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January 07, 2005

Why Does Howard Kurtz Still Have a Job? (Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? Department)

If the Washington Post's editors cared about running a newspaper, Howard Kurtz would be looking for a job tonight.

To read this morning's column by Kurtz is to learn that Kurtz is eager to claim that he is not a fool, but a liar.

Howard Kurtz writes that when last October he called John Kerry a liar for saying that Bush had a plan for cutting Social Security benefits by 30%-45%, it was not because he--Kurtz--was a fool who believed that Bush had no Social Security plan. He believed that Bush had a Social Security plan. And it was not because he--Kurtz--was a fool who believed that Bush's Social Security plan did not involve large benefit cuts. He believed that Bush's plan involved large benefit cuts. But he called Kerry a liar even so. Why? Because--Kurtz says--even though everything Kerry said was true, Kerry had--Kurtz says--no evidence that it was true: "the Kerry camp didn't have any evidence that the administration had a confidential 'plan,' just a mathematical argument that it was likely."

And that claim by Kurtz is yet another baldfaced lie: there was plenty of evidence back then that the plan was the plan that the Bush administration is now gingerly rolling out:

The mother of Oedipus nails Kurtz here:

iocaste: Why David Wessel is a Better Journalist than Howard Kurtz: In today's WaPo, columnist Howard Kurtz defends his criticism of the Kerry campaign:

Back on Oct. 20, in my role as The Post's ad-watch guy, I wrote a front-page story about exaggerations and distortions in the campaign commercials by President Bush and Sen. John F. Kerry.

[O]ne eleventh-hour Kerry ad said: "Now Bush has a plan that cuts Social Security benefits by 30 to 45 percent." I wrote: "But the president, while favoring allowing younger workers to put part of their benefits in private accounts, has never put forth a plan -- and has vowed that any change would not affect current retirees."

Now that did not mean Bush didn't have a secret plan, or that he wouldn't decide to cut benefits after the election. But the Kerry camp didn't have any evidence that the administration had a confidential "plan," just a mathematical argument that it was likely.

Fast-forward to Tuesday, when The Post reported that the administration "has signaled that it will propose changing the formula that sets initial Social Security benefit levels" in a way that would reduce those levels. For those retiring in eight years, the cut would be 0.9 percent. In 18 years, 9.9 percent. It reaches 45.9 percent if you retire in 2075.

Of course, John Kerry was right about a number of things ... But saying your opponent has a plan to do something should require having some evidence of such a plan. Journalists, at least, should insist on such evidence.

Except you may recall David Wessell's WSJ column from October 14:

Bush’s Secret Plan to Fix Social Security President Bush has a secret plan to fix social security. Well, it’s not exactly secret, and not exactly a plan. He just doesn’t describe it clearly, nor hint at how he would turn details his staff has been burnishing into a proposal that can get through Congress.

“President Bush opposes changes in benefits for those now in or near retirement,” his campaign Web site says. Carefully instructed by his staff, Mr. Bush never rules out reducing benefits for younger workers because that’s the centerpiece of his plan for repairing Social Security’s finances. Mr. Bush’s experts have discovered that if initial benefits were calculated by adjusting a worker’s lifetime wages only for rising prices, not for rising economywide wages [as is the case today], Social Security’s finances would be fixed.

And what is the current Bush plan?

JMM [W]e're going to take a very close look at changing the way benefits are calculated. As you probably know, under current law benefits are calculated by a "wage index" -- but because wages grow faster than inflation, so do Social Security benefits. If we don't address this aspect of the current system, we'll face serious economic risks.

Now I can understand why Howard Kurtz would rather be thought of as a liar than a fool. What I don't understand is why the editors of the Post so eagerly embrace their reputation as people to employ liars like Kurtz.

Posted by DeLong at January 7, 2005 07:34 PM

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Your move, Mistah Kurtz.

Oh, that's right. Kurtz doesn't have the time to respond to every internet critic because, as he writes in said column, it would get in the way of his actual reporting.

Thanks for that, Howie. Nothing like a good belly laugh before one goes to sleep at night.

Posted by: Demosthenes at January 7, 2005 08:23 PM

Join SOS now! Giblets commands you!

