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“Waiting For The Media’s Benghazi Mea Culpa”: The Press Sponsored The GOP Charade For Years

Talk about a wild pendulum swing.

After relentlessly attacking and mocking presidential candidate Hillary Clinton for much of 2015, often depicting her as a hapless and phony pol, the Beltway press wrecking ball dramatically reversed direction last week when pundits and reporters announced the Democratic frontrunner had performed valiantly in front the Benghazi Select Committee.

I’ve been watching Clinton press coverage, on and off, for close to two decades, and I honestly cannot remember a time when the Beltway press corps — so often suspicious and openly critical of Hillary Clinton — was so united in its praise for her and so contemptuous of her partisan pursuers:

Benghazi Has Become A Political Trap From Which Republicans Cannot Escape [Vox]

The Benghazi Hearings Sham [Slate]

The Benghazi Hearing Farce [Time]

Hillary Had A Lovely Benghazi Day [Daily Beast]

Benghazi Bust [Washington Examiner]

The GOP’s Unfortunate Benghazi Hearing [Washington Post]

Benghazi Committee Gives Hillary Clinton Presidential Platform [ABC News]

Trey Gowdy Just Elected Hillary Clinton President [Rolling Stone]

On and on and on it went, as the rave reviews for Clinton poured in and the Republican catcalls mounted. (Committee chairman Trey Gowdy must be seeing those headlines in his sleep by now.)

I’m in heated agreement with virtually all of the analysis that found fault with the Benghazi witch hunt. (“What, exactly, is the point of this committee?”) Indeed, much of the biting commentary echoes Benghazi points Media Matters has been making for three years. But my question now is this: What took the press so long, and when will the press pause and reflect on the central role it played in producing the GOP witch hunt?

I don’t want to punish good behavior by criticizing the press for now accurately portraying the Benghazi pursuit as a fraud. (That’s why I recently urged the media to break up with the Benghazi committee.) But it might be nice amidst the avalanche of Benghazi Is Bogus pronouncements if folks in the press took time to admit the media’s part in the unfortunate charade.

To hear many pundits and observers describe the Benghazi collapse, Republicans — and Republicans only — are to blame, and they’re the ones who overplayed the pseudoscandal and tried to hype it as a blockbuster.

Much of the press is presenting a view from above: Here’s what Republicans did and here’s why it failed. Missing from the analysis is, ‘Here’s how the press helped facilitate the Republican failure for many, many years.’ The media want to pretend they haven’t been players in this drama.

Sorry, that’s not quite right. For years, Republicans often found willing partners in the Beltway press who were also eager and willing to overplay Benghazi and play it as a blockbuster scandal. The press cannot, and should not, simply whitewash the very important role it played, even though that muddles the media’s preferred storyline of How Republicans Botched Benghazi.

I realize that immediately examining the media’s role in this story might not be a priority for editors and producers. But I also realize what’s likely to happen is this window of opportunity for self-reflection will soon close and the press will once again fail to hold itself accountable for its often reckless behavior in marketing a bogus Republican-fueled “scandal.”

Here’s a concrete example: Lara Logan and her completely flawed Benghazi report that aired on 60 Minutes in 2013. Preparing the unsound report, Logan reportedly met behind the scenes with one of the GOP’s most vociferous Benghazi crusaders, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) According to a report in New York magazine, Graham helped shape the CBS Benghazi story. When the 60 Minutes segment aired, he immediately cheered it on, calling it a “death blow” to the White House and announced he’d block every White House appointee until he got more answers about Benghazi.

Then when huge holes began to appear in the story, as one of Logan sources was revealed as a fraud, “Logan called Graham and asked for help,” New York reported. (Note to reporters: When your sources have to make stuff up about Benghazi, it’s a pretty good indication the ‘scandal’ is lacking.)

It’s true that Logan’s example was an extreme one. But the press is kidding itself if it’s going to pretend Republicans didn’t recruit lots and lots of journalists to help tell the GOP’s preferred Benghazi ‘scandal’ story over the last three years.

Thankfully, some prominent journalists have recently shone a spotlighting on the press’ Benghazi failings. “The real losers here are the reporters and centrist pundits who let themselves be played, month after month, by Trey Gowdy and company,” wrote The New York Times’Paul Krugman.

Today, there’s broad media consensus that the Benghazi Select Committee is wasteful and unnecessary. But that was utterly predictable last year when the eighth investigation was formed. At the time, many in the press brushed aside Democratic objections. (Try to imagine the media response if Democrats had demanded eight separate 9/11 commissions under President George W. Bush.)

