Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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March 25, 2009

DEFICITS DON'T MATTER (RIGHT NOW).... Following up on Hilzoy's overnight comments on President Obama's prime-time press conference, what jumped out at me had less to do with the president's responses and more to do with the questions themselves.

For example, I had assumed that the Treasury Department's plan on the banking industry and toxic assets ("legacy" assets, whatever) would be a major topic of conversation. Its success or failure will have a significant impact on the economy, and one assumes, the president came prepared to discuss the plan in some detail. I was actually anxious to hear what he had to say.

But no one asked. We heard questions about stem-cell research and Fox News' concerns about a "global currency," but the bank rescue plan was ignored completely. Indeed, after a week of obsessing over Tim Geithner, there was only one passing reference to the Treasury Secretary from reporters last night. How odd.

So, what did the reporters want to talk about? Deficits and debt. From the transcript:

* "[U]nder your budget, the debt will increase $7 trillion over the next 10 years. The Congressional Budget Office says $9.3 trillion.... Isn't that kind of debt exactly what you were talking about when you said 'passing on our problems to the next generation'?"

* "[E]ven under your budget, as you said, over the next four or five years, you're going to cut the deficit in half, then, after that, six years in a row, it goes up, up, up."

* "You keep saying that you've inherited a big fiscal mess. Do you worry, though, that your daughters, not to mention the next president, will be inheriting an even bigger fiscal mess if the spending goes out of control?"

All of these questions came from different reporters, suggesting that the White House press corps has more or less internalized Republican talking points (again). In the midst of a dangerous global recession, journalists are desperate to know when this administration will start moving towards a more balanced budget -- which is exactly what congressional Republicans are focusing on (and, come to think of it, what congressional Republicans focused on in the 1930s, too).

Note to the White House press corps: under these circumstances, deficits aren't our most pressing problem. This preoccupation with the issue isn't helping anyone.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

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integrity and intelligence: financial institutions and american journalism

hammers, bags there of: "we're so screwed"

Posted by: neill on March 25, 2009 at 8:05 AM | PERMALINK

Main Stream Media: GOP Lemmings. Despite the danger of vomiting at his very sight, I stomached the few Press Conferences Bushit was "willing" to put himself or the country through. The Press NEVER prodded too deeply into his motives or, for that matter, his success/failure outcomes. 60 "daze" into the morasss left by that mental midget and the Press want answers God damn it, or else! Oopps. There goes my breakfast. Nauseating...

Posted by: stevio on March 25, 2009 at 8:08 AM | PERMALINK

Charlie Rose had a drone from the NYT complaining that the President came off like a policy wonk--because people who know how government works are SOOO boring.
Shorter NYT: All MoDo, all the time.

Posted by: Steve Paradis on March 25, 2009 at 8:13 AM | PERMALINK

And one of the dumbest questions was from Mike Allen of politico. Wasn't Obama worried that rich people would stop giving money to charities if they weren't going to get a 39% subsidy from the government?

And yet the coverage this morning was largely focused on the teleprompter, the questions themselves, and the perceived discomfort of Obama. Journalism has truly become a function of truthiness.

Posted by: Danp on March 25, 2009 at 8:18 AM | PERMALINK

Why weren't these reporters worried about deficits during the Bush years? and why are they so worried about them now?

Posted by: HARRY VERBERNE on March 25, 2009 at 8:23 AM | PERMALINK

I thought Obama's answer to the change in the tax code concerning charitable giving was classic. It made him look like a policy wonk. At the time I thought "God, I am glad we have a policy wonk President."

Of course, this morning Obama is being criticized for coming off as being a policy wonk.

Note to press: Revisit the deficit issue in 2011, between now and then we have some things we need to buy.

Posted by: Ron Byers on March 25, 2009 at 8:27 AM | PERMALINK

Runner up to Mike Allen was Chuck Todd of NBC. My husband and I both had the same reaction: how asinine. Perhaps he wanted Obama to tell us to make sacrifices by going shopping again. I thought Obama's answer was a good one, and Todd was so determined to prove himself an ass that he asked it again as a follow-up.

Posted by: Missouri Mule on March 25, 2009 at 8:35 AM | PERMALINK


For what it's worth, reporters' questions are often by their very nature oppositional. Not to go all etymological on you, but a question expresses doubt.

Second, a question is an opportunity to provide an answer, to share information, to educate.


P.S. Are these historical deficit numbers being bandied about by the Rs adjusted for inflation? (My question expresses doubt.)

