OUT OF CONTEXT: Alec MacGillis is shocked, just shocked!


Can’t recall where this practice began: By light years, this is the dumbest White House campaign staged in the modern era.

Are you allowed to cite a claim which hasn’t been taken out of context? Quite correctly, liberals have criticized Romney’s absurd complaints about Obama’s remarks on building a business.

We liberals are very upset about that. On the other hand, Romney’s old remark about “firing people” has become part of our liberal wallpaper. And when Romney made this pointless remark, a string of liberals noted the obvious:

His comment was being taken out of context—“wildly” so, Kevin Drum said. A wide range of liberals made this obvious comment. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/3/12.

(Beyond that, note this fact-check of Obama’s recent Florida speech, in which he continued to flog Paul Ryan’s old Medicare plan—even though Ryan, responding to liberal complaints, has crafted a new Medicare plan, working with Senator Wyden. The original plan was very bad. And so, unless Glenn Kessler is crazy, Obama is still pretending it’s Ryan’s current plan.)

This is our dumbest campaign by light years. The dumbness all around us is simply astounding. This includes the dumbness of the feigned outrage which animates all discussions.

This is our dumbest campaign by far. But when Alec MacGillis discussed the problem of out-of-context citation, he forgot where it all began.

Quite correctly, MacGillis slams Romney’s cynical, out-of-context clowning. He even slams the mainstream press corps for failing to challenge Romney’s behavior! As he finishes, the high-minded scribe is shocked, just shocked, to see the press acting this way:
MACGILLIS (7/25/12): I’m genuinely perplexed that people who work with words for a living can be so blithe about the deliberate misuse of words to mislead. What are we in this business for if not to hold the people we cover to basic standards of context, rather than just scoring the marks left by the mistruths?
Good God! Where the heck was Alec MacGillis when this culture got started?

Answer: MacGillis was part of the mainstream press corps when this culture got started. Indeed, the press corps invented this broken-souled practice. We refer to the twenty months of Campaign 2000, when the press corps took every syllable spoken by Candidate Gore and rendered it out of sane context.

Al Gore had said he inspired Love Story! Al Gore had said he invented the Internet! Why, Candidate Gore had even said that he discovered Love Canal! That he invented the Earned Income Tax Credit! That his mother sang him a union lullaby before it had even been written!

Al Gore even made crazy lying remarks about his dog’s arthritis pills!

This was a disgraceful performance; it sent George Bush to the White House. Romney is doing the same thing today. But, within the modern context, the culture of flogging remarks out of all sane context was invented by MacGillis and friends in early 1999.

Everyone has agreed to pretend that this conduct never occurred. But, of course, it did occur. Surely, MacGillis must know this.


  1. "Our of context" is not a valid excuse here. You can tell that the excuse is lame, because Bob didn't even try to identify the proper context. IMHO the real context was to justify extra taxes on successful individuals and businesses based on the theory that the government deserves a big share of the credit for their success.

    I think Mr. Obama had two specific flaws in his argument:

    1. He says the achievers should pay back because the government provided various services, such as roads, police protection, etc. But, the achievers already paid for these things via the many taxes that they already paid, such as personal and corporate income taxes, property taxes, vehicle registration fees, gasoline taxes, business license fees, sales taxes, OASDI, etc.

    2. He says that any achiever was helped by someone else. That may be generally true, but the helper wasn't necessarily the federal government. The helper might have been a prior supervisor, a friend, a parent, a religious leader, a lawyer, etc. So, even if you think the successful person should "pay back", it's not clear that the federal government should be the recipient of the payback.

    1. As you know, because you're not an idiot, the point was that success in business relies on maintaining the "American system." We invest collectively in things that down the road become advantages for American businesses, like education, safety, and infrastructure. And thus there is no such thing as a self-made businessman, which is what businessmen imply: "The government needs to get its grubby hands off my hard-earned money."

      Sure, you could then say that, notwithstanding, Obama needs to prove further that the optimal marginal tax rate for dollars $250,001 and up is 39.6%. You could say, "Yes, we're all in this together, and the private sector and the public sector need one another, but let's talk about where to set that rate, and 39.6% is just too high." But that's not what Republicans proceeded to do, is it? They'd rather lie instead.

