The Washington Times has recently published several articles noting* a partial Congressional Budget Office analysis of the stimulus bill to support claims that most of the money in the bill would not be spent quickly. But in an article reporting former comptroller general David Walker discussing CBO's analysis of infrastructure spending and a separate article reporting that "[c]ritics say Obama's economic bill lacks stimulus," the Times ignored the conclusion of a more recent CBO analysis of the entire bill that 64 percent of the combined cost of the spending increases and tax cuts in the bill would occur by September 30, 2010.
Lou Dobbs falsely claimed on his radio show that "the Congressional Budget Office did a study on the president's so-called economic stimulus package. It says output would be increased somewhere between one and a half, three and a half percent." In fact, the CBO estimated that output would increase "between 1.5 percent and 3.6 percent" in fiscal year 2009 alone and estimated that output would increase as a result of the stimulus package in subsequent years as well.
Fox News' Glenn Beck falsely claimed that "[o]nly 3 percent" of the Democratic economic stimulus plan would be "spent in the next 12 months." Beck's figures were based on a partial Congressional Budget Office cost estimate that excluded faster-moving provisions in the bill. According to the CBO's full cost estimate of the bill, 11.2 percent of the $816 billion bill would be spent in the first seven-and-a-half months after the bill is enacted, and, when including the bill's tax cut provisions, $169 billion -- or 20.7 percent of the bill's total cost -- would take effect in the first seven-and-a-half months.
The Hill's Jared Allen repeated the false claim that ACORN is, in Allen's words, a "beneficiar[y] of the stimulus package," and uncritically reported NRCC communications director Ken Spain's false suggestion that the stimulus bill includes "a $4.2 billion bailout" for ACORN. In fact, the bill does not mention ACORN or otherwise single it out for funding. Additionally, the bill requires that the $4.19 billion it allocates for "neighborhood stabilization activities" be distributed through competitive processes.
Fox News' Carl Cameron falsely claimed of the economic recovery bills: "In both the House and Senate packages, more than half of the money is reserved for at least two years from now, and Republicans argue that that's simply not good enough." In fact, the Congressional Budget Office has estimated that about 64 percent of the House version of the recovery bill would be paid out within 19 months, and about 86 percent by the end of fiscal year 2011.
On CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight, Ed Henry asserted that the Congressional Budget Office's cost estimate of the economic stimulus bill "basically says that 52 percent of the money will be spent out over the next 18 months, that some 64, 65 percent of the bill will be paid out over the first two years." However, Henry's calculations are based on outlays only, excluding the plan's tax cut provisions. Including both outlays and tax cuts, the CBO estimated that about 64 percent of the recovery bill would be paid out within 19 months, and about 86 percent by the end of fiscal year 2011.
On Campbell Brown: No Bias, No Bull, Campbell Brown and Ali Velshi repeatedly claimed that provisions in the economic recovery bill that extend food stamps and unemployment insurance payments are, in Velshi's words, "not stimulus." But the same day, the Congressional Budget Office director stated in congressional testimony: "Transfers to persons (for example, unemployment insurance and nutrition assistance) would also have a significant impact on GDP. Because a large amount of such spending can occur quickly, transfers would have a significant impact on GDP by early 2010."
Several media figures have likened House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's comments defending a provision in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which would expand Medicaid funding for family planning services, to China's "one-child policy," eugenics, social engineering, and Nazism. In fact, the family planning provision does not mandate either limits to family size or eugenics but, rather, would expand "the number of states that can use Medicaid money, with a federal match, to help low-income women prevent unwanted pregnancies."
In the course of an otherwise useful article about FDR's approach to the great depression, the New York Times offers a misleading assessment of the unemployment rate under Roosevelt:
During the 1930s, the unemployment rate fell somewhat under Roosevelt, but remained stubbornly high, averaging more than 17 percent for the decade.
There are a few problems with this.
First, the Times doesn't provide a starting point - what was the unemployment rate before Roosevelt took office? 17 percent sounds awfully high, but it could actually be an impressively low figure if the starting point was much higher. Which it was - 25 percent in 1933, Roosevelt's first year in office; 24 percent the year before. (The Times does note the 25 percent starting point later in the article, too late for it to provide effective context for the 17 percent figure.)
Second, in assessing the efficacy of a program begun in 1933, it is basically meaningless to use average unemployment rate for the entire decade. We can hardly credit or blame the New Deal for the unemployment situation in place before the New Deal began. What matters isn't the average unemployment for the entire decade, which includes several years before Roosevelt even took office - what matters is the trend line. Did unemployment go up or down? How much? That's what matters; raw numbers - particularly raw numbers averaged over the entire decade - are badly misleading.
