Saturday, April 09, 2011

"his remark was not intended to be a factual statement,"

is a classic Kinsley gaffe. It is well known that politicians, especially Republicans, often make quantitative claims without due or any diligence, that specific statements which can be confronted with accounts are not to be taken literally, and, above all, that 90% does not mean 0.9 at all but just means "a lot".

At least Kyl's office didn't say "He is completely ignorant as usual. Look this is the guy who thought that the old START treaty remained in effect while he was holding up ratification of the latest START treaty. I mean compared to not knowing that we have lost the ability to inspect Russian nuclear armaments an error equal to 87% of Planned Parenthood's budget (which is not the sort of amount that is worth five minutes of a Senators time while we are on the edge of a government shut down over Federal funds for planned Parenthood -- and you know they get "well over 90 %" of their money straight from the Federal Government ("that was not intended to be a factual statement")." Or "come on if you make me comment every time Sen Kyl bullshits I'll just decide to spend more time with my family." Or well lots of other possible Kinsley gaffes.

I am currently interested in the fact that it is quite common for people to say, in effect, that claims of fact are not intended to be factual statements and what's the big deal. That a false claim is not a lie, it is a rhetorical flourish and only ignoramuses or hypocrits fail to recognise this. I am working on my list of Kyl's offices predecessors.

To be balanced (count the l's) I note that Felix Salmon (who has always been nice to me and posted an interview with me about a topic on which I am totally ignorant) did the same thing when it was noted that many of Matt Taibbi's claims of fact are, in fact, false.

This stuff isn’t meant to be taken nearly as literally as Fernholz is taking it

That stuff (not the particular stuff challenged by Fernholz) included the absolutely false claim that Obama's economic team had worked in the financial services industry. Taibbi's claim was made without qualification and implies that each and everyone one of them had. In fact one (1) (that is less than 2 (two)) of the top staffers (Larry Summers) had worked on Wall Street part time. Taibbi's claim was a lie or a lunatic delusion. Salmon sees no bitg deal. Taibbi and Salmon consider themselves to be journalists.

Update: Felix Salmon objects in comments

Robert, I have no idea what you're talking about. If you're going to make these claims, please back them up with links and quotes. Where exactly does Taibbi say that (all of) Obama's economic team had worked in the financial services industry? Give the quote. Where do I say that it's no big deal? You might want to look at this: http://blogs.reuters.com/felix-salmon/2009/12/11/fernholz-vs-taibbi/ Where the not-taking-literally bit is clearly in relation to Taibbi's comment about Alan Greenspan being "worshipped by four decades of politicians because he once dated Barbara Walters”. My contention is that (a) Taibbi didn't say what you say he said, and that (b) I didn't say what you say I said. Who's being dishonest here?
By Felix on "his remark was not intended to be a factual state... on 4/10/11


I apologise. I will write more later, but for now, I just note that I can't claim the authority to decide what "stuff" Salmon was discussing. In my post, I note that it "includes" stuff other than the stuff which Salmon discussed in his post. Reading Salmon's comment, I feared that I had removed necessary context. I hadn't really (the parenthetical statement including "Fernholz" provides the necessary context). I just ignored the context (which I noted) when interpreting Salmon's statement. An honest error believe it or not (I will explain how it happened). I have to go now, guests just arrived.

update 2:
I am going to try to be honest (deep breath) I did not read the post by Salmon to which I linked. This was irresponsible of me, and I have to admit it. I recalled taht Salmon had said that Taibbi wasn't to be "taken literally." This was from a snippet quoted elsewhere on the web. I think I read it more than once, but definitely never in context. I don't remember where I read it, which is just as well, since I don't want to blame someone who, I suspect, quoted Salmon out of context. Of course I am responsible for my distortion of the meaning of Salmon's statement based on admitting I removed context (at least I did admit I was taken the snippet out of context) but then adding new non context and comparing Salmon to Kyl's staff. I apologise again.

Now I will address the question of whether Matt Taibbi said that Obama's economic inner circle is "a group of wall street bankers". The reason I think Taibbi wrote that is that Brad DeLong wrote (more than once) that he wrote that. I will quote DeLong


Here

The Obama economic policy inner circle--Tim Geithner, Gene Sperling, Larry Summers, Christie Romer, Peter Orszag--is not "a group of Wall Street bankers." It is only 5% Wall Street banker--only 1/4 of Larry Summers can possibly count as a Wall Street banker.


