2003-11-28 / Community

The Rockaway Irregular by Stuart W. Mirsky

The Rockaway Irregular by Stuart W. Mirsky


Give the New York Times credit. In the wake of a series of scandals, including the false reporting by their staffer, Jayson Blair, and the replacement of top Times managerial staff that followed, the paper seems to be trying harder to at least avoid the appearance of an unbecoming journalistic bias. They recently added a "conservative" columnist, David Brooks, to their editorial pages who, though somewhat dry and colorless, now shares columnar space with the Times’ irrepressibly mawkish and hyperbolic Maureen Dowd on certain alternating days. Ms. Dowd, who is famous for hyperventilating about the "Bushies" and conservative Republicans in general, now has a counterbalance in Mr. Brooks who makes up for her overwrought (and usually unbalanced) prose with his carefully thought out pieces . . . even though they lack the pizzazz Ms. Dowd brings to her work.

Going further, the Times is handling the recent good economic news surprisingly well. This is the paper that brought us a relentlessly awful picture of the economy during the re-election campaign of George Bush Senior (the race he lost to Bill Clinton), despite the fact that the regular financial press reported the economy in much less severe terms at he time and noted, well before Election Day that year, that the mild recession we had experienced was already over and that things were picking up. The New York Times, hewing to the Clinon line about the "worst recession since the Great Depression" (it wasn’t, and all the data showed that!), kept this bit of information from its pages . . . until the day after Election Day, when it was clear that Bill Clinton had won!

Today’s Democratic presidential hopefuls, yearning for a reprise of that Clinton victory, have been following the Clinton lead and zeroing in on the economy which has, indeed, been weak since the dot.com bubble burst in the last year of Clinton’s presidency (and which got weaker after the 9/11 attacks). Bush, these Democrats tell us, now has the worst record for jobs lost of any president since Herbert Hoover. His remedy, to cut taxes and reduce regulation, would only increase our deficits while making the economy worse went the Democratic litany!

There’s only one problem. The latest GDP data shows the economy growing by some 7.2% in the last quarter, a level of growth unheard of since 1984, during the Reagan administration. The usual chorus of Democratic naysayers quickly chimed in to tell us ‘yes, but . . .’ and noted that jobs growth is still lagging, deficits are still big (if no longer certain to be growing!) and that there’s not enough spending, or hope for new spending, for the many government programs large segments of voters have come to know and love. The Democrats, of course, want us to have bigger, more helpful government, no matter what the costs, and so the Bush tax cuts threaten them, since limiting tax revenues imposes potential economies on Congress and the programs they fund.

So the Democrats told us the Bush tax cuts would have no impact except to make the deficit greater which would further impede the economy! Thus we needed to roll them back they said. Well, now it looks like they may have to eat those words. And the Times, however circumspectly, is even reporting it that way. In a recent Sunday front page piece, the Times noted Democrats, who "planned on running a 2004 campaign around the weak economy . . . patterned after Bill Clinton’s 1992 defeat of President Bush’s father" are "suddenly confronting the possibility of a far less encouraging historical comparison: that the election year economy could be more like the one Ronald Reagan ran on in 1984 . . ."

This, the Times continues, has left Democrats "in danger of looking as though they were clinging to economic gloom." Tellingly though, the Times notes that "Many Democrats say they still consider the economy an issue . . ." adding that the first "President George Bush lost in 1992 even though employment began growing eight months before Election Day . . ." (Of course, this isn’t what the Times was reporting back then!)

As the Times article goes on to note, "A sustained recovery could reduce projected budget deficits that are at the core of (Democratic) attacks on the administration’s tax cuts. A turnaround might cause the job market to improve early enough before Election Day to influence voters." Imagine that! But undaunted Democratic politicians soldier on. "They had one great quarter" Howard Dean strategist Steve McMahon told the Times in the same article. "That’s terrific. Let’s see if they string four or five together and replace those three million jobs," he said, sounding hopeful they won’t!

So is the Times getting fairer? It’s too early to be sure but initial signs are hopeful. Still, a quick review of their letters-to-the editor for this same weekend shows a marked preponderance of readers attacking Bush and the reported improvement in the economic picture. In fact, I counted five out of six letters to the editor about the economy that dismissed or derided the new growth numbers and a total of seven out of eight letters addressing Bush policy overall that were clearly hostile in a single day. More, the overall tenor of the other letters for the same weekend were tilted against the present administration and its policies. So either the Times readership (as represented by its letter writers) is decidedly left of center where this president is concerned . . . or the Times editorial staff remains committed to selectively presenting a viewpoint.

And, as Ingrid Bergman said to Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca (or was it the other way round?), we’ll always have Paris, or, in this case, Maureen Dowd. In the same issue that carried the mostly balanced report on the economic numbers, Ms. Dowd offered a column critiquing the recent run of phony journalism in the print media, including The New Republic (whose own wayward reporter, Steven Glass is the subject of a new movie, "Shattered Glass"). But, as is always the case with Ms. Dowd, she could not avoid taking a swipe at the Bush administration, this time for allegedly "manipulating reality" and indulging in the "big con."

This from the columnist who famously misqouted the president to make a spurious claim of her own, who asserted the president said Iraq was an imminent threat to America before the war to remove Saddam (though he didn’t!), who claimed the Bush administration had established a "puppet" regime in Iraq but then criticized it for not ensuring it acted like a puppet, and who suggested that yuppies who climbed Mt. Everest could do a better job of finding Osama bin Laden than America’s special forces. Well, we have one consolation. If the news continues to improve, Ms. Dowd and her ilk will have to work that much harder to spin things their way. And maybe the Times will make that even more difficult for them if it continues its present trend toward more even-handed reporting. rockirreg@aol.com.

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