Why the nonchalance? Because the press, I’m guessing, liked the idea of a standing Congressional committee to chase Clinton, to possibly wreak havoc on her campaign, and to leak gotcha stories to eager reporters.

By raising so few doubts about the absurdity of creating yet another Benghazi inquisition last year, the press helped fuel the charade that unfolded last week. It’s time to own up to the unpleasant truth.

 

By: Eric Boelert, Senior Fellow, Media Matters for America, October 26, 2015

October 28, 2015 Posted by | Hillary Clinton, House Select Committee on Benghazi, Journalism | , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

“Repeating Bad Ideas”: The Competitive Advantage Of Deficit Hacks

As I mentioned earlier, economist and blogger Duncan Black has written that Social Security should be expanded, instead of cut. He has written this multiple times, making essentially the same argument in consecutive USA Today opinion columns. That is a good thing, because it is an argument that is frequently absent from discussions of “entitlements” on cable news and in the political press.

But Black will have to write the exact same column hundreds and hundreds more times in order to have made this argument anywhere near as often as deficit fear-mongers make their arguments.

Paul Krugman today blogged about various “zombie ideas” that he thought he had debunked years ago still being repeated. And, duh, “no one listens to Paul Krugman” is basically the history of the United States since Y2K. Since the Bush era, Krugman has really just written the same five or six columns, over and over again. But they are good, useful, correct columns! And still, the rest of the media lavish praise on “deficit hawks” and beg for “entitlement cuts” Americans do not actually want, at all.

I think a lot about contemporary political debates makes a great deal more sense when you realize that hacks, especially hacks shilling for awful ideas, have a competitive advantage over non-hacks: They do not care if they constantly repeat themselves, even if what they are constantly repeating is wrong.

For a writer or pundit who actually feels some sort of responsibility to inform and/or entertain his or her readers, writing the same damn thing over and over again seems wrong (it is also boring). But bad ideas are constantly being repeated by people who feel absolutely no shame about saying the same things over and over and over again. Indeed, “shamelessness” is in general a defining characteristic of hacks. Also, frequently, people are being paid to repeat the same awful ideas over and over again, and unfortunately usually there’s more money to be made repeating bad ideas than good ones. (Hence: Lanny Davis.)

Arguably, American conservatives are better at sticking to their pet causes in general, as liberals move from fight to fight. Look at how contraception “suddenly” became a matter of national public debate last year, years after liberals thought it a well-settled question. Or look at how long the movement spent trying to roll back the majority of the New Deal, a project that continues to this day!

And on the question of the deficit and the “grand bargain,” Pete Peterson and a few others have spent hundreds of millions of dollars and decades of their lives making the exact same argument, and setting up organizations that pay others to make the exact same argument, until a majority of Beltway centrists internalized the argument and began making it themselves, over and over again. When it comes to centrist pundits, the unsophisticated brainwashing technique that has utterly failed to move the public at large over the last 25 years has worked perfectly. (Because centrist pundits are simple, credulous people, by and large, and also because they will not rely on “entitlements” to survive, when they retire from their very well-compensated jobs.)

So liberal and left-wing thinkers should probably strive to be more Krugman-esque, and hammer home the same causes and arguments no matter how boring it gets, because that is what Joe Scarborough is doing every morning.

By: Alex Pareene, Salon, March 11, 2013

March 12, 2013 Posted by | Media, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Morning Joe’s Accuracy Deficit”: If It’s Way Too Early, It’s Just Flat Out Wrong

We’ve all played the game “telephone,” where a message gets distorted in the retelling, often so much so that the original sender has a hard time recognizing it when it comes back. Nowadays, “telephone” is played in the blogosphere, and that’s how I felt when I first learned that my views on reducing the federal budget deficit were portrayed as in sharp contrast to those of my famous Princeton colleague, Paul Krugman.

The story began when Krugman appeared as a guest on “Morning Joe” on January 28th. He locked horns with host Joe Scarborough and others over how urgent it is to reduce the deficit, with Krugman arguing that we have lots of time and Scarborough (and others) arguing that we need to act post haste. Krugman did not dispute the notion that we must eventually get ourselves off the explosive debt path on which we now find ourselves. But he insisted that, with the economy so weak and the markets so welcoming of U.S. Treasury debt, we can and should go slowly.

Scarborough, though cordial to his guest, was incredulous and even amused. He subsequently argued in POLITICO that Krugman’s view is extreme, dangerous, and — most germane to this note — shared by almost no one else. It certainly wasn’t the consensus view on “Morning Joe” that day.

