February 02, 2004

Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? Part DLX

Washington Post reporters Jonathan Weisman, Mike Allen, and Fred Barbash take a dive. The first one two three four five six seven eight nine ten paragraphs of their article on the Bush budget are exactly as White House Media Affairs wanted them to be. Only in paragraph 11 is there any mention of something the Bush administration does not want stressed. And the first important substantive criticism of Bush policies and how they are presented comes only in paragraph 26.

Isn't it worth stating--somewhere in the first ten paragraphs--that the Bush budget number for 2009 omits about $160 billion in costs that the administration is on record as favoring?

Isn't the fact that the Bush budget limits itself to five years--to 2009--rather than the ten years of Clinton budgets, and limits itself to five years for a reason, worth a mention somewhere in the first ten paragraphs?

Isn't the fact that extending the Bush tax cuts would blow an annual $250 billion hole in the budget in the 2009-2012 presidential term worth mentioning in the first ten paragraphs--not in paragraph 26?

Shouldn't the article say somewhere in its first ten paragraphs that $400 billion in 2009 and $700 billion by 2014 are better forecasts of the deficit that would be produced by the policies the Bush administration advocates?

And isn't it worth turning to--as the Wall Street Journal's Alan Murray does--page 183 of the Analytical Perspectives volume to pick out the quote that "Long-run budget projections show clearly that the [federal] budget is on an unsustainable path"?

The blunt fact is that the first ten paragraphs of the article are written as if they were about a brave president and administration making tough choices to bring the deficit under control. Now I know this picture is false--that the Bush budget is, as is always the case with Bush administration economic policy, a clown show, an "exercise in fiscal fantasy" as the CBPP puts it. And Weisman, Allen, and Barbach know. But most of their readers don't know.

Bush Unveils $2.4 Trillion Fiscal 2005 Budget: $521 Billion Deficit Projected By Jonathan Weisman, Mike Allen and Fred Barbash: President Bush said this morning he is "confident" the government can halve the $521 billion deficit during the next few years, even while boosting homeland security and implementing what the administration called "the largest increase in the defense budget since the Reagan administration."

The president's comments followed release of the administration's $2.4 trillion budget proposal for the fiscal year that begins in October. The budget document acknowledged that the deficit was a "legitimate matter of concern."

But by trimming domestic spending, particularly for agricultural and environmental protection programs and by forcing Congress to exercise fiscal discipline, the administration said it expects to bring down the red ink to more acceptable levels.

"We are where we are because we went through a recession, we were attacked and we went through a war," Bush said during a photo opportunity. "These were high hurdles to overcome."

The choices in the $2.4 trillion budget closely track Bush's campaign platform, with the largest increases going toward defense, which is up 7 percent, and homeland security, which rises 10 percent. When those two categories are excluded, the rest of the budget's discretionary spending -- that is, funding that is not mandated by law -- is essentially flat at 0.5 percent, or less than the rate of inflation.

The exceptions to that freeze include the Education Department in general and the No Child Left Behind accountability program in particular. The budget includes increases for reading programs and Title I grants to school districts, which are aimed at lower income pupils; the amounts are commensurate with increases Bush proposed last year, as well. Democrats and many state and local education officials contend that the funding is still far from what is necessary to implement the testing requirements and other mandates of the No Child Left Behind law.

The December discovery of a Holstein infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease, put food safety in the spotlight and the budget includes $568 million for enhancing food and agriculture security by improving detection and deterrence measures. The White House called that a 190 percent increase over last year's budget. However, the Agriculture Department overall took one of the biggest hits in the budget.

The other biggest loser in the budget is Environmental Protection Agency, although White House officials say no enforcement funds have been cut. The Associated Press figured that the USDA's budget authority would be reduced by 8.1 percent, while EPA's budget would be cut by 7.2 percent

Under the proposal, the nation's 1.8 million federal employees would receive a 1.5 percent increase in their pay and the 2.3 million members of the armed forces and reserves would get a 3.5 percent raise.

The proposed pay raise for civilian federal workers will likely set off a skirmish with members of Congress who contend that civil servants should be paid on par with the military. Federal unions also are likely to object to Bush's proposed civilian raise, in part because pay law calls for giving a 2.5 percent raise to federal employees next year.

