And it only took twenty-three years: Almost every part of our public discourse is built around false, bogus tales.
These bogus tales get memorized, then widely presented as fact. Depending on who is behind the tales, the bogus tales will be widely accepted by the mainstream press corps.
In Sunday’s Washington Post, Glenn Kessler debunked one of those hoary old tales. And by our count, it only took twenty-three years!
As far as we know, Kessler did a good job in this piece—although he failed to name the people who have been telling this hoary old tale in recent weeks. That said, he named the original source of this bogus tale.
It came from Ronald Reagan!
KESSLER (12/16/12): It had become an article of faith by conservatives that President Reagan reluctantly agreed to raise taxes in his first term in office—and that Congress then failed to follow though on promised spending cuts. The frequent recitation of this story during the current fiscal debate made us wonder: What actually happened three decades ago?According to Kessler, “conservatives” have been retelling this story in recent weeks. This is plainly true, of course. This is one of the ways hard-liners have argued against the idea of accepting higher tax rates.
It’s not hard to find the source of this story—Reagan’s own memoir, “An American Life.” Here’s what he wrote: “I made a deal with the congressional Democrats in 1982, agreeing to support a limited loophole-closing tax increase to raise more than $98.3 billion over three years in return for their agreement to cut spending by $280 billion during the same period; later the Democrats reneged on their pledge and we never got those cuts.”
When Reagan made a nationally-televised speech in support of the tax hike—trying to refute charges that it was the biggest tax increase in U.S. history—he also cited a 3-to-1 agreement:
“Revenues would increase over a three-year period by about $99 billion, and outlays in that same period would be reduced by $280 billion. Now, as you can see, that figures out to about a 3-to-1 ratio—$3 less in spending outlays for each $1 of increased revenue. This compromise adds up to a total over three years of a $380 billion reduction in the budget deficits.”
The Washington Post did not have a Fact Checker column back then, and this speech certainly would have been ripe for fact checking.
But uh-oh! As Kessler explains in great detail, with strong sourcing, this hoary old story is wrong!
To watch Kessler debunk this hoary old tale, go ahead—read his whole piece. For ourselves, we were struck by one of the dates involved in his presentation.
According to this bogus old story, Congress failed to follow through with promised spending cuts after the 1982 budget deal. How does Kessler know this story is wrong?
In this passage, he cites a key source:
KESSLER: Here’s the actual breakdown of the three-year agreement, according to a June 1982 chart prepared by the GOP-controlled Senate Budget Committee staff, which appears in the 1989 book “The Deficit and the Public Interest,” by Joseph White and Aaron B. Wildavsky.You’ll have to read Kessler’s report to get the whole story. Warning: His presentation of that June 1982 chart is hopelessly confusing.
“In essence, the funny numbers, meant to impress voters and maybe the markets, fooled the president. They also fooled Donald Regan and Ed Meese,” write White and Wildavsky. “To Stockman, Baker, [Richard] Darman and congressional leaders, this sense of betrayal was ludicrous; no one ever said Congress would pass three-for-one. The [congressional budget] resolution was clear enough about that.”
That said, please note the date of the book Kessler cites as a source. If Kessler’s presentation is right, this hoary old tale was debunked in 1989. But conservatives have been still out there pimping the bogus tale this past month!
Do you live in a banana republic? Inside a journalistic Babel?
This is the way your discourse works in almost every area! Even after bullroar gets debunked, it may be widely repeated—and widely accepted—for many, many years!
Go ahead—just ask Paul Krugman. Or you can just click here.
Almost all parts of our public discourse function this way. Favored pols or powerful interest groups simply invent false stories. Even after the stories have been debunked, journalists keep lapping them up.
This fall, the press kept repeating a bogus tale by McCain—a tale which took down Susan Rice. But that was really a blip on the screen:
Good God! For the past thirty years, they’ve been accepting this bullroar from Reagan!