! On Pardon the Interruption, Michael Wilbon went on at some length, with Dan LeBatard, about how the SEC is “overrated” this year. Take out Florida, and they’re the ACC, Wilbon said. For the record, if you take out Florida, the SEC is 1-6 against the ACC this year. (Florida has beaten Miami and Florida State.)

Yesterday morning, Wilbon plainly called the SEC one of this year’s two best conferences. No, we can’t find tape or transcript of last night’s show. But my, how TDH does get results—where the issues don’t matter, that is.

The way we get handed our data: We were struck by a pair of news reports in this morning’s Post and Times. The articles described a new study of the rising cost of college education. In the Times, Tamar Lewin said the following. It seemed—still seems—hard to believe:

LEWIN (12/3/08): Over all, the report found, published college tuition and fees increased 439 percent from 1982 to 2007, adjusted for inflation, while median family income rose 147 percent. Student borrowing has more than doubled in the last decade, and students from lower-income families, on average, get smaller grants from the colleges they attend than students from more affluent families.

“If we go on this way for another 25 years, we won’t have an affordable system of higher education,” said Patrick M. Callan, president of the center, a nonpartisan organization that promotes access to higher education.

Say what? “[P]ublished college tuition and fees increased 439 percent from 1982 to 2007, adjusted for inflation?” If we understand what “increased” means in this context, that would mean that a four-year college ride which cost $100,000 in 1982 would have cost $539,000 in 2007—and Lewin said these figures had been adjusted for inflation. (If the figures weren’t so adjusted, the difference in price would be even larger.) That struck us as an astounding statistic—and it was featured in the Post report too. But Lewin made no attempt to explain such a mammoth hike in prices, and she gave no specific examples of price hikes from specific colleges. We were simply asked to swallow the data—and to marvel at the problem the new study seeks to highlight.

Can that figure really be accurate? We semi-assume it is, but we aren’t quite sure. But we note a few points:

First, the Post’s Susan Kinzie didn’t say that these figures were adjusted for inflation—and when we went to the site which presents the new study, we weren’t sure if that’s what the study says. (The study’s formal roll-out occurs today.) This chart is prominently featured in both the Post and the Times; its title says, “Percent Growth Rate in Current Dollar Price since 1982-84.” Is a “growth rate” the same thing as an “increase?” And does “current dollar price” mean that the figures have been adjusted for inflation? Frankly, we aren’t sure. We see signs suggesting that may not be so, but like 99 percent of Times readers, we aren’t expert enough to be certain. And let’s say it again: The Times says the figures are adjusted; the Post is silent on the question. It’s like the old joke called “Goldberg’s Law:” The man with one watch always knows the time. The man with two watches isn’t sure.

Are those figures “adjusted for inflation?” Frankly, we aren’t sure. (Obviously, the Post should have said. It makes a very large difference.) But since the Times says the prices are adjusted, we’d have to say that its report falls down especially badly. Such a price increase would strike us as astounding—but the Times doesn’t seem to notice. Why would prices have increased so much? What do specific examples look like? Taking some startling data in stride, the Times makes no effort to say.

Have prices really risen that much after adjusting for inflation? We aren’t sure—but this is the way we often get handed our data. The Times says “adjusted,” the Post does not—and neither seems to notice how startling these new data are. Here’s our question: Given the way these newspapers often function, are you prepared to accept, on faith, the notion that Lewin’s claim is accurate? We aren’t—and yet, we’re constantly asked to put our faith in the claims of a news elite which has failed us many times in the past.

Have prices really risen that much? Can we see a few specific examples? Lewin’s claim seems hard to believe—and like Goldberg, we made a mistake today. We checked the time on two different watches. What time is it now? We aren’t sure.

Hamlin knows drama: With thanks to Steve Benen for linking us there, here’s a superb blog post by Matt Browner Hamlin about a ludicrous New York Times piece. Yes, it’s only Alessandra Stanley, the newspaper’s silly-bill “TV Watcher.” But Stanley’s utterly ludicrous piece concerns a very serious topic. And her reinvention of this topic as “drama” is quite typical of the way the Times works. (To read Benen’s post, just click here.)

The piece by Stanley is so bad it hurts—and yet, it’s very familiar. Her insistence on building drama around the Clintons reminded us of a “Kit” Seelye piece from all the way back in June 1999—a piece which typified one of the ways this gang covered all of Campaign 2000. When it came to the Clintons—and therefore to Gore—your upper-end “press corps” had lost its mind by the late 1990s. From that day to this, they have been churning silly dramas whenever the Clintons or Gore are sold. To borrow from Lord Russell: Their world has been novels, all the way down. Hamlin notes as much in his critique of Stanley.

Tomorrow, we may add a few things to what Hamlin wrote; Stanley’s piece is so absurd that it would be hard for any one blogger to do it full justice. But we were thrilled to see a fairly new site presenting Hamlin’s critique. Right smack-dab in his opening sentence, Hamlin identifies Stanley’s work as what it so sadly is—as the press corps’ latest piece of silly “drama-projection.” If we want to live in a sane country some day, younger bloggers will have to hammer the press corps’ culture of “drama-projection” again and again—and again and again, and then one more time after that. We thought Hamlin’s piece was truly superb. But this will have to be done many times.

Stanley is a pal of Dowd’s; she often displays the same desire to force her own foolish dramas onto your most important news topics. And let’s state the obvious: This group will never stop working this way, until widespread ridicule makes them stop. They live inside a sumptuous palace—and their flighty minds are full of dime novels. They’re too dumb to see the world other ways. They’ll insist on novelizing your news until they’re finally stopped.

You can’t get dumber than Stanley and Dowd—and this sort of work virtually defines the way your upper-end “press corps” functions. Meanwhile, progressives and liberals have never quite made a habit of calling this nonsense what it is. (Darlings! In the career world, it just isn’t done!) We’re glad to see Hamlin calling so loudly—complaining about this “drama-projection.” If you want to have a sane country some day, it’s a highly encouraging sign.