Recently, The New Republic launched a feature on its website called the "In-House Critics" wherein they've called upon two columnists to help them in "Keeping TNR Honest." One of these columnists is Jim Manzi, a contributing editor at National Review and senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. Manzi is a conservative who acknowledges the realities of climate change, but argues against action to mitigate its effects.
As Joseph Romm noted over at Climate Progress, the notion of hiring Manzi as a "critic" of TNR's articles on climate change is quite bizarre, given Manzi's recent track record. In his first column titled "Why the Decision to Tackle Climate Change Isn't as Simple as Al Gore Says," Manzi's argument against action on climate change essentially boils down to the notion that the impact of climate change on the global GDP will be less than the cost of attempting to mitigate carbon emissions and rising global temperatures.
However, Romm and many others have noted that this rationale is quite easily discredited. Not only does Manzi's argument disregard the non-economic impact of climate change on the planet (which marine ecologist John Bruno describes as including "increased morbidity and mortality from heatwaves, floods and droughts" and "increased damages from storms and floods") he also ignores the fact that the IPCC report he cites states that "developing countries are expected to experience larger percentage losses."
Additionally, Bruno notes that "when the variance around the cost and benefit values in Manzi's analysis is taken into account, there isn't any difference between them. In other words, based on the available information, the 1-5% of GDP benefit is not different from the ~6% GDP cost."
It really makes you wonder: Why would The New Republic invite someone to "call [them] out when they see us making dubious intellectual leaps" whose own argument is quite "dubious" itself?
First there was Jake Tapper, interim-host of ABC's This Week, partnering with PolitiFact.com to offer viewers a fact-check of the Sunday morning program.
In an act of policing itself, today TNR launches The In-House Critics, a blog that offers regular criticism of itself from the Right and Left.
Editor Franklin Foer explained in a statement that "while disagreement between writers exists in spades on TNR.com, The In-House Critics represents an experiment in formalizing it."
So they've asked Jim Manzi ("several clicks to our right") and Michael Kazin ("several to our left") to "regularly disagree with us-to write short pieces that call us out when they see us making dubious intellectual leaps, and to serve as collegial irritants to our assumptions."
While I doubt other publications will take TNR's lead it would certainly be refreshing to see others looking at their own work with a critical eye. I'm not holding my breath though. Remember, none of Tapper's rivals have followed his example. In fact, two of them have said people watching at home can fact-check on their own time.
The New Republic praises Andrew Breitbart for avoiding the extreme elements of the "Tea Party" movement:
While bashing the media, Breitbart is a firewall against some of the tea party movement's more extreme, insular elements. His sites have never veered into birtherism, and he defended Generation Zero director Steve Bannon when the crowd instinctively booed the filmmaker's Harvard-to-Goldman Sachs career track.
Boy, "never" just isn't what it used to be.
If you go to Big Hollywood's home page and type in the words "Obama birth certificate," the fourth hit is a piece titled "In Defense of the Birthers." The author of that piece says he isn't a birther, but they make some good points, and argues "For all of these reasons and many, many more, Barack Obama seems to be, if not un-American, then at least not-American. Which brings us back to citizenship. The question the Birthers are really trying to ask isn't 'is Barack Obama one of us.' He plainly is not one of us."
The second hit is a column arguing "For my part, I hope Obama is an American citizen. ... The hypocrisy of liberals is apparent in the fact that not a single one has expressed any concern over Obama's refusal to offer up any of those documents or expressed the slightest alarm over the Constitution's being treated like so much toilet paper."
And there's more.
So, we know The New Republic didn't bother to do a quick search on MediaMatters.org for "Breitbart birther," and they didn't bother to search Breitbart's web sites, either. The question, then, is what TNR based its claim that Breitbart's "sites have never veered into birtherism" upon? Did they just take Breitbart's word for it?
Breitbart, by the way, calls the TNR article a "must read":
Gee, I wonder why.
UPDATE: TNR has now changed its article to read "Breitbart is a firewall against some of the tea party movement's more extreme, insular elements. His sites have only occasionally* veered into birtherism..." That's what qualifies you as a "firewall" against the "extreme" these days? "Only occasionally" veering into birtherism? Wow. And I'd still love to hear an explanation for how TNR got that wrong in the first place, given that the most cursory check possible would have shown that it isn't true that Bretbart's sites "never" veer into birtherism.
Here's The New Republic's Jonathan Chait:
In my field, we have something called the National Magazine Awards. Magazine writers tend to be both obsessed with who wins and convinced the process is a pathetic joke. This isn't just sour grapes, either. The last time The New Republic won a National Magazine Award, it was for publishing Betsy McCaughey's infamous anti-Clintoncare screed "No Exit," which is probably the worst article in the history of TNR. It's as if the last American to win the Nobel Peace Prize was Timothy McVeigh.