Only in paragraphs 11 and 12 does the story mention something that the White House would rather not have anybody pay attention to:

Bush's budget will include no additional funding for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan beyond Sept. 30, an omission that both Democrats and Republicans are questioning.

In all, Bush requested spending at the annual discretion of Congress to be held to $818 billion in fiscal 2005, a 4.1 percent increase over this year. But if emergency spending in Iraq and Afghanistan are included in this year's spending level, the Bush request will actually be a 6.3 percent cut, from $873 billion.

But by paragraphs 13-18 we're back on track:

The administration chose to highlight a number of "commitments to the future" apart from the war on terror. Among them were:

• Access to health insurance for low-income families through a refundable tax credit.

• An increase in funding for education programs, including programs for the poor, for special education and for reading programs.

• Increased money for "faith-based and community initiatives," including $1.9 billion in charitable tax incentives.

• $2.8 billion for an HIV/AIDS emergency plans, an increase of $400 million.

• Matching grants to promote "marriage and healthy family development, including abstinence by teens."

And then paragraphs 19-21 give a brief civics lesson and talk about the format of the document:

Congress must approve each part of the budget before the money is actually spent.

Although Republicans control both the House and the Senate, legislative leaders predicted that the budget would undergo major changes on its way to becoming law. These leaders said Bush did not include as much transportation funding as lawmakers will demand. Conservatives are likely to fight the increase he has proposed for the National Endowment for the Arts. Bush proposes a 6 percent increase in NASA's budget and that will be hotly debated because his proposal to return to the moon and then to Mars has not been embraced on either side of the aisle.

The actual budget is a 401-page document with a currency-green cover that looks in places like a campaign brochure, with color photographs of Bush bending over to greet an African American pupil and putting an arm around an elderly lady. One chart uses red ink to show spiking "Costs of the U.S. Tort System" in arguing for Bush's plan to limit lawsuits -- a key plank of the Bush-Cheney campaign and of his economic program.

And finally in paragraphs 22-23 a little criticism and analysis begins:

Rep. John Spratt (D-S.C.), the top Democrat on the House budget committee, issued a statement saying Bush's budget "deepens the deficits that his policies have helped to create."

"These huge deficits are not just an accounting problem," he said. "They are a moral problem because our children and grandchildren will be forced to repay the record amounts of debt we are borrowing today."

But only a very little:

In Bush's budget message to Congress, he said his three highest priorities are to "prevail in the War on Terror by defeating terrorists and their supporters," to "continue to strengthen our homeland defenses," and "building on the economic recovery that began in earnest in 2003 with policies that further promote growth and job creation."

"In addition, we will continue to strengthen the domestic institutions that best express our values, and serve the basic needs of all: good schools, quality and affordable health care, and programs that promote hope and compassion in our communities," Bush wrote.

And the first substantive critique of the Bush budget doesn't appear until paragraph 26:

The most expensive proposal of Bush's reelection campaign -- making three years of tax cuts permanent -- will largely have no impact on the president's budget deficit forecast, which extends out five years rather than 10, as was customary in the 1990s.

The true cost of extending the tax cuts would not come until 2011, long after Bush has left office. In 2012 alone, extending the president's 2001 and 2003 tax cuts would cost the Treasury $275 billion, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said last week....

Posted by DeLong at February 2, 2004 06:39 PM | TrackBack | | Other weblogs commenting on this post
Comments

I hope you've written their ombudsman Michael Getler (ombudsman@washpost.com). It won't do any good, but at least they'll know someone's watching. I'd do it myself, but I'd just be quoting you.

Posted by: Handy Fuse on February 2, 2004 07:02 PM

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Excellent analysis (I should say, takedown).

Not much left to say except my usual...

"Click my link, dammit."

Posted by: Hudson on February 2, 2004 07:05 PM

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I sent the link to this analysis to the WaPo Ombudsman. I think it's important. The more times he gets a copy of the link, the more readers he sees have seen this analysis. I also will send it to the reporters directly. If they get hundreds of emails giving this link, they will pay more attention to it.

Posted by: BayMike on February 2, 2004 07:11 PM

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Gee, I can't wait for the fiscal trainwreck to begin...

Hmm... 2012. Eight years from now. I'll be 29, almost 30 years old. Well, money doesn't matter at that age. Neither does adequate social spending. Not at all.

Somebody had better turn this thing around soon, or I'm going to be pissed (or living in Canada).

