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.
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On Special Report, Carl Cameron uncritically reported, "The president wanted 75 percent of the package distributed in 18 months. Republicans say that's not going to happen with this package." Cameron then aired a clip of Rep. Jerry Lewis asserting, "Only 11 percent of the appropriations in this bill would be spent by the end of '09, 47 percent would be spent by fiscal year '10, 53 percent would not be spent until after October of 2-11." In doing so, Cameron misleadingly suggested that Lewis had been discussing the entire recovery bill, when Lewis was discussing only the appropriations provisions in the bill. According to the CBO, 74.2 percent of the total package would be spent within 19 months.
On Fox News' Special Report, Carl Cameron repeated a frequent GOP talking point in reporting that "there could be money ... for such organizations as ACORN" included in the economic recovery plan. In fact, the bill does not mention ACORN or otherwise single it out for funding; ACORN itself has said that it is ineligible for the funds and has no plans to apply for them.
A Washington Times editorial -- also published on the paper's website alongside a photo of Adolf Hitler -- compared the "spirit of the partisans of efficiency" who support a provision in the economic recovery bill that would attempt to improve "efficiency" of health-care delivery by providing for electronic medical records to the "Nazi version of efficiency" in which "elderly people with incurable diseases, young children who were critically disabled, and others who were deemed non-productive, were euthanized."
CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight and Fox News' Hannity advanced the claim that the economic recovery bill contains $30 million to protect the salt marsh harvest mouse in San Francisco. In fact, the bill does not contain any language directing funds to San Francisco wetlands or the salt marsh harvest mouse in the San Francisco wetlands. Even the GOP aide who originated the claim has reportedly said that "[t]here is no language in the bill that says this money will go to this project."
Imagine how much more illuminating the 'debate' over the stimulus package would be if the press ever bothered to put the partisan sniping in context. Here's one example.
The press today continues to focus on the GOP doomsday scenarios about what Obama's economic initiative will mean to America and how it's going to gut the economy. How it will put America on the road to "financial disaster," as Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) declared last weekend. And of course, his dire rhetoric generated headlines. ("We're taking an enormous risk -- an enormous risk -- with other people's money," added Sen. Mitch McConnell this week.)
The press takes these swipes very seriously, in part because the press always treats GOP rhetoric about the economy and finances seriously. Why? Because Republicans know economics. Everybody inside the Beltway understands that CW.
Just like the GOP knew economics back in 1993 when the new Democratic president Bill Clinton struggled to get his centerpiece economic legislation passed. Back then the GOP was sure the bill was a recipe for disaster. At the time Newt Gingrich announced "The tax increase will kill jobs and lead to a recession, and the recession will force people off of work and onto unemployment and will actually increase the deficit." He was positive a recession would ruin America's economy within the "next year," or even "over the next 60 days."
And Newt wasn't alone. The whole GOP crew was in Chicken Little mode and the press back then, just like today, made sure to record and amplify every dire warning: "A recipe for economic disaster," warned Phil Crane of Illinois. "It is going to lead to a Clintastrophy, an economic Clintastrophy," added Indiana's Dan Burton.
That rhetoric, which clearly failed to foresee the 1990's decade worth of prosperity under Clinton, is eerily similar to the GOP rhetoric today. But the press can't, or doesn't want to, note the connection. Instead, the media opt for context-free coverage of the stimulus 'debate.'
Rush Limbaugh falsely claimed that Democrats "have reformatted the [economic recovery] bill -- they've made it a PDF file when they posted it. ... And, so, you can read every page, but you cannot keyword search it. It's not a text file as legislation normally is as posted on these public websites. They don't want anybody knowing what's in this." In fact, as Adobe Systems notes of PDFs: "You can run a search using either the Search window or the Find toolbar. In either case, Reader searches the PDF body text, layers, form fields, and digital signatures."
MSNBC's Joe Scarborough falsely suggested that Rep. Barney Frank is only now, in the wake of the mortgage crisis, taking the position that the government should focus on the expansion of affordable rental housing, rather than enacting policies geared toward universal home ownership. In fact, Frank has long advocated that the government focus on expanding affordable rental housing.
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Fox News' Glenn Beck aired an on-screen graphic with the headline, "THEN ... WAGNER ACT," which falsely asserted that if 30 percent of employees want a union, "it gets established." In fact, the Wagner Act, which was passed in the 1930s, required that for union representation to be established, a majority of employees in a bargaining unit within a company had to "designate or select" a union to represent them. The National Labor Relations Act as it stands today also contains a majority requirement.
A McClatchy article asserted that "a range of economists" believe that the economic recovery bill "is short on incentives to get consumers spending again and long on social goals that won't stimulate economic activity." But the only person identified as being associated with Democrats or progressives in the article did not criticize the bill; rather, as the McClatchy reporter noted, he called it "a necessary condition for economic stabilization and recovery."