Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Fact Checking the Washington Post Editorial Board

I comment on this editorial
First the comment I posted there. To skip it search for herehere.

This editorial contains a false assertion on a matter of fact which must be corrected.  I understand that you are not corrected on page 2 but rather correct yourselves.  You must do so promptly if you are to regain the reputation the Washington Post Editorial Board once had as a source of of commentary worth taking seriously.

The error is the claim "The president-elect will inherit a[n] ... economy, with ... imperceptible growth. " Fortunately there is an agreed meaning of "growth" in this context -- it refers to real GDP growth. Also fortunately anyone who is willing to spend 5 minutes at can graph real GDP growth and check whether he or she can perceive an upward trend in the latest data on "growth" in general.

Unfortunately none of you could spare the five or so minutes necessary to check your claim on one of the most elementary basic and widely known facts there is.  You have only two responsible options.
You can look at this graph  and sincerely conclude that you can not perceive that it is not horizontal or you can correct your claim.

Your status gives you heavy responsibilities but it does no give you the right to invent your own facts. There will be more commentary at the same link as the graph.  For now I just note that I can imagine two explanations for the error.

First a disagreement about what "growth" means in context.  I think it is agreed it means real GDP growth in this context so an effort to estimate growth in the past three months must be indirect.  It is not true that whenever an economy is growing all sectors grow (for example real state and local government spending isstill shrinking). 

Second, and in my view much more likely, "imperceptible" was considered just an emphatic word for "extremely inadequate".  I don't think anyone considers the current growth adequate or nearly adequate given the huge gap between US  real GDP and the trend it has not strayed from for long since world war II.  It would however be roughly normal growth for normal times.  In any case, "imperceptible" means imperceptible and the status which does not give you the authority to invent facts also does not give you the authority to redefine words at will.


First a graph of weekly hours to support my claim above

Now further ranting. I stuck to commenting on the claim of "imperceptible" growth because I consider a matter of unonctenstable fact.  However, I find contest many other assertions of fact in the editorial.  It's just that I can imagine non-absurd counterarguments on the other points.

They also wrote

"What does Mr. Obama offer the jobless that should make them more hopeful about the next four years than the previous four? We don’t know. "

They don't know because they have forgotten. About a year ago, Obama proposed a plan to cause increased employment.  Congress did not enact the proposal.  Obama never retracted it.  But for the Washington Post editorial board it doesn't exist.

"How would he persuade Congress to steer the nation away from the fiscal cliff? We don’t know."

Here even more explicitly the board holds Obama responsible for the actions of Congress.  I agree with conservatives that a sense of personal responsibility is very important.  Their attitude is therefore damaging.  The interesting point is that the Washington Post Editorial Board thinks it is the responsibility to persuade Congress belongs to the president and not to them.  Dear reader, I ask you which is more likely to influence the current Congress
1) reasonable proposals and open minded negotiations from Barack Obama
2) specific and frequently repeated denunciations by the Washington Post Editorial Board of the Republicans for their refusal to accept any tax increases with the names of those most responsible
They have power and they surely know it. But they do not have any sense  that they are responsible.   They demand that Obama sacrifice the poor and elderly, but they will not even consider sacrificing their Ballance.

They wrote "How would he respond to the threat of insolvency? He would “preserve Medicare” and “strengthen Social Security.” The platitudes are almost more insulting than no answer at all."

The affordably care act contains page after page of enacted reforms which are designed to preserve Medicare by reducing spending growth.  Their question is "what have you done to help Medicare -- lately ?"  The actually enacted reforms which took effect last week are irrelevant for two reasons. First Obama has achieved too much -- they are already law so they are not proposals for his second term.  Second there is no proof that they will work, since they just took effect.  The board is demanding that Obama present new proposals with proof that they work -- proposals which must be in the future whose effectiveness is demonstrated by data which must be in the past.

Here I think the problem is that Obama did not cut Medicare benefits. I am very confidend that their logic is no pain no gain that they demand Social Security and Medicare benefit cuts.  I also believe thtat they do this exactly because such cuts are political suicide -- that they consider ignoring the wishes of the vast majority of the people the only democratic leadership which counts. 

The alarming thing is that, I suspect, many members of the board consider the editorial to come as close to taking sides as they can before their official endorsement (by the way I generally try to avoid making predictions but I think it safe to predict that they will endorse Obama).  The criticisms of Obama come in an introductory Obamanation paragraph, while the criticisms of Romney come in a later therefore more nearly conclusory paragraph and is slightly longer and slightly more detailed. Also everyone (who counts) knows that one of the issues of the day is Romney's refusal to make policy proposals. 

The perceived need to criticize both sides and the need to reach consensus in a committee which includes disciplined Republicans caused the board to make plainly false claims on simple matters of fact which are in the public record. 

For shame.


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