Thursday, September 10, 2015

Naked emperors, standard hack templates and a really bad piece by the NYT's Alan Rappeport -- UPDATED

[If you're just tuning in, you might want to catch up on the naked emperor thread here, here and especially here.]

There is an extremely popular template for mainstream political reporters:

Take a press release;

Paraphrase it in such a way that all the spin and major talking points are preserved;

Close with a brief paragraph from the opposition for "balance."

For the journalist, there are a number of selling points. The stories are quick and easy. They inoculate you against charges of bias thanks to the closing quote. If the subject is a Republican, you (as a member of the nominally liberal press) get points for lack of bias and, far more importantly, if the subject is powerful and well-connected (like a Bush, for example), you get a chance to stroke a valuable potential source.

This sort of thing is so common that it might seem mean of me to pick on Alan Rappeport by name, but even this genre does have some standards. The spin and talking points you're regurgitating don't have to be entirely truthful but they do have to fall somewhere north of Dashiell Hammett's famous sign

With the NYT piece, the title alone is enough to give you a sense of Rappeport's relentless credulity:

Jeb Bush’s Tax Plan Looks to Cut Loopholes for Wealthy

As Jared Bernstein spells out in crushing detail, Bush has just proposed a set of enormous tax cuts for the wealthy slightly offset by the closing of a few loopholes. Obviously, Jeb would like people to focus on the loopholes and not the extraordinarily unpopular cuts, but keeping on the candidate's message is not Rappeport's job.

Nor is it Rappeport's job to write spin-heavy paragraphs like these.
Former Gov. Jeb Bush is challenging some long-held tenets of conservative tax policy with a populist plan that targets valuable deductions that benefit the wealthy and the “carried interest” loophole that has enriched hedge fund managers for years.

The plan is intended to spur the economy to grow at an annual rate of 4 percent by giving companies incentives to invest domestically and by easing the tax burdens on low and middle-income families.

“Low growth, crony capitalism and easy debt — that’s President Obama’s economic agenda in a nutshell, and the tax code has helped make it possible,” Mr. Bush wrote ahead of an economic policy speech in North Carolina. “It’s past time for a change.”
Once again, this is clearly the way Bush would like to frame the debate but as Bernstein and Jonathan Chait point out, the majority of Jeb's proposals not only fail to challenge "long-held tenets of conservative tax policy"; they actually push it further than those of his brother did.

Here's Chait:

Bush’s plan, unveiled in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, would replicate his brother’s program in extremis. Like Dubya, Jeb would reduce income taxes at the bottom of the earning scale. Dubya reduced the estate tax; Jeb would eliminate it entirely. Dubya cut the top tax rate to 35 percent, while Jeb would lower it all the way to 28 percent. Unlike his brother, he would also slash corporate tax rates, from 28 percent to 20 percent.
And then there's the other elephant in the room. Rappeport keeps talking about that 4 percent as if it were an actual target and not, well, this:

Chait again:

Jeb Bush has made the ludicrous promise that, if elected, his still to-be-determined economic program will launch the United States into 4 percent economic growth. Reuters reported out the genesis of this promise a few months ago. “There were no fancy economic models or forecasts when former Florida Governor Jeb Bush first tossed out the idea that 4 percent annual growth should be the overarching goal for the U.S. economy,” it revealed. Just a bunch of guys on the phone pullin’ numbers out of thin air:

    That ambitious goal was first raised as Bush and other advisers to the George W. Bush Institute discussed a distinctive economic program the organization could promote, recalled James Glassman, then the institute's executive director.

    "Even if we don’t make 4 percent it would be nice to grow at 3 or 3.5,” said Glassman, now a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. In that conference call, “we were looking for a niche and Jeb in that very laconic way said, 'four percent growth.' It was obvious to everybody that this was a very good idea."

(George W. Bush’s policies didn’t produce anything close to 4 percent annual growth, but the Bush Institute has made 4 percent growth its major theme, in keeping with the general Republican practice of acting like the Bush administration never happened.)
[And, yes, we're talking about that James Glassman]

A lot of people at the New York Times are greatly concerned about the rise of Trump and the state of democracy, but none of them seem to have considered the possibility that, if the country's best-respected and most influential paper hadn't been doing such a crappy job, the country's electoral process might be in better shape now..


Jonathan Chait has another post up this morning further exploring the misreporting of Bush's proposal. He provides additional examples, though none quite as awful as the NYT piece.

On a related note, Bruce Bartlett (one of the architects of the 1981 tax cuts) is firmly in the Bernstein camp on this one:

    Jeb’s tax plan makes George W. Bush’s policies look good

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