As we should have stated: Yesterday, we praised the Washington Post for a front-page report from Sunday’s hard-copy paper. To read that post, click this.
We should have noted the truly horrible front-page report which ran directly above it, right at the top of the Sunday Post’s front page.
Jonathan Chait called this other report “one of the weirdest, and most weirdly biased, news articles I’ve ever read in my life.” We can’t disagree with that assessment, and the report concerned a topic which lies at the center of the national discourse.
Such as it is.
David Fahrenthold’s hopeless report concerns the size of the federal government. Hopelessly, Fahrenthold started like this. We’ll assume his editor made him, perhaps at the point of a gun:
FAHRENTHOLD (8/25/13): After 2 1/2 years of budget battles, this is what the federal government looks like now:Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Or, as Kurtz says in The Heart of Darkness, “The horror! The horror.”
It is on pace, this year, to spend $3.455 trillion.
That figure is down from 2010—the year that worries about government spending helped bring on a tea party uprising, a Republican takeover in the House and then a series of ulcer-causing showdowns in Congress.
But it is not down by that much. Back then, the government spent a whopping $3.457 trillion.
What is so bad about that opening? For starters, Fahrenthold hasn’t adjusted those figures for inflation—and yes, that makes a significant difference, even over just a few years.
To let Chait explain this problem, click here. For Kevin Drum’s sense of the horror, click this—but this is his basic nugget:
“This is just flatly deceptive. Adjusted for inflation and population growth, federal spending has declined by 8 percent since 2010. In current dollars, it's fallen from $11,800 to $10,900 per person.”
In that second nugget, Drum has adjusted for inflation and for population growth. Unless you’re trying to create confusion, you can’t compare dollar figures across spans of time without making some basic adjustments.
Fahrenthold understands that, of course. After all, he’s Harvard ’00—and starting in paragraph 16, he makes a few asides about what those figures look like if you adjust for inflation. But that is deep inside the paper. His opening passages, atop the front page, are filled with snark and are in fact “flatly deceptive.”
The second part of his opening passage is horrible too. In this passage, Fahrenthold says he has another way to measure the size of the government:
FAHRENTHOLD (continuing directly): Measured another way - not in dollars, but in people—the government has about 4.1 million employees today, military and civilian. That's more than the populations of 24 states.The twin gods, Snark and Snide, roared with delight at this point! As Chait notes, this means that the federal workforce has declined by almost 5 percent over three years. Rather than state it that way, Fahrenthold finds a way to make it sound like nothing has changed.
Back in 2010, it had 4.3 million employees. More than the populations of 24 states.
(All through the report, Fahrenthold compares the size of the workforce to the size of various states. This is a type of comparison sure to provide much more confusion than light.)
This is terrible work. It sat at the top of page one in the Sunday Washington Post, creating tons of confusion. A person could spend several days going over the nonsense found in this mess.
Instead, let’s offer an overview:
For starters, when your press corps behaves this way, you don’t have a press corps. Everyone, including Fahrenthold, knows how stupid that opening is.
Presumably, there’s a purpose to this, a hidden purpose within the minds of players at the Post.
Second point: The counterpart to this open deception is the refusal to report certain types of basic facts. For years, the press corps has refused to report and analyze data like these, as we’ve repeatedly noted:
Health care spending, per person, 2011:Everyone knows what those figures mean. When the press corps refuses for years to discuss them, a scam of some kind is being perpetrated.
United States: $8508
United Kingdom: $3405
Third point: So far, several dogs have failed to bark about this front-page Post report. At some point, the Big Dogs have to bark, or we don’t have an opposition.
Maybe on Friday! It’s time to speak up and name names, politely of course.
Do we have a public discussion at all? To tell you the truth, we do not! Not does the official “liberal world” have a whole lot to say about that.