The press corps pretends to watch-dog the press!

TUESDAY, MAY 1, 2012

Mr. O gets to expound: It was a typical night in the neighborhood—or in “the no-spin zone.”

Last Monday evening, Mr. O began his eponymous cable news show with this acid-laced bit of analysis:
O’REILLY (4/23/12): Caution! You are about to enter the No Spin Zone. The Factor begins right now.

Hi, I'm Bill O'Reilly. Thanks for watching us tonight.

Is the entitlement society strangling the U.S. economy? That is the subject of this evening's “Talking Points Memo.”

We are about to give you some amazing stats about America becoming a welfare state. We'll start with the overall picture. During the last two years, '09 and '10, the feds have spent more than a $1 trillion on programs to help poor Americans. Most of that money goes to what is called means-tested entitlements. That's direct assistance, Medicaid, food stamp, child care and nutrition, checks to needy family, things like that. The recession, of course, driving some of that assistance.

But since 1970, means-tested entitlements in America have increased—Ready?—an unbelievable 5500 percent. Right now an astounding 150 million Americans live in households that receive some kind of government assistance. It's almost half the population.

“Social justice,” the primary reason the USA is changing into an entitlement country, much like the western European nations.

Politicians in both parties understand that giving money away means votes. Also there is no question that both the feds and the states have loosened standards under which Americans receive entitlements. Since President Obama has been in office, federal welfare spending is up about 41 percent. Food stamps, up about 135 percent since 2007, from 30 billion to 72 billion a year. Disability payments, up 116 percent from a decade ago. More than three million American workers have signed up for disability since President Obama took office.

So you can see the president's liberal spending policies and overall belief that the feds should provide is costing the nation an enormous amount of money with no end in sight. So, you telling me that all of a sudden Americans need more disabilities? No. It's because claiming a disability is worth a shot in the current political climate.

Now here is the most important part of the memo. Those who advocate cutting entitlements or making it more difficult to receive them will be immediately branded as bad people. Just for telling you this, I'll be labeled a horrible guy.

But consider this: What's worse? A bad economy for all Americans, which we have? A $16 trillion debt that is damaging the dollar worldwide, which we have? Or a responsible entitlement agenda that gets spending under control? Which is worse?

All sane people know safety nets are needed. Poor families must be helped. There are children involved. But when the standards for getting entitlement money are so lax that the system becomes easy to game, you know you have a problem. And we do.

And that's the memo. Now, for the “Top Story” tonight, reaction. Joining us from Washington, Fox News analyst Mary Katherine Ham and Juan Williams.
O’Reilly presented a crazy-quilt pattern of statistical claims, all of which seemed to show that President Obama’s “liberal spending policies and overall belief that the feds should provide is costing the nation an enormous amount of money with no end in sight.”

But uh-oh! One of O’Reilly’s statistical comparisons dated to 1970. Another dated to 2007; one dated to an undisclosed year from “a decade ago.” On his web site, O’Reilly makes no attempt to source his “amazing,” “unbelievable” statistical claims or to defend his sweeping pronouncements, in which this welter of alleged jumps in entitlement spending were confusingly laid at Obama’s door.

Assuming O’Reilly’s "unbelievable" statistical claims are accurate, to what extent do those changes reflect policy changes by Obama? In his memo, O’Reilly made no attempt to sort out this blindingly obvious question. And in certain major ways, Obama’s doesn’t seem to be the prime or sole mover of the changes against which Mr. O railed. One example: “Food stamp” participation increased by 63 percent under President Bush, although it has continued to rise in the past three years. For Politifact’s explanation and analysis, click here.

O’Reilly’s jumbled, crazy-quilt “memo” seemed to have been composed on acid, but four million people were watching that night; this is where bullshit comes from. And please note: “Press critics” for our major news orgs routinely accept such miserable work from major broadcasters like Mr. O. Last Monday, the New York Times’ David Carr pretended to watch-dog NBC News for its coverage of the Trayvon Martin killing. But this was a standard Potemkin effort, a point we will revisit before the week is done.

The press corps likes to pretend that it watch-dogs itself. For the most part, this is an act of deception by a deeply permissive guild. No one has ever watch-dogged the ridiculous work that often emits from Mr. O’s program. And now, gazes are being averted from the gruesome misconduct of MSNBC hosts and guests.

In the past six weeks, MSNBC has invented a boatload of bogus “facts” about the killing of Martin. “Press reporters” have steered away from this inexcusable conduct, just as they have always done with the work that is done by Fox News.

Carr pretended to be on the case. This was Potemkin press criticism, the kind of such work most commonly found within the mainstream press.


  1. So this post is Bob's response to critics who express puzzlement at his view that Rachel Maddow and Gail Collins pose the greatest threat to the integrity of the national discourse?

    But of course, he can't end it without another rehearsal of all the bad things MSNBC has done lately.

    In a country where 90% of the population claims to believe that angels intervene in daily life, a majority is apparently convinced that the sun orbits the earth, and tens of millions don't the Democratic party positions from Republican ones, Bob's preoccupation with a TV shos and the wisdom of a gossip columnist may seem strange.

    But, then again, he lives on another planet.

    1. "the greatest threat to the integrity of the national discourse"

      Yes, that's what I insist on calling any subject Somerby covers.

      If it makes me look like an idiot, so be it.

    2. Well, Anon 10:24, when our friend Bob covers Rachel Maddow, MSNBC and Gail Collins every day, and sometimes more than once a day, to the exclusion of much else, except to express his admiration for Kevin Drum, Bill Clinton and Al Gore, he does suggest certain priorities.

