Memewatch: Your Howler seemed to be getting results!


But the Times just pretends to report: Incomparably, your Daily Howler seemed to be getting results!

Last Saturday, we started our current Memewatch series. We've been tracking the standard GOP claim in which Republicans say, “What, us worry?” concerning that silly debt limit.

After watching Rachel last Thursday, we had finally heard enough. We still haven’t gotten around to discussing her clownish performance—and today, we must defer to the mighty New York Times.

Finally, there it was! Right on page one, the New York Times seemed to be reporting on this standard GOP presentation!

We say the Times seemed to be reporting because that’s all they actually do. Jonathan Weisman has written the piece, in which he pretends to report on this topic.

This is a classic pseudo-report. Weisman starts like this:
WEISMAN (10/9/13): Senator Richard Burr, Republican of North Carolina, a reliable friend of business on Capitol Hill and no one’s idea of a bomb thrower, isn’t buying the apocalyptic warnings that a default on United States government debt would lead to a global economic cataclysm.

“We always have enough money to pay our debt service,” said Mr. Burr, who pointed to a stream of tax revenue flowing into the Treasury as he shrugged off fears of a cascading financial crisis. “You’ve had the federal government out of work for close to two weeks; that’s about $24 billion a month. Every month, you have enough saved in salaries alone that you’re covering three-fifths, four-fifths of the total debt service, about $35 billion a month. That’s manageable for some time.”
Burr is “no one’s idea of a bomb thrower,” Weisman happily says. Whatever that is supposed to tell us, the genial Burr “isn’t buying” the idea that the debt limit is a big deal!

Weisman shows the genial solon making a form of the standard presentation. Burr says it will be easy to “pay our debt service” even if the debt limit isn’t raised.

From there, Weisman pretends to offer a fell-length, front-page report about this critical, complex matter.

In fairness to Weisman, he shows Burr advancing a rather incoherent version of the standard presentation. We’ll guess the incoherence comes from the Times more than from Burr himself.

Whatever! From that point on, Weisman seems to report the basic facts about this complex matter. But the whole thing’s a front-page pretense.

Weisman goes on and on and on, but he rarely moves beyond the basic “he said/she said/they said/they said” reporting format. He never quite explains what “debt service” or “default” really are. He never explains if there is more than one type or degree of “default.”

Suppose we don’t raise the debt limit. Weisman never explains what will happen even if we find a way to keep paying our formal “debt service.” Whatever that is.

He never attempts to explain what other kinds of government service would have to be summarily dumped. Nor does he really try to explain if we would even be able to pay our formal “debt service.”

Technically, would that even be possible? The Times doesn't try to say.

All the way to the end of his piece, Weisman just keeps quoting Republican solons saying there’s nothing to worry about if we don’t raise the debt limit. He makes little attempt to sort out the competing claims about this allegedly crucial matter.

The most awful part comes at the end:

In the most awful words known to modern journalism, we’re told that “Ashley Parker contributed reporting” to this pitiful pseudo-report. In truth, this is a version of Parker’s ridiculous front-page piece from October 1, in which she reported that various Republicans say they believe in the various things they are doing.

The New York Times stopped being an real newspaper some time ago. This morning, the Howler seemed to be getting results. But that wasn't the case. In reality, Weisman and his editor only pretend to report on this topic.

What will happen if we don’t raise the debt limit later this month? The answer to that question is said to be crucial. But the New York Times is too frightened, too faux, to tattle, confess or tell.


  1. If the Times is concerned it might appear partisan by exploring the consequences of not raising the debt ceiling, perhaps it could interview economists discussing the topic.

  2. "What would happen if we don't raise the debt limit later this month?"

    From Ian Talley, WSJ, 10-9-13: "Even a temporary failure of the US government to pay its bills would have a catastrophic effect on the US and global economy, according to the International Monetary Fund.... Even if it was temporary, the IMF estimates that such a shock could shave around a half-percentage off growth around the world at a fragile stage in the global recovery."

    1. You don't get it. The Wall Street Journal is not the New York Times, and if the Times doesn't report it exactly the way Somerby dictates, it is not being reported anywhere.

