THE EMPIRE’S LOW IQ: Etch-a-Sketching the Times’ low IQ!


Part 3—The New York Times doesn’t do taxes: Are we self-impressed human beings really “the rational animal?”

If you believe that, you’ve never watched the New York Times in action. Consider the weight that is given to two different topics in this morning’s Times.

On the front page, the Times discusses an offhand remark by a political consultant. In its headline, has the Times announced the adoption of a new journalistic norm?
Key Support, a Convincing Win, and Another Gaffe for Romney
Did Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom commit a “gaffe” with yesterday’s Etch a Sketch comment? In its headline and in its news report, the Times treats this as a matter of fact.

Eric Fehrnstrom committed a gaffe. The Times is reporting this fact.

We’re not sure we’ve even seen a major news org treat an alleged “gaffe” that way. Unless we’re mistaken, the claim that someone committed a “gaffe” has generally been treated as a matter of judgment, not as a matter of fact.

That said, the appeal of this topic is quite evident in Jeff Zeleny’s news report. Just a guess—this is why the Times loves Etch a Sketch:

ZELENY (3/22/12): The comments from Mr. Fehrnstrom followed a Romney campaign pattern of committing unforced errors after major victories. And they flared throughout the day from Republicans and Democrats alike, moving beyond politics into a hard-to-forget moment of popular culture that could be difficult for Mr. Romney to shake.
Etch a Sketch! It’s easy to talk about, hard to forget! Because it’s drawn from our “popular culture,” even the simplest, dimmest souls will be able to track the discussion! And make no mistake:

Our modern journalists should often be numbered among our simplest, dimmest souls. They like discussing dogs on cars; they’re drawn to Mormon menstruation. Shit like this is right in their comfort zone.

Major tax policy isn’t.

In this morning’s paper, the New York Times devotes two full reports to Fehrnstrom’s Etch a Sketch comment. Inside the paper, Zeleny’s front-page news report is supplemented by this profile of Fehrnstrom; the Times works Etch a Sketch into its headline, just as Maureen Dowd did with Elvis this Sunday. (“For Romney’s Trusted Adviser, ‘Etch a Sketch’ Comment Is a Rare Misstep”/”Is Elvis a Mormon?”) Through such headlines, the Times reaches out to the dimmest among us.

And it pleases itself.

For the most part, the New York Times is populated by a classically dumb upper-class elite. Upper-class cultures have always been fatuous. By their works ye can know them—although our mythologies tell our lizard brains that this simply can’t be the case when it comes to our millionaire journalists.

Etch a Sketch gets very big play in this morning’s Times. According to Nexis, the two reports on this gaffe from popular culture burn a total of 1974 words. Etch a Sketch rates three large photos, one of them on the front page.

By way of contrast, what does the New York Times do with the new GOP budget plan? For that, we direct you to Jonathan Weisman’s news report—a report which appears below the fold on page A20, burning 896 words.

In today’s Times, Etch a Sketch gets twice as many words as the new budget plan. In fairness, this is Weisman’s second-day, follow-up report about the budget plan. In part, this explains his fatuous content; in today’s report, Weisman quotes the various things various people have said about the GOP proposal. He makes no attempt to explain the plan or its startling proposals.

Is Etch a Sketch more important than federal taxes and federal spending? Yesterday, Weisman did his initial report about the startling new budget proposal. For a look at the values which define the Times, consider that sorry report.

Today, Etch a Sketch made the Times front page; yesterday, the new budget plan did not. In our own hard-copy Times (Washington Edition), Weisman's report appeared on page A9. According to the Times web site, the report appeared on page A10 of the National Edition.

Wherever! Weisman’s report ran 1038 words; it was accompanied by this graphic. Having said that, the text which follows represents Weisman’s complete attempt to explain the GOP’s astonishing new tax proposals:
WEISMAN (3/21/12): House Republicans thrust their vision of a smaller government, a flatter tax code and a free-market Medicare system into the 2012 election season on Tuesday, banking that fears over surging federal deficits will trump longstanding voter allegiances to popular government programs.

The House Budget Committee blueprint for spending and taxation over the next decade would reshape Medicare into a system of private insurance plans, shrink programs for the poor and turn them over to state governments, and try to simplify the tax code for individuals and businesses. The six existing tax rates, topping off at 35 percent, would be reduced to two, 10 percent and 25 percent...


The tax code would be simplified to just two tax rates, 10 percent and 25 percent, with the closure of tax credits and deductions. The 35 percent corporate income tax would be lowered to 25 percent and the existing worldwide system of taxing corporate profits would be changed to a territorial system where only domestic profits are subject to United States corporate taxation. The budget assumes revenues would stay consistent with revenues under the current individual and corporate tax codes.
In two days of reporting, that’s all Times readers have been told about the GOP tax proposals. Having said that, do you understand the few things Weisman said?