The link in that post by DeLong gives a 404 error at Rolling Stone so I don't yet know if Brad's accusation is accurate. The quoted passage "a group of wall street bankers" does not appear in an article written by Taibbi and posted on www.rollingstone.com. However, Taibbi wrote that phrase. Through the obscure approach of googling Taibbi "a group of wall street bankers." I found the following passage which commondreams ascribes to Matt Taibbi


That was the day the jubilant Obama campaign announced its transition team. Though many of the names were familiar - former Bill Clinton chief of staff John Podesta, long-time Obama confidante Valerie Jarrett - the list was most notable for who was not on it, especially on the economic side. Austan Goolsbee, a University of Chicago economist who had served as one of Obama's chief advisers during the campaign, didn't make the cut. Neither did Karen Kornbluh, who had served as Obama's policy director and was instrumental in crafting the Democratic Party's platform. Both had emphasized populist themes during the campaign: Kornbluh was known for pushing Democrats to focus on the plight of the poor and middle class, while Goolsbee was an aggressive critic of Wall Street, declaring that AIG executives should receive "a Nobel Prize - for evil."

But come November 5th, both were banished from Obama's inner circle - and replaced with a group of Wall Street bankers. Leading the search for the president's new economic team was his close friend and Harvard Law classmate Michael Froman, , a high-ranking executive at Citigroup.


I think that link (as demanded by Salmon) proves that Brad's paraphrase of Taibbi was entirely fair. Given the rules of English grammer, the word "bankers" can't refer to Froman who is only one person. Brad went on to claim that Froman "staffed" the search which means he did not replace an economic advisor (currently chairman of the council of economic advisors and a policy director. In any case, Froman is a person not a group.

The only interpretation of Taibbi's statement which is consistent with English grammer is that he asserts that Obama's economic team was a group of Wall Street Bankers. This claim is false. I'd add that Taibbi should have mentioned that Goolsbee was a member of the council of economic advisors when Taibbi wrote his post. Not a top job like chairman (Romer) but still part of the team. Also Taibbi doesn't say whether Froman was working for the administration when he wrote his post(althought that is pretty clear from the fact that he is described as holding a staff position).

Taibbi asserted that Obama replaced his campaignes chief economic advisor and its policy director with a "group of Wall Street Bankers" He did not say, there or elsewhere that this shift was ever reversed. Taibbi's claim may be technically true except for the s in BankerS and the word "group," but it is wildly exaggerated and grossly deceptive.

I stand by my (and Brad's) characterisation of Taibbi's reliability. I also note, while I didn't do my hobby properly when I tore a snippet of text written by Salmon totally out of context, I don't think that Salmon did his job properly when he was mystefied by Taibbi AND "group of wall street bankers." The quote was just a google away. Salmon has repeatedly defended Taibbi against the accusation that his claims of fact are unreliable. I am in no position to criticize anyone, but I don't think that Salmon performed due diligence.

To focus, I challenge Salmon, Taibbi or anyone else to name the members of the "group of wall street bankers." It isn't just that one banker isn't bankers. It isn't even just that a group which includes just one banker isn't a group of bankers. It is that a group which includes bankers (plural as stated without any supporting eviedence by Taibbi) and non bankers is not a group of bankers. That is just what the phrase means. To assert that Taibbi's claim is not false, one must find a group of bankers only and argue that those people and no non bankers replaced the Obama campaigns chief economic advisor *and* its policy director. DeLong is too charitable to Taibbi when he reduces the claim to only replacing an economic advisor (who was one of Obama's economic advisors at the time Taibbi typed his claim and who is now chairman of the council of economic advisors). In fact, Taibbi also asserted that the people holding positions which fill the role of "policy director" are all wall street bankers. That must include at least the domestic policy advisor -- a non banker (I assume) not on Brad's list.

Taibbi's most specific and definite assertions are not to be taken as "factual statemetns." I would guess that, in his heart, he is convinced that he is stating essential truths, but he doesn't bother with facts-

Now I make mistakes too. I just ripped a snippet of text written by Salmon out of context totally changing its meaning. But, first, I admit it when my errors are pointed out, and second I am blogging as a hobby and do not claim to be a journalist.

Update III: I recall the phrase "made them rich" I googled Taibbi "made them rich." Google sent me to Taibbi's December 14 2009 Rolling Stone article. There I read

Even the members of Obama’s economic team who have spent most of their lives in public office have managed to make small fortunes on Wall Street. The president’s economic czar, Larry Summers,




I note that Larry Summers has not spent most of his life in public office. in 2009 he had spent less than 1 year with the Obama administration, 8 years with the Clinton administration and less than 3 years at the World Bank (he was appointed by Bush Sr). He was not 55 not 24 at the time. OK to be serious he had spent less than half of his adult life in public service. He had spent less than half of his working life in public service -- the latest arguable start date for his working life is September 1983 26 years before Taibbi characterised less than 12 years as placing him in the group of people who had "spent most of their lives in public office."

