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Someone Is Saying Something Wrong on the Internet in the White House Briefing Room!

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Grasping Reality with Both Hands The Semi-Daily Journal of Economist Brad DeLong: A Fair, Balanced, Reality-Based, and More than Two-Handed Look at the World J. Bradford DeLong, Department of Economics, U.C. Berkeley #3880, Berkeley, CA 94720-3880; 925 708 0467; delong@econ.berkeley.edu.

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Someone Is Saying Something Wrong on the Internet in the White House Briefing Room! Someone Is Saying Something Wrong on the Internet in the White House Briefing Room! Jonathan Weisman of the Wall Street Journal raises his hand in the White House Briefing Room and asks a question:

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(1) Is there a point where you really are endangering the planet, where the focus on sub-lunar issues has ben excessive and there's just no way you can properly guard against the threat of the ravening Hexans from North Polar Jupiter? My mistake. He actually said: (2) Is there a point where you really are soaking the rich, where the carrying capacity of this small group of people has been exceeded and there's just no way you can keep lumping all of the problems of the finances of the United States on 1 percent of those households? But the truth value of the two statements is the same. A look across the pond at the fact that the societies of western Europe continue to function and a look at our current tax rates:

Source: Tax Policy Center Tax Facts http://tinyurl.com/dl20090730a reveals that the premises of Weisman's question (2)--that we are (a) lumping all of the problems of the finances of the United States on the top 1% of households and (b) close to the edge of cracking our economy because of high tax rates on America's rich--are simply false:[2] only slightly more likely than the premise of question (1)--that we are faced with the imminent threat of invasion from North Polar Jupiter. Put me down as somebody who thinks that questions asked by news reporters should be based in reality, rather than vehicles for stovepiping the false claims of lobbyists for rent-seekers into the general public discourse. David Sirota thinks so too: D.C.'s Media Matrix: They Believe They Decide the "Facts": My column last week generated some Official Pushback from the biggest of big media. The column focused, in part, on how the Washington press corps plays a deleterious role in distorting the parameters of our political debate.... Here was the paragraph where I cited some examples of the media implying that the proposed surtax on the wealthy to pay for universal health care is an attempt to persecute or disproportionately burden rich people: Washington Post editors deride surtax proponents for allegedly believing "the rich alone can fund government." Likewise, Wall Street Journal correspondent Jonathan Weisman wonders why the surtax "soak(s) the rich" by unduly "lumping all of the problems of the finances of the United States on 1 percent of (its) households?"... [I]t's far from controversial or crazy to believe these kinds of questions or assertions are... loaded down with subjectivity and ideology... slanted... And then things got a little crazy. David goes on: But that's not what the Wall Street Journal's Jonathan Weisman thought - and his and his parent company's response gives us an amazingly candid look.... Weisman sent me a series of emails... he seemed to suggest that it wasn't ethical or permissible to quote him asking his rigged question at a televised press conference because "it's not from anything I've actually written."... [H]e said he wasn't making "a statement of anything at all"... "a question is designed to elicit a response": "If I ask Robert Gibbs http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2009/07/someone-is-saying-something-wrong-on-the-internet-in-the-white-house-briefing-room.html

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Someone Is Saying Something Wrong on the Internet in the White House Briefing Room!

