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."
On his CNN show, Lou Dobbs falsely claimed that in an item criticizing a report by Ed Henry on President Obama's economic recovery package, Media Matters "tr[ied] to conflate the Office of Management and Budget numbers as somehow superior with the Congressional Budget Office." In fact, Media Matters merely pointed out that according to the OMB director, the CBO conducted only a partial analysis of the bill, which Henry did not report.
In an article about President Obama's economic stimulus package, The Washington Times reported that Rep. John Boehner "called for 'fast-acting tax relief, not slow-moving government spending,' in a ... response to Mr. Obama's weekly address." But the Times did not note that Obama's stimulus package proposes several tax credits and that according to the director of the Office of Management and Budget, "at least 75 percent of the overall package ... will be spent over the next year and a half."
The Washington Post asserted that "a report from the Congressional Budget Office ... said the majority of money in the Democratic [stimulus] plan would not get spent within the first year and a half." In fact, a document described by The Huffington Post as being the "whole" CBO " 'report' " accounts for only approximately $358 billion out of the "more than $850 billion" that the Post reported is included in the Democratic proposal, meaning that the CBO analysis could not possibly reach any conclusions about "the majority of money in the Democratic plan."
The Washington Times' Donald Lambro falsely claimed that in a January 2008 paper, President Barack Obama's campaign economic adviser Jason Furman "doubted any infrastructure spending 'would generate significant short-term stimulus.' " In fact, in that paper, while stating that infrastructure projects are "difficult to design in a manner that would generate significant short-term stimulus," Furman also said that infrastructure spending "might be more useful if policies could be designed to prevent cutoffs in ongoing infrastructure spending (such as road repair) that would exacerbate an economic downturn."
We detailed this back-and-forth earlier at CF, and how Newsweek chose to ignore the salient points actor Ben Affleck recently raised about the magazine's coverage of Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson last autumn. (Oops sorry, Newsweek claims Affleck raised no salient points.)
Anyway, Newsweek's updated response to the Affleck caper, as it were, is mighty peculiar: Newsweek doesn't matter! At least that seems to be the magazine's talking point.
Affleck claimed Newsweek's worshipful coverage of Paulson at a crucial juncture of the unfolding financial crisis helped create a larger public perception that Americans shouldn't critically questions Paulson's economic bailout plan; a plan lots of critics now see as being flawed.
It was one of many factors that made it difficult for people to say, [inaud] hold on a second, what is the difference between now and a week from now? Why can't we examine this more closely? Can we talk about this? Why is it that we can't have more transparency in this piece of legislation?...Long and short of it is, Newsweek, in deciding to tell all of America that we all have to put our trust in Henry Paulson, that's like a mediaocracy. It's presumptuous and it damaged us in some ways.
But Newsweek in response, now claims it's loopy to suggest that the journalism the weekly magazine produces somehow influences public opinion, let alone public policy.
Writes Newsweek's Kurt Soller:
Journalism criticism is one thing, but accusing us of actually influencing the economic bailout package? That's ludicrous thinking -- especially for a Cambridge boy like Affleck.
Guys, don't sell yourself short.
An Open Letter to Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Michelle Malkin
In a time like this, when tempers are riding high and many Americans are close to panic about their jobs and finances, you have a special responsibility to consider the accuracy of what you say and the consequences of inflammatory and erroneous statements. In the last few days, manifestly distorting my words and pulling them out of context, you have accused me of wanting to exclude white males from jobs generated by the stimulus package. Anyone who takes a moment to examine what I actually said and wrote knows this to be an absurd misrepresentation of my position (see this). My goal is and has always been to create as many opportunities for as wide a group as possible, and not exclude anyone from access. There is and has never been any ambiguity about this. The hate mail I have received since your broadcast suggests that the mischievous consequences of your demagoguery are potentially dangerous, in addition to being destructive of rational and constructive political discourse. I urge you to take responsibility for your words. Words and ideas have real world consequences, and you have demonstrated a cavalier disregard for both.
While interviewing Rudy Giuliani, Sean Hannity repeated the false claim that "[s]ixty-one" Guantánamo detainees who have been released are "back on the battlefield" to support his assertion that President Barack Obama is "an ideologue." Hannity and Giuliani also repeated the claims that fiscal stimulus packages were ineffective during the Great Depression and during Japan's "lost decade," but both those claims have been challenged by economists.