      Of course, you could argue that Somerby has dedicated himself to a very particular kind of media criticism -- criticizing media which is beside the point, and thoroughly inconsequential, given the depths to which the American public is misinformed -- but that's not much of a recommendation for The Daily Howler.

      But never mind. The Tribe of Somerby has its members and they simply can't endure criticism of their hero.

    3. Oh yeah, that's my other schtick:

      If you don't agree with me that Somerby is irrelevant, then you're just worshiping your "hero."

      You can see why I pride myself on my quality "criticism."

    4. It would be fascinating, Anon 11:22, to learn exactly what kind of media criticism of Bob Somerby would be acceptable to you -- this at a site which routinely disparages individuals by type, for their lack of intelligence (for example, the academics who Bob sees on TV).

      But never mind. We all understood how the tribal thing works itself out.

    5. The same, invariant, content-free criticism I provide each day, whiny complaints that "Bob's hero-worshipers" swallow whole his every pronouncement -- each one of which must be, by my definition, "the most important thing in the world," why, that's good enough for me!

  2. "Reporters" don't want to check facts, editors don't want to bog down articles with facts.

    The news is not about what you say but how you say it.

    Glenn Beck is a classic example of this.

    When you read his transcripts you find no useful content or worthwhile information.
    When you listen to him, and watch his expressions and body language, every sentence is fraught with meaning.

    The talking heads on MSNBC also have their own individual styles of delivery.

    What's the old comparison about class and style?

    Class is how you act when you know nobody's watching, style is how you act when you know everybody's watching.

  3. And now, the rest of the story:

  4. Yes, O'Reilly was vague. In this recent column, Thomas Sowell makes the point that I think O'Reilly was trying to make.

    1. David, thanks, useless article. Sowell points to exactly zero (0) policy changes of Obama's.

      None. That's exactly as many as we see cited above by O'Reilly.

      That you think that "makes the point" says nothing good.

    2. Not so, Swan. I count at least seven examples of Obama handout policies that Sowell mentioned:

      Unemployment may remain a problem to many Americans, but that only provides another occasion for the Obama administration to show its "compassion" with extended unemployment benefits (1), more food stamps (2) and various interventions to save home buyers from mortgage foreclosure (3).


      The "smart money" inside the Beltway says that a high unemployment rate spells doom at the polls for a president. But history says that people who are getting government handouts tend to vote for whoever is doing the handing out.

      The Obama administration has turned this into a handout state that breaks all previous records. Lofty rhetoric about "stimulus," (4) "shovel-ready projects," (5) "green jobs" (6) or "investment" in "the industries of the future" (7) all give political cover to what is plain old handouts to people who are likely to vote to re-elect Obama.

  5. "Lofty rhetoric about..." is 4 of your examples?


    But let's take some of these "examples" on:

    1) Extended unemployment benefits. This is legislation which could be defeated by GOP resistance. To the extent there have been extensions, we can say they are bipartisan.

    2) "More food stamps," as far as we can tell is not a policy change, it's a result of the recession. To the extent that we are aware, policy changes to encourage application for benefits began under Bush, not Obama.

    3) "Various interventions to save home buyers from mortgage foreclosure" -- as an example, this suffers greatly from being unquantified. Surely, as an actuary (as you constantly remind us!), you get this. How much of this has been done? How much of it has been "policy" that Obama could simply execute and how much required the cooperation of the GOP? Sowell doesn't attempt to say.

    Really, the last quote you provide shows us exactly how Sowell tends to argue.

    "The Obama administration has turned this into a handout state" you show him asserting.

    But then Sowell makes no attempt to show what policy changes have supposedly led to increased handouts, unless we are willing to join you in calling "lofty rhetoric" a policy -- even Sowell only claims this is "political cover" (though he craftily tries to conflate the one-off fiscal stimulus with social programs spending).

    1. "How much of it has been "policy" that Obama could simply execute and how much required the cooperation of the GOP? Sowell doesn't attempt to say."

      And how much of it is a direct result of the obstructionism by Republicans in Congress and in state governments?

    2. One could quibble about the nature of Obama's various handout policies. Frankly, they are so numerous and so diverse, I'd hardly know where to begin.

      BOTW reports an instance were some handout money was spent in an unexpected way:

      "A controversial anti-obesity 'slush fund' under Obamacare was used in Nashville, Tennessee to spay dogs and cats," reports Paul Bedard of the Washington Examiner. The rationale, according to a press release from the city health department: "This targeted effort aims to address residents' concerns that identify stray dogs as a barrier to outdoor physical activity."

      Do people really become couch potatoes because they're scared of stray animals? If this is in ObamaCare, our guess is that the real reason is that dog is fattening.

    3. "Frankly, they are so numerous and diverse,I'd hardly know where to begin"

      You thn list somethin gthta Obama had nothin gto do with. If they are so "numerous and diverse," you should be able to come up with plenty and type them out right now. But you can't, because they aren't.

      Since you're too stupid and dishonest to do it yourself, allow me to point out something: you can go through any administration and find something to make any point you want to make. Governments spend trillions of dollars a year, and in all that spending there's going to be something that can be twisted around and made to look like egregious profligacy. If you claim Obama has been a particular spendthrift, you should have real statistics, not some crazy example, that prove it -- but you don't.

  6. Poor people disproportionately don't vote, so Sowell's point fails there.