Posted by: Bolo on February 2, 2004 07:11 PM

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Bolo, adequate social spending in 2012 might matter for your parents. Or for your children. Or for you, depending on how life goes.

Posted by: Barry on February 2, 2004 07:21 PM

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Things I can't believe Republicans can say with a straight face:

Mr. Bush: "Weapons of mass destruction related program activities."

Mr Bush: "I will cut the deficit in half in 5 years."

Everyone else in that party: "The Washington Post is just another left-wing paper"

I think that more than anything else, the turn to the right, towards less analysis and more RNC talking points, of teh WaPo has been about the sharpest, most visible change in the American news media under Bush. If nothing else, it's a tossup between the WaPo and the WH Press Corps's 4 year nap.

(If you have time, please visit my web page. Thanks)

Posted by: Balta on February 2, 2004 07:21 PM

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If you would call them "evil clowns", I would agree with you the whole way.

See, I think being squirted in the face with seltzer and the floppy shoes are as funny as the next person, but I know they're cleaning out the safe while the audience roars with hilarity.

"Evil" -- as in beating them in an election is not enough. Punishment of a far more severe sort is required.

Posted by: John Thullen on February 2, 2004 07:39 PM

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Loook, over there, it's Janet's boobies...

Posted by: Hank Essay on February 2, 2004 08:02 PM

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Loook, over there, it's Janet's boobies...

Posted by: Hank Essay on February 2, 2004 08:03 PM

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I sent it along to the ombudsman too. First time I've ever done that! Now I'm curious to see if I get an actual response :-)

Posted by: Jason Lefkowitz on February 2, 2004 08:07 PM

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Puke, vomit, puke! How many passes does this moron get from the "press corps"?! Un-freakin-believable. Clinton would've been crucified for this kind of fiscal insanity. Bush's* little lap dog of a media makes sure every damn scandal is smoothed over to his liking. Lets pray this is beginning to change.

Posted by: Noah on February 2, 2004 08:52 PM

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Actually you will get a response.

I'm interviewing Getler on Wednesday for an article I'm writing about unnamed sourcing.

Getler's there to take the bullets, just like Okrent at the NYT and David Shaw at the LAT.

Posted by: David Ehrenstein on February 2, 2004 09:09 PM

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Heard from Getler yet about the Steno Sue "fire my critics" E-mail campaign?

Me either.

Posted by: WaitingForGetler on February 2, 2004 10:07 PM

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Thanks for supplying Mr. Getler's address. I even pulled a little sentiment, stating that I used to deliver the Washington Star, even we delivery boys knew the quality of the Post, and deploring its fall.

Posted by: Linkmeister on February 2, 2004 10:34 PM

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I think you’re being unfair. This is a NEWS STORY, not a critical analysis. To get the news story YOU want, the event would have to be: you coming out to criticize the budget, and the headline would then be: “Brad DeLong Criticizes White House Budget Proposal”.

In fact ANY newpaper would now be expected to do follow-ups as NEW events regarding this story occur (e.g., “Senator Kennedy Lashes Bush Budget”), as well as commision its own analysis and opinion (e.g., “Why the Bush Budget is Just More Ridiculous Lying and Conniving”, by A. Famous Economist, Esq.). I think the Washington Post will probably step up to the bat.

In fact the story is quite well written, within the parameters long established in the rules of journalism. The first four paragraphs clearly place the story in the mouth of the White House: “Bush said”, “document acknowledged”, “administration said”, “Bush said during a photo opportunity”. You could hardly be misled as to where this information is coming from, and judge for yourself, accordingly. This is absolutely how it is to be done.

The writers actually get in their own digs: putting “confident” in parentheses in paragraph 1 is quite clever. Paragraph 2 properly finds the bone of contention, and pulls it out of their own mouths: “The budget document acknowledged that the deficit was a ‘legitimate matter of concern’”. Meanwhile, “Bush said during a photo opportunity” (paragraph 4) and “closely track Bush’s campaign platform” (paragraph 5) should leave no doubt as to the intent of the effort. As well as the lovely “looks in places like a campaign brochure” (paragraph 21).

Trimming agriculture and environment is mentioned in paragraph 3, and comes back in 8 and 9. Surely the Administration would rather have avoided that information, so near the top.

