Wormhole watch: Sometimes, the Times arrives late!

WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 15, 2012

If you read all the way to the end, you learn that Romney was wrong: We’ve often said the news is a novel.

Sometimes, it’s more like a dream state. Chronology may get tangled up. Familiar events may appear, but they’re strangely out of place.

So it seemed when we scanned page A15 of this morning’s New York Times. Were we back in 2009? Perhaps in 2008? This was the headline which sprawled across the top of the page:

“Conservatives Sowed Idea of Health Care Mandate, Only to Spurn It Later”

It isn’t Michael Cooper’s fault. But his report seems to have emerged through a worm hole.

Good grief! We don’t see anything “wrong” with Cooper's report. But the Times has arrived at the scene of the fire, tires squealing, about three years too late! The topics Cooper discusses have been old hat on the web for years.

Today, these topics arrive in the Times, in something resembling a dream state.

Readers of the New York Times think they subscribe to the nation’s most informative paper. This morning, do they know that they’re getting their information three years after its due date? In a rational world, Newt Gingrich’s very recent endorsements of a mandate should be explained in much more detail; this should have happened months ago. But overall, this morning's report is just amazingly late.

We had a somewhat similar reaction to this report by Michael Shear, a report which is much more current.

Shear reports on Mitt Romney’s past stance regarding the auto bailout—more specifically, on the stance he took in November 2008. Can we talk? This really isn’t a complex story—except at the New York Times, where everything’s hard to explain:
SHEAR (2/15/12): Mr. Romney’s explanation is a complicated one, especially given the industry’s remarkable turnaround in the last three years.

Mr. Romney says he always favored what he calls a “managed bankruptcy” for the auto companies that would have allowed the businesses to restructure and emerge stronger than before. He criticized Mr. Obama for choosing what he called a “bailout” of the industry that benefited big labor unions.

But Mr. Romney next acknowledges that General Motors and Chrysler did in fact go through a “managed bankruptcy” at the urging of Mr. Obama’s administration—and he takes credit for being the one to have the idea first.
Maybe we’re being too critical here. But Romney’s explanation just isn’t “complicated.” He says the restructuring would have gone better without the “bailout” (read the full piece). Obama says that’s bunk.

That simply isn’t complicated, though Shear was eager to warn his readers about the shoals which lie ahead. And by the way: One major part of this story isn’t complicated at all. And it’s extremely salient, given Romney’s repeated claim to financial expertise.

This part of the story is very basic. But Shear buries it deep in his piece, starting in paragraph 18:
SHEAR: Democrats also accuse Mr. Romney of trying to rewrite the history of his earlier positions.

In the first paragraph of his 2008 opinion article, Mr. Romney made an unmistakable prediction: “If General Motors, Ford and Chrysler get the bailout that their chief executives asked for yesterday, you can kiss the American automotive industry goodbye. It won’t go overnight, but its demise will be virtually guaranteed.”
Obviously, that prediction by Romney was just flat wrong. Mitt Romney, the famous turn-around genius, was totally wrong about that. We don’t know why readers had to fight all the way to paragraph 18 to learn such a basic fact.

In fairness, Shear deserves credit for citing that passage, which is highly salient. By happenstance, we reread Romney’s column last week. We too were instantly struck by that blatantly bungled prediction.

That said, this story just isn’t complex. Except at our greatest newspaper, where almost everything seems “complicated”—where the news may arrive three years late, with readers being warned to fear the confusion ahead.

12 comments:

  1. Actually Romney's prediction about the end of the American automotive industry isn't "flat wrong." At least, not yet. It's true that GM's good curent results make Romney's prediction look bad. However, Romney implied that the industry's demise would take a long time, saying, "It won’t go overnight."

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    1. "Not overnight" doesn't usually imply that it will take a long time.

      It usually means pretty soon -- in this case, soon enough that anyone would uncontroversially see the bailout was obviously the reason.

      Here we are three years later. No one now sees the industry as being on the brink.

      No, if there is at some late date an *eventual* failure of the industry now it will hardly be obvious that it was due to the bailout.

      Mitt (and you) -- wrong.

      Delete
  2. Cool. Support ObamaCare, and we'll check in on it 100 years from now and see if those predictions about the country going socialist really are true.

    Berto

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  3. Since he said it won't be "overnight" it's likely he believes it will take some years, so it is too soon to know if he was wrong.

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  4. Yeesh. How long is "not overnight"? It's already been three years! If a subsequent failure of the US auto industry does occur someday, how sure can we be that it's attributable to the auto bailout at all?

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    1. How long is "not overnight"? ISTM we can try to answer that question by understanding why Romney thought a government bailout would lead to eventual failure. I'd guess he may have been thinking of a couple of points:

      -- The bailout led to a higher ongoing costs. Had GM gone through bankruptcy without government involvement, chances are their retiree obligations would have been slashed by the bankruptcy court. According to what I've read, their retiree obligations will cost them a couple of thousand dollars per vehicle sold, putting them at an ongoing disadvantage against Toytota, etc.

      -- Because of the bailout, management of the company is now controlled to some degree by the government and by the unions. Romney may feel that this sort of management structure is bound to fail.

      Whether or not these two factors will actually lead to GM's demise, I think they're both quite long-term. So, if Romney had been asked specifically how long it would take GM to die, I think he would have said "decades."

      I agree with anonymous that even if GM does die decades from now, there will be no way to prove that the bailout was the cause of death.

      Delete
    2. "I'd guess"

      "Romney may"

      "I think"

      And, remembering that we are talking about the entire "American automotive industry," not just GM, we come at last to the money shot:

      "decades from now, there will be no way to prove that the bailout was the cause of death."

      DECADES FROM NOW???

      As I think was once said, that's weaksauce David-in-CA. Damn! I'd say it's nosauce.

      Delete
  5. Well, Mitt hedged his statement with "It won’t go overnight" so that if, in a generation or so, conservative policies DO destroy the American auto industry, they can all point to the Obama administration "bailout" as the root cause.


    It's all about setting expectations.

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  6. "In the long run we are all dead." - John Maynard Keynes

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  7. Quaker in a BasementFebruary 15, 2012 at 10:23 PM

    -- Because of the bailout, management of the company is now controlled to some degree by the government

    Oh really? Could we trouble you for an example of how the government is now controlling management of GM?

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  8. "That said, this story just isn’t complex. Except at our greatest newspaper, where almost everything seems “complicated”—where the news may arrive three years late, with readers being warned to fear the confusion ahead."

    Exactly. The NYT was never the model of journalism it prided itself on being (nor the mouthpiece of liberalism, much less leftism, that the right has persuaded people it was/is), but there was a time, once, many years ago, when it did a pretty good job, all things considered. What in the world happened?

    And I wish people would just ignore David in Cal. If he isn't a troll by intention, he functions as one and derails what could be interesting comments here.

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