Kindergarten (press) corps encounters Candidate Trump: Later today, we’ll finish our award-winning series from last week, “23 Years Later.”
This morning, let’s look at something completely new. Let’s review a news report from this morning’s New York Times—a news report concerning the latest from Candidate Trump.
Accompanied by a large photograph, the news report consumes the top third of page A13 in our hard-copy New York Times (“Washington Edition”).
On-line at the New York Times, the report now appears in “Updated” form. By clicking this link to the Santa Fe New Mexican, you can see the text of the original news report, exactly as it appears in our hard-copy Times.
Below, you see the start of the news report which appears in our hard-copy paper, headline included. As we read the fuller report, we were stuck by the famous newspaper’s low intellectual standards:
RAPPEPORT (8/12/15): Intent on Life After Fox, Trump Turns to PolicyAccording to reporter Alan Rappeport, Candidate Trump had spent the day “trying to steer the campaign conversation toward policy issues.” In particular, he had “shed light on his tax policy,” the Times reporter said.
After days in which Donald J. Trump engaged in a tense war of words with Megyn Kelly over her questioning of him at last week’s Fox News debate, he spent Tuesday trying to steer the campaign conversation toward policy issues.
In a series of television interviews, Mr. Trump shed light on his tax policy...
Below, you see the fuller start to the news report. At the New York Times, this is said to represent an attempt at “defining tax policy:”
RAPPEPORT (continuing): In a series of television interviews, Mr. Trump shed light on his tax policy, explaining on Fox News that he would seek to simplify the existing system before overhauling it and trying to create a flat tax or an entirely new structure.The news report continued from there. The passage we have posted represents the full discussion of Candidate Trump’s alleged attempt to “shed light on his tax policy” and “discuss policy” in general.
“Put H & R Block out of business,” Mr. Trump said, calling for a simplified tax return.
In a separate interview on CNN, Mr. Trump said that he would consider partly defunding Planned Parenthood. He said that while he takes an anti-abortion stance, he supports exceptions for rape and incest. And he dismissed suggestions that his previous statements about women would harm him at the polls.
“I’ve always been good to women and there will be nobody better to women as president,” Mr. Trump said, noting that he has put women in charge of major construction projects and that he pays them the same as he pays men at his company.
Besides discussing policy, Mr. Trump dismissed reports that he might take a pledge to run as a Republican...
We were struck by the simple-mindedness of Trump’s supposed attempt, at least as reported by the Times. More significantly, we were struck by the simple-minded way the Times described his discussion.
Can we talk? In any good Republican home, an alert third-grader could offer those same talking-points about “tax policy.”
An alert third-grader would know to say that the tax code needs to be simplified (which it almost certainly always does). That same third-grader would know that he or she should also call for a “simplified tax return” form.
He or she would proceed to mention the possibility of a “flat tax.” Whatever the possible merits of such ideas, nine-year-old children can recite these familiar old bromides as they sleep.
That said, how much light do such bromides shed on a candidate’s tax policy? Let’s review them one by one:
A simplified tax code? At least since the dawn of time, every politician in America has offered such a prescription.
Frequently, the tax code has been simplified to some degree. But offering this as a general prescription requires exactly zero IQ points.
A tax return so simple it could fit on the back of a postcard? That has been Republican rote since roughly forever. It’s very, very hard to imagine that any such project could be accomplished. But it always sounds good to make the suggestion.
Might a “flat tax” be a good idea? Everything is possible, not excluding that! But the “flat tax” is one of the fuzziest prescriptions in the entire lexicon of policy chatter. Until a candidate describes some particular “flat tax” plan, no one has the slightest idea what this sweet-sounding phrase really means, or if the program he says he has in mind is actually “flat” at all.
We don’t mean to criticize the nation’s third-graders in anything we’ve said! But Rappeport is a political reporter for the New York Times.
Unless a reporter is entering kindergarten this fall, those recitations do not represent a serious attempt to “shed light on a candidate’s tax policy.” Nor do they represent a more general attempt “to steer the campaign conversation toward policy issues.”
At best, they represent an attempt to pretend that a candidate is doing those things. But alas! From its hard-copy headline on down, this morning’s New York Times advanced those bogus representations of Candidate Trump’s remarks.
Yesterday morning, we met with top-level federal managers in a top-secret facility somewhere on the western edge of the greater Shepherdstown, West Virginia metropolitan area. At one point, we may have offered some version of a significant point:
The New York Times is a very famous American brand. As it promotes its brand, the Times represents itself as perhaps our smartest major newspaper.
In comment threads, it’s clear that Times subscribers believe they’re subscribing to a very smart newspaper. But alas:
In its domestic political work, the New York Times just isn’t especially “smart.” Indeed, in its domestic political work, the New York Times’ intellectual standards are routinely quite low.
By now, Americans are accustomed to discussions of the Times’ alleged “biases.” It’s much, much harder to think of the Times in terms of this other problem, which infects so much of its political work.
Because of its stature, the Times’ low intellectual standards will often spread through the rest of the press. This morning’s news report comes from a kindergarten (press) corps. At this link, you can see it reproduced, word for word, in the oldest daily newspaper west of the Mississippi.
Needless to say, we need reporters who are free from various kinds of “bias.” But as our endless campaign proceeds, we also need political reporters and editors who are prepared to be smart as they limn matters of policy.