Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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April 8, 2009

IS IT ALREADY TOO LATE FOR THE TRUTH?.... Immediately after Defense Secretary Robert Gates unveiled his recommendations for restructuring military spending -- and boosting the Pentagon budget by $21 billion (4%) -- the response was immediate: the Obama administration is trying to cut defense in a time of war. It wasn't true. It didn't matter.

What I'm wondering now is whether, to paraphrase Twain, it's too late for the truth to get its pants on.

David Kurtz flagged this exchange on MSNBC this afternoon, during an interview with former Defense Secretary William Cohen. The chyron told viewers that Gates has announced "deep cuts in military spending," even though that's clearly false. MSNBC's Contessa Brewer asked Cohen to address the administration's proposed "cuts" -- not "what some are calling 'cuts,'" just matter-of-fact "cuts," as if this were plainly true.

Cohen eventually noted, "By the way, it's not a cut. It's a four percent increase."

But I get the sense the train has the left the station, and it's not coming back. News outlets -- including real ones, not Fox News -- have already accepted the bogus notion that Gates' plan cuts defense spending. Republican lawmakers aren't just repeating the false claim, they're practically apoplectic about it. The political world has apparently skipped right over the "some critics of the administration charge...." and gone right to accepting false GOP talking points as fact without debate.

Our political discourse can be awfully frustrating sometimes.

Steve Benen 4:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (31)

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On another matter, CNN had Blitzer, Candy Crowley, and Gloria Borger discussing Obama's claim, in Turkey, that "America is not a Christian nation."

Never mind that's not what he said; it's being repeated across the spectrum, and like the Gates "quote", is being accepted as fact.

But it is much more newsworthy, so there you go. . .

Posted by: DAY on April 8, 2009 at 4:59 PM | PERMALINK

I think that this needs clarification. The Obama administration may indeed be making deep cuts to some programs. For example, the "Future Combat Systems" program might be cut or eliminated.

So it is possible to have both deep cuts and increased spending, if you cut in some places and spend more money in other places.

Posted by: Daryl McCullough on April 8, 2009 at 5:04 PM | PERMALINK

The primary reason people go into reporting is because they are too stupid to do anything else:

Those who can't, teach
Those who can't teach, critique
Those who can't critique, report

Posted by: thorin-1 on April 8, 2009 at 5:05 PM | PERMALINK

Our political discourse can be awfully frustrating sometimes.

Indeed.

I find it most frustrating when our leading progressive outlets would rather spend time tallying the sins of the other tribe than trying to explain complex issues.

But that's just me.

Posted by: Quaker in a Basement on April 8, 2009 at 5:05 PM | PERMALINK

Cohen is to be commended, but he's one man on one show (and a soft-spoken one at that). So, via the corporate media, the truth is told one time for every 1000 lies.

Where are the Dems/progressives? Where is Obama, Gates, Biden, Jones, Clinton, Petreus and others? Why aren't they loudly pushing back on the lies? I really don't understand our silence on the airwaves.

Posted by: CJ on April 8, 2009 at 5:06 PM | PERMALINK

But is it really a bogus charge? Gates is proposing eliminating (i.e., cutting) some major programs. Yeah, I'm sure the GOP is intentionally misleading folks. That's what they do. But we ought to be clear in our criticisms.

Posted by: Daryl Cobranchi on April 8, 2009 at 5:08 PM | PERMALINK

Too funny. Another "Daryl" (same spelling, even) made essentially the same point at the same time.

Posted by