The first criticism by others comes in paragraph 7: “Democrats and many state and local officials contend that the funding is still far from what is necessary...” (They may have broken the rules, here. It’s highly unlikely they had enough time to call that many people before story deadline.) Then four paragraphs of problems with the budget. Then the kicker in paragraph 12: “no additional funding for operations in Iraq and Afganistan beyond Sept. 30, an omission that both Democrats and Republicans are questioning.”

I could go on. Your criticisms of the budget, while factually true, make it another news article than the one they are REQUIRED to write about THIS event. It is actually very well composed. Anyone who doubts this should be a stringer on a paper for a while.

Posted by: Lee A. on February 2, 2004 11:06 PM

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So what's the big deal? Reagan proved that deficits don't matter, and he single-handledly brought down the Evil Empire, didn't he?

Perhaps the press is just naturally protective of brain-damaged presidents.

Posted by: bad Jim on February 2, 2004 11:07 PM

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Sorry--I meant to write that their paragraph 1 puts "confident" in quotation marks, not parentheses. The point being, given the recent questions about what Bush knew about WMD's (or anything else, for that matter), it's obviously quite forward, but since he in fact used the word, they can't be faulted for putting quotes around it. That's what's funny and clever. It is VERY good writing.

Posted by: Lee A. on February 3, 2004 12:01 AM

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Therefore, it appears that the President's credibility has been questioned in a news lead paragraph in the Washington Post. Maybe the tide has turned...

Posted by: Lee A. on February 3, 2004 12:29 AM

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Off-topic, but lest it be said that no liberal has a good word for Bush:

Californians are off the hook for Hoover, Nixon and Reagan. The worst president ever isn't one of ours, for a change.

Posted by: bad Jim on February 3, 2004 02:35 AM

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"We were attacked!"

What is the expiration date on this line?

A competitive profit-based press. Junk-food journalism sells. Right now, the product is a steely eyed, tough, straight-talkin' leader. Anything else won't move off the shelf. One day, maybe Bush as a lying chump will be the product, especially if he lies about something sensational. But neither is good for giving the public the information it needs in a democracy.

In the meantime, when will the Bush is a #$%# chump narrative hit critical mass? Cross your fingers.

Posted by: andrew on February 3, 2004 04:04 AM

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[R]emember this: two years ago [after 9/11] it projected a fiscal 2004 deficit of only $14 billion. What's new this time is that the administration has decided to pay lip service to conservative complaints about runaway spending.

http://www.nytimes.com/2004/02/03/opinion/03KRUG.html

Posted by: MattB on February 3, 2004 04:41 AM

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What is the expiration date on this line? 11/02/2004.

Posted by: BudMan on February 3, 2004 05:57 AM

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The budget sets up a sharp division between Bush and his evetual rival. Bush will characterize his spending cuts as responsible in the face of a $521 bln deficit (and there will be plenty of beneficiaries of the spending who will validate his claim). His rivals will complain about the cuts. That takes care of the spend side of "tax and spend." We already know about the tax side. The White House is also planning to call whoever Bush faces a "liberal" - gasp! So we are going to see the creator of the biggest deficit ever painting his opponent as irresponsible on the budget - sound familiar?

Anybody else skeptical of the projected pace of revenue growth in the budget for 2005 and 2006? Comes in over 20% for those 2 years, higher than any two-year stretch during the high-employment, high-capital-gains period of the late 1990s and 2000.

Posted by: K Harris on February 3, 2004 06:11 AM

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By "validate" I mean that beneficiaries of programs with lower budgets will squeak, making it seem that these cuts are important, despite their small size relative to the deficit.

Posted by: K Harris on February 3, 2004 06:13 AM

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They have laid out the president's case. Now they can give their opinion of that case. The WaPo gives a thumbs down to the budget.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A7234-2004Feb2.html

They cover the most important criticisms.

Posted by: bakho on February 3, 2004 06:57 AM

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Has anybody besides me been doing an analysis of their novella-length lead paragraphs lately? Geez, it's like everybody at the WaPo forgot J-school.

Posted by: Sen. HayZeus Braunschweiger on February 3, 2004 07:03 AM

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I'm sorry, but as a working journalist I must ask: Who is Lee A. and what makes him/her think The Washington Post, or any other responsible media outlet, is not obliged to tell the public when the things its leaders are saying to them are fantasy?

When simple arithmetic shows that there's no way what the President of the United States is telling America about his proposed budget is true, that's not only a story, that's the lead. The news media have no obligation whatever to serve as stenographers for government obfuscators. Quite the opposite.