“The budget assumes revenues would stay consistent with revenues under the current individual and corporate tax codes?” Do you understand what that string of words means? Neither does anyone else who fought his or her way through yesterday’s pseudo-reporting.

In yesterday’s Washington Post, the editors reacted with shock to the tax proposals found in this plan; they said these proposals would reduce greatly revenues over the next ten years (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/21/12). By way of contrast, Weisman offered that one murky paragraph about the GOP tax proposals. In our hard-copy Times, it was the next-to-last paragraph in his sketchy report.

Etch a Sketch gets big play today. But uh-oh! In two full days of reporting, those startling GOP tax proposals barely exist. But then, this is a fatuous, upper-class newspaper—a newspaper which revels in dogs on the roofs of cars and Mormon menstruation with Elvis. Despite its fame, this iconic American newspaper has an extremely low IQ. Of course, this has been true of the cultures of pampered elites down through the ages.

Having said that, it may be for the best when the Times takes a pass on those tax proposals. Tomorrow, we’ll see what happens when the Times attempts to discuss federal taxes.

Tomorrow: When journalists try to do taxes


  1. Bob, excuse me but the "Etch a Sketch" comment was not only a huge gaffe, but an incredible insult to the American electorate.

    Mitt Romney has spent this entire cycle trying to "Etch a Sketch" his past while attempting to run to the right of both Santorum and Gingrich.

    Now we are told by his communications director that once he wins the nomination, he's going to attempt throw everything he's said recently down the memory hole in attempt to move to back to the political center?

    That recalls the old cliched line from the old "To Tell the Truth" game show: "Will the REAL Mitt Romney please stand up!"

    Shouldn't we start asking if this man has any principles at all that he will stand on?

    1. Breaking news: candidate will move toward center after getting party's nomination!

    2. Only this time, the candidate will attempt to move in the course of one election cycle, from the center to one extreme then back to the center, while apparently thinking it's as easy to erase the slate as shaking a child's toy, and saying, "Don't believe what I said then. Believe what I say now."

    3. while apparently thinking it's as easy to erase the slate as shaking a child's toy, and saying, "Don't believe what I said then. Believe what I say now."

      You mean the way Obama said it when he decided superpacs, Bush tax cuts, and detaining and killing citizens without charges were dandy ideas after all?

    4. This is why it is impossible to discuss anything with a rabid extremist from either end of the spectrum.

      SuperPacs -- Try running a presidential campaign in this cycle without them. Doesn't mean you can't call for reforms of a terrible system, but then again, try getting past this Congress and this Supreme Court.

      Bush tax cuts -- An extension for two years on the cuts for the wealthy in order to preserve the cuts on the middle-class AND expand unemployment insurance, with all 42 Senate Republicans vowing to block legislation solely on the middle-class cuts and the unemployment expansion.

      It's called "compromise" which is a grown-up word that children on both extremes can't comprehend.

      Detaining and killing citizens -- Yeah, right. Let's get really hysterical and stompy-foot, shall we?

  2. Shouldn't we start asking if this man has any principles at all that he will stand on?

    Start? You mean no one's been doing that? Shocking.

    I'd rather hammer him for the principles that his party represents. Who cares what he says, talk is cheap and as we have seen campaign promises rarely survive election day.

    1. Yet presidential campaigns always seem to boil down to contests between two candidates and what they stand for, seldom between their respective party platforms.

      How many times have you heard someone say, "I vote for the person, not the party?"

  3. I keep vascilating between wondering if we are headed for '64, '72 and '84 style landslides, but then I am tempered by the fact that roughly 45 percent or so of the electorate would rather kiss a toad and hopes he turns into a president than vote for Barack Obama, believing that he is a Kenyan-born Muslim terrorist.

    But you got to wonder how dumb this GOP field is. Here we have the spokesman for Mitt Romney, not two days after a decisive win in Illinois which exposed both of his opponents as having virtually no appeal beyond the deep South, doing his darndest to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, while handing them a cheap and easy visual aid to underscore Romney's utter lack of principle.

    See how quickly Santorum and Gingrich had Etch-A-Sketches in their hands?

  4. I know this is totally off-topic, but the scariest thing here -the scariest by far- is just how far to the right one has to be to appeal to Republican voters.

  5. And just one day after Santorum is handed a very handy club to beat Romney with, Santorum snatches defeat from the jaws of victory and says Obama might be a better choice than Romney.

    Oh, good grief. How dumb can he get?

  6. I might note a couple of things now - first, none of the comments here said one word about tax policy. Second, on a discussion board which is now discussing every detail about the Trayvon Martin case, my own attempt to start a discussion about tax policy (by linking to the CBPP) was met with a collective yawn. Seems like if they tried to discuss tax policy that many readers would pass on by and look for something else on page 2.

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