Monday, January 23, 2012

The Ministry of Truth: the Media

Ryan Lizza--writing for the New Yorker--offers a detailed and truly enthralling piece on the Obama administration's internal political machinations, from the campaign (and before, really) to the present. It is very long, but well worth the read. And make no mistake, it is not a panegyric. It details explicitly Obama's movement from a politician promising real change and partisan bridge-building to one content to use whatever tools were available to advance agendas. And it honestly reviews moments of hypocrisy or near-hypocrisy on the part of Obama, both as a candidate and as a President.

Given such honesty, I have to admit to surprise in finding an overarching theme throughout the piece, a theme that maintains as an absolute truth something that is no such thing. Specifically Lizza assumes, nay insists, that the Stimulus Bill-- the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009--was a Good Thing, a necessary thing, and that there is no legitimacy to claims it wasn't. From early on in the piece:
As for the economy, conservative and liberal economists agreed that fiscal stimulus was the necessary response to a recession; the only question was how much stimulus.
This is--to be blunt--a bald-faced lie. It's just not true, as I'm sure many of my readers know, all to well. But for those that do not understand how much of an untruth this is, I give you the Cato ad, as it appeared in the New York Times in January of 2009. The ad was a response to both the quoted bit from the President in the ad, itself, and to Joe Biden's similar statement on TV in December of 2008, a statement that mirrors Lizza's:
Every economist, as I’ve said, from conservative to liberal, acknowledges that direct government spending on a direct program now is the best way to infuse economic growth and create jobs.
The Cato ad lists over 200 (even more signed on later) economists who publicly disagreed with a stimulus approach. And yes, the group includes some Nobel laureates, as well. PolitiFact even addressed this issue, finding the President's and the Vice President's claims to be outright falsehoods.

Yet Lizza--writing years later--is repeating the lie, openly and with seeming impunity. Later in the piece, as Lizza surveys the details of the struggle to advance the Stimulus Bill through the Senate, he says:
Even as the severity of the economic crisis became clear, Obama and Congress worked together to make the stimulus smaller. The bill, known as the Recovery Act, passed at $787 billion, with three Republican votes in the Senate, including that of Arlen Specter, of Pennsylvania, who later became a Democrat. It was the Administration’s first recognition that congressional Republicans had little interest in the President’s offer to meet them halfway.
Note the implicit assumption of this statement: "halfway" is defined by Lizza as signing on to increasing the Stimulus Bill. The idea--openly proffered by many Republicans in Congress--that the Stimulus is a bad idea is not even considered, since Lizza has already assumed the truth of his own lie. And his article concludes with this:
Obama didn’t remake Washington. But his first two years stand as one of the most successful legislative periods in modern history. Among other achievements, he has saved the economy from depression, passed universal health care, and reformed Wall Street.
Get that? Obama--via the Stimulus Bill--"saved the economy." From start to finish, the article hammers home as truth what is at best only opinion (that the Stimulus was an absolute necessity) and as truth what is quite clearly a lie (that all economists agreed on this). History is rewritten, not by a politician or even a television pundit, but by a journalist writing in a magazine for the educated elite, where it becomes not just an opinion, but a potential source to be cited in the future. Because there is no question--in my mind--that the article is packed with new information, new data, and new specifics.

But all of those little truths conceal a big lie. And if you're going to rewrite history, is there a better way to do it?

Cheers, all.


  1. An interesting take on the piece

  2. Very interesting, Dm. Thanks for the link. But I think my argument is better. ;)

  3. I would say they are complimentary :)