Posted by: Lex on February 3, 2004 07:19 AM

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Lex:

You may be a working journalist, but you are no REPORTER.

I was a reporter, never a journalist.

Long ago, a county newspaper, in New Jersey.

Posted by: Lee A. on February 3, 2004 07:26 AM

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I don't think that major national newspapers should write like stringer reporters from new Jersey. I also have no idea why stringer reporters from New Jersey think that they should set the example for the Washington Post.

I've been reading "Black is White" stories in the American Press since at least 1979 (during the Central American insurgencies). If what Lee A. says about journalistic practice is true, journalistic practice is very poor.

Do newspapers automatically report neutrally on the claims of political candidates? The claims of criminal defendants? The claims of policy advocates? No. And the the Bush budget is at least two out of those three.

At least.

Posted by: zizka / John Emerson on February 3, 2004 08:09 AM

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Lee,

As a newly minted journalist and reporter, I've got to say that your last point is mere semantics. Journalist, reporter, first line of history - the job remains the same. There's a reason it's called the Fourth Estate. Like the courts and Congress, the press is supposed to provide checks and balances against those in power. The Post authors followed a time-tested formula that's widely used, and frequently inadequate in describing the truth of a situation, as Brad has so ably demonstrated. If truth is the goal (and it should be), then the glaring inaccuracies in the budget need to be front and center. Possible headline: Bush unveils budget, no Iraq expenses?

Posted by: Star Spangled Brian on February 3, 2004 08:22 AM

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Now how do you think the big dailies find their reporters?

To The Washington Post as well as small town stringers, a story, in news reportage (NOT journalism!) is the report of an event that you did NOT create. Your critique of it is to go on the editorial page. If somebody else critiques it, that again is another news event, and can go back on the news page. And should be reported without your critique of it, which is to go on the editorial page.

The fact that newspapers don't do this well, have failed at it in the past, notwithstanding.

Of course this practice presumes that the readership sticks with the newspaper day to day, so that a relationship is established, one that fully explores all events. (In our fast-food world, has this become too much to ask?) Perhaps you will read the editorials about the budget, today. They are damning.

These rules allow the readers to clearly distinguish the information they are getting, while the reporters are guaranteed, as much as possible, their access to news events, in all political weathers. The Bill of Rights nowhere guarantees them such access: the newspaper's only coin is the guarantee of fair reportage of the event. That means fair to the people and things you don't like, too.

This conception of news reportage is an evolved function, coming to the fore in only the last hundred years. After a century before that of bad yellow journalism. The intent is to service, to save, democracy.

The event here, of course, is that the White House is excreting crap once more. They know it, you know it, the reporters know it. My only contention is, the reporters, under their rules and their deadline, handled it well. Indeed gave their readers--including perhaps naive and ignorant ones--lots of important items to think about, some the government might not wish them to.

Perhaps if each paragraph led with "The government said this" and "The government said that", you would not suppose the paper was serving as stenograph to obfuscator. (In fact the first four paragraphs make that clear.) If you still do, perhaps we are at cross purposes.

The Bill of Rights nowhere guarantees that democracy will survive, that you will get the facts you need. Only that we can stand out on a street corner, screaming.

Posted by: Lee A. on February 3, 2004 08:22 AM

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Lee A, you make some good points, and in many ways I agree with you. But if the intent in the WaPo article was mere reportage, then why try to sneak in some between-the-lines digs (e.g., "confident")? Why not do balanced reporting of differing opinions? I think we can all agree that, just as in real estate, location, location, location is everything. So mix Administration voices with critical voices throughout the story; this would have been "fair and balanced" and more obvious to the general reader, and would not have relied on insider-ish digs that only the politically attuned will catch. This ruinous budget proposal is too important to play such games. Just my opinion...

Posted by: dm on February 3, 2004 08:56 AM

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The difficulty seems to be that reporters are no longer concerned with reporting facts. They have interpreted "objectivity" to mean, oddly, that everything is opinion, and there are no objective facts, not even those that ordinary arithmetic reveals. If Bush declared that 2+2=5 they would report it, quote a mathematician or two as disagreeing, and treat the whole thing as a reasonable dispute, probably with emphasis on the academic and technical nature of the criticism.

