Facts Don’t Have A Political Slant – Journalists Need To Do More Fact Checking And Less Stenography

screenshot of 'Journalist' Chuck Todd
‘Journalist’ Chuck Todd

Toledo Blade columnist Marilou Johanek wrote a post about journalists letting their opinion into the stories they do. While I agree with the general idea of her article, there is something missing: Facts don’t have a political slant. What I feel is worse for people today is the failure of journalists to give the facts and the context in a story. That should be their primary job.

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“Pledge to America” is perfect if you were just born today

I really don’t get it. The recently released “Pledge for America” is a 45 page reheat of current Republican talking points which themselves were rehashes from the past 15 years. Do they not remember the Bush years? Does the media? If people accept the pledge and elect Republicans we can go back to those days of Bush when the banks collapsed, we were fighting two wars without end, and health care costs were a threat to national security.

What will the pledge do?

* It pledges to continue the same failed policies that brought us the worst recession since the Great Depression. (Think Progress)
* It is an oath to Big Oil. (Wonk Room)
* It is a backdoor path to bring in Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) controversial budget roadmap that privatizes Medicare and Social Security. (Wonk Room)
* It repeals the Affordable Care Act and replaces it with provisions from the Affordable Care Act. (Think Progress)
* It endorses Arizona’s deputization of immigration law. (Wonk Room)
* It embraces a radical “Tenther” view of the U.S. Constitution. (Think Progress)

What will it do to deficits and debt?

* American Progress’s Michael Ettlinger and Michael Linden examined the “Pledge” and found that implementing the plan’s proposals would increase the federal budget deficit and accelerate growth in federal debt. (CAP)

Unpacking the GOP’s “Pledge to America”

Even many conservatives don’t like the “Pledge” and when one of the supporters is a comedian who parodies the GOP mind set as his act then you know you have trouble.

I may have my issues with the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats but I sure as hell don’t want to go back to the Bush years when the GOP was in charge.

Defending government is easier today

The one thing about current political debate or any kind of debate is the need for “talking points”. These are buzzwords or short phrases that quickly make a point and say more than the number of words used. Usually the person or group who come up with the quickest talking points can frame the debate. It is kind of like a gun fight – the quickest draw wins. Some of my conservative friends have told me during the current health care reform debate that “Obamcare is socialized medicine” or “Medicare is clogged with waste and fraud”. I needed some place to go to rebut some of the classic “government is bad” arguments from the right and I think I found it.

Some years ago on an e-mail list I use to be on, a guy came on spouting Libertarian arguments hard and fast. Many times I didn’t have a quick way of refuting the classic arguments even though I knew he was wrong. Then I found the A Non-Libertarian FAQ which allowed me in some cases to cut and paste answers to his arguments like “Social Contract? I never signed no steenking social contract. ” etc….

With the right media bias currently, the political arguments today get framed by conservative talking heads with little to no counter arguments from people on the left side of the spectrum. Most times the host – like David Gregory of Meet the Press – just lets the conservative spew their talking points like it was a press conference rather than a political show.

I needed a place that had some good rebuttals I could use when I had my own debates with friends who like to parrot talk radio.

Government is Good is recent addition to my bookmarks as it offers a quick way to answer the arguments from the right about how bad government is. For example:

When the Republicans took over Congress in the mid-1990s, one of their first priorities was to “reform welfare” along these lines. In a landmark 1996 bill, welfare was declared to be no longer an entitlement, and strict time limits and work requirements were imposed on recipients – all designed to discourage people from staying on welfare and forcing them onto the job market. This legislation has come to be celebrated by conservatives as one of the most successful policies coming out of that period. They point out that between 1996 and 2003, the number of people on the welfare rolls dropped by over 60%.

This is pretty impressive. But unfortunately, the effect of this reduction of the welfare rolls on the poverty level was not what Republicans had predicted. If welfare was actually a major cause of persistent poverty, then we should have also seen a dramatic decrease in poverty as millions of people were forced off welfare and onto the job market. But this is precisely what did not happen. The poverty rate did not fall by 60% or 50%. Not even by 40% or 30%. Not by 20%, nor even by 10%. It fell by a measly 8% — from 13.7% to 12.5% from 1996 to 2003.

How can this be explained? It is simple. Conservatives were wrong about poverty being largely caused by government welfare programs. First, they ignored the fact that most poor people aren’t even on welfare – and that many of them work already. Second, as many scholars of poverty have pointed out, the major causes of poverty in this country are mostly in the economic system. Most people are poor for two reasons: (1) there is a chronic lack of jobs, and (2) many low-level jobs pay wages below the poverty level. 

Why Government Becomes the Scapegoat

So if you are looking for some backup in your own debates with people who claim government is bad for us then check out the website.

Tax Cuts equals “Bad Faith Economics”

Back in my college days, I had a friend who I would debate various topics with on those late night study sessions in the study lounge. He use to drive me crazy because he would always take the opposite position and would never yield, compromise, or even acknowledge any of my points. No matter what evidence I provided he would refuse to accept it. These debates wouldn’t go anywhere because of his stubbornness but he enjoyed them. He would walk around for a few days with a smugness believing he bested me. That’s how it seems Congressional Republicans are acting over the proposed stimulus plan.

The GOP has always been factually challenged but is always a good read when someone points it out in a high profile publication like the New York Times.