When Scarborough speaks, people listen. So controversy quickly erupted in the blogosphere. In POLITICO on February 15th, Scarborough invoked me as being on his side of the debate — which was news to me. While there are nuances of difference between my views on the budget issue and Krugman’s, and notable differences in rhetorical style, our positions are broadly similar. I’m probably a tad more hawkish than my colleague, but there’s not much distance showing between us.

So why had Scarborough declared me a deficit hawk?, I wondered when someone informed me of the alleged schism within the Princeton economics department. Here’s the answer.

In my new book, “After the Music Stopped” (Penguin Press, 2013), which was published a few days before the Scarborough-Krugman debate, I argued that there is not just one, but actually three distinct deficit problems, each with its own solution.

PROBLEM 1: In the very short run, meaning right now, we probably have too much deficit reduction. The U.S. economy could actually use some fiscal stimulus (to wit, larger deficits) today, rather than more fiscal contraction, because unemployment is still so high. Doesn’t that sound like Krugman?

PROBLEM 2: Over the coming decade, however — which is the focus of Simpson-Bowles, the so-called grand bargain, and most other plans — we do need to bring the deficit down, I argued. And, indeed, Problems 1 and 2 should be linked: by joining together some modest stimulus now with perhaps ten times as much deficit reduction over the ten-year budget window. In Washington-speak, we would thus “pay for” the stimulus ten times over. Furthermore, I argued, we could accomplish that without undue pain and suffering.

PROBLEM 3: The real budget crunch comes well down the line — a decade or two or three from now. The problem is simple to diagnose — healthcare costs are projected to soar — and it looks massive. By the way, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t start addressing the healthcare cost problem now.

An excerpt from my book, making these points, was published in The Atlantic on January 25th — three days before the “Morning Joe” show. Interestingly, The Atlantic entitled the excerpt: “How to Worry About the Deficit: (1) Don’t; (2) Wait a Few Years; (3) Then Worry About Healthcare Costs.” A bit long as headlines go, and maybe a bit misleading, but it did capture the three separate deficit issues.

Apparently the article caught Scarborough’s eye. In that POLITICO article, he cited me as among the anti-Krugmans, claiming I was “particularly supportive of the “Morning Joe” panel’s view.” Why? Because I had warned of “truly horrific problems” ahead and “even shared [the] conclusion that the coming Medicare crisis will be so great that Democrats won’t be able to tax their way out of it.”

Well, I did say those things, but they referred to Problem 3, the long-run explosion of healthcare costs, not to Problem 2, the ten-year budget. Here’s the actual quotation about taxing our way out of the exploding healthcare costs (from “After the Music Stopped,” p. 404):

“The government can cover no more than a small fraction of the projected deficits by raising taxes. Sorry, Democrats, but the Republicans are right on this one. Americans are used to federal taxes running about 18.5 percent of GDP; they will not allow them to rise to 32 percent of GDP. Never mind that a number of European countries do so; we won’t.”

Krugman subsequently noted in his blog (on February 16) that his position is “not so different” from mine.

I don’t blog, so the purpose of this missive is simple: Can we please end the mini-debate right here? While there may be some small differences between Krugman’s position on reducing the deficit and my own, they are pretty small. Had I been on “Morning Joe” that day, the debate surely would have been two against four, not one against four. Furthermore, Krugman and I are not occupying some obscure corner of the policy debate, where only weirdos live. A large number of economists are on our side. Others, of course, are closer to the Scarborough camp.

The more important question is the substantive issue of the day: Should we be going for more fiscal austerity right now, or not? Those of us who say “not” urge you to consider some pertinent facts: the unemployment rate remains sky high; fiscal austerity has failed in Europe, where it is harming growth; the U.S. Treasury can still borrow at super-low interest rates; and we have already made serious progress on the ten-year budget problem. Now make up your own minds.

 

By: Alan S. Blinder, Opinion Contributor; Professor of Economics and Public Affairs, Princeton; Former Vice Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Politico, March 4, 2013

March 5, 2013 Posted by | Deficits, Sequester | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Joe Scarborough Is A Total Hack”: But Don’t Take My Word For It

In his latest salvo in his back-and-forth with Paul Krugman over the significance of the national debt, Joe Scarborough, writing in POLITICO today, displayed such a foul misunderstanding about economics, Krugman must have choked on his oatmeal laughing as he read it.

In “Paul Krugman is wrong – but don’t take my word for it,” the MSNBC host made the following point:

Investors may be growing skittish about U.S. government debt levels and the disordered state of U.S. fiscal policymaking.