I admit I had to go allll the way to the Wikipedia entry on Larry Summers to prove that Taibbi's claim of fact is false. I think journalists should be held to higher standards. Taibbi, while writing for Rolling Stone, seems to assume that people are either in public office or making money on Wall street or both.

Of course that was not the quote I sought. Taibbi also wrote

The point is that an economic team made up exclusively of callous millionaire-assholes has absolutely zero interest in reforming the gamed system that made them rich in the first place.


Note exclusively. Every single member of the economic team is a millionaire who was made rich by the gamed system whose reform was being debated -- that is finance. Romer may be a millionaire, but if she is, she was born rich or made rich by the gamed system of textbook publishing (the books written by her husband) which was not the gamed system whose reform was under discussion. Geithner may be rich for all I know, but I am quite sure he didn't make money on Wall Street. I'm not expert, but I am certain that Federal Reserve Bank staff are not allowed to play the market (any market) at all. This is certainly true of Treasury employees. I'm not as sure about restrictions on IMF staff (I'd guess they are tight but I don't know -- well I don't know about Federal Reserve Bank staff either really).

I am now completely mystefied by Salmon's comment. I mean I understand why he is angry that I totally misrepresented something he wrote by removing necessary context (I apologise again). I am a bit surprised that he reads this blog at all, but I guess he followed my link to his blog back (I do that with all the few links I get). But I just can't imagine what makes him think I was unfair to Taibbi. It seems to me that the snip of text I quoted was fairly put in a reasonable paraphrase of its original context by Brad DeLong and by me. Taibbi has made more extreme claims.

Does Salmon assert that Obama's Dec 14 economic team

Taibbi definitely wrote that each and every member of the Obama economic team as of Dec 14 2009 was

"an economic team made up exclusively of callous millionaire-assholes ... [that had] absolutely zero interest in reforming the gamed system that made them rich in the first place." ?

This is an important claim of fact. If Obama taken economic advice only to people who had been made rich by "the gamed system" of Wall Street, then he would have made a terrible mistake casting serious doubt on the wisdom of reelecting him. The claim is of the very greatest importance. It is also false. I conclude that Matt Taibbi should be (figuratively) cast into the outer darkness. Literally, I mean that no one should pay any attention to anything he asserts unless it is independently confirmed. At that point it is redundant. I think the national debate would be improved if no one ever read anything Matt Taibbi wrote ever again. I consider him a journalist with the same professional standing as Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly and just marginally more able to pretend to be in contact with reality than Glenn Beck.

I know that, even if Salmon reads all of these updates I won't convince him. But I can't imagine what possibly could. I haven't read much written by Matt Taibbi, yet I find false claim of fact after false claim of fact after false claim of fact. What does it take to convince Salmon that one is not a journalist. I mean aside from writing "I am not a journalist" as I have already written in this post. I'm not a journalist and neither is Matt Taibbi.








My list below includes the words "Megan McArdle." The example is really her claim that Pharmaceutical companies make 80% of their profits on sales in the USA which lead to

Megan McArdle: It wasn't a statistic--it was a hypothetical.

I like to play with hypotheticals too. As in what would happen if Megan McArdle became an honest journalist.

Another example was Gonzales's description of Bush's claim that, under Bush, wires were only tapped if such taps were approved by judicial warrants. Gonzales claimed that the problem is that Bush isn't a lawyer -- in other words he wasn't skilled enough to deceive without lying. The possibility that one might expect the President to deceive the public about whether he is committing felonies didn't occur to Gonzales, but, of course, the President is allowed to break the law and can't be expected to confess.

1 comment:

Felix said...

Robert, I have no idea what you're talking about. If you're going to make these claims, please back them up with links and quotes.

Where exactly does Taibbi say that (all of) Obama's economic team had worked in the financial services industry? Give the quote. Where do I say that it's no big deal? You might want to look at this:

http://blogs.reuters.com/felix-salmon/2009/12/11/fernholz-vs-taibbi/

Where the not-taking-literally bit is clearly in relation to Taibbi's comment about Alan Greenspan being "worshipped by four decades of politicians because he once dated Barbara Walters”.

My contention is that (a) Taibbi didn't say what you say he said, and that (b) I didn't say what you say I said. Who's being dishonest here?