Posted by: DBuck on March 25, 2009 at 8:44 AM | PERMALINK

It is wrong to assume that the media is anotherwise disinterested party that just robotically repeats Republican talking points. The media selects journalists who have already internalized corporate ideology and elite class interests.

They are so worried about "deficits" (but also tax cuts WTF?) because more money spent on the common good means:
* Less tax cuts for corporations and their shareholders
* Less cash funneled into dividend-paying defense contractors
* Lower real yields on bonds

The core of elite class ideology is that what's good for the bond market is what's good, period. (Rich people are fixed-income investors; growth stocks are for suckers like you and me).

That's why every a-hole recruited for jobs like these is a deficit hawk.

Posted by: Slaney Black on March 25, 2009 at 9:20 AM | PERMALINK

"Note to the White House press corps: under these circumstances, deficits aren't our most pressing problem." is a bit of an understatement.

Under these circumstances, deficits right here right now are the only remedy which has ever worked and not a problem pressing or otherwise.

Deficits scheduled for 2011 are not our most pressing problem. Deficits scheduled for 2009 are what we need. The planned deficit for 2009 is nowhere big enough. This is agreed by all economists who think that there is such a thing as involuntary unemployment and have noticed that the ratio of money to GNP is not a constant.

Posted by: Robert Waldmann on March 25, 2009 at 9:23 AM | PERMALINK

That's why the press conference always needs to come at the end of an availability blitz. I thought that Rose's guests were tragic. Gwen Ifil sniffing that Obama was going over the heads of the White House Press Corps, and that he would have to come back. My thought was, "why?" What did the American public learn last night from Todd's question?

Posted by: Eric on March 25, 2009 at 9:36 AM | PERMALINK

I am a liberal but I am actually worried about he deficits too (is that allowed?). The enormous debt level the country finds itself in is a huge part of the problem and adding to the debt seems likely to exacerbate it. I can see doing it for infrastructure projects and green energy that help the economy by creating jobs now and making th ecoutry function better later, but adding to the debt by giving out tax cuts that people will barely notice in their paychecks seems really wrongheaded. Of course no one in the media is really questioning the tax cuts. The country will be better off decreasing the deficit than we are giving the dumbassed tax cuts. The tax cuts also buy in to the republican talking point that tax cuts=good no matter what which is a dangerous idea.

Posted by: Raindog on March 25, 2009 at 9:46 AM | PERMALINK

I am with everyone else who thought the questions were, sadly, the real story. Obama handled them well, but I found myself so distracted by the questions I didn't hear some of the answer.

I don't have the questions in front of me, but what struck me was the assumption of facts underlying so many of the questions, that if false or not true, made the question nonsensical. They were not questions intended to elicit a response from the Administration on a particular issue, but rather questions that assumed a certain perspective. Eg, the difference between "Mr. President, is there a risk that your tax policy might impact charitable giving?" from "Mr. President, why are you hurting charities with your tax policy?" One invites a response, the other invokes pre-response to clear up the faulty assumption. Almost every question last night included an implicit and often quite dubious assumption at its core.

Take for example the first question asked by Karen Allen as to why the American people should support giving the federal government more power to regulate the financial markets when the gov. has done such a poor job to date? A)the question assumes that a poor job as been done, B) the qustion also assumes that the new powers sought are the equivalent of the old powers. In short, it is a bad question, posed by someone who is not seeking an explanation from the Administration but is pushing an agenda, her own, Ron Fournier's, or someone/thing else. At least Tapper framed his question as coming from the Republican opposition, the rest didn't even bother. We need a better press corp. My guess is that Josh Marshall, Greg Sargent, might ask better questions, and they don't seem particularly to be carrying Obama's water, and could probably frame the question to actually get some insight into how Obama intends to govern.

Posted by: Scott F. on March 25, 2009 at 9:58 AM | PERMALINK

And this was Chuck Todd's question as well--"sacrifices" mean cuts to entitlements to resolve budget deficits. In particular, that's been NBC code since Russert. We (meaning other Americans)must make "sacrifices" to be "responsible" about the budget.

Posted by: john on March 25, 2009 at 9:59 AM | PERMALINK

Reporters Don't Understand

Face it, most of the White House press corps don't have a clue about the stock market, or the economy, or balance sheets, or accounting in general. Don't know, don't care.

