The Washington Post's Charles Lane is having a heck of a day.
First, the Post published his column calling for a reduction in the minimum wage, a phenomenally bad idea just about any time, but one that could have catastrophic consequences in difficult economic times.
Now Lane has posted an ill-considered screed attacking his Post colleague Ezra Klein.
Earlier today, Klein wrote that, since a lack of health insurance contributed to the deaths of and estimated 137,000 people between 2000 and 2006, and since Joe Lieberman's stated objections to health care reform don't make a whit of sense, "Lieberman seems primarily motivated by torturing liberals. That is to say, he seems willing to cause the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people in order to settle an old electoral score."
That set Lane off, denouncing Klein's "venomous smear" and accusing him of having lost his mind. Here's Lane:
How else to explain the outrageous smear of Lieberman, posted earlier today by youthful policy wonk Ezra Klein on The Post's Web site?
Let's stop there: What does Klein's age have to do with anything? He isn't twelve. He's in his twenties, and is pretty widely acknowledged to have some level of health care expertise. But apparently Lane would rather debate Klein's age than his ideas, which tells you something about Lane and the strength of his case.
This is disgusting, and pretty illogical, too. Klein brandishes a study by the Urban Institute showing that the lack of health insurance contributed to the deaths of 137,000 people between 2000 and 2006. But last time I checked, Joe Lieberman does not oppose insuring everyone. Indeed, he is on record favoring "legislation that expands access to the millions who do not have coverage, improves quality and lowers costs while not impeding our economic recovery or increasing the debt." He simply opposes the public option, as well as Harry Reid's last-minute improvisation on Medicare. Klein's outburst only makes sense if you assume that there is one conceivable way to expand health insurance coverage, and that Harry Reid has discovered it.
Talk about illogical! Lane's argument boils down to this: Forget about what Joe Lieberman does and focus instead on what he says. Lieberman doesn't "simply" oppose the public option -- he has yet to propose an alternative that would provide health care to the millions he says should have it.
Actually, strike that: Lieberman is on record as saying he doesn't want to help them get it, regardless of the mechanism. Here's Lieberman in August:
LIEBERMAN: Here's the tough one. We morally, every one of us, would like to cover every American with health insurance. But that's where you spend most of the $1 trillion plus, a little less that is estimated, the estimate said this health care plan will cost. And I'm afraid we've got to think about putting a lot of that off until the economy's out of recession. There's no reason we have to do it all now, but we do have to get started. And I think the place to start is cost health delivery reform and insurance market reforms.
Note that Lieberman didn't say "we should cover people who don't have insurance, but not through the public option," which is what Lane suggests Lieberman's position is. No, Lieberman said we have to put off covering those people -- regardless of the mechanism -- until the economy is better.
But Charles Lane still wants to give Lieberman credit of being in favor of covering those who currently lack insurance -- even after Lieberman has said we shouldn't do that, and even after Lieberman has opposed efforts to do so, and even after Lieberman has declined to come forward with his own plan for doing so.
Then Lane acknowledges that Lieberman may not be acting from the purest of motives:
Joe Lieberman is an odd political duck, to put it mildly. I understand that he seems to bear a grudge against the Democratic liberals who tried to unseat him in 2006 because of his vote for the war in Iraq, and that he might be engaged in a little pay back right now. Perhaps he's shilling for his home state insurance interests, as if no other senator would ever do such a thing.
Wait a second: Charles Lane acknowledges that Joe Lieberman may be opposing health care reform out of a desire for "a little pay back," or to shill for insurance interests. And Charles Lane acknowledges the reality that without health insurance, people die. But if you combine those two things -- each of which Lane acknowledges -- he'll denounce you for making a "venomous slam" and an "outrageous smear."
Incredibly, Lane was doing better when he was focusing on Klein's age.
UPDATE: Lane defends Lieberman by saying he "simply opposes the public option, as well as Harry Reid's last-minute improvisation on Medicare." But Lieberman was for a Medicare buy-in as recently as September, suggesting that his current opposition to it is something less than sincere. Did Lane bother to learn anything about Lieberman's history of words and deeds on this topic before leaping to his defense and trashing a colleague in the process?
UPDATE 2: Greg Sargent, whose Plum Line blog is owned by the Washington Post, digs up video of Lieberman endorsing a Medicare buy-in in September. Maybe Lane should have talked to his colleagues before defending Lieberman on this one ...
UPDATE 3: Ezra Klein responds to Lane, noting that "Lane, well, agrees with my venomous smear."
