That's the question the press ought to be asking. But apparently unwilling, or incapable, to perform actual journalism, lots of reporters and pundits remained fixated on the supposed cost of the Obama bash, which the press excitedly claims will cost $160 million, including security costs.
As Media Matters has been noting for close to a week now, the tab for Bush's second inauguration, after figuring in security costs, totaled $157 million. Yet it's virtually impossible to find a single press report in the last week that has documented that fact. That number does not exist. It has been suppressed and flushed down the memory hole. Because if it's mentioned alongside the Obama tab, than the Obama's-inauguration-is-historically-expensive storyline evaporates. (Because it's not historically expensive.)
But let's move on. The official crowd estimate for Tuesday's swearing now stands as a eye-popping 1.8 million. How many attended Bush's 2005 inauguration? The official estimate was 400,000. So let's do some math. 157 million divided by 400,000 equals 392. It cost nearly $392 per-person to cover the expenses for Bush's modest sized bash.
For Obama? Based on the current projection of $160 million (the final official tab, once security costs are factored in won't be known for months), and divided by 1.8 million people in attendance, the per-person cost for the Obama bash came out to $88.
So we ask again, why was the Bush inauguration so wildy expensive?
On his radio show, Lou Dobbs claimed that Obama's "inaugural celebration from start to finish will cost an estimated $170 million, and that dwarfs the $42 million spent on George Bush's inauguration just four years ago." Similarly, Brent Bozell wrote in a column: "For the record, the 'lavish' Bush inaugural cost $43 million. Final tallies are not complete, but according to some sources, like the Guardian newspaper, the Obama inaugural will cost more than $150 million." But the comparison is a false one, as the Bush figure excludes security, transportation, and other incidental costs.
On Beck, Jonah Goldberg said of President Obama's inauguration speech: "I salute Barack Obama for invoking the Founding Fathers. At the minimum, it is good that the Democratic Party wants to start revering the Founders." Contrary to Goldberg's suggestion that Obama's invocation of the Founders was a first for a Democratic president, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter both "invok[ed]" the Founders during their inaugural addresses.
During Fox News' inauguration coverage, Chris Wallace stated, "I'm not sure that Barack Obama really is the president of the United States, because the oath of office is set in the Constitution." Wallace later claimed, "I wasn't at all convinced that ... John Roberts ever got it out straight and that Barack Obama ever said the prescribed words." On Fox & Friends the following day, Fox News repeatedly aired video of the oath flub, and Gretchen Carlson asked of Obama, "Is he really president," and went on to claim, "Because there was a flub in the oath of office." However, numerous experts, including one quoted later on Fox & Friends, have reportedly said that an incorrect recitation of the oath is insignificant.
Yahoo! News has taken the bait failing to check on this pathetically easy to rebut piece of conservative misinformation.
In a story headlined, "That's a lot of balloons" Yahoo! News spews hot-air going to great lengths to convince readers that President-elect Obama's inauguration will cost more than triple that of outgoing President Bush's 2004 event even using the nation's economic woes as a backdrop. The article opens:
As the recession continues to wreak havoc on the U.S. economy and inauguration celebrations ramp up, a lot of people are asking: "How much will this shindig cost?" [emphasis added]
The short answer? More than $150 million — and yep, that's the most expensive ever. (By comparison, George W. Bush's 2005 inauguration cost $42.3 million. Bill Clinton managed with $33 million in 1993.)
Perhaps a few more reporters should be asking, "Why haven't I thoroughly fact-checked these numbers?" Because as Media Matters detailed this evening, the whole notion that Obama's inauguration is costing more than Bush's is a load of B.S.
MSNBC's Tamron Hall stated that "the inauguration festivities" for President-elect Barack Obama are "estimated to reach as high as $150 million," while "[i]n 2004, to note, the inauguration of George W. Bush cost roughly $40 million." But the $40 million figure that Hall cited for Bush's second inauguration reportedly does not include security and transportation costs incurred by the federal government and the District of Columbia; these costs are included in the $150 million estimate that the media are reporting for the Obama inauguration.
When the costs incurred by the federal government and the District of Columbia are factored in, the total cost of Bush's 2005 inauguration was reportedly around $157 million, as Media Matters for America senior fellow Eric Boehlert noted.
Come on Yahoo! News, this kind of sloppy "reporting" will only make me want to refer to you as Yahoo? News in future posts. Get it together.
London's Daily Mail claims the cost of Obama's inauguration is approaching $160 million:
By the time the final dance has been held at one of the many inaugural balls the costs for the day will be a staggering £110m.
Not surprisingly, the newspaper provides no attribution for the figure. (The actual cost is closer to $40 million.) But that doesn't matter because Drudge has linked to the Daily Mail's report and we're sure reporters are on the phone as we speak.
Drudge today also linked to an article I wrote at Salon four years ago chastising the press for not asking questions about the cost of the Bush 2005 inauguration ($40 million), which at the time shattered all the spending records and occurred at a time when the war in Iraq was still front-and-center. (Although it cost roughly the same, Bush's bash attracted just a fraction of the crowd expected for Obama's swearing in.)