Posted by: Bernard Yomtov on February 3, 2004 09:03 AM

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dm:

Fair enough. But remember, you are up against a deadline. (Heck, I've got to go to work, too!) On something big as a budget, it's not just a few short phone calls. Indeed the most serious criticisms may only come after reflection. (Although Brad's is great right off the bat.) A good reporter would want to compile several critiques, and make sure she understands them thoroughly. The correct criticism of The Washington Post would be if they DON'T publish pertinent news, news analysis, and opinion as the days go by, as well as letters to the editor.

Posted by: Lee A. on February 3, 2004 09:08 AM

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Lee, you don't report a budget the way you report a traffic accident. A budget isn't an event, but a statement and a program, and it deserves immediate analysis. Especially when it is transparently dishonest. No deep analysis was needed here -- Brad did a great job off the top of his head.

I'm amazed at the way you crank out your high-minded cliches. You've certainly been trained well. You don't really give any reasons, but you seem to think that the crippled version of journalism you describe is not merely acceptable, but a very wonderful thing. But there are other ways to do journalism, and some of them are far better than the one you are proposing.

You seem to be coming from some concept of professionalism, but a faulty definition of professionalism is exactly the problem here. (Your reporter vs. journalist distinction is worthless here; if it means anything at all, you want a journalist on a story like this one, and not a reporter. Reporters do traffic accidents and fires).

If a criminal defendant made a claim before his trial, a good reporter would check with other people involved before he relayed the claim. Sorry, but the cases are strictly comparable.

In reality, nothing of what you say is to the point here, because the real problem here is that the media give President Bush the benefit of the doubt far too often. We're not dealing with a general professional rule at all, but a slant. Comparable statements by someone else would be covered very differently.

Posted by: zizka / John Emerson on February 3, 2004 10:07 AM

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Bernard Yomtov wrote, "The difficulty seems to be that reporters are no longer concerned with reporting facts. They have interpreted "objectivity" to mean, oddly, that everything is opinion, and there are no objective facts, not even those that ordinary arithmetic reveals. If Bush declared that 2+2=5 they would report it, quote a mathematician or two as disagreeing, and treat the whole thing as a reasonable dispute, probably with emphasis on the academic and technical nature of the criticism."

That's the way I like to describe "he said/she said" journalism.

While I haven't yet read the WaPo article under discussion, I think Lee A. is correct, insofar as the *descriptive* statement "this is how reporters work these days" is correct.

The normative statement is another matter.

Posted by: liberal on February 3, 2004 10:20 AM

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In the past reporters could reasonably report what the President said and be relatively accurate. What has changed is not the reporting but the statements coming out of this administration.

Posted by: bakho on February 3, 2004 10:38 AM

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Off-topic, but lest it be said that no liberal has a good word for Bush:

Californians are off the hook for Hoover, Nixon and Reagan. The worst president ever isn't one of ours, for a change.


Posted by: bad Jim on February 3, 2004 02:35 AM


Reagan at least was originally from Illinois- a transplanted Californian. We can't take credit for Schwartzenegger either by this reasoning...

Posted by: non economist on February 3, 2004 11:52 AM

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In my view, the ground beneath Lee A.'s feet has been undercut by Jonathan Weisman, who writes that "The first piece put on the web is slapped together as quickly as possible" and urges people to, instead, read: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A6881-2004Feb2.html

Posted by: Brad DeLong on February 3, 2004 11:57 AM

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The underlying assumption is that people are stupid, and believe what they read, and don’t read any further for corroboration, testing, insight. But that certainly isn’t true of (1) anyone who posts to this site, nor (2) any adult I ever met, nor (3) in theory, any adult who isn’t a psychopath. I don’t believe there’s any such result in (4) experimental economics. So you shall have to provide countervailing evidence, beyond the “home team theory” of rooting for one or the other in the Superbowl. (That would be trivial, although no doubt the “rah-rah” has decided some close elections.)

I confess I’m beginning to lose what the lather is about. They slapped the story together as quickly as possible for the web, as if for a deadline. The reporter has rewritten it, the same way it used to happen when papers had multiple street editions.

(The first few paragraphs of the rewrite hardly meets any of Brad’s objections, either, and mostly accentuates the budget’s obvious slant as a campaign document. Brad points this out in his new item further up the blog. There he also states that most of the story could have been written long in advance, but I rather doubt whether that general policy in a newsroom would be an efficient allocation of resources, since you don’t have any extra time anyway, and you never know what’s going to blow up next.)