Which, of course, raises the question of why TNR hasn't given back the award -- and why its editor claims the magazine has "recanted" and "apologized" for "No Exit," even though it has done nothing of the kind.
The New Republic's Michelle Cottle examines "the never-ending lunacy of Betsy McCaughey," including a lengthy examination of the largely-forgotten hilarity and insanity that marked McCaughey's time as Lieutenant Governor of New York.
Cottle's article seems to be part of TNR's continuing efforts to make up for inflicting McCaughey's lies on the rest of us in the first place. Just this morning, for example, Politico's Michael Calderone quotes TNR editor Franklin Foer saying of the magazine's publication of McCaughey's falsehood-riddled attack on the Clinton health care bill "an original sin that I hope we can expunge."
Cottle pulls few punches in her profile of McCaughey, beginning with a description of Brookings Institution scholar Henry Aaron's opening statement during a recent debate with McCaughey, which Aaron used to make clear his opponent's dishonesty:
So it is that Aaron finds himself standing in the Crystal Ballroom of the Doubletree Hotel in Arlington, Virginia, running through PowerPoint slides that detail--quote by excruciating quote--McCaughey's reputation as among the most irresponsible, dishonest, and destructive players on the public stage. He starts with Politifact.com's categorization of her commentary as "Pants on Fire," followed by New York Times articles debunking her assertions, followed by complaints from economist Gail Wilensky (adviser to John McCain's presidential campaign and head of Medicare financing under the first President Bush) that "these charges of death panels, euthanasia and withholding care from the disabled give rational, knowledgeable, thoughtful conservatives a bad name." Next comes a denunciation of McCaughey's "fraudulent scare tactics" by John Paris, professor of bioethics at Boston College; AARP executive vice president John Rother's protest that her statements are "rife with gross--even cruel--distortions"; a scolding editorial by The Washington Post about McCaughey's characterization of White House health policy adviser Ezekiel "Zeke" Emanuel as "Dr. Death"; and, to wrap it all up, Stuart Butler, vice president of domestic policy at the conservative Heritage Foundation, expressing dismay that the "personal attacks on good people like Zeke are outrageous. There are real policy issues that should be debated vigorously, but slandering a good person's name is beyond the pale." At one point, the debate moderator felt moved to reach over and give McCaughey's hand a comforting pat.
Cottle concludes that McCaughey's refusal to acknowledge her own dishonesty is what makes her infuriating:
Since her earliest days in the spotlight, McCaughey has presented herself as a just-the-facts-please, above-the-fray political outsider. In reality, she has proved devastatingly adept at manipulating charts and stats to suit her ideological (and personal) ambitions. It is this proud piety concerning her own straight-shooting integrity combined with her willingness to peddle outrageous fictions--and her complete inability to recognize, much less be shamed by, this behavior--that makes McCaughey so infuriating.
I don't think that is actually what makes McCaughey infuriating. There are plenty of liars in the world who nobody gets worked up about -- because their lies don't drive major media coverage about an important issue. That's what's infuriating about Betsy McCaughey: major news organizations give her a platform. They run her op-eds, they host her on television, they quote her, they allow her falsehoods to shape the public debate about health care. They do this despite knowing that she's a liar.
That's what's infuriating: that someone whose defining quality for the past 15 years has been her dishonesty about health care reform should be granted a role shaping the debate over health care reform by major media outlets. And, unfortunately, Cottle doesn't address that issue at all. How did TNR come to publish McCaughey in the first place? Don't they employ fact-checkers? Shouldn't they? How do her false claims continue to make it into print? Why do television news shows book her? What does it say about the news media that they grant McCaughey a platform? That's the important part. If McCaughey was just another crackpot spouting off lies and conspiracy theories while nursing a cup of coffee at the local diner, nobody would care.
But she isn't. And as Calderone notes, TNR owner Martin Peretz still stands by her:
"I do not think Betsy is an intellectual fraud. Not at all," Peretz wrote in an email.
"I have not read the Cottle piece and I do look forward to doing that," he continued. "But the issue that McCaughey went after was one of the most intricate and economically challenging ones that America has faced, as we can see from the present debate."
Also, Peretz wrote, "their [the Clinton administration's] worst tactical error was to do up what was I think [was] an eleven-page memo 'rebutting' the New Republic article, a sign of its importance and weight."
The owner of a magazine that published a deeply dishonest attack on the Clinton health care reform efforts thinks it's appropriate for him to lecture the Clinton administration on why they were unsuccessful in combatting the lies he published?
That's the story here. Not Betsy McCaughey's shamelessness -- the irresponsibility of the news organizations that promote her, and the arrogance of someone who lectures others for failing to properly clean up his own mess.