From the beginning of 2002, when U.S. government debt was at its most recent minimum as a share of GDP, to the end of 2012, the dollar lost 25 percent of its value, in price-adjusted terms, against a basket of the currencies of major trading partners. This may have been because investors fear that the only way out of the current debt problems will be future inflation.

It also may have been because space aliens raided the Treasury in the dead of night because Nicholas Cage and Chuck Norris were off duty, having been contracted by the Navy to fight a flotilla of krakens in the Caribbean the week before. Scarborough may as well have argued that, because it would have displayed a better understanding of how foreign exchange markets actually work. The value of the dollar is determined by foreign countries’ demand for it and our supply of foreign exchange. And while foreign investors in 2002 may have begun to fear widening debt that was eventually caused by a recession in 2008 — despite the fact that the housing bubble was far from inflated in 2002 and that these investors eventually failed to foresee the crash itself — it’s more likely that the value of the dollar fell because our current account deficit essentially doubled between 2002 and 2006 (but don’t take my word for it).

Scarborough continued to make arguments that could be debunked by a remedial high school economics teacher shortly after:

More troubling for the future is that private domestic investment—the fuel for future economic growth—shows a strong negative correlation with government debt levels over several business cycles dating back to the late 1950s. Continuing high debt does not bode well in this regard.

While it’s true that government borrowing can “crowd out” private investment by bidding up interest rates, it isn’t currently happening — interest rates remain low. Furthermore, investors seem to have more confidence in U.S. Treasuries than they do in the market (but don’t take my word for it, “investors continue to buy U.S. government debt as a refuge against a renewal of turmoil in global financial markets and concern the U.S. recovery may falter”). The real reason that private investment and government debt appear to have an inverse relationship, both now and during any recession, is that economic contraction causes both tax revenue and private investment to fall.

So whose word should we take?

If you believe that I am wrong and Paul Krugman is right…then take it up with the RAND Corporation whose senior economist wrote everything you have read here other than this concluding paragraph. The debt crisis is real and waiting another decade to fix it is not an option. Anyone who suggests it is operates well outside the mainstream of where serious economists reside.

If the recent financial crash has taught us anything, it’s that “the mainstream of where serious economists reside” is less credible than a bootleg DVD salesman convention. But what’s even more troubling about Scarborough’s column — and POLITICO’s decision to publish it — is that he doesn’t even say whose words we should take or what those words actually are. Scarborough names neither the “senior economist” nor the study or studies that he is citing. Nor does the RAND Corporation even have a single “senior economist” — a search for “senior economist” on RAND’s website indicates that the think tank has at least a dozen “senior economists” on staff. So we can’t even debunk the man inspiring Scarborough to spew such noxious filth. At least we can debunk him.

 

By: Samuel Knight, Washington Monthly Political Animal, February 16, 2013

February 17, 2013 Posted by | Budget, Deficits | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Fundamentally Stupid And Dangerous”: The GOP Debt Ceiling Strategy Is “Hostage Taking”

Paul Krugman on Sunday accused the Republican leadership of holding the country hostage.

The Nobel-Prize winning economist and New York Times columnist argued that congressional Republicans are “threatening to blow up the world economy” if they don’t get their way in the debt-ceiling debate. After a difficult fiscal cliff battle, President Barack Obama said he would not negotiate over the debt ceiling, but Republicans have said they won’t authorize an increase in the country’s spending limit without major spending cuts.

“We should not allow this to become thought of as a legitimate or normal budget strategy,” Krugman said on ABC’s “This Week.” “This is hostage taking.”

Krugman has made similar statements in the past, particularly when defending the idea of minting a trillion-dollar platinum coin to avoid the debt ceiling crisis — a loophole the White House ruled out Saturday. In a blog post earlier this month, Krugman argued that Obama should be ready to mint the coin because it offered a “silly, but benign” solution to the crisis. The alternative: Putting the nation’s ability to meet its financial obligations at risk, an option that Krugman described as “both vile and disastrous.”

“The debt ceiling is a fundamentally stupid but dangerous thing,” Krugman said on “This Week.” “It’s incredibly scary, this is much scarier than the fiscal cliff,” he added later.

If Congress does nothing to raise the debt ceiling, the U.S. could lose its ability to meet its financial obligations by as early as February 15, according to a recent report from the Bipartisan Policy Center. Republican leaders and the White House came to an agreement earlier this month to address the so-called fiscal cliff, a combination of tax increases and spending cuts that economists warned could have plunged the country into recession.

 

By: Jillian Berman, The Huffington Post, January 13, 2013

January 14, 2013 Posted by | Debt Ceiling | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

   

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