Paul Krugman, professor of economics and international affairs at Princeton University and who won the 2008 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, demolishes the current GOP talking points against the proposed stimulus plan. Let me stress. Paul Krugman is an expert in economics. It his job.

In his January 26th column he states:

As the debate over President Obama’s economic stimulus plan gets under way, one thing is certain: many of the plan’s opponents aren’t arguing in good faith. Conservatives really, really don’t want to see a second New Deal, and they certainly don’t want to see government activism vindicated. So they are reaching for any stick they can find with which to beat proposals for increased government spending.

Bad Faith Economics

He then went through the talking points and shreds them:

John Boehner, the House minority leader, calling the plan to “spend hundreds of millions of dollars on contraceptives” is simply a cheap shot and easily dismissed. The fact is the proposal is an expansion in the number of states that can use Medicaid money, with a federal match, to help low-income women prevent unwanted pregnancies, which would save the states $400 million.

The Obama plan will cost $275,000 per job created? Nope. Closer to $100,000 and lower if you take into account the tax income from those new jobs.

It’s always better to cut taxes than to increase government spending because taxpayers should decide how to spend their money? Krugman notes that a large percentage of any tax cut would be saved so spending on things like infrastructure will get more bang for the bucks. Increased tax revenue and increased spending in the private sector by the people with those created jobs will amplify the results. As an aside, the last tax cut Bush gave, when all of us got $600 or more in a check only created an infinitesimal ripple in the economy.

We should favor monetary policy over fiscal policy? Nope. Because interest rates are effectively zero right now. There are no more monetary tricks to pull out.

Krugman closes with a even more true fact facing the GOP. Obama won the election. The public has spoken.

We need better roads, bridges that don’t fall down, and school buildings that don’t make students sick. The LAST thing we need is a tax cut.

The “Republican” Courier rides again

I‘ve said it before. I don’t normally read or consider Editorials published in newspapers because it is the view point of the non-working members of the paper and is usually expresses the view point of the owner or publisher of the paper. They are free to express a point of view of an issue or an election but sometimes they write some howlers not grounded in reality. The October 9th endorsement of John McCain for President is the Findlay Courier’s howler of the moment.

It starts out well enough:

We endorse John McCain for President of the United States.By the issues, here’s why:

Elect McCain

Then it is downhill from there.

First there is this

Energy: Like many Americans, McCain has undergone a complete change of heart regarding offshore drilling, as evidenced by the choice of running mate. Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is strongly in favor of developing and using our domestic resources.

Oil companies hold about 5,500 offshore leases that are not being used. Oil refineries are already operating at maximum capacity in the United States, and no new refineries have been opened since 1976. And any effect on supply or price wouldn’t be felt for at least 10 years it takes to bring that oil to the market, if at all.

Then there is this:

Health care: McCain’s plan is one of his strongest policy proposals. He wants to replace the current tax deduction on employer-provided health insurance with a tax credit of $2,500 per person (or $5,000 per family). This would go to everyone, whether or not their employers offer health insurance, so more people could buy private insurance.

McCain’s health insurance plan will tax your health care benefits for the first time ever and pass those so-called credits to insurance providers. Some plan. He also wants to encourage people to purchase health insurance across state lines – like people do with fireworks, cigarettes, and liquor – and turn it into a “free market” like he did Wall Street and we know how that turned out. He also plans on cutting Medicaid to pay for his plan.

Then there is this:

Courts: McCain has promised to name “strict constructionists” to the Supreme Court, or in other words, justices who would strictly interpret the law as written and intended. That’s as it should be.

So I wonder if that also means the Courier supports a return to slavery and treating women as the property of their husbands?

From the beginning, McCain seemed to comprehend far better than the Bush administration that Iraq was a huge project. He knew more troops were needed, and called for such long before the “surge” was implemented.

McCain’s military background is perhaps the greatest asset he brings to the presidency. He understands the principles on which this nation was founded and he’s utterly committed to America. He has a realistic view of nations like Russia and Iran, but also would use caution before pushing us into another war; he knows first-hand what wars do to our military. He has shown courage and fortitude, and would continue to do so as president.

Really? As for McCain being better than the current occupant of the White House about Iraq, both were left in the dust because Obama was correct about everything on Iraq and Afghanistan and the war started before January of 2007. Obama is so right on this issue that not only does the Bush administration admit it but so does senior commanders in area. McCain – and the Courier – seem to be the only one to think McCain is right.

Then toward the end of the editorial was the ultimate howler:

It’s worth pointing out that McCain lacks the negative baggage his opponent carries: the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, William Ayers, ACORN, etc.

How about McCain’s involvement with the Council for World Freedom that was involved with the Iran-Contra deal (which included selling weapons to Iran) and Latin American death squads during his time on their board and how could the Courier ignore the Keating 5. How about his association with the anti-Catholic and antisemitic Pastor John Hagee? Then there is Sarah Palin’s association with the anti-American Alaska Independence Party. If associations matter then they missed the forest for the trees.

This is what happens when talking points are used to “support” an endorsement.

As a side note, back when I was a lad, The Courier was known as “The Republican Courier”. It had the name for decades and was a left over from the days when Findlay had newspapers that were strictly aligned with political parties of the day.

I think it was in the early 80’s, the owners of The Courier decided to drop “Republican” from its name because they were concerned people would be suspect of their journalistic objectivity. The actual news they print has always been, for the most point, objective, but it is clear, with this endorsement, that the owners are still shilling for the GOP.