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wasn't making "a statement of anything at all"... "a question is designed to elicit a response": "If I ask Robert Gibbs what he thinks of the birth certificate issue, does that mean I don't believe Barack Obama was born in the United States?" Weisman asked me in his email. A few hours later, me and my editors at Creators Syndicate received a series of emails from Dow Jones the parent company of the Wall Street Journal) formally demanding a published "correction" to my column for "misquoting" Weisman.... [W]hat have we learned?... 1. ...some D.C. reporters believe they can say anything on television or in a very public, agenda-shaping forum like a White House press briefing, and... not even quoted.... 2. Many D.C. reporters... believe that by virtue of something being posed as a question, it is an empirical fact that it includes no opinion.... I think this makes absolutely no sense at all for obvious reasons.... [A] reporter could have asked President Bush, "Why do you love killing Iraqi children?" and another reporter could have asked Bush "Why have you taken such extraordinarily brave steps to limit civilian casualties in Iraq?"... [Q]uestions can quite obviously convey ideology.... 3. Many Washington reporters don't really have a basic understanding - or are willfully ignorant - of the role they play in framing the political debate.... 4. Some D.C. reporters cannot stand having their own statements put under the scrutiny.... 5. ...most interesting... Weisman really believes... his particular question was completely objective... Here's the background: On July 24, David Sirota wrote: The Attack of the One-Percenters Here's a truism: The wealthiest 1 percent have never had it so good.... But what really makes the ultra-wealthy so fortunate... is the unprecedented protection the 1-percenters have bought for themselves on the most pressing issues.... Congress is considering universal health care legislation financed by a surcharge on income above $280,000.... [I]t is so miniscule, those making $1 million annually would pay just $9,000 more in taxes every year.... Nonetheless, the 1percenters have deployed an army to destroy the initiative before it makes progress. The foot soldiers are the Land Rover Liberals.... Democratic lawmakers secure their lefty labels by wearing pink-ribbon lapel pins and supporting good causes like abortion rights... [but] routinely drive their luxury cars over middle-class economic interests.... Boulder, Colorado's dot-com tycoon Rep. Jared Polis, D.... Echoing that demand are the Corrupt Cowboys... like Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mt... quietly build insurmountable campaign war chests as the biggest corporate fundraisers in Congress... publicly preen as jes' folks, make twangy references to "voters back home," and now promise to kill the health care surtax because they say that's what their communities want.... That fantastical fairly tale, of course, couldn't exist without the Millionaire Media -- the elite journalists and opinionmongers who represent corporate media conglomerates and/or are themselves extremely wealthy. Ignoring all the data about inequality, they legitimize the assertions of the 1-percenters' first two battalions, while actually claiming America's fat cats are unfairly persecuted. For example, Washington Post editors deride surtax proponents for allegedly believing "the rich alone can fund government." Likewise, Wall Street Journal correspondent Jonathan Weisman wonders why the surtax "soak(s) the rich" by unduly "lumping all of the problems of the finances of the United States on 1 percent of (its) households?"... On Jul 24, 2009, at 8:03 AM, Weisman, Jonathan wrote: Umm, where is this quote from? It’s not from anything I’ve actually written.

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the surtax "soak(s) the rich" by unduly "lumping all of the problems of the finances of the United States on 1 percent of (its) households?" You know, David, I really don’t care that you want to say I’m a plutocrat protecting my nest. My wife is an economist at McKinsey & Co., so it’s not that massive, evil MSM salary that may be at issue here. And because I understand the workings of marginal tax rates and taxable income, I know that any of these tax plans would barely nick us, if they touch us at all. But if you’re going to call me out by name, you might say where the quote is coming from, since it is not coming from the Wall Street Journal. From: David Sirota: Friday, July 24, 2009 10:07 AM. To: Weisman, Jonathan: You said it at the press conference. Um, just because you didn't write it, didn't mean you didn't preen around on a television camera and say it. What's the frickin' difference? D On Jul 24, 2009, at 8:09 AM, Weisman, Jonathan wrote: Because a question is designed to elicit a response. It is not a statement of anything at all. If I ask Robert Gibbs what he thinks of the birth certificate issue, does that mean I don’t believe Barack Obama was born in the United States? From: David Sirota: July 24, 2009 8:12:22 AM. To: "Weisman, Jonathan": You know, that's exactly what I aimed at in my piece - this idea that if you ask someone a rigged question, you aren't rigging the debate and aren't transmitting wholly ideological assumptions. It's that very devious tactic which journalists hide behind. Your question wasn't objective in the least. It was the economic equivalent of asking Gibbs when Obama stopped beating his wife. Don't take the column personally. We all get dinged from time to time. If you think I'm out of line, then be confident that I'm out of line. If you think I'm right, then perhaps consider what I've said. I think I'm right (obviously), but I respect your disagreement. But don't pretend for one second that your opinion about your own objectivity is just an empirical fact - it's not. D From: Robert H. Christie. To: David Sirota: Dear Mr. Sirota: In your column today, ”The Attack of the 1-Percenters,” you misquoted Wall Street Journal reporter Jonathan Weisman based on a question he asked during a recent White House press briefing. Since your readers expect you to be accurate and fairly report an important issue like taxes, we request that you offer your readers a clarification of Mr. Weisman’s statement. The full quote from the White House transcripts appears below: It was actually like a 2-percentage point tax on incomes over $250,000. They even said that would be a difficult doughnut hole. But anyway -- but the point is -- my point is, is there a point where you really are soaking the rich, where the carrying capacity of this small group of people has been exceeded and there's just no way you can keep lumping all of the problems of the finances of the United States on 1 percent of those households? Please let me know if you have any questions. Regards, Bob Robert H. Christie. Vice President, Communications. Dow Jones & Company http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2009/07/someone-is-saying-something-wrong-on-the-internet-in-the-white-house-briefing-room.html