We've gone from having reporters explain complex issues for us in terms that less-educated Americans can understand to having "elite media" work to dumb us down even further, apparently to their own levels. Plus, it's what their conservative, moneyed owners and the right wing wants - win win!

It makes for an easier job for celebrity reporters, but is killing intelligent discourse and ultimately, democracy itself.

Posted by: Zandru on March 25, 2009 at 10:01 AM | PERMALINK

Tain't just our "confused" or whatever press corps, Steve. The EU continues to be worried about deficits sooner, rather than later, and wanting to see more regulatory action from Team Obama sooner.

While I agree with Krugman on panning Geithner, I DIS-agree on him panning the Euros for insisting on more reform first. Given the G. Sachs connections of the Obama-Summers-Geithner troika, why shouldn't the EU be worried about getting another unfulfilled promise of reform from Washington?

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on March 25, 2009 at 10:38 AM | PERMALINK

Steve Benen wrote: "the White House press corps has more or less internalized Republican talking points (again)."

Of course they have "internalized Republican talking points". Because the Republicans and the corporate media are reading from the same focus-group-tested script.

The Republican Party and the corporate-owned media are both wholly-owned subsidiaries of America's Ultra-Rich Ruling Class, Inc.

And their shared mission at the moment is to do everything possible to undermine public support for and confidence in the Obama administration.

If you watch or listen to the corporate-owned media, you will get corporate-sponsored propaganda. The tone of the propaganda from Fox News and Rush Limbaugh is different from the tone of the propaganda coming from NPR or The Washington Post, because they are targeting different audiences. But it's all corporate propaganda.

To expect anything different is naive and stupid.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on March 25, 2009 at 10:47 AM | PERMALINK

Every Democratic president since the end of WWII has decreased the national debt when measured as a fraction of GDP. Only Eisenhower and Nixon have been able to do so on the GOP side.

Dems need to say that over and over and over. Democratic policies result in economic growth and decreased deficits. GOP policies result in increased deficits, national debt, and sluggish economic growth. To argue otherwise is silly. We have 70 years of data.

Posted by: rk on March 25, 2009 at 10:49 AM | PERMALINK

Part of this budget is addressing deferred maintenance. If we had invested responsibly in health care, and education, and alternative energies over the last 30 years -- instead of, StarWars Iraq and tax cuts -- we probably wouldn't have to do so now.

Posted by: beep52 on March 25, 2009 at 12:39 PM | PERMALINK

And the organizations that hire the White House press corps wonder why they're losing viewers and readers en masse.

When a story like the bank crisis is in the news for days and days, and the press corps ignores it in favor of crap questions, people lose confidence in them.

And vote to get their information from good blogs and places like Huffpo and TPM. And you and Hilzoy, Steve.

Posted by: zak822 on March 25, 2009 at 1:43 PM | PERMALINK

The wisdom of Dick Cheney.

Posted by: Luther on March 25, 2009 at 2:08 PM | PERMALINK
I am a liberal but I am actually worried about he deficits too (is that allowed?). The enormous debt level the country finds itself in is a huge part of the problem and adding to the debt seems likely to exacerbate it. ... Posted by: Raindog on March 25, 2009

There are several stages of this process. The one we're in is getting the problem(s) fixed and getting the economy producing again. Once that's in gear there is going to be worry about inflation resulting from the cash injections done during the first stage. After that when the economy seems to be doing well then we can begin thinking about even longer-term things like deficits, debt, family incomes and savings.

We are a very very long way from a truly fixed system. Oh, and on top of that there's the world economic situation.

Posted by: MarkH on March 25, 2009 at 7:51 PM | PERMALINK
Every Democratic president since the end of WWII has decreased the national debt when measured as a fraction of GDP. Only Eisenhower and Nixon have been able to do so on the GOP side. ... Posted by: rk on March 25, 2009

Now there's something you won't hear on national television news! Damn Liberal media.

Posted by: MarkH on March 25, 2009 at 7:55 PM | PERMALINK

Democrats we will work to VOTE OUT OF OFFICE at the next election. I beleive they just want funding for re-election from the healthcare industry, therefore are attemping to block President Obama's healthcare in the budget.

We the people have a long reach and an even longer memory. We are making a list and checking it twice. Support President Obama's budget. We elected him and his ideas.

Baron P. Hill

Stephine Herseth Sandlin

Charlie Meloncon

Heath Shuler

Mike Ross

Allen Boyd


Posted by: Claudette on March 25, 2009 at 9:29 PM | PERMALINK



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