WSJ Op-Ed page plays dumb like it's nobody's business

Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

Does any opinion outlet create, and then successfully demolish, more flimsy straw men than the diligent writers at the WSJ? It's hard to imagine because it's almost if WSJ Op-ed editors require their conservatives opinionists construct lazy, intellectually dishonest arguments.

The latest to comply was Bradley Schiller, an econ prof at the University of Nevada, Reno, who dutifully echoed the GOP talking points from last week that Obama was fear mongering the stimulus bill and trying to scare Americans about the state of the economy. We quickly dispatched with that nonsense here. (Hint: Americans were scared out of the bejesus before Obama ever starting lobbying for his stimulus plan.)

But what was so comical about Schiller's effort was his embarrassing use of the straw man in the process. Basically, Schiller wrote an entire column berating Obama for comparing the state of our current economy to the Great Depression. Slight problem: Obama never did that.

Here's Schiller [emphasis added]:

As [Obama] tells it, today's economy is the worst since the Great Depression. Without his Recovery and Reinvestment Act, he says, the economy will fall back into that abyss and may never recover.

Rule No. 1 of a lazy writer: He tells you what so-and-so said, but doesn't' show you. So here, readers had to take Schiller's word for it that Obama claimed "today's economy" is the worst since the Great Depression. Normally, if a writer builds an entire column around what somebody said, the writer, y'know, actually quotes that somebody. But not Schiller.

Has Obama ever claimed that today's economy is the worst since the Great Depression? Readers have no idea, because Schiller can't be bothered with quoting the president.

Schiller then continued and propped up the straw man:

This fear mongering may be good politics, but it is bad history and bad economics. It is bad history because our current economic woes don't come close to those of the 1930s.

Ugh. Schiller then went on for multiple paragraphs, quoting all kinds of statistics, to prove that there's no way "our current economic woes" are as bad as the Great Depression. Thanks for the lesson professor. Thanks to Schiller's deep research we all now know today's unemployment numbers are not as bad as the Great Depression, even though Obama never claimed the numbers were analogous. In fact, no sane person would make that comparison because nobody thinks we're currently--as of this moment--suffering through the second Great Depression. But Schiller pretended that's what Obama suggested.

Hey, no wonder straw men are so easy to knock down!

For the record, here's what Obama said (and what Schiller wouldn't tell readers):

"We are going through the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression."

Note a couple things. Obama did not suggest, as Schiller falsely claimed at the outset of his column, that "today's economy" is just as bad as the Great Depression. Obama said we were experiencing the "worst economic crisis" since the Great Depression. Words have meaning, and an econ prof ought to be able to differentiate between the "today's economy" and an "economic crisis." Either that, or Schiller played dumb really hard.

Second, note the "since" that Obama used. He claimed today's economic crisis represents the worst since the Great Depression. But in his column, Schiller quoted all kinds of stats to prove today's woes don't compare to the Great Depression. But Obama never compared it to the Great Depression. He said it's the worst since.

Does Schiller honestly not realize that by claiming today's economy crisis is the worst since the Great Depression, that Obama was not claiming today's economy is just as bad as the Great Depression. Or was Schiller aggressively playing dumb. Again?

We've got a hunch.

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