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Fom: David Sirota. Friday, July 24, 2009 3:35 PM. To: Christie, Robert: My article said: Wall Street Journal correspondent Jonathan Weisman wonders why the surtax "soak(s) the rich" by unduly "lumping all of the problems of the finances of the United States on 1 percent of (its) households?" The quote you sent over is this: "Is there a point where you really are soaking the rich, where the carrying capacity of this small group of people has been exceeded and there's just no way you can keep lumping all of the problems of the finances of the United States on 1 percent of those households?� So the quote, word-for-word, from the White House website, as you acknowledge and admit, is, word-for-word, what I quoted. Additionally, I made sure to include the fact that Mr. Weisman asked a question, rather than stated a fact. So, I don't think I'll be issuing a "correction" for a "misquote" unless you can explain how I've "misquoted" him. The dictionary definition of "misquote" is "to quote incorrectly." I quoted him word-for-word. If you don't like that I didn't include the entire quote, that's too bad. It's not like I changed the meaning of his quote at all. I said it was a question, and quoted him directly and verifiably accurately. Coming from a news organization, I'm sure you know your reporters conduct interviews or read transcripts of interviews and for their articles use excerpts, quoted accurately, rather than printing entire exchanges. That's what I've done. Thanks for your inquiry - if you have further questions, you can take it up with Creators. David From: Robert H. Christie. To: David Sirota: What you have attributed to Jonathan is taken out of context and does not accurately reflect it was a question for the White House. This can be easily interpreted as personal opinion or something that we actually reported. Here is what your pub wrote and please let me know if some how we have this wrong‌ This is what you reported: For example, Washington Post editors deride surtax proponents for allegedly believing "the rich alone can fund government." Likewise, Wall Street Journal correspondent Jonathan Weisman wonders why the surtax "soak(s) the rich" by unduly "lumping all of the problems of the finances of the United States on 1 percent of (its) households?" And most brazenly, NBC's Meredith Vieira asks President Obama why the surtax is intent on "punishing the rich?" Robert H. Christie. Vice President, Communications. Dow Jones & Company From: David Sirota: Friday, July 24, 2009 3:52 PM. To: Christie, Robert: Um, yes. Jonathan Weisman was on national television at a White House press conference, as I wrote, "wondering why the surtax "soak(s) the rich' by unduly 'lumping all of these problems of the finances of the United States on 1 percent of (its) households?" I mean, are you contesting the fact that the Wall Street Journal's Jonathan Weisman was on television wondering that? We can dig up the tape, if you'd like, and just roll it. So I'm not sure what you mean "taken out of context" nor do I understand your claim that it "does not accurately reflect it was a question" considering I explicitly said he was asking a question. So again, unless you can explain what was "misquoted" - again the definition being "to quote incorrectly" - unless you can explain what I said Jonathan asked but he didn't actually ask (and on national TV, no less), unless you can explain http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2009/07/someone-is-saying-something-wrong-on-the-internet-in-the-white-house-briefing-room.html