On Fox News' America's Newsroom this morning, guest anchor Juliet Huddy hosted Mary Grealy, "the president of the Healthcare Leadership Council." Grealy spent her time attacking a proposal to include allowing people age 55 to 65 to buy in to Medicare as a "non-starter," complaining about the current "cost-shift" from government programs to private insurers and underpayments to hospitals, and advocating for subsidies to purchase private health insurance instead:
Somehow, Huddy never got around to explaining what the "Healthcare Leadership Council" is. Here's the situation: they are a healthcare advocacy organization that represents some of the biggest healthcare providers and private insurance companies in the country. In other words, Grealy collects a paycheck from the very people who stand to lose from a Medicare buy-in and stand to gain from subsidies for private insurance.
Report What The Politicians Say, Don't Tell Readers What They Believe
Yes, the Post commits this fundamental sin once again telling readers in reference to an omnibus spending bill approved by the Senate that: "all but three Senate Republicans opposed the measure, citing what they consider to be wasteful spending on domestic agencies at a time of war" (emphasis added).
The point of course is that the Post doesn't have a clue as to whether Republican politicians really consider the items in the bill to be wasteful. What it knows is that they say the items are wasteful.
As Baker points out, there are many plausible reasons for the Republicans' actions -- reasons that they'd never admit to. And the Post has no way of knowing that the Republicans' stated reasons are their actual reasons.
This is an extremely common problem, one I've noted in the past:
Gloria Borger on CNN, moments ago: "Conservatives believe that empathy is about feelings, and that feelings have no place when you're deciding the law."
No. Conservatives say they believe that. But in reality, they support conservative judges who -- they say -- demonstrate empathy.
The difference between "X believes Y" and "X says Y" may seem like nit-picking. And if X really does believe Y, it isn't a big deal. But if X doesn't really believe Y and is just using it as an excuse (or a convenient attack), it is a big deal. It privileges the lie, assuming -- and asserting -- its truthfulness.
And because reporters can rarely be certain whether X believes Y or X just says s/he believes Y, we'd all be better off if they didn't pretend to know what politicians believe.
Very curious non-denial denial today issued by the Journal's editor Robert Thomson in response to the column published by the NYT's David Carr. Carr detailed how, since being purchased by Rupert Murdoch, the Journal's D.C. bureau is being pushed to adopt a more conservative, and openly skeptical, tone when reporting on the Obama administration, and to do it in the paper's news hole, which is supposed to be a no-no. (See exhibits A, B, C, and D.)
A little over a year ago, Robert Thomson, The Journal's top editor, picked Gerard Baker, a columnist for The Times of London, as his deputy managing editor. Mr. Baker is a former Washington bureau chief of The Financial Times with a great deal of expertise in the Beltway. The two men came of age in the more partisan milieu of British journalism.
According to several former members of the Washington bureau and two current ones, the two men have had a big impact on the paper's Washington coverage, adopting a more conservative tone, and editing and headlining articles to reflect a chronic skepticism of the current administration.
Thomson's rather overexcited response? Here it is in full, via NY Observer. Please try to find the part where Thomson denies the central charge of Carr's piece, because I couldn't find it either:
The news column by a Mr David Carr today is yet more evidence that The New York Times is uncomfortable about the rise of an increasingly successful rival while its own circulation and credibility are in retreat. The usual practice of quoting ex-employees was supplemented by a succession of anonymous quotes and unsubstantiated assertions. The attack follows the extraordinary actions of Mr Bill Keller, the Executive Editor, who, among other things, last year wrote personally and at length to a prize committee casting aspersions on Journal journalists and journalism. Whether it be in the quest for prizes or in the disparagement of competitors, principle is but a bystander at The New York Times.
So there you have it. The New York Times detailed today how the Journal's D.C. news bureau is under increasing pressure, internally, to report from the right, and the Journal's editor today failed to deny the charge.
Conservatives who bash The Washington Post as liberal tend to overlook the streak of conservatism that runs through the Post's editorial pages -- indeed, we've detailed how some Post editorial positions dovetail nicely with those of the unambiguously conservative Wall Street Journal.
Given that history, it's no surprise that Post editorial page staff member Charles Lane would pen a column that advocates, as one way to boost job growth, reducing the minimum wage. No, really.
In support of this claim, Lane cites the increase in unemployment as the minimum wage increased in increments over the past three years, adding: "I am not saying that the minimum wage increase caused this; far from it. But study after study has shown that this supposed benefit to the poor prices low-skilled workers out of entry-level jobs. It was unwise to keep raising the cost of hiring them in a recession." But Lane ignores that there are studies showing that raising the minimum wage has no significant effect on unemployment -- this one, for instance, and this one.
It's probably not surprising that Lane goes on to cite a Journal op-ed to make his case.
Missing from Lane's article, on top of the lack of data that conflicts with his suggestion, is any acknowledgement of the impact of cutting wages of people who aren't making that much in the first place. As the Economic Policy Institute points out, 4.5 million Americans saw a wage increase with the most recent incremental hike. Is cutting those wages really a smart thing to do in a recession?