    2. David in Cal said, "But, the achievers already paid for these things via the many taxes that they already paid. . ."

      No, they haven't. What the super-wealthy get from BIG GOVERNMENT far, far outweighs what they pay into the system. By only mentioning basic services like the roads and police, Obama was vastly understating what the rich owe the government.

      First, the big banks were bailed out without having to pay "too-big-to-fail insurance." Nor are they compelled to pay such insurance today.

      Second, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates owe all of their wealth to copyright and patent protection, an enormous government commitment (which includes law enforcement) that is provided free of charge by the federal government.

      Third, TV stations and cable networks get to use the public airwaves free of charge.

      These are just three of many, many examples that show that the "achievers" are also just a bunch of glorified welfare queens.

  2. You cannot justify higher taxes on the wealthy based on their usage of education, safety, infrastructure, etc. The wealthy already pay for these things many times over. In fact, the top quintile already pay 94% of federal imcome tax.

    IMHO the real reason for raising tax rates on the wealthy is the same reason Willie Sutton supposedly gave for robbing banks: That's where the money is.

    1. what percentage of wealth and income do the top 20% get? that might go a ways toward understanding why they pay a big chunk of federal taxes...

      but nevertheless, it is incontrovertibly true that top federal tax rates are remarkably LOW by historical american standards...

    2. DinC,

      According to the CBO, the top quintile share of federal income taxes for 2001 was 82.5%.
      When we combine Federal income tax and Social Security tax, the top Quintile share was 65.3% .

      With the Bush tax cuts the picture gets even rosier because of the huge gains made by the top 1%

      As anonymous 5:16 points out, you are including a lot of the middle class.

      Why don't you quote the wealth and tax burden of 1%, and include capitol gains and liquid assets, hedge fund holdings, etc as well?

      Don't bother, I already know the answer to that. And so do most of the commenters on this blog.

  3. Hey moron: the top quintile includes the middle class, you know, the people Obama would like to offer tax relief too.

    Bonus points for invoking the self-fulfilling "capitalist-class percentage of federal income tax" fallacy which only demonstrates how ridiculously divided the country's wealth already is.

  4. The reason for raising taxes on the wealthy is because so many are hoarding the money they don't pay taxes on.
    This forces people with much lower incomes to pay the cost of government, and causes huge deficits each year.

    The reason we need to change our tax code is the same reason we need to change our healthcare system.
    They are both broken.

    1. When I was young, prudent spending combined with saving for a rainy day and for retirement was a virtue. Now, gravymeister says such behavior has become a vice -- "hoarding". Well, whatever...

  5. Quibbling again Bob. Why try to endear yourself to the right? Is there something we don't know?

    Romney's words were not "wildly" misquoted. They were specifically: "I like being able to fire people who provide services to me. You know, if someone doesn’t give me a good service that I need, I want to say I’m going to go get someone else to provide that service to me."

  6. Misleading comments, mendacity and manipulation has become the bread and butter of leading journalists. In a sane world, would Dick Gregory be known as a "journalist"? The arrogance of lazy modern journalists is what has turned off people from the print media, though not television. The slowly heating frog doesn't realize that it is being cooked as the public relations propagandists prepare to serve envy, jealousy and pride with the main course.

  7. DIn C
    You are demonstrating your abysmal ignorance of economics.
    S=I Savings = Investment.
    Money that is not used for consumption or savings is hoarded.
    It is effectively outside the economy.

    1. I'm unclear, gravymeister. My savings are in stocks, government bonds, and bank accounts. I assume you'd consider these classes of assets to be "investments."

      So, what classes of assets represent "hording", rather than "investment"?

  8. This is tedious.
    Study some economics.

    If that's too difficult, carefully watch "It's a Wonderful Life", "Goldfinger", and "Wall Street".

    Meditate on removing vast sums of money from the economy and stashing it in a mattress.

    Then, if you can sleep easily while you watch the rest of humanity get flushed down the toilet, you will understand what it means to be a Master of the Universe.