Drudge claims my article captured the "lefty outrage" at the cost of Bush's 2005 celebration. In truth, a strong majority of Americans (66 percent, including 46 percent of Republicans) thought that, in light of the fresh fighting in Iraq, Bush's inauguration should have been more "subdued."
But thanks for the link anyway Matt, I'm sure Salon appreciates the traffic.
FYI, the $40 million figure for the Bush and Obama inaugurations is in reference to the cost of the swearing in and the activities surrounding that. The extra cost of state and federal security is not traditionally included in media references to the final tab for inaugurations. In the case of Bush in 2005, the cost of security added tens of millions of dollars on top of the final $40 million figure. The same will be true for Obama this year.
UPDATE: Not surprisingly, fact-free warbloggers like Jawa Report are falling for the phony report that Obama's inauguration will cost two or three times what Bush's did in 2005.
From the Los Angeles Times, January 18, 2005:
As he prepares to launch his second term, President Bush is aiming for nothing less than a legacy that would rank him among America's great presidents.
Notwithstanding his previous retraction of similar comments, Brit Hume asserted on Fox News Sunday that it was "very like" President George H.W. Bush "to refrain from comment on other political figures, the incoming president, and so on." In fact, Bush repeatedly criticized President Bill Clinton's policies while Clinton was in office.
To discuss the work of former Laura Bush flack and Los Angeles Times blogger Andrew Malcolm, who wrote glowingly about Laura Bush this week while failing to inform readers that he used to work for her. Oh my.
Meanwhile, Ezra Klein suggests we need yet another blogger ethics panel to address a different LA Times editorial miscue this week.
Is it me, or is the Beltway press forever concerned when Democrats play hardball and use tough language in partisan battles with Republicans, in a way that the press never seems to mind when the GOP lets the invective fly?
Sunday's MTP was a perfect example. Host David Gregory pressed U.S. Senate Leader Sen. Harry Reid about tough language he'd used in the past in describing the most unpopular president since modern polling was created nearly one century ago:
Before you go, do you have any regrets about the way you have publicly battled with President Bush? Over the years you've called him a liar, a loser, and you've described him as, quote, our worst president ever.
Reid, for the record expressed no regrets.
What's so odd is that I'm thinking back to January of 2001, and I can't recall the MTP moderator pressing leading Republicans if they had any "regrets" about the nearly non-stop insults they had heaped on the sitting Democratic president, who at the time of his exit was the most popular president to ever leave the Oval Office.
See the double standard? When Harry Reid pointed out a widely accepted fact, that Bush is considered by many to be among the worst president's ever, Gregory wanted to know if the Democrat had any regrets; had he gone too far. But when Republicans spent nearly eight years trying to dehumanize Bill Clinton, MTP remained mostly mum.
BTW: Why did CNN pretend that Reid went on NBC on Sunday and ranted about Bush, calling him the worst president ever? CNN's dispatch clearly suggested that Reid wouldn't let Bush leave office peacefully, when in truth it was Gregory who brought up the old Reid quotes about Bush.
Neat trick, right?
First, what's the nation's most pressing issue? On Matthews' weekend syndicated show, the first topic up for discussion was Obama's relations with the press. Because, as Crooks and Liars noted, "it's all about the media, dontcha know?"
Second, that's where Matthews compared Obama to Nixon and Bush. Both Republicans displayed an open contempt for the media (with Nixon, it was more of an unhinged hatred), and Matthews suggested Obama (aka "this guy") was going to be just like them.
Third, it's curious that Obama hasn't even taken office yet and already Matthews was harping on the president-elect's press relations. I'd sure be interested to see, during Bush's eight years in office, how many panel discussion the Chris Matthews Show hosted to complain about how Bush treated the press. We doubt there were many during the Lapdog days.
During an interview with President Bush that aired on Fox News' Special Report, Bret Baier asked Bush, "Do you believe that there hasn't been a terrorist attack on U.S. soil in more than seven years because of the policies your administration has implemented?" The question tracked a talking point reportedly contained in a "two-page memo" that the Los Angeles Times reported "presents the Bush record as an unalloyed success" and "mentions none of the episodes that detractors say have marred his presidency."
On Hardball, Chris Matthews cited a Politico article as purported evidence that "zero -- count 'em, zero Southerners have been named to the Obama Cabinet so far," and a Bloomberg article similarly asserted that Obama's Cabinet is lacking in Southerners. These claims either ignore or discount Obama's selection of Lisa Jackson, Hillary Clinton, and Robert Gates.
On Fox News' America's Newsroom, Andrea Tantaros falsely claimed that "[t]his past weekend," President-elect Barack Obama said that "the economy is only gonna get worse." Tantaros continued: "Well, you can't say that kind of thing when you're president. ... He's got to be more positive." Co-host Bill Hemmer did not point out in response to Tantaros that Obama did not say "the economy is only gonna get worse"; he said the economy would get worse but would subsequently recover.
In recent weeks, several conservative media figures, echoed by Republican lawmakers, have responded to comparisons in the media of President-elect Barack Obama to FDR, or assertions in the media that a New Deal-level of government intervention will be necessary to resolve the current economic crisis, by asserting that the New Deal was a dismal failure, plunging the 1930s economy into a depression, an assertion that prominent progressive economists flatly reject.