For an example of how misleading it is to use average unemployment numbers to assess the effectiveness of a president in combating unemployment, we need only look to the conservative talking point that average unemployment under George W. Bush was lower than average unemployment under Bill Clinton.
Maybe true, but meaningless - that measure credits Bush for Clinton's success, and penalizes Clinton for the failures of Bush's father.
See, the average unemployment rate under Clinton is artificially high due to the high unemployment rate when he took office; Bush's is artificially low due to the low rate when he took office. If you look instead at trend lines, you see that unemployment went down under Clinton and up under Bush. That's far more useful in assessing the two presidents effectiveness in fighting unemployment than average numbers that paint a misleading picture.
Earlier today, I wrote that it's important for journalists to actually apply some critical thought to their work rather than simply regurgitating Republican talking points.
Right on cue, here's Marc Ambinder (emphasis added):
Here's a peek at the major planks in the economic recovery plan being introduced by House Republicans tomorrow.
It starts with a permanent five percentage point reduction for those who qualify for the 10% and 15% tax brackets, averaging about $500 per year for the poorest of the bunch and $1,200 for the slightly more wealthy.
The talking point here is that poorer Americans would see more money from the GOP plan than from Obama's -- and it would be permanent.
Well, of course that's the "talking point." Who the hell cares? Is it true? Marc Ambinder doesn't say. He doesn't even acknowledge that it might be an interesting question. The concept of which plan actually gives "poorer Americans" "more money" is literally nowhere to be found in his post.
There are people for whom "distributing Republican talking points" is part of their job description. They are called "deputy press secretaries," and they work at the RNC and in Republican congressional offices. Reporters for The Atlantic ought to behave a bit differently.
(Is it true? I don't know -- but it seems unlikely. The GOP plan, as Ambinder describes it, would do nothing for the many Americans who work hard and pay state, local, sales, and FICA taxes -- but who do not make enough money to pay federal income taxes.)
Parroting GOP talking points, Rush Limbaugh falsely claimed $4.19 billion of President Barack Obama's economic recovery package "is going to ACORN." In fact, the bill does not mention ACORN or otherwise single it out for funding.
Sean Hannity asserted that the economic stimulus bill would amount to spending at least $217,000 for every job created, echoing a false calculation from a press release issued by the Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee and repeated by numerous media figures. In fact, by calculating the per-job cost by dividing the estimated total cost of the stimulus package by the estimated number of jobs created -- and thus suggesting that the sole purpose of that package is to create jobs -- these media figures ignored other tangible benefits stemming from the package, such as infrastructure improvements and education, health, and public safety investments.
A San Francisco Chronicle article reported the false claim that $4.19 billion of President Barack Obama's economic recovery plan "would go to the liberal housing activist group ACORN." In fact, the bill does not mention ACORN or otherwise single it out for funding.
Glenn Thrush seems to think his post yesterday about Nancy Pelosi & family planning funds is vindicated by reports that House Democrats may strip those funds from their stimulus package.
Here's Thrush today:
Apparently she has -- at the behest of President Obama.
Actually, Thrush "took some heat" for baselessly repeating bogus GOP spin, and falsely suggesting that public support for contraception funding is unpopular.
Most notably, Thrush suggested supporting funding for contraceptives would make Pelosi look like a "Bay area liberal" with a "far left agenda." In fact, backing public funding for contraceptives isn't a "far-left" position, as Thrush later acknowledged. It is a position that enjoys overwhelming public support. So overwhelming that opposing such funding could probably be described as a "far-right" position.
Thrush's post yesterday was reminiscent of the first media reports during the Terry Schiavo controversy - the ones that contained the baseless speculation that the "wedge issue" would play to the GOP's benefit. But it didn't: the American public isn't where the conservatives think they are - or where reporters think they are. That's been true for quite some time.
The fact that House Democrats may drop funding for contraceptives from their bill doesn't vindicate Thrush's lazy reporting. If it says anything at all about that reporting, it is that the credulous repetition of false right-wing spin can have an effect on public policy debates. That shouldn't be something to be proud of; it should be a reminder that reporters have a responsibility to carefully and factually assess spin - and their own assumptions - before they write their articles.
On his Fox News show, Bill O'Reilly baselessly characterized the OneUnited Bank -- which received a $12 million federal loan under a provision of the Troubled Asset Relief Program written by Rep. Barney Frank -- as "Barney Frank's bank." But O'Reilly provided no evidence that Frank has a financial stake in the bank, and The Boston Globe reported that "OneUnited executives have not contributed to Frank's congressional campaigns, according to the database of Center for Responsive Politics."