Brad did a great job off the top of his head because he’s been reflecting on the subject matter for most or all of his professional career. That’s why we come here. I wish the economics reporters would consult with Brad, hell I wish the Washington Post would hire him for a weekly op-ed.

Of course you report a budget the way you report a traffic accident! It’s who what when where why. The analysis doesn’t go first, it is for the follow-up. If the issue is whether Weisman should be doing economic analysis, here I yield, concede, retire. (You may pile on to the Weisman critique and vituperation in the new item further up the blog.) But as news reportage, the story is fair and decent, even if it WAS slapped together.

If the issue is the media slant toward Bush, here I concede as well. But that’s true for every president, at least until the worm turns. The leader of a country always gets a free pass, like the king once did. In better times, we prefer it that way. The crackpot conservatives raged on and on about the “free ride” Clinton got, until Lewinsky. I wish to suggest that the worm may be turning on our incredible shortsighted lying incompetent in the White House, finally, hopefully.

Posted by: Lee A. on February 3, 2004 02:26 PM

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"I wish to suggest that the worm may be turning on our incredible shortsighted lying incompetent in the White House, finally, hopefully."

That is something I think many of us can agree with.

On the other hand, your other statements seem to be a partial defense of initially just passing on official statements under the banner of a headline. The period of analysis should follow with additional articles and opinion pieces "digesting it".

My opinion is that, while that may be an orderly and defensible theory, in practice it is being exploited by public liars such Mr. Bush et al. They are counting on using your orderly practices of Journalism to get their lie half way round the world before your truth-analysis gets its shoes on.

You must know this already, so I will assume you are just defending a theory of how things perhaps should work, rather than defending the actual practices and results of WH manipulation of the public and the de facto participation of the WaPo.

Posted by: Tim B. on February 3, 2004 03:19 PM

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Tim B.:

You nailed it. The question is, how else could it work? Are we to wait for the perfect world where reporters are honest, reliable, omniscient? But then the politicians would be too. No, wait, we wouldn't HAVE politicians.

Brad:

After reading your second item on Weisman further up I see this guy has misrepresented you in the past. And his current e-mail absolves him of any suspicion that he is an intelligent or interesting human being. He appears to be unmindful of causing grief to honest professionals--rather like some NYT reporters I've heard of. Let's hope he gets busted, no byline, to stringer, until he can pass your course in economics--no cramming! (I'd counsel with the sages "forgiveness", but the guy is 0 for 2, and it might seem a "high-minded cliche".) (zizka / John Emerson: Just pulling your chain! Love ya.)


To everybody:

To me, "Journalism School" has given rise to the notion that reporters are journalists, when in the old days they kept it separate. There were many old reporters who disdained to be called journalists--too touchy-feely and precious. Unless you could rise to the level of Mencken, Liebling, Stone (I.F.), Kempton. News plus views, expressed incomparably! I give up--if daily reporters are "journalists", what profession did these extraordinary writers practice?

Posted by: Lee A. on February 3, 2004 04:00 PM

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Thanks to Lee for explaining the principles of objective journalism.

The dire problems with the practice is that it assumes that news is events: no event, no news; it treats the utterances of those in authority as news per se; it reports said utterances without in-place correction; and it involves conventions which are never explained to the average reader, and ignorance of which will often make the ordinary meaning of the text thoroughly misleading.

It's basically the same system that allowed Joseph McCarthy to do his dark work so effectively; and smooth the way for Lyndon Johnson to get big combat forces into Vietnam:

http://lincolnplawg.blogspot.com/2002_10_01_lincolnplawg_archive.html#83080977

It stands in need of some revision.

Posted by: John Smith on February 3, 2004 04:26 PM

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John Smith:

Could not agree more!

What will be the revision?

Posted by: Lee A. on February 3, 2004 05:13 PM

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Lee A., I have no idea why you are so convinced that the weak journalism you advocate is a good thing.

The passage below is incredibly stupid. Lots of people skim the newspapers and trust the newpapers to give them what they need. They aren't necessarily stupid people, though they're making a mistake. If they knew that newpapers work by the stunted system you advocate so passionately, they would be appalled.

