Mar
01
2007

SoundBites

Broder and ‘His President’

In “Bush Regains His Footing” (2/16/07), Washington Post columnist David Broder told readers that, “perverse” as it may seem, Bush may actually be “poised for a political comeback.” He “shows signs of renewed energy and is regaining the initiative on several fronts.” And, “more important, he is demonstrating political smarts that even his critics have to acknowledge.” Challenged in an online discussion (WashingtonPost.com, 2/16/07) about whether he was perhaps too “deeply invested” in the Bush White House, Broder bristled, writing, “The notion that I am invested in him is bizarre—unless it is meant to suggest that anyone who would rather see his country and his president succeed than fail is ‘invested’ in him.” For those who don’t equate George Bush’s political fortunes with the success of the country, that probably explains a lot.

Arguably Insignificant

Reporter David Leonhardt of the New York Times (1/28/07), commenting on how Virginia Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) referred to ever-wealthier elites and “dispossessed workers at the bottom” in his response to George W. Bush’s State of the Union address: “It was the sort of speech that one might have expected during a deep economic slump. Yet it came instead as most workers have started receiving significant pay increases for the first time in years and as polls show that most Americans think the economy has grown stronger. This contrast was arguably the most significant part of the speech.” That’s a good word—”arguably.” Many would “argue,” also, with the idea that they’ve received a “significant pay increase” lately. Here Leonhardt happens to be referencing his own December 8, 2006 Times piece, which trumpeted recent wage gains that, while welcome, might more realistically be called “modest,” particularly after five years of wage stagnation. The article did find one source who called the wage increases “huge”—but that was the White House’s chief economist.

Thoughtless Experiment

On This Week (2/11/07), ABC’s Sunday morning news show, panelist George Will dismissed claims about rising inequality with a peculiar argument: “Beware of income inequality statistics. I’ll give you a little thought experiment. Forty people are drinking in a bar. Bill Gates walks in. The average income of the people in that bar is a billion dollars. Who cares?” How this “thought experiment” undermined income inequality statistics is difficult to say, since a calculation of the inequality in that imaginary bar would show that, well, one person present controlled virtually all the wealth. That would be an illustration of income inequality and not a dismissal of it. One gets the unmistakable impression that when it comes to inequality, the “who cares?” part of Will’s remark best conveys his thoughts on the matter.

We Will Describe Profits as ‘Super-Fantastic’

Rupert Murdoch announced that Fox will launch a new cable business channel next fall, declaring, “We have long considered the business television market to be underserved.” Murdoch claimed the new channel will be “more business-friendly” than GE-owned CNBC, of which he complained, “They leap on every scandal.” Fox’s Roger Ailes, who will run the new channel, underscored the point, telling the February 9 New York Times, ‘’Many times I’ve seen things on CNBC where they are not as friendly to corporations and profits as they should be.” At Fox, he continued, “we don’t get up every morning thinking business is bad.’’ Here’s an example of the kind of anti-business spin you get from CNBC star Jim Cramer, appearing on the network’s Chris Matthews Show (2/25/07): “Fantastic, the economy. We’re going to have lower interest rates, very low inflation, great employment and fantastic profits. Chris, it is a great time. And the stock market’s telling me that. It hits highs nearly every week.”

“Oh, There’s a War On!”

“Oh, there’s a war on, there’s a war on. Maybe, just maybe, people are a little weary, Mr. [Anderson] Cooper, of your war coverage, and they’d like a little something else. Maybe that’s why they all thundered to this story. . . . My complaint about this is what you’re listening to when you hear that guy lecture the audience, is you’re listening to news-guy snobbery. Essentially saying, ‘I’m better than you. I know what you want to hear about, but I’m better than that story. I’m too high class for that story. I won’t stoop to what you want to hear about.’ I’m not playing that. People want to hear about the Anna Nicole story, I’m happy to tell them.”

Fox’s John Gibson (John Gibson Show, 2/23/07) mocking CNN’s Anderson Cooper, who said (360 Degrees, 2/22/07) that when he watches coverage of dead model Anna Nicole Simpson he wants to shout, “There’s a war on!”

Marijuana, Meth—What’s the Difference?

The February 6 USA Today carried an article with a warning to parents: “Caution: Marijuana May Not Be Lesser Evil.” If you thought pot smoking was less harmful than, say, crystal meth, think again—because pot smoking can lead to crystal meth. The story ended with a 25-year-old saying of marijuana, “You never know where it’s going to lead you. . . . You don’t know that you’re not going to become an addict, so it’s not worth the risk.” The article was essentially an argument by anecdote, and when it comes to health-related questions, that’s about as reliable as a mood ring. The lazy reporting was especially troubling when there is some useful data on the question: A recent 12-year study by the University of Pittsburgh (American Journal of Psychiatry, 12/06) concluded that marijuana was not a gateway drug that causes substance abuse problems, finding instead that environmental factors—like what kind of neighborhood a kid grows up in—were far more important. But this recent study, on the precise subject of the article, went unmentioned. And for good reason, since it would have undermined the whole piece.