In a New York Times "news analysis" about the debate over health care reform, reporters David Herszenhorn and Robert Pear quote five politicians and one nonpartisan team of budget experts. In doing so, Herszenhorn and Pear included a statement about the credibility of only one of the six sources -- and it wasn't the nonpartisan team of budget experts. It was Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan.
The Times reporters identified President Obama, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, House Committee On Small Business chair Sam Graves and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz only by name and title; the Congressional Budget Office was described simply as "nonpartisan." But Ryan … for some reason, Herszenhorn and Pear decided to tout Ryan's credibility:
As floor debate on the repeal measure opened on Tuesday, Representative Paul Ryan, Republican of Wisconsin and chairman of the Budget Committee, who is a respected voice on fiscal issues, declared that the health care law would "accelerate our country's path toward bankruptcy."
Respected by whom? And, more importantly, why? Herszenhorn and Pear didn't say.
Ryan voted for then-President Bush's tax cuts in 2001, then argued for extending them last year. Those tax cuts have had rather significant fiscal consequences. Is Ryan deserving of this praise because, though he fights for tax cuts that lead to massive deficits, he acknowledges (but doesn't do anything about) the fact that not all tax cuts pay for themselves? Ryan supported the Iraq war and voted for Bush's Medicare prescription program, too, both of which contributed significantly to deficits. Ryan produced a budget proposal that would take about 50 years to balance the budget -- except that it wouldn't do so even then, as Ryan told CBO to base its assessment of the budget on the assumption that tax revenues would remain the same, even though the budget included costly tax cuts. Ryan continues to support deficit-increasing policies. And when asked what spending he'd cut specifically, Ryan can't tell you the answer.
So why do Herszenhorn and Pear think Ryan -- and Ryan alone -- is worthy of being declared a "respected voice on fiscal issues"? Is it just because Ryan wants to end Medicare as we know it and privatize Social Security?
Is that what the New York Times thinks justifies singling Ryan out for praise -- his support for budget-busting tax cuts and wars, along with proposals to dismantle the social safety net?
The New York Times should consider the possibility that part of the reason why the nation faces large deficits is that news organizations like the New York Times praise the fiscal responsibility of politicians who support massive increases in the deficit.
You might assume the New York Times -- perhaps the world's most prestigious newspaper -- is capable of producing a news report that would clearly explain the health care reform situation. If today's effort by David Herszenhorn, Robert Pear, and Sheryl Gay Stolberg is any indication, you'd be wrong. The article confuses as much as it clarifies, gives undue weight to Republican attacks, and fails to properly explain the hypocrisy of those attacks.
In the lede, the Times reports that Democrats are trying to "advance the bill despite the loss of their 60-vote majority in the Senate." That phrasing could lead many readers to conclude that Democrats no longer hold a majority in the Senate, rather than that they have simply lost their supermajority. In order to understand that the Times' phrasing does not mean "loss of their majority," readers have to be aware of the significance of 60 votes. (Think about it: Would a newspaper ever report that a party that went from 54 to 53 Senate seats "lost its 54 seat majority"? No; anyone reading "lost its 54 seat majority" would understand that to mean "lost its majority.")
I know, I know. Some of you probably think everybody knows you need 60 votes to do anything in the Senate, so everyone will understand that this simply means Democrats have simply lost their supermajority. Oh yeah? Take a look at this (via Atrios):
That's the front page of a Philadelphia newspaper. If the professional journalists who produced that paper think Democrats have lost their majority, are you still sure New York Times readers will understand that "loss of their 60-vote majority" does not mean "loss of their majority"? All of them?
In paragraph two, the Times reports:
The maneuver, known as budget reconciliation, could allow President Obama and his party to muscle the legislation through Congress with a simple majority vote in the Senate. But it carries numerous risks, including the possibility of a political backlash against what Republicans would be sure to cast as parliamentary trickery.
OK. Several problems here.
First, this phrasing suggests the entire health care reform package would be passed via reconciliation, which is false. Readers don't learn until four paragraphs later that reconciliation would simply be used to amend some provisions of the health care bill that has already passed the Senate.
Second, "muscle the legislation through Congress with a simple majority" describes majority rule as some sort of strong-arm tactic.
Third, "parliamentary trickery" is a completely bogus description of reconciliation. There's no "trickery" about it whatsoever. If the Times wanted to preview Republican attacks in a straightforward way, they could have cast the use of reconciliation as "unusual" rather than "trickery." More to the point: Those Republican complaints will ring hollow, given that the GOP has used reconciliation to pass legislation when it controlled the Senate. Thirteen paragraphs later the Times article finally gets around to noting in passing that Republicans "occasionally used the tactic when they were in the majority." That's woefully inadequate, as it fails to make clear the GOP used the tactic to pass hugely significant and contentious measures like budget-busting tax cuts and opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling.
