Last week we noted it might--just might--be helpful for news consumers if the press, while covering the stimulus 'debate,' reminded people how Republicans treated then-new president Bill Clinton's centerpiece economic initiative in 1993. (Hint: Republicans uniformly dumped all over it and claimed it would ruin the U.S. economy. Sound familiar?)
Over at Crook and Liars, Jon Perr adds more context to the 1993 vote:
As it turns out, Obama wasn't the first Democrat to learn the hard way that bipartisanship is a one-way street for the GOP when it comes to the economy. In 1993, Bill Clinton's $496 billion stimulus and deficit-cutting program passed without a single Republican vote.
Perr also provided the helpful table below. But don't look for it to be reproduced anywhere in the mainstream press. Journalists are too busy playing dumb about 1993, which, c'mon people, has no relevance to current events.
Matt Yglesias catches Politico's David Rogers privileging the lie in an article about high-speed rail funding in the stimulus bill. Rogers quotes GOP Rep. Candice Miller "explaining" that she voted against the bill because "the Senate majority leader has earmarked $8 billion for a rail system from Las Vegas to Los Angeles." The problem is, that isn't true - and Rogers doesn't tell his readers that.
Rogers ... knows what the truth is, knows what conservatives have been saying, and knows that the two are different things, but he can't quite seem to describe what's happening with regular English words. ... Rep Miller wasn't "explaining" anything, she was lying to her constituents. Nor were conservatives running a "campaign to find pork barrel projects int he stimulus bill" they were inventing fictional projects. Nor were obscure House backbenchers like Miller running a rogue operation here. House Minority Leader John Boehner led the charge on peddling this lie, and Senator Jim Demint was on the case as well.
This doesn't seem very complicated to me, but many reporters still don't seem to understand that when you quote a false claim without making clear that it is false, you are spreading a falsehood. You are granting an advantage to dishonest claims at the expense of truth.
And -- this part really should go without saying -- that's bad.
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A new statement from the Center for Economic and Policy Research blasts the media's coverage of the stimulus:
The media badly failed in its responsibility to inform the public about one of the most important economic policy proposals to come before Congress in the last decade. Most of the public still does not even know what stimulus means, in large part because reporters apparently did not want to call attention to the fact that spending is, almost by definition, stimulus.
The media also failed to put the proposal in any perspective, routinely using adjectives like "enormous" or "massive" without any reference to the size of the demand gap the stimulus was designed to fill. They also failed to put the various components of the stimulus in perspective by, for example, informing the public that the $50 million in funding for the NEA, that was so despised by the Republicans, was equal to less than 0.007 percent of the total package.
The media have the time to familiarize themselves with the concept of stimulus and to look up the numbers that would allow them to put spending and tax proposals in a meaningful perspective. Their audience does not have the time to do this work. The media once again badly failed the public in its reporting on a major economic issue."
Quite right. I have argued several times that the news media's obsessive focus on politics rather than policy serves their readers and viewers poorly. Here's one example:
Consumers of news lack the time, expertise, and, in many cases, ability to determine which of two contradictory statements by competing political figures is true. ... That's where news organizations should -- but, with depressing frequency, have not -- come in. They have -- or should have -- the expertise and the time to assess those claims, and to report the facts. That's what readers, viewers, and listeners need. That's what journalism should be all about.
On the other hand, as consumers of news, we don't need journalists telling us what the "political impact" of something is going to be; how it will "play at the polls." It's our job to decide that. It's our job to decide who we'll vote for and why; how we'll assess the parties' competing agendas and approaches to the problems we face.
Instead of telling us how they think we'll react, we need journalists to give us the information upon which we can make an informed decision. To tell us the facts, and the truth, and the relevant context. Then we'll tell them the political impact.
A Washington Times editorial falsely claimed that the Congressional Budget Office "estimated that the full cost of [the economic recovery] bill ... will reach $3.2 trillion by 2019." In fact, more than half of that $3.2 trillion figure comes from the cost of permanently extending more than 20 provisions in the recovery bill, which the bill does not do, as CBO director Douglas Elmendorf has noted.
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Headline from ABC News [emphasis added]:
More Billions for GM, Chrysler? Auto Beggars to D.C.
We're having trouble remembering headlines that have depicted Wall Street bankers as "beggars" when they lobbied from government bailout help. Then again, in recent months the press has been pretty open about its contempt for middle class autoworkers.
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Echoing a GOP press release, The Washington Times asserted of the economic recovery bill: "[A]t [the Congressional Budget Office's] best-case scenario of 3.6 million extra jobs at its peak in 2010, that works out to nearly $220,000 per job." However, this claim disregards tangible benefits of the stimulus package besides job creation, and economists have estimated that given predicted economic growth the actual cost per job is less than $70,000.
