Thursday, February 28, 2013

On Woodward: the unbelievable dishonesty of our media elites

Bob Woodward's tiff with the White House is now the biggest story in politics, trumping even the subject of that tiff, the coming Sequester. Yes, the Sequester, you know, that apocalyptic deal that will send the United States--and the world--spiraling into oblivion via cuts to the Federal budget that equal nearly 0.03% of our yearly GDP.

Some time ago--during election season, actually--President Obama claimed that the Sequester was something dreamed up by Congress. And despite a fact check at the time that proved the President's claim was false, he largely got away with it, as his media fanboys declined to criticize the President for openly lying in a Presidential debate (incidentally, if you really want to see how warped Politifact has become--despite getting this right--compare the above piece to this one). Since then, the Administration continued to push that lie, until Bob Woodward openly contradicted the White House by citing the facts in his own book, the ones utilized by Politifact last year, in a WaPo column. The meat of the column was the false narrative being pushed by the White House, especially by the President and Jack Lew (during his hearings before Congress for Secretary of the Treasury), wherein the Sequester supposedly wasn't a product of the White House but magically came into existence in Congress, though no one seems capable of pointing to the author or authors there of that part of the legislation.

Really, none of this is in doubt, despite the attempts of Obama panegyrists to say differently: the Administration came up with the sequester idea, suggested it to Congressional leaders who agreed to put it in the Budget Control Act of 2011. So when anyone in the Administration says the Sequester was Congress' idea or that the Republicans own it, they're lying. No way around it.

And clearly, the White House resents being made to look foolish. So they've been pushing back against Woodward, actually behaving like a bunch of obnoxious little worms (yes, Stephanie Cutter and David Plouffe, I'm talking about you). And that's to be expected, given that Obama is the most petty President to be in office since...well, Richard Nixon.

But the real shame of all of this are the reactions to this tiff from Woodward's fellow journalists, who are--in order to shame Woodward and protect their hero (even when they are mistreated by said hero)--openly engaging in intellectual dishonesty. Examples, you say? Sure. Here's the getting-smaller-by-the-second mind of Jonathan Chait:

Woodward entered the current debate in a way that is fundamentally analytical, not reportorial. His op-ed does not bring to bear any new facts, but merely crams already known facts into an argument so tendentious that not even Republicans thought to make it before Woodward did. Woodward’s argument is that Obama agreed that the failure to secure a debt agreement would trigger automatic budget cuts, or sequestration. Since sequestration did not include tax increases, he claims, Obama is “moving the goalposts” by demanding them.
True enough, Woodward does make that (wholly correct) argument in his op-ed. But that wasn't the real source of the friction and Chait damn well knows it. The argument is most definitely inconsistent with the White House's point of view, but it is editorial in nature. The actual issue that pissed off the White House is Woodward's mocking of Lew and his testimony, his willingness to make it clear that the Sequester was the brain child of the White House, not Congress.

Another example? Here's an equally dishonest piece by Alex Pareene at Salon (my boldface):
There is nothing less important about “the sequester” than the question of whose idea it originally was. So, naturally, that is the question that much of the political press is obsessed with, to the exclusion of almost everything else. Republicans have been making the slightly incoherent argument that a) the sequester, which is a bad thing, is entirely Obama’s fault, b) Obama is exaggerating how bad the sequester will be, and c) the sequester, which is Obama’s fault, is preferable to not having the sequester. Woodward has lately been fixated on Obama’s responsibility for the idea of the sequester, but at this point, the important question is who will be responsible if it actually happens. On that question, Woodward, and others, have taken the position that it will be Obama’s fault because he has failed to “show leadership.” But laws come from Congress. The president signs or vetoes them. Republicans in the House are unwilling and unable to repeal the law Congress passed creating the sequester. All Obama can do is ask them to pass such a law, and to make the case to the public that they should pass such a law. And Obama has been doing those things, a lot.
First of all, whose idea it was is certainly important, when one of the parties involved--the White House--is openly lying in this regard. But more significantly, the portion in bold is just downright moronic. What is this, third grade? Yes, Congress passes laws, but everyone knows that the President gets to propose laws and can--through his political party--push members of Congress to propose things, as well. Ten will get you twenty, Pareene would fault Bush for the NCLB Act and credit Clinton for legislation that helped to create a budget surplus in his final term.

As to the last, the idea that Obama can and has been asking for a law to repeal the sequester, what a bunch of nonsense. I give you Obama's own words from November of 2011:
I will veto any effort to get rid of those automatic spending cuts to domestic and defense spending.
What a sorry state journalism is in today, where outright lies are disseminated as facts, where partisan hackery masquerades as thoughtful analysis. And these two clowns--along with many others, to be sure--are attacking Bod Woodward, of all people? Unbelievable. Simply unbelievable.

Cheers, all.