Posted by: Zelph at January 7, 2005 08:47 PM

Students for an Orwellian Society
Because 2005 is 21 years too late.


Posted by: Zelph at January 7, 2005 08:52 PM

Out of curiosity, does anyone know what the interest rates are on the special-issue Treasury Bonds the Trust purchases? Are they the same as other long-term Treasury bonds?

I've looked at the SSA website, but can't seem to find this data. The best I can come up with is:


Posted by: trevelyan at January 7, 2005 10:03 PM

trevelvan - the interest rates are set to match competitely bid bonds at the time of issue.

One may wonder exactly what mandate a candidate who had a stealth plan which was correctly analyzed and advertised against by a defeated opponent, but the advertisement was prominently renounced as a deception or a lie by many purportedly reliable, neutral sources.

Reading David Brooks' "Let Congress Lead" op-ed tonight, it appears the Brooks, at least, sees a train wreck ahead for Bush and anyone who gets too close to Bush's leaked stealth plan, and advises a new razzle-dazzle playbook.

I know. Here's a Newt Gingrich razzle-dazzle solution: Let's not only eliminate the Estate Tax, but instead, enact an Estate Tax Credit. Anyone with an estate over $5 Million will be issued treasury bonds equal to 55% of the value of estate. This will cause the economy to grow so fast that we'd make up the lost revenues on internet time. We'll use the flood of new tax revenue to pay for legacy benefits, and divert 100% of the payroll tax to private accounts.

Then, we'll pay a bunch of journals $240,000 apiece if they'll renounce anyone who raises questions about the plan.

Hey, has anyone checked to see if Howard Kurtz got any inexplicable checks from the US treasury last fall?

Posted by: Charlie at January 7, 2005 10:45 PM

"If the Washington Post's editors cared about running a newspaper, Howard Kurtz would be looking for a job tonight."


Posted by: Mistah Kurtz at January 8, 2005 01:04 AM

So Howie was trying to protect his wife's contracts, is that so wromg? I mean having a media critic employed by half the media might also seem bad but that never bothered the Post.

Posted by: Rob at January 8, 2005 04:46 AM


TV Host Says U.S. Paid Him to Back Policy

Armstrong Williams, a prominent conservative commentator who was a protégé of Senator Strom Thurmond and Justice Clarence Thomas of the Supreme Court, acknowledged yesterday that he was paid $240,000 by the Department of Education to promote its initiatives on his syndicated television program and to other African-Americans in the news media.

The disclosure of the payment set off a storm of criticism from Democrats over the Bush administration's spending to promote its policies to the public. According to a copy of the contract provided by the department yesterday, Mr. Williams, who also runs a small public relations firm and until yesterday wrote a syndicated newspaper column, was required to broadcast two one-minute advertisements in which Education Secretary Rod Paige extolled the merits of its national standards program, No Child Left Behind.

But the arrangement, which started in late 2003 and was first reported yesterday by USA Today, also stipulated that a public relations firm hired by the department would "arrange for Mr. Williams to regularly comment on N.C.L.B. during the course of his broadcasts," that "Secretary Paige and other department officials shall have the option of appearing from time to time as studio guests," and that "Mr. Williams shall utilize his long-term working relationships with 'America's Black Forum' " - an African-American news program - "to encourage the producers to periodically address the No Child Left Behind Act."

Mr. Williams, 45, apologized yesterday for blurring his roles as an independent commentator and a paid promoter. "This is a great lesson to me," he told Paul Begala of CNN, who himself has an off-air job as a paid Democratic political consultant but discloses both roles.

Mr. Williams declined to blame the department for his woes. "I can easily sit here and criticize the administration," he said. "But I got my own problems today, and that is what I am trying to deal with."

The disclosure about the arrangement coincides with a decision by the Government Accountability Office that the administration had violated a law against unauthorized federal propaganda by distributing television news segments that promoted drug enforcement policies without identifying their origin. More than 300 news programs reaching more than 22 million households broadcast the segments. The accountability office made a similar ruling in May about news segments promoting Medicare policies, and the Drug Enforcement Agency stopped distributing the segments then.