    2. The GOP are saying there is enough money to pay the bills so no default...

      When the WSJ explains the difference between what the GOP is claiming and what they really mean i'm with you Brian.

    3. I couldn't find your article, Brian. I did find this one, from Talley, 2 years ago, saying almost the exact same thing:

  3. Yep, once again the media fails to explain what the GOP's plan is all about. I.e, servicing the debt, while not paying contractors and vendors. Oddly, the only one who sort of described that approach was Ted Yoho, republican from Fla., who discussed what he did in his private company when funds are tight. (call up vendors, explain they'd be paid, just late with interest).

    That's a lot better than Mr Franks, R from Arizona's description, that the US gov't will have to curtail some contracting. The problem is not curtailing contracting for future work, it's not paying for work already perform.

    Aside from Krugman and a few others, no one in the media seems to have picked this up, the GOP wants the US gov't to go into arrears with contractors and vendors.

    1. I'm reading that the Treasury doesn't have any systems in place to pick and choose which bills it is going to pay, that it has always been on a 1st-come, 1st-served basis.

    2. Josh, maybe it does, maybe it doesn't The point is, someone needs to explain that is what the GOP proposal is all about. Going into arrears on some debts, while servicing the interest on gov't bonds.

  4. Oh, rats! I was so sure Somerby was going to dig at Rachel's whaling skit last night. The gratingly extended metaphor was lame enough and obvious enough to merit at least honorable mention in this morning's dishonor roll. Rachel, in full satiric mode (for her), worked so hard at it, it seems unfair to let the thing pass without comment.



    Back to you, Rachel.

  5. Quaker in a BasementOctober 9, 2013 at 1:11 PM

    Back on 10/3, Weisman offered up this:

    "Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, chairman of the House Budget Committee, has initiated conversations with senior House Republicans on a broad deficit reduction deal that would allow some increases to federal programs squeezed by the automatic cuts known as sequestration in exchange for long-term changes to programs like Medicare and Social Security. The package would most likely include instructions to try to move along efforts to simplify the tax code as well.

    "Aides described those talks as “conversations about conversations,” not true negotiations, and they favored the term “down payment” on the deficit over “grand bargain.” But the “down payment” that Mr. Ryan is pursuing must come together fast, to provide a framework that Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio can use to win over enough Republicans to reopen the government and raise the Treasury’s statutory borrowing limit before a government default in two weeks."

    So Paul Ryan is talking to House Republicans--but they're not *really* negotiating, Weisman sagely writes. And they're feverishly working to find a way for House Republicans to reopen the government? All on their own?

    Good golly.

  6. When the Republicans say there's enough money to "service the debt" so a default is no problem are they saying there will be enough money to pay the well heeled bondholders and everything else can go to hell in a handbasket? In other words, Detroit writ large, where they're fixing to screw over people with pensions and other citizens so that Goldman Sachs and other rich bondholders can be repaid almost to the dollar? I'm a long time fan of the Daily Howler but sometimes I wish Bob Somerby would spend less time pointing out the shortcomings of the liberal media and more time illuminating the lies and distortions of the right which the liberal media are failng to do.

    1. The Republicans are trying to imply that Democrats are blowing up the debt ceiling crisis into a catastrophe when it is actually not one because the "debt" (by which they mean interest payments) will always be paid first out of revenue cash flow. They ignore the repercussions of not increasing the debt ceiling and they imply that it is unimportant when other obligations of the government are paid, as long as that interest on debt is paid. When they refer to default they are talking only about that interest. They do not care whether any other payments are possible or made and they pretend that those other payments are not part of the government's debt and have no impact on our country. Some Republicans think it would be a good thing if the government could not make non-essential payments because that would forcibly implement their "starve the beast" philosophy of reducing the size of government. Other Republicans are going along with the desires of the Tea Party faction that seems to have control of House procedures but may not share that belief in attacking programs by attacking funding for them. This misrepresentation of the impact of the default is being done for political purposes to make it seem that Obama is the cause of the current impasse, that he is holding up reconciliation by refusing to negotiate on which aspects of spending should be paid, and because Democrats are claiming that the country is being harmed speciously, to cast blame on Republicans when there is actually little urgency to dealing with the debt ceiling or the budget issues.