Lane's other suggestions are equally dubious. It's unclear how ending federal protection of the domestic sugar industry will create jobs, nor does he explain how repealing the Davis-Bacon Act (which mandates that federally funded projects pay the prevailing local wage) will do anything other than lower wages.
But never mind. Lane's minimum wage suggestion got attention at the one place you'd expect it to (outside the Journal, anyway): Fox News.
James Rosen's report on the December 14 edition of America's Newsroom prominently features Lane's column, as well as similar claims by the author of the Journal op-ed Lane cited, David Neumark. Like Lane, Rosen ignored studies that show the minimum wage does not impact unemployment, though he conceded that a rollback is unlikely.
Rosen went on to misconstrue the debate on the issue, portraying it as between Democrats citing "social justice" and Republicans speaking "in macroeconomic terms" -- ignoring there's an macroeconomic argument for raising the minimum wage in terms of increased consumer spending.
If The Washington Post is supposed to be so unapologetically liberal, why is it manufacturing catnip for Fox News?
That was the Associated Press' recent finding [emphasis added]:
E-mails stolen from climate scientists show they stonewalled skeptics and discussed hiding data — but the messages don't support claims that the science of global warming was faked, according to an exhaustive review by The Associated Press.
The 1,073 e-mails examined by the AP show that scientists harbored private doubts, however slight and fleeting, even as they told the world they were certain about climate change. However, the exchanges don't undercut the vast body of evidence showing the world is warming because of man-made greenhouse gas emissions.
The scientists were keenly aware of how their work would be viewed and used, and, just like politicians, went to great pains to shape their message. Sometimes, they sounded more like schoolyard taunts than scientific tenets.
What's missing from Adam Nagourney's New York Times profile of John McCain? Any indication that this is a bunch of bull:
Mr. McCain's friends said that in raising his profile, he was motivated not by concern at home, but by philosophical differences over the scope of Mr. Obama's health care proposals and spending measures.
"Had they reached out to him in a more genuine way, and not tried to pursue a pretty leftist agenda, I think they might have had a potential ally in John on certain things," said Senator Jon Kyl, Mr. McCain's fellow Republican from Arizona.
That would have been a perfect place for Nagourney to point out -- or at least quote a Democrat pointing out -- that Obama did reach out to Republicans, making massive concessions during the stimulus debate, in exchange for very little GOP support -- and none from John McCain.
But Nagourney didn't do that; he didn't include so much as a word of rebuttal to the claims that John McCain was ready to work with President Obama, but Obama refused to reach out to Republicans.
A few days ago, Politico did its own State-of-John-McCain article -- and it, too, uncritically quoted claims that McCain was outraged by a lack of bipartisanship by Obama:
Mark Salter, McCain's former Senate chief of staff, ghostwriter and close confidant, said McCain may have responded differently if Obama had governed more from the center.
"You can't expect him to do things that are antithetical to his beliefs," said Salter, who still talks to the senator multiple times each week.
Discussing Obama's first big initiative, the stimulus, Salter said that his old boss could not get behind what was mostly an infrastructure spending bill.
"If [Obama] had said we're going to do this half my way and half your way, guys like John McCain and others would have been all over it," he said.
Politico didn't include any mention of the concessions Obama made to Republicans on the stimulus, either.
Gateway Pundit's Jim Hoft is again attempting to link Department of Education official Kevin Jennings to a workshop for high school students which included explicit discussions of sex that took place at a 2000 GLSEN/Boston conference. Hoft's new "Explosive" claim is that a Massachusetts teacher who "wanted to remain anonymous out of safety considerations for herself and her family" claims "that there is 'no way' that Obama's Safe School Czar did not know about the pornographic and sexually explicit material that was presented and discussed at the conference." Of course, neither Hoft nor the anonymous teacher provide any actual evidence that Jennings knew the specific explicit content that would be discussed at that workshop When Jennings was made aware after the fact, he reportedly criticized it.
Four days ago, Editor & Publisher quoted Washington Post Op-Ed editor Autumn Brewington defending the paper's publication of Sarah Palin's deeply dishonest column about climate change. Most of the defense boils down to a predictably depressing acknowledgment that the Post doesn't really care about facts or expertise; they just want to sell some ads -- For example: "She is someone who stirs discussion and we are in the business of putting out opinion. She reached out to us."
But here's something interesting:
Brewington said the piece drew more reaction than most Op-Eds, adding that it ranked among the 10 most-read articles on the Post Web site Wednesday. ...
Among the critics was a university professor who has offered to write a rebuttal column, Brewington said, declining to name the person. "It is always interesting to see who reaches out to us," she said.
