March 17, 2005

dishonest and insane?

I'm currently enjoying Ari Fleischer's new book, and notice, via Volokh, that Slate has a new feature, The Fleischer Watch: Introducing an ongoing inquiry into dishonest or insane assertions buried inside Ari Fleischer's White House memoir.

Someody feeling a little defensive? So far I haven't read anything that seemed dishonest or insane, and if the first column, by Timothy Noah, is any indication, this new feature will be mostly a look at how clueless journalists can be. Noah writes:

In his new book, Taking Heat: The President, the Press, and My Years in the White House, Ari Fleischer, the former White House press secretary, lays out various "biases and predilections" of "the liberal press." Among these is its 'belief that government is a mechanism to solve the nation's problems," its insistence that "emotional examples of suffering … are good ways to illustrate economic statistic stories," and its tendency to stay "fixated on the unemployment rate." Fleischer might just as well have complained that the press believes the Earth revolves around the sun...

Note that Fleischer doesn't say that these ideas are wrong, just that those are the biases of the press. But Timothy Noah proceeds to defend the ideas as if Fleischer had said they were false, and as if their truth were as obvious as the earth revolving around the sun. Thereby not only missing the point, in a really stupid way, but also demonstrating the point! He himself has those same biases and doesn't seem to be able to even imagine that someone could disagree without being "dishonest and insane."

To respond very briefly to Noah's points (though this is irrelevant to what Fleischer was saying)...

...If the government doesn't exist to solve problems, what the hell do we have it for?...

Many people believe the government should provide national defense, and legal and monetary frameworks, and beyond that let people solve their own problems. You don't have to agree, but it's stupid to be unaware that there are other viewpoints.

..If a lagging economy didn't cause people to suffer, there would be no great reason to keep track of the economy at all. Anecdotes about individual sufferers help the public understand in a concrete way what it means to have a weak economy...

One wonders if the pictures of sufferers are intended to deceive yourselves and preserve your world view. There are many reasons to track the economy besides the problems of the unemployed. Almost everything that happens is affected by, and reflected in the economy.

...The principal way people suffer when economic growth is weak or nonexistent is by losing their jobs. The statistic that keeps track of the people who lose their jobs is the unemployment rate (at the moment a so-so 5.4 percent). Fleischer doesn't want the press to focus on the "micro" story of individual suffering, but neither does he want the press to focus on the "macro" story of economic statistics. In effect, Fleischer is saying that it's unfair for the press to cover the economy at all....

When Clinton was reelected the unemployment rate was 5.6, and yet there were no stories about sufferers in the news. Nor do your stories ever show sufferers in Germany or France, where unemployment is over 10%. Nor do you tend to point out the many ways that our economy has been strong over the last couple of years. Fleisher said nothing about what he wants, just that these are your predilections. But if he had he would have said that focusing only on the negatives is very misleading, and that you are STUPIDLY missing the real story, just as you did in Iraq.

The indicators of a growing economy were clear to many people back in 2003. But you "journalists" missed the story. Recent economic growth stats have been extremely good, but you are still missing the story. You are blinded by your biases.

If, perchance the stock market were lousy but employment was very high, you would be "illustrating" the economy with heartrending pictures of suffering stockholders. You decide what story you would prefer first, and then go looking for "illustrations." Wasn't it ABC that was advertising for families who had lost loved-ones in Iraq, to "illustrate" the upcoming SOTU?

Posted by John Weidner at March 17, 2005 8:22 AM
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