But even that weak indication that the GOP criticisms are hypocritical came after the Times passed along another Republican attack:
Republicans, however, have made clear that they will portray Mr. Obama and Democrats as trying to use a hardball tactic to win passage of the health care legislation.
"Less than a week after the Massachusetts special election, the Obama administration is vowing to 'stay the course' and double down on the same costly, job-killing policies that are leaving America's middle-class families and small businesses high and dry," said the House Republican leader, Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio.
Though the Times quoted Boehner criticizing the substance of health care reform, it omitted any quote or paraphrase of any Democrat or other reform advocate praising reform, or criticizing Republican obstruction.
Two paragraphs later, the Times reported:
In the meantime, aides have been trying to devise a process by which the Senate could make changes to its health bill on a reconciliation measure even before the House voted on the Senate-passed health bill. Some lawmakers said House Democrats might have to vote first.
The Times did not indicate whether "some lawmakers" said that because there are procedural reasons why the House has to go first, or because there are political reasons why they want the House to go first. The Times reporters give no indication that they realize there is a pretty big difference between those things.
If this is the best the Times can do, it's no wonder the public has had such a poor understanding of health care reform.
Does the New York Times have some sort of policy against pointing out that Joe Lieberman's justifications for opposing health care reform are bunk?
Two days ago, Times reporters Robert Pear and David Herszenhorn quoted Lieberman saying the public option would "add to the deficit" without noting that the Congressional Budget Office says it will reduce the deficit. (Pear and Herszenhorn know the CBO says that -- they've reported it in other articles. They just kept quiet about it when it would contradict Lieberman.)
Today, Herszenhorn and David Kirkpatrick devote (another) entire article to Lieberman's opposition to health care. Here's how they present Lieberman's stated reasons for opposition the public option and Medicare buy-in:
Mr. Lieberman says he favors the essential elements of the health care legislation but fears that expanding government programs would compound the federal debt.
Again: no mention of the fact that the CBO says the public option would reduce the deficit (and, therefore, would not "compound the federal debt.")
At this point, a key part of the health care story is that Joe Lieberman is either deeply dishonest or has absolutely no idea what he is talking about (or both), Steve Benen and Jonathan Chait, among others, have noted. Yesterday, Marc Ambinder pointed out that Lieberman has been breaking promises to colleagues. Even Lieberman's defenders say he is killing health care reform to get revenge against liberals who opposed him in 2006. Yet the New York Times persists in taking Lieberman's obviously bogus claims at face value, and ignoring facts they have reported elsewhere that undermine his statements.
The New York Times reports that Senator Joe Lieberman will vote against health care reform in its current form -- and, in doing so, uncritically reports Lieberman's false claims about that legislation. Here's the article, by Times reporters Robert Pear and David Herszenhorn:
Mr. Lieberman described what it would take to get his vote. "You've got to take out the Medicare buy-in," he said. "You've got to forget about the public option. You probably have to take out the Class Act, which was a whole new entitlement program that will, in future years, put us further into deficit."
The Class Act refers to a federal insurance program for long-term care, known as Community Living Assistance Services and Supports.
Mr. Lieberman said he would have "a hard time" voting for bill with the Medicare buy-in.
"It has some of the same infirmities that the public option did," Mr. Lieberman said. "It will add taxpayer costs. It will add to the deficit. It's unnecessary. The basic bill, which has a lot of good things in it, provides a generous new system of subsidies for people between ages 55 and 65, and choice and competition."
But adding to the deficit is not an "infirmity" of the public option. The public option would, according to the Congressional Budget Office, reduce the deficit.
Here's a November 22 article by those very same New York Times reporters -- Robert Pear and David Herszenhorn:
The bill would expand health benefits by broadly expanding Medicaid, the federal-state insurance program for low-income people, and by providing subsidies to help moderate-income people buy either private insurance or coverage under a new government-run plan, the public option. And it would impose a requirement that nearly all Americans obtain insurance or pay monetary penalties for failing to do so.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, the cost of the legislation would be more than offset by new taxes and fees and reductions in government spending, so that the bill would reduce future federal budget deficits by $130 billion through 2019.
So, New York Times reporters Robert Pear and David Herszenhorn know that, according to the Congressional Budget Office, Joe Lieberman simply isn't telling the truth. But they won't tell their readers that. Instead, they type up what he says and pass it along, as though it is true.
When someone knowingly passes along falsehoods from government officials as though they are true, isn't that the essence of propaganda?
See Also: LIEBERMAN'S ON TO REASON #7....