"The underlying assumption is that people are stupid, and believe what they read, and don’t read any further for corroboration, testing, insight. But that certainly isn’t true of (1) anyone who posts to this site, nor (2) any adult I ever met, nor (3) in theory, any adult who isn’t a psychopath. I don’t believe there’s any such result in (4) experimental economics".

You're doing a Chuvalo on us. You're still standing, so I guess that you think that you've won or something. There's a phrase describing your way of thinking: "trained incapacity". The guy did a terrible job, but the work-rules that were dtilled into you tell you that he did a great job.

Posted by: zizka / John Emerson on February 3, 2004 09:51 PM

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zizka / John Emerson:

What is the criterion of "still standing"? Why do you guess that I think that I have won or something, or even that I think that I need to win anything?

Posted by: Lee A. on February 3, 2004 10:54 PM

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"Still standing" = Gets last word. Chuvalo: lost his fights, but you couldn't knock him down. Most people argue to win, some people do admit defeat when they lose.

Posted by: zizka / John Emerson on February 4, 2004 08:27 AM

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zizka / John Emerson:

I have begun to understand Brad’s consternation because he has some knowledge of the inside workings of D.C., and because the reporter is also a snake who misrepresented things Brad said in the past, and therefore in my opinion has no right to a byline at the Washington Post. If there’s a tar and feathering, I’d like to be near the front of the crowd.

But now I go further: I see the light! YOU ARE ABSOLUTELY RIGHT that (1) the President of the United States, no matter who he is, has no right to the unobstructed presentation of his statements in a news story because some of us suspect or know in advance that he is lying; (2) there is in fact no such thing as a straight news story, because people just don’t realize that everything is connected to everything else; (3) people do not want straight reportage anyway, they want every story to be aligned by an analyst’s truth, because they prefer to be told what to think; (4) freedom of the press has become a danger to our republic because lots of people believe what they read, even though we might suppose they’d have a different rational expectation, from reading incomplete stories and lies before; (5) people who read one story on one day STOP there for the rest of their lives, and are not the sort of people who will read another story or follow-up on another day; (6) there is a gradation of importance of stories, and the important ones like the budget are not to be published until finer minds have given input to the editor, which moreover can be accomplished, with THEIR disputes adjudicated, all within a finite timetable; (7) it is a better strategy to treat newspaper readers as if they are accepting and stupid, than to presume upon their intelligence; (8) there will shortly be put in place a better system which will correct all of these failures, which news editors will find eminently more workable than the one they've evolved up to now, and arbitrated by other independent people who really know what’s best for everybody and will not become despotic; and (9) any opinions to the contrary are to be counteracted, not by rational argument, but by attacks upon the character and motivations of the people who hold them, like me.

The great tradition of newspaper practice, traduced in a flash. I will say no more: YOU WIN. You can even have the last word; I didn’t realize it is important! Good luck in the brave new world!

Posted by: Lee A. on February 4, 2004 06:22 PM

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The Washington Post is no longer a respectable paper; I haven't seen a proper piece of reporting from them in years.

This reduces the number of mainstream, respectable papers in this country to three:
* The New York Times
* The Wall Street Journal (except the editorial page, which is usually just a pack of lies)
* The Los Angeles Times

Posted by: anon on February 6, 2004 03:59 AM

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1) A technicality ... Bush didn't deliver a SOTU in 2001. I assume you are referring to http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2001/02/20010228.html that address of a Jt. session of Congress.

2) "His number had been passed on to Karl Rove, Karen Hughes, and the speechwriters. They had then put the $1.2 trillion number into the State of the Union Address. "

Can anyone find the $1.2 trillion number in that Jt. Session speech?

Posted by: Vic on February 6, 2004 02:40 PM

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it is amazing to me to hear both sides argue about who the good guys are. both sides are bad. and while we sit around carping about the other side, both sides use that as cover to continue their assault on the future of our nation as we know (knew) it. the will continue to amass wealth and power at taxpayer expense. both sides laugh all the way to the bank. how about us uniting against them...all of them.

Posted by: pgw on February 10, 2004 11:33 AM

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it is amazing to me to hear both sides argue about who the good guys are. both sides are bad. and while we sit around carping about the other side, both sides use that as cover to continue their assault on the future of our nation as we know (knew) it. the will continue to amass wealth and power at taxpayer expense. both sides laugh all the way to the bank. how about us uniting against them...all of them.

Posted by: pgw on February 10, 2004 11:34 AM

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