KLEIN ON THE LAWN: His work is often very bad!


Part 4—So too for the work of his wife: Is Ezra Klein even minimally competent?

Consider this post from yesterday’s Wonkblog, a post which the normally perspicacious Kevin Drum chose to praise.

We know what you’re thinking—the “Irvine crew” will always stick together! Having noted your rank unfairness, we’d have to say that young Klein’s post was not especially competent.

Young Klein was tackling a knotty problem—why will spending on health care programs rise in the next twenty years? This is the (rather murky) way he started. Nothing he said here was wrong:
KLEIN (3/20/13): You’ve heard—perhaps on this very blog!—that our long-term deficits are almost entirely driven by health-care costs. That’s true over the next 50, 60, 70 years, which is, absurdly, the time frame people often talk in. But over the next 20 years, it’s not quite right.

A more accurate way to put it would be that in the coming decades, new spending is almost entirely driven by health-care programs. But what’s really driving the spending in those programs is the aging of the population, not the rise in health-care costs.
Go ahead—read the whole post! Everything Klein says is technically accurate. Medicare / Medicaid spending will rise because more people will be enrolled in those programs. Spending will also rise in these programs because “health-care costs are going up”—presumably, because procedures will cost more and more will be available.

None of that is wrong. But Ezra skipped a gigantic third part of this story—the ridiculous baseline from which those health-care costs will rise. Yes, there will be more enrollees in the future—and yes, the cost of procedures will rise. But the giant problem in our health care programs is the gigantic per person spending which obtains at present.

Why is it true that “our long-term deficits are almost entirely driven by health-care costs?” In large part, it’s because of that crazy baseline, which Ezra doesn’t mention.

In our view, Ezra’s post was narrowly accurate—but it was also defiantly uninformative. You might even say it was misleading, in a way our elites seem to like.

What makes Ezra run? We have no idea. That said, his recent work has been consistently awful, though none of this floundering seems to affect the ways he is pimped and viewed. As our news orgs have created their new youth brigade—their all-new collection of Cokies and Sams—the pimping of these wunderkind has been quite effusive.

To see the way these new stars get pimped, consider last Friday's hard-copy news report by the New York Times’ Brian Stelter. For the record, Stelter is one of the press corps’ child wonders himself. To see him pimped as part of a “New York Media Power Couple,” just click here.

(The piece appeared in 2011; Stelter was just 25 at the time. Clicking through its collection of no-names, we were struck by one key fact—there don’t seem to be a whole lot of New York media power couples!)

Young Stelter seems to spend much of his time worrying about Matt Lauer’s Q rating. Despite this understandable focus, he knows how to pimp the kids on The One True Liberal Channel, as we saw in his recent report, which concerned the way Big Ed Schultz has been kicked to the curb.

What are these bright young TV stars like? Stelter knows how to play it:
STELTER (3/15/13): Chris Hayes will take over the 8 p.m. time slot on MSNBC in the next month, the channel announced on Thursday, the day after the current host of that hour, Ed Schultz, said he was moving from the weekdays to the weekends.

Mr. Hayes, a liberal intellectual who has hosted a well-regarded weekend morning program on MSNBC for the last 18 months, is a protégé of Rachel Maddow, the highest-rated host on the channel. On April 1 he will become the lead-in for her 9 p.m. program, ''The Rachel Maddow Show.''

The change is predicated on the belief that MSNBC can win a wider audience with Mr. Hayes than it did with Mr. Schultz, a champion of the working class whose bluster didn't always pair well with Ms. Maddow and the channel's other prime-time program, ''The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell.'' Mr. Hayes, on the other hand, is just as policy-oriented as Ms. Maddow and Mr. O'Donnell, and is a regular contributor to both of their programs.
Is Mr. Hayes an “intellectual?” It’s pretty much as you like it. We’re not sure Stelter would know an intellectual if such a person leaped off the Empire State Building and crashed though the windshield of his town car. But that's neither here nor there.

In his report, Stelter was up to the task of producing the mandated scripts about our rising young stars. Hayes, an intellectual, is a protégé of Maddow. On the other hand, Schultz was constantly blustering on behalf of the working class.

Schultz does have plenty of bluster. That said, does anybody really think that Lawrence O’Donnell is more “policy-oriented” that Schultz? That strikes us as a ridiculous claim, but it can be explained by Stelter’s reference to Big Ed’s “bluster” on behalf of working folk.

