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Thursday, June 28, 2012

Taibbi Squids Over the Truth

Kevin Drum has relapsed into praising Matt Taibbi. This follows a debate which ended when Drum admitted that it was "hard" to defend Taibbi (his defence was entirely that Taibbi wrote about financial regulation in The Rolling Stone and that's a very good thing -- it had nothing to do with what Taibbi actually wrote).

I lose it (again) in comments

My mix of views of Taibbi is different from yours. I like the invective. The problem is that Taibbi doesn't just invent colorful metaphors (vampire Squid rings anyone ?). He also makes false statements on matters of fact.

" 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 forthe president's new economic team was his close friend and Harvard Law classmate Michael Froman, , a high-ranking executive at Citigroup"

Given the rules of English grammer, the word "bankers" can't refer to Froman who is only one person. Taibbi's claim of fact is not consistent with the evidence he presents. His claim is grossly substantively false. Froman has not been a major influence on Obama economic policy. Goolsebee, in contrast, is CEA chairman. The assertion that he and not Froman has been banished is false.

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.

Froman did play work for the transition team in 2008-9. Taibbi erects a mass of false claims on this one fact. His aim is fundamentally deceptive. This is not a question of rhetoric, it is a question of fact.

Of course the more famous gross falsehood written by Taibbi is another
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).

Just to check the context of "economic team" I looked at the paragraph above (I should admit that I have not read an entire article by Taibbi). I found another false assertion on a simple matter of fact

"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.

That is two plainly false statements in two paragraphs.

Of course Taibbi's offence against the facts is made much worse by the fact that he is writing in The Rolling Stone. Readers of, say, The Financial Times would detect the falsehoods and react appropriately. Taibbi is the only sourse of information, or in these cases disinformation for many of his readers.

You can only defend Taibbi if you consider factual accuracy optional.

Do you ? I ask for information and expect a reply.

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