Palin's op-ed ran on December 9. By December 10, the Post had an offer from a "university professor" to write a rebuttal to the error-filled column. So ... Where is it? The Post has yet to run any kind of "rebuttal column," by a professor or anyone else. (The paper did, however, run December 11 column by former Bush aide Michael Gerson that echoed Palin's.)
Brewington seems to regard a proposed rebuttal column by an academic as a joke; something to be amused about -- "It is always interesting to see who reaches out to us." But it isn't a joke. The Post published a falsehood-filled screed by a former half-term governor who either doesn't know the truth or is willing to lie about it. And the paper apparently laughs off requests to run a rebuttal column. There's nothing amusing about that.
Early this year, when the Post was criticized for running a deeply flawed George Will column, Post editorial page boss Fred Hiatt challenged critics to debate Will rather than expect the Post to run a correction. So Chris Mooney submitted an op-ed in response to Will, which the Post eventually published. (Mooney's column ran three weeks after it was submitted. It took the Post less than a day to get Palin's into the paper.)
So why won't the Post publish a column rebutting Sarah Palin's op-ed? Did the paper promise Palin it wouldn't run such a response?
The New York Times' David Carr looks at the Wall Street Journal under Rupert Murdoch's ownership, complete with complaints from the paper's reporters that the Journal has lurched rightward. One example of that shift caught my eye:
Mr. Baker, a neoconservative columnist of acute political views, has been especially active in managing coverage in Washington, creating significant grumbling, if not resistance, from the staff there. Reporters say the coverage of the Obama administration is reflexively critical, the health care debate is generally framed in terms of costs rather than benefits - "health care reform" is a generally forbidden phrase - and global warming skeptics have gotten a steady ride. (Of course, objectivity is in the eyes of the reader.)
That's the kind of fairly subtle that often goes unnoticed by reporters, but it's actually quite common. During the 2007/2008 presidential primary debates, for example, it was common for the Democratic candidates to be asked only one question about health care reform: How you gonna pay for it? (The Republicans, meanwhile, were not typically asked how they would pay for their tax cuts. In one debate, MSNBC's Chris Matthews even encouraged the GOPers to propose more tax cuts, rather challenging them to explain how they'd pay for any of it.)
And this kind of thing isn't limited to health care coverage. Last March, President Obama unveiled a budget outline that cut taxes for the vast majority of Americans, while raising them on those who make more than $200,000 a year. And, as I explained at the time, much of the media focused like a laser on the tax increases, all but ignoring the cuts:
The [Washington Post] article was chock-full of details about the tax hikes, referring to "nearly $1 trillion in new taxes over the next decade on the nation's highest earners ... $318 billion in new taxes on families in the highest income brackets, who would see new limits on the value of the tax breaks from itemized deductions. ... That proposal is a fraction of the new taxes Obama proposes to heap on the nation's highest earners. ... Hedge fund managers would take an even bigger hit. ... Oil and gas companies would be asked to pay an extra $31 billion over the next 10 years ... Corporations that operate overseas could expect to pay $210 billion more over the next 10 years."
By my count, at least 484 of the article's 1,284 words were about the tax increases in Obama's proposal. Among those 484 words was this quote from House GOP leader John Boehner: "The era of big government is back, and Democrats are asking you to pay for it." That simply isn't true, unless you make more than $200,000 a year -- though the Post simply presented Boehner's claim without rebuttal.
And how did the Post address the tax cuts in Obama's plan? The article devoted just 39 words to them. Among other omissions, the Post completely ignored the fact that the plan makes permanent the Bush tax cuts for the vast majority of Americans.
And by the following Monday, tax cuts had disappeared entirely from the Post's reporting. Under the headline "Aides Defend President's Budget; White House and Fiscal Conservatives Set for Showdown," the Post reported Obama's budget would be "raising taxes on top income earners and oil and gas companies" and again quoted a Republican criticizing the tax increases. But there wasn't so much as a hint that most Americans would see their tax bills go down.
The New York Times' coverage of Obama's proposal was little better -- and cable news was often even worse.
Here's one indication of how hysterical the media went over potential tax increases for very few Americans: both The New York Times and ABC News rushed to produce reports about wealthy taxpayers purportedly seeking to reduce their incomes to avoid paying the higher tax rates. The ABC article in particular was deeply flawed, prompting widespread condemnation that led to an editor's note and re-write that improved things -- if only a little.
The conservative framing reporters are detecting in Wall Street Journal articles lately is certainly not limited to news outlets owned by Rupert Murdoch. It's quite common across the board, and is a key piece of evidence that the "liberal media" is no such thing.
P.S.: Look back at those examples of complaints from WSJ reporters: "global warming skeptics have gotten a steady ride." That's pretty clearly true of the Washington Post (among others), too.