Our young stars seem to know who they serve. And no, it isn’t “those people.”

Whatever! Stelter’s piece helps us see how the youth brigade has been pimped and promoted. In the midst of all this nonsense, few people seem to have noticed that young Klein’s work is often amazingly bad.

Perhaps to a lesser degree, so is the work of his wife, Annie Lowrey, a 28-year-old wunderkind who, for no discernible reason, now presents analysis pieces on the front page of the New York Times. For what it’s worth, Klein and Lowrey are a New York Media Power Couple too—were so as of 2011! Just click here, then click through to Power Couple 29.

Does anyone know why Lowrey, an underwhelming performer since college, is doing front-page analysis work for the mighty Times? In fairness, she’s young and conventionally attractive; she went to Harvard and she’s married to brilliant young Klein. But on Monday morning, she had lost the logical thread of her front-page report by its third or fourth paragraph. In her apparent confusion, she managed to avoid the most obvious explanation for an obvious distinction she had somehow observed.

Lowrey had noticed an obvious fact: Democrats and Republicans say they want to eliminate tax loopholes. (Partly in pursuit of confusion, these loopholes are now sometimes described as “tax expenditures.”) But how odd! Democrats want to use the money thus saved for new spending programs. Republicans want to offset any savings they achieve in this way with cuts in income tax rates for the highest earners!

If you have two brain cells in your head, you understand why the two parties adopt those dueling approaches. Lowrey floundered all about, managing not to discuss the obvious reason for this schism. In doing so, she recreated the cluelessness her husband displayed three weeks before, when he wrote this hopeless piece on the front page of the Business section of the Sunday Washington Post.

We were out of town that weekend; we’re not sure we saw that piece. But this was Dean Baker’s annoyed reaction, and Baker was much too polite to our clueless young man.

Baker’s headline posed a question: “Are Republicans Confused on the Issues Involved with the Sequester or Is Ezra Klein?” We’ll only say that Republicans surely aren't confused. We don't know what to think about Klein.

What makes Ezra run? Is young Klein really so dumb that he doesn’t know why the GOP keeps extending tax breaks to the highest earners? He adopted that stance that day in the Post, imagining that the GOP would change its stance if they could only be helped to see that tax breaks are really a form of spending.

This Monday, his wife followed suit.

In these ways, our young stars keep coloring inside the lines, as they were trained to do in day care. Stelter calls them “intellectuals.”

We’d recommend the possibility that they may be something less grand.

Tomorrow: The piffle of protégé Rachel


  1. Agreed completely on the work of Klein and about time that was analyzed as you are doing.

  2. That whole power couple thing was just awful. The fact that those people posed for some god-awful spread in a publication was just really sickening.

  3. I am agnostic about the new Celebrity Journalist Brat Pack. I am more insulted by the sad, corrupt culture in which all of us find ourselves. I do see these kids as a striking improvement over Sam, Cokie, Howie K and WOLF!BLITZER! We will see how they fare after they settle in with their cable news wealth.
    I would not call Klein's writing "Very Bad." Thanks to the new Overton Window, I would save Very Bad for O'Reilly, Hannity, the late Breitbart, etc. Maybe "pandering to mainstream group-think" would be a better description.
    We American news consumers do deserve better than "technically accurate." I look forward to that after our obligatory forty years in the desert.
    As for Hayes' status as an intellectual, I don't believe he presents himself as such. Intellectual is lazy-media- columnist-speak for "possibly educated with a decent vocabulary." Chris Hayes = Intellectual vs. Newt Gingrich = Intellectual. I see an improvement. Don't you?
    As for power couples, I don't begrudge them publicity. In our sad media Jerusalem, it is a requirement for people earning a living in the public eye. Most of those couples' photographs looked like stock photos. The Klein and Lowery photo does look posed. Shame on them, but it is not as though auditioned for Celebrity Apprentice. Best for us to avoid those magazines and websites anyway. No great loss there.
    I'm willing to give Klein, Hayes and their class time to either season or sell out before making a judgement. I am thankful to hear someone, anyone on the TV admit that tax cuts do not balance the budget, Iraq did not have WMD and calling out the fake GOP\Democrat equivalence.
    I heartily agree that Lawrence O’Donnell is not more policy oriented than Ed Schultz.
    As ever, love your blog, keep up the good work.