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can explain what I said Jonathan asked but he didn't actually ask (and on national TV, no less), unless you can explain what is "not correct" about what I wrote, I'm not sure what you want "corrected." D From: Robert H. Christie. To: David Sirota: Again, what you presented in your article can be easily interpreted by your readers as an opinion of our reporter or a statement that was made in the Wall Street Journal and as we both know is not accurate. It was a question designed to illicit response from Robert Gibbs. Robert H. Christie. Vice President, Communications. Dow Jones & Company From: David Sirota. July 24, 2009 2:06:01 PM. To: "Christie, Robert": Well, frankly, that's your opinion that it's "not an opinion of your reporter." Indeed, part of the explicit point of my article is that Washington journalists' rigged questions include assumptions and ideological opinions that artificially limit and frame the debate of issues like taxes and health care. Jonathan's question was a perfect example of a rigged, ideological question - one that, in my opinion, distorts the debate. The idea that it is some sort of unassailable empirical "fact" that Jonathan's question doesn't forward highly subjective opinion and therefore help frame the tax/health care debate is ridiculous. Now, you have a right to be of the belief that Jonathan's question included no opinion. That's your right, you can disagree with that opinion. But asking for a "correction" on a quote that is quoted accurately, word-for-word, and in context just because you disagree with my opinion is, frankly, absurd. What I might suggest you do is post a comment on the Creators website or write a letter to the editor of the newspapers that ran the column. Perhaps you didn't know that was standard procedure in the newspaper business when a reader or a source doesn't agree with an opinion piece. They write a letter to the editor, they don't ask for a correction on a quote that is, verifiably, accurate and in context. David [1] Joe Gibbs on the fly gave half of the right answer to Weisman's question: MR. GIBBS: I don't know how that 1 percent of the households did over the past sort of 10 to 15 years, but my sense is pretty well, whether it was a pretty darn good economy for seven or eight years in the '90s, or a tax system that -- as I know, you have looked at the causes for the long-term deficit that we're now working on and understand that some of those very tax policies make up a sizable portion of the current deficit that we carry. So I think the bottom line is that I think the President believes that the richest 1 percent of this country has had a pretty good run of it for many, many, many years. http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/Briefing-by-White-House-Press-Secretary-Robert-Gibbs-713-09/ The right answer is to say: 1. That America's rich have benefitted enormously and disproportionately from economic changes over the past three decades, and they should pay their fair share. 2. That the premise of the question is completely false--that the proposals of the Obama administration still keep us very, very far away indeed from the point at which there is any danger of "lumping all of the problems of the finances of the United States on 1 percent of those households." [2] It is interesting to note that Weisman knows that those premises are false: that the burden on the rich of Obama's tax proposals as very small indeed, for he writes: "My wife is an economist at McKinsey & Co., so it’s not that massive, evil MSM salary that may be at issue here.... I understand the workings of marginal tax rates and taxable income, I know that any of these tax plans would barely nick us, if they touch us at all..." http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2009/07/someone-is-saying-something-wrong-on-the-internet-in-the-white-house-briefing-room.html

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any of these tax plans would barely nick us, if they touch us at all..." RECOMMENDED (5.0) by ,10 people like you [How? ] You might like:

Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (Jonathan Weisman/Wall Street Journal Edition) (@this site) More on Class Warfare--David Sirota (@ataxingmatter) 2 more recommended posts Âť Brad DeLong on July 30, 2009 at 10:10 AM in Economics, Economics: Fiscal Policy, Information: Better Press Corps/Journamalism | Permalink TrackBack TrackBack URL for this entry: http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00e551f0800388340115724a36ac970b Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Someone Is Saying Something Wrong on the Internet in the White House Briefing Room!:

Comments You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post. Given the recent performance of economists, perhaps we need both to be introduced to reality. Posted by: save_the_rustbelt | July 30, 2009 at 10:30 AM A cynic would say, "Since they run the show anyway, they SHOULD pay for it." An earnest response would refer the questioner to the following chart where the recent top rate is far, far less than almost any post WW2 rate. http://www.truthandpolitics.org/top-rates.php Posted by: Neal | July 30, 2009 at 10:58 AM Just looking at the language involved, I think I see what the WSJ folks were focused on: the phrase "Jonathan Weisman wonders" implies that he himself was actually wondering it. To the extent that the WSJ considers questions asked professionally as having no connection to the interests or beliefs of their reporters, and that Weisman believes himself to be asking questions on behalf of others (both of which beliefs I consider dubious at best), then they believe that characterizing the question as having anything to do with Weisman's own thinking is unfair, as to actually "wonder" suggests having an opinion. I think it's just picking nits, but I'm puzzled that they didn't point out the word choice as the issue themselves. Posted by: David A. Spitzley | July 30, 2009 at 11:33 AM Well, yeah, he wasn't just "wondering" it. Although he squished it into the interrogative form, Weisman preceded the question with (as transcribed): but the point is -- my point is Doesn't this pretty well indicate that Weisman wasn't so much seeking information as making a statement, a statement of his own viewpoint? Posted by: Bruce | July 30, 2009 at 11:43 AM What a couple of tools Jonathan Weisman and Bob Christie are, ready to defend their fundamental lack of integrity to the last email. Since the WSJ isn't exactly any worse than the WaPo or the New York Times in this department, it's getting harder and harder to wish continued success to the traditional news media. Rather, one hopes that Josh Marshall's outfit expands, and the WaPo (for instance) contracts, to the point where the former can buy the latter and turn it into something worthwhile. http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2009/07/someone-is-saying-something-wrong-on-the-internet-in-the-white-house-briefing-room.html

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contracts, to the point where the former can buy the latter and turn it into something worthwhile. Posted by: low-tech cyclist | July 30, 2009 at 11:47 AM "Is there a point where...there's just no way you can keep lumping all of the problems of the finances of the United States on 1 percent of those households?" The question very clearly implies that we have already been lumping all of the problems on 1% of households. Sirota called it exactly right. Weisman fails miserably when he attempts to claim that the question does not also contain an opinion. The WSJ finally settles on the immaculate conception excuse - the question could be seen as opinion, but certainly isn't the opinion of the person who asked the question. It is an opinion with no father. Posted by: ottnott | July 30, 2009 at 12:02 PM "Joe" Gibbs? The former Redskins coach and NASCAR team owner? On the larger point, it's instructive that a paid-up member of the Village is so sensitive about his words that he'd drag his boss into it. Posted by: Linkmeister | July 30, 2009 at 01:27 PM You should point out that those are the TOP rates that are paid. EVERYONE pays less than that. The Top rates you post are for WAGES. Wealthy people who earn all their money from capital gains pay only 15% a much lower rate than the top rate someone who makes median wage will pay. Capital Gains- 15% Real Estate- 25% Collectables- 28% The rich are not getting soaked, they are getting a spa hot tub. Posted by: bakho | July 30, 2009 at 01:43 PM "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his job depends on not understanding it." - Upton Sinclair I think that pretty much sums up the state of MSM reporting, especially on economic issues like this. Posted by: DrDick | July 30, 2009 at 01:53 PM Why didn't the president's spokes-flak just reply, "Yes, there is such a point. We're nowhere near it. Next question." Posted by: trotsky | July 30, 2009 at 06:37 PM "If I ask Robert Gibbs what he thinks of the birth certificate issue, does that mean I don't believe Barack Obama was born in the United States?" No, but it does imply that he thinks there *is* a birth certificate issue. Questions can embed assertions; the classic example being "When did you stop beating your wife?" There are questions which *can* embed the claim that Obama was not born in the US, e.g. "What were the reasons that Barack Obama was not born in the United States?" Posted by: a | July 31, 2009 at 01:38 AM

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Someone Is Saying Something Wrong on the Internet in the White House Briefing Room!  

Someone Is Saying Something Wrong on the Internet in the White House Briefing 2009 - Financial collapse for America and her allies will be c...