Posted by: anne at January 8, 2005 06:20 AM

Is Mr. Kurtz a comedian? John Kerry obviously has the awesome power of mind-reading that Mr. Kurtz does not have. How else would he know what President Bush's secret plan was?

Is Mr. Kurtz serious? Is he one of the same reporters that carried uncritically Bush's description of Kerry's health care plan as "turning over healthcare to the government," Bush's assertion that "Kerry can't pay for his programs and the idea that the SwiftLiars was he said-he said?


Posted by: Unstable Isotope at January 8, 2005 07:07 AM

We really do need to switch sides. Being conservative pays; the more conservative the more pay. Women and people of color and children and the retired especially welcome. This is equal opportunity. Count me there.

Posted by: lise at January 8, 2005 07:16 AM

We are all Republican now, tra la...

Thanks, Garrison Keillor.

Posted by: lise at January 8, 2005 07:51 AM


Now, that is the right idea. I must sing along :) tra la.

Posted by: anne at January 8, 2005 08:13 AM

Kurtz isn't even making sense. A mathematical argument for the necessity of existence is strong evidence of existence.

Posted by: Paul Callahan at January 8, 2005 09:28 AM

Kerry said Bush would cut benefits by as much as 45%. The real number is 46% so, clearly, Kerry was lying. So there!

Posted by: howie at January 8, 2005 09:33 AM

This distinction reminds me of a reply I wrote (didn't hear back) to the author of an article claiming that young voters were "uninformed" to believe that Bush was planning to bring back the draft. This seemed to suggest that being "informed" was soley a matter of following political rhetoric as if what Bush said is more important that what he might eventually have to do. I believed and still believe that those of draft age have good reason to be worried.

To cast it in the current framework, I don't have any direct evidence that Bush has a plan involving the draft, but he hasn't provided a concrete timetable for getting out of Iraq, hasn't proposed a solution to growing recruitment problems, hasn't let up on his yammering about "spreading democracy" to other country, and hasn't fired any of the people who got us into this mess. Unless something changes, a draft is going to look like a mathematical necessity.

Posted by: Paul Callahan at January 8, 2005 09:59 AM

P.C. You're right. The draft is getting closer. The military is now proposing changing the rules of deployment for the Reserves from 24 months total to 24 months at a time. How much longer until they propose a draft? How many people will be willing to sign up if this is the contract? If we're not meeting our recruiting goals and we're not pulling out of Iraq, then how else will we get enough troops?

Posted by: Unstable Isotope at January 8, 2005 10:02 AM

When dealing with Howie, I recommend a blindfold and ten paces.


Posted by: Aaron at January 8, 2005 11:01 PM

"Out of curiosity, does anyone know what the interest rates are on the special-issue Treasury Bonds the Trust purchases? Are they the same as other long-term Treasury bonds?
I've looked at the SSA website, but can't seem to find this data. "

OAS Portfolio: http://www.ssa.gov/OACT/TR/TR04/VI_cyoper_history.html#wp125301
DI Portfolio: http://www.ssa.gov/OACT/TR/TR04/VI_cyoper_history.html#wp125952

Posted by: Bruce Webb at January 9, 2005 01:25 AM

I have been reading Howard Kurtz's "Media Notes" for about 5 or 6 years now, almost daily.

I have noticed a definite trend downwards in the quality of the column.

My impression is that Mr. Kurtz is not agressive or hard hitting enough, too often willing to cover a sex scandal for days and giving short shrift to true scandals. All too often Kurtz chooses to pop a 1 line joke at the end of a blurb. Those jokes dont help, not when the topic is serious. Stop trying to make everything funny and give real news more attention.

An example of this: compare Kurtz's coverage of Keric and the Homeland Security directors post with his coverage of Abu Ghraib. Considering the gulf in impact that Abu Ghraib has, the Keric affair got almost as much room in the column (obviously these events were covered on different days).

Media Notes has slowly declined into a tabloid.

Mr Kurtz, start taking stories like Abu Ghraib seriously and forget about the Kerick love nests in Manhattan. We need reporters, more than ever, who care about what is really important.

Posted by: Political Commentator at January 10, 2005 05:22 AM

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