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From its editorial today, which lectures Obama about his learning curve [emphasis added]:
The narrow and rushed passage of his stimulus package underscored the difficulty of living up to his grand promises of transparency; the campaign trail talk about not cutting deals behind closed doors yielded to the demands of the moment.
The final vote for passage of Obama's $787 billion stimulus bill in the Senate was 60-38, and in the House, 246-183. But boy, votes don't get much more "narrow" than that, do they?
And I realize context has been banned within the Beltway when reporting on Obama's legislative 'struggles,' but if anyone's interested, back in 2001 when president Bush passed his $1.35 trillion tax cuts, the final vote in the Senate was 62-38, and in the House, 240-154.
I'm not even gonna check Nexis before I say that the first person to find a May, 2001, Washington Post reference to the "narrow" passage of Bush's tax plan, I'll send them a Media Matters rectangle magnet.
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Does any opinion outlet create, and then successfully demolish, more flimsy straw men than the diligent writers at the WSJ? It's hard to imagine because it's almost if WSJ Op-ed editors require their conservatives opinionists construct lazy, intellectually dishonest arguments.
The latest to comply was Bradley Schiller, an econ prof at the University of Nevada, Reno, who dutifully echoed the GOP talking points from last week that Obama was fear mongering the stimulus bill and trying to scare Americans about the state of the economy. We quickly dispatched with that nonsense here. (Hint: Americans were scared out of the bejesus before Obama ever starting lobbying for his stimulus plan.)
But what was so comical about Schiller's effort was his embarrassing use of the straw man in the process. Basically, Schiller wrote an entire column berating Obama for comparing the state of our current economy to the Great Depression. Slight problem: Obama never did that.
Here's Schiller [emphasis added]:
As [Obama] tells it, today's economy is the worst since the Great Depression. Without his Recovery and Reinvestment Act, he says, the economy will fall back into that abyss and may never recover.
Rule No. 1 of a lazy writer: He tells you what so-and-so said, but doesn't' show you. So here, readers had to take Schiller's word for it that Obama claimed "today's economy" is the worst since the Great Depression. Normally, if a writer builds an entire column around what somebody said, the writer, y'know, actually quotes that somebody. But not Schiller.
Has Obama ever claimed that today's economy is the worst since the Great Depression? Readers have no idea, because Schiller can't be bothered with quoting the president.
Schiller then continued and propped up the straw man:
This fear mongering may be good politics, but it is bad history and bad economics. It is bad history because our current economic woes don't come close to those of the 1930s.
Ugh. Schiller then went on for multiple paragraphs, quoting all kinds of statistics, to prove that there's no way "our current economic woes" are as bad as the Great Depression. Thanks for the lesson professor. Thanks to Schiller's deep research we all now know today's unemployment numbers are not as bad as the Great Depression, even though Obama never claimed the numbers were analogous. In fact, no sane person would make that comparison because nobody thinks we're currently--as of this moment--suffering through the second Great Depression. But Schiller pretended that's what Obama suggested.
Hey, no wonder straw men are so easy to knock down!
For the record, here's what Obama said (and what Schiller wouldn't tell readers):
"We are going through the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression."
Note a couple things. Obama did not suggest, as Schiller falsely claimed at the outset of his column, that "today's economy" is just as bad as the Great Depression. Obama said we were experiencing the "worst economic crisis" since the Great Depression. Words have meaning, and an econ prof ought to be able to differentiate between the "today's economy" and an "economic crisis." Either that, or Schiller played dumb really hard.
Second, note the "since" that Obama used. He claimed today's economic crisis represents the worst since the Great Depression. But in his column, Schiller quoted all kinds of stats to prove today's woes don't compare to the Great Depression. But Obama never compared it to the Great Depression. He said it's the worst since.
Does Schiller honestly not realize that by claiming today's economy crisis is the worst since the Great Depression, that Obama was not claiming today's economy is just as bad as the Great Depression. Or was Schiller aggressively playing dumb. Again?
We've got a hunch.
Fox News' Bill Sammon claimed that "[p]eople look at" the economic recovery bill "and see ... some mouse is being protected in [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi's district" -- echoing a falsehood previously forwarded by several other Fox News hosts and reporters. The bill, in fact, contains no language allocating funding to protect the salt marsh harvest mouse in San Francisco wetlands.
George Stephanopoulos did not challenge Sen. Lindsey Graham's claim that "11 percent of the appropriated money in the [economic recovery] bill hits in 2009." In fact, according to the Congressional Budget Office, approximately 15 percent of the total spending in the bill and 23 percent of all spending and tax cuts included in the bill will take effect by September 30, 2009. Stephanopoulos also again advanced a discredited Republican calculation of the stimulus bill's job-creation costs.