      Read Paul Krugman for a clear explanation of most of this. Bob is not an economist, not a journalist, and not a liberal pundit. I think it is unfair to expect him to take on that role in place of those who are paid to inform us.

  7. Lindy is not an economist, not a journalist, and not a liberal pundit. I think it is unfair to expect her to take on that role in place of those who are paid to inform us. Read Paul Krugman for a clear explanation of most of this.

    PS. I think the reason why reporters cannot reason about this stuff is that they didn't like their science classes when they were in school.


    1. Not true, O Mighty King! It was because reporters were never clearly told to remain in their vehicles while on neighborhood watch patrol.

    2. And where would we be without BOBfans like Lindy to tell us not only what Bob is not, but what he did not say?

    3. Well, you wouldn't be at a blog that met your criteria for informative and useful, Anon4:53.

      You'd still be right here trying to dictate the content of an 'errant' blogger.

    4. Yes CeceliaMc, pointing out the naked emperor is the same thing as dictating what his wardrobe should be,

      So let's examines Bob's narrative on this whole shutdown thing against reality, shall we.

      According to Bob, the press is completely inept in its reporting. The Democrats are completely inept in their answers to "obvious" questions. The American people are too stupid to understand unless things are carefully and politely explained to them.

      Yet, the GOP House's approval numbers are swirling down the toilet, and Obama's is taking a bump. Up.

      Go figure.

    5. Anon 11:16, if the press wasn't so lame, the GOP's numbers would be even worse, perhaps mobs dragging them out of their offices to tar and feather them

    6. Where oh where, Anon11:16, has Somerby been complimenting the GOP about the shut-down?

      What bothers you is the usual: he's focused on poor reporting and Democratic leaders who are unprepared on camera to address what Somerby feels are inaccurate memes and GOP disinformation.

      Oh, the humanity!...

      And yes, you DO wish to dictate the priorities of the blog and to temper the alarming habit of the blogger to cut through the false narratives and downright untruths on both sides, but especially among his own, of which he is primarily concerned.

      Dear Partisan Zealots, it just isn't done ! For this he must pay!

    7. Where, oh where, have I asaid that Somerby has been complimenting the GOP about the shutdown, Cecelia?

      Was this a temporary brain fart on your part, or are you always this dishonest?

      And once again, I do not care what Somerby or any blogger cares to write about. He could write bout growing marigolds hydroponically for all I care.

      What continues to sadden me is that once upon a time, this was once a cutting edge blog, in fact, dare I say a pioneering effort in the infant field of political blogging.

      Then somewhere along the line, aliens abducted that Bob Somerby and replaced him with a cranky old goat who rails about all those kids, especially the girls, on his front lawn, especially if one of them gets a book published.

      And AC/MA, I don't see how the GOP House's approval numbers could be any lower, but I guess we'll find out as time goes along.

      So exactly how low do they have to go before you concede that people pretty much have figured out what's going on? Despite the fact that the "media" (always narrowly defined as the NYT and MSNBC, and now Salon) can't get anything right, that all they can do is foment hate, and that Democratic leaders are incapable of giving clear answers to "obvious" questions, and that the American people must be talked to like third graders before they can understand anything that is ever so complex.

      Unlike the super-intelligent members of the Somerby tribe, of course.

    8. Anon 10:08, you write a lot but don't say much. Anyone, no one is arguing that the GOP isn't very popular right now. What people are saying is the media do not explain what Rand is proposing.

      Aside from a few Krugman posts, i've not seen anyone in mainstream media point out Rand is proposing to pay off interest on bonds, while going into arrears on some of the national debt.

      I read the NY Post, daily news, NY Times and WSJ daily. And the FT whenever someone leaves one on the subway.

      carry on

    9. Tone deaf to sarcasm, as well as to irony...

      Of course your argument that congress' poll numbers are in the toilet is the basis of your claim that Somerby is wasting his time (better spent attacking enemies) talking about poor reporting on the issue, and poor elucidation from Dem TV guests to Republican claims.

