Just as it ever was: What does it mean to have no press corps at all? To have a press corps which operates on narrative all the way down?
The Washington Post’s recent report about SAT scores provides one strong example. For a second example, consider the New York Times’ attempt to report on Candidate Bush’s new tax plan, a report which appeared above the fold on this morning’s front page.
First, the inevitable point of uncertainty:
The reporters in question were Alan Rappeport and Matt Flegenheimer. Were they really trying to report the Bush plan, or were they just pretending to do so?
We ask that question because of the way their front-page “news report” starts. Hard-copy headline included:
RAPPEPORT AND FLEGENHEIMER (9/10/15): Bush Tax Plan Makes Forays Into PopulismSay what? Candidate Bush is “challenging some long-held tenets of conservative tax policy?” His “forays into populism” will “highlight how income inequality has altered the tenor of the debate” for the Republican Party?
Former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida challenged some long-held tenets of conservative tax policy on Wednesday by proposing to curtail valuable deductions that benefit businesses and the wealthy and eliminate a loophole that has benefited hedge fund and private equity managers for years.
That an establishment Republican presidential candidate has embraced such changes not only highlights how income inequality has altered the tenor of the debate for the party, but also indicates the ideological pull Donald J. Trump’s candidacy is having on the Republican field after he made similar proposals.
The analysts were cheering wildly as they read these words. Some even thought about switching parties in response to the gutsy jail break the Times reporters described.
We urged the youngsters to continue reading. Inside the Times, on page A12, their faces fell when they read about the proposals which actually lie at the heart of this “populist” plan:
RAPPEPORT AND FLEGENHEIMER: [T]he effect of Mr. Bush’s proposals on the wealthy would be muted by his proposal to cut the number of individual tax brackets from seven to three, taxing income at 28 percent, 25 percent and 10 percent. Currently, the top marginal income tax rate is 39.6 percent.Have you ever seen so much populism all in one place? This is the way the candidate plans to “stick it” to the wealthy:
His proposals would double the standard tax deduction that most filers take, end what Republicans call the “death tax” on estates of the deceased and seek to make marriage more beneficial for tax purposes.
Mr. Bush also proposed cutting the corporate tax rate to 20 percent from 35 percent and giving incentives to invest domestically as he seeks to spur economic growth to 4 percent annually, an objective that has been met with skepticism by economists.
*Bush plans to lower the marginal tax rate from 39.6 to 28 percent.Does it sound to you like Candidate Bush is sticking it to “the man?” It doesn’t sound that way to us, especially when we get to this at the very end of the piece:
*He plans to eliminate the estate tax altogether. (The reporters seem to feel they have to refer to it as the “death tax.”)
*He plans to drop the corporate tax rate from 35 to 20 percent.
RAPPEPORT AND FLEGENHEIMER: The effect Mr. Bush’s proposals would have on the deficit remains unclear, although a group of conservative economists who reviewed the plan estimated it could mean $1.2 trillion to $3.4 trillion in lost revenue over the next decade.“The effect Mr. Bush’s proposals would have on the deficit remains unclear,” the hapless pseudo-reporters say, right before they establish the fact that it isn’t unclear at all!
A Bush spokeswoman would not say how long Mr. Bush projected it would take to achieve 4 percent economic growth, or how the lost tax revenue will be accounted for in the short term. Roberton Williams, a senior fellow at the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, said that Mr. Bush’s proposal was similar to Mr. Romney’s plan in 2012, and that it would be a struggle to make such deep cuts pay for themselves through faster growth.
Cutting the top income rate paid by the richest Americans by nearly a third while ratcheting up standard deductions, he said, will dwarf the effect of closing some loopholes. “The one thing that seems pretty obvious is that this has to be a big revenue loser,” Mr. Williams said.
In the face of these giveaways to the rich, Candidate Bush has proposed a few tiny tax hikes on a small sub-group of very wealthy people. Just as it ever was, Rappeport and Flegenheimer pretend that these tiny changes represent the heart of this highly familiar old plan.
At this point, do we even have a press corps at all? This front-page news report left us with a couple of questions:
Who the heck is Rappeport? And how do such life-forms get work?
Chait speech, plus Cokie Roberts: In a post at New York Magazine, Jonathan Chait offers more detail on certain parts of this plan.
He also says that other news orgs recited the “populist” line for Bush. It wasn’t just the Times!
(Chait names NPR and CNN. We don’t dare to click.)
Chait notes that the tax plan of a previous Candidate Bush was widely pimped this very same way back in 1999. With that in mind, why not cringe as you review a bit of Howler History?
Go ahead! See THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/6/99.
Good God! Four days after that plan was released, Cokie Roberts still didn’t seem to have the slightest idea what was in it.
On ABC’s This Week, George Stephanopoulos covered for her cluelessness with considerable aplomb. But Cokie seemed to be very much in the dark.
As best we could tell, she seemed to have misunderstood a headline in the Washington Post. That seemed to be all she knew at the time. Did we mention the fact that the plan had been out for four days at that point?
What’s it like to have no press corps at all? Just click that link for punishing pain from the distant past!
(Trigger warning—Love Canal charges! Thanks to a flat misquotation of Candidate Gore, the deeply consequential episode had gotten its start that very week. Cokie did know the script about that! These life forms have been behaving this way for a very long time.)