Rolling Stone recently revealed that in 1994, tobacco giant Philip Morris implemented a "strategy to derail Hillarycare," which included an "effort to 'work on the development of favorable pieces' with 'friendly contacts in the media'" -- specifically mentioning the company's collaboration with serial health care misinformer Betsy McCaughey on her 1994 New Republic hit piece on the Clintons' health care reform bill. This latest disclosure, combined with a previously exposed conflict of interest, should destroy any remaining credibility she has with the media as an expert in health care reform acting in the public interest.
Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson reports that Betsy McCaughey's mid-1990s lies about health care reform -- lies that helped torpedo the Clinton administration's efforts to provide universal health care -- were, in effect, the result of tobacco-industry propaganda:
McCaughey's lies were later debunked in a 1995 post-mortem in The Atlantic, and The New Republic recanted the piece in 2006. But what has not been reported until now is that McCaughey's writing was influenced by Philip Morris, the world's largest tobacco company, as part of a secret campaign to scuttle Clinton's health care reform. (The measure would have been funded by a huge increase in tobacco taxes.) In an internal company memo from March 1994, the tobacco giant detailed its strategy to derail Hillarycare through an alliance with conservative think tanks, front groups and media outlets. Integral to the company's strategy, the memo observed, was an effort to "work on the development of favorable pieces" with "friendly contacts in the media." The memo, prepared by a Philip Morris executive, mentions only one author by name:
"Worked off-the-record with [The] Manhattan [Institute] and writer Betsy McCaughey as part of the input to the three-part exposé in The New Republic on what the Clinton plan means to you. The first part detailed specifics of the plan."
Now, it isn't necessarily shocking that a reporter would talk off-the-record with business interests while writing an article about legislation that would affect them. But McCaughey's relationship with Big Tobacco was merely not that of "reporter" and "source."
See, McCaughey was working for The Manhattan Institute at the time. And The Manhattan Institute was funded by -- you guessed it -- tobacco companies.
While Phillip Morris was "working with" McCaughey in 1994, the tobacco giant was also budgeting $25,000 for The Manhattan Institute for 1995. The Manhattan Institute has also taken tobacco money from Brown & Williamson, R.J. Reynolds, and Lorillard.
So that's where McCaughey's dishonest New Republic article -- the article that did more than any other to kill health care reform in the 1990s -- came from. The tobacco companies that funded the "think tank" that employed McCaughey "worked off-the-record" with her to shape the article.
The New Republic eventually "recanted" McCaughey's article, a decade after the damage was done, and apologized for it (though then-editor Andrew Sullivan stands by the decision to publish the article.)
So, now that Betsy McCaughey is again trying to kill health care reform, you have to wonder -- who is paying for her deception this time? And which news organizations will eventually have to apologize for promoting her dishonest work?
A New Republic article wrongly described Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. as "one of the only Republican governors to accept money from Obama's stimulus package." In fact, all Republican governors have requested and received funds from the stimulus package.
The New Republic's Jeffrey Rosen and Fox's Andrew Napolitano cited criticisms by unnamed former law clerks of Judge Sonia Sotomayor, a potential Supreme Court candidate. According to an American University law professor, Rosen's and Napolitano's citation of law clerks is "extremely problematic."
A New Republic article on Judge Sonia Sotomayor falsely asserted that "a conservative colleague, Ralph Winter, included an unusual footnote in a case suggesting that an earlier opinion by Sotomayor might have inadvertently misstated the law in a way that misled litigants." But Winter's footnote neither says nor suggests any such thing.
In a Politico op-ed, The New Republic's James Kirchick cited Wesley Clark's comments about Sen. John McCain on CBS' Face the Nation as part of a "pattern of attacks meant to insinuate that McCain's Vietnam experience not only shouldn't count as meaningful 'experience,' but rendered him psychologically unfit for presidential office." In fact, Clark did not "attack" McCain's Vietnam experience or suggest that it "rendered him psychologically unfit for presidential office." Kirchick also asserted that "one would be foolish not to at least consider the possibility they [the "attacks"] were coordinated by the Obama campaign." But Clark has been saying for months that McCain's military service alone does not make him qualified to be president, including while he was speaking on behalf of Sen. Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.
New Republic special correspondent Thomas B. Edsall claimed that "the wing of the [Democratic] party that saw no strategic error in nominating McGovern, Dukakis, and Kerry still controls the primaries." In fact, exit polling from the 2000 and 2004 New Hampshire primaries and entrance polling from the 2000 and 2004 Iowa caucuses do not indicate that John Kerry and Al Gore performed better among "liberal elites."
In a post on The New Republic's weblog The Plank, editor-in-chief Martin Peretz blamed Bill Clinton for Sen. Joseph Lieberman's defeat in the Connecticut Democratic Senate primary. Peretz wrote: "Lieberman and [Ned] Lamont were running dead even in the polls, more or less. Clinton's appearance began Lieberman's decline. Within two or three days, Lieberman was down by ten points."