      Afterall, what other concern is valid but that the bad guys are losing?

      Darn it, he should be ripping them to shreds. Why should he worry that people understand the economic arguments via the media, rather than responding to the optics?

      How terrible a once "edgy" blogger decided to focus on tribalism, partisanship, poor journalism, and the dynamics of the media elite!

      It's war! Doesn't he understand that!

      You have a thousand blogs on the Internet with precisely your priorities, yet you must sit here and bitch and insult one liberal blogger with the temerity of having his own interests and priorities.

      That says all that there is say about you tyrants.

    10. Once again, can't win the argument at hand, Cecelia, so you try to turn it into one you think you can win.

      Now where did I say that Somerby was "wasting his time"? Once again, I do not care if he wants to blog about wheat farming on Mars.

      But my own critical thinking skills go off when somebody tells me that one side of the debate is losing badly and will continue to lose badly, when actually that side is in what is already a rout.

      And dear Cecelia? Somerby is a "liberal"? Well, that certainly tells me where you stand on the polical spectrum?

      And I'm a "tyrant"? L'il ol' me, just an anonymous commenter on a little-read blog?

      I'll go light my victory cigar now, Cecelia. You have once again made a complete fool of yourself.

    11. "What people are saying is the media do not explain what Rand is proposing."

      Then you either are not much of a consumer of "media" and/or you don't talk to real people all that much.

      Because the people I talk to, both Republicans and Democrats, by the way, pretty much get the idea that what Rand, et al, is proposing is absolutely nuts. And they've also somehow seemed to finger the people to blame for this mess in number that go far beyond partisan lines.

    12. I told you the media i read, and aside from Krugman i've not seen it explained anywhere. I happen to know a bit about gov't contracting (let me tell you about FAR), and people i work with do not understand what Rand is proposing. Frankly, i'm pretty sure you don't either you just know it's bad. Good for you.

    13. Anon2:41, there's no surprise that this blog was difficult for you understand.

      No doubt you wonder how someone might view inept reporting, and an inability of their own pols to articulately addresses disinformation on the other side, as being a loss for society, and a looming loss for the future of his party, but there are poor souls who worry over those things. Who do it regardless of the outlook for the current skirmish

      Now go smoke your cigar and keep telling yourself that you don't give a fig what the blogger blogs about. Even as you disdain any view more circumspect than a professional wrestler.

    14. Of course, 4:59. You see, I am not a Bobinista like you and Cecelia, thus I have not been divinely inspired to learn what any politician means when there is absolutely nobody to explain it to me.

      But since you two are so divinely inspired, then please turn your superior intelligences on this one question I keep asking, but get no answer to.

      If the media is doing such a terrible job, if the Democrats are doing such a terrible job, why are the GOP Tea Partiers getting their asses kicked from one end of this country to the other?

      Who is doing all this butt kicking after all? Just Paul Krugman?

      By the way, didn't he recently go on the Somerby "Bad Boy" list for the mortal sin of not naming names?

    15. If you're wondering if Paul Krugman was part of a butt-kicking tag team, you'll have to ask one of your fellow wrestlers.

      Or hope you'll find it on pay-per-view.

  8. "After watching Rachel last Thursday, we had finally heard enough. We still haven’t gotten around to discussing her clownish performance—and today, we must defer to the mighty New York Times."

    Enough excuses. What did Drum say? Free Drum.
    They have him. You promised him. It's Wednesday.

  9. It's plain that Weisman, a political reporter, has no idea why the claims he reports are absurd, and his evasions of this most fundamental question can't be described as artful.

    So give Bob his due this time: Weisman doubtless earns 6 figures, and could easily consult persons employed by the Times, e.g., Gretchen Morgenstern, on the matter, if he's too lazy to google the subject, but simply can't be bothered to learn anything about the subjects he reports.

    It would shocking, if it wasn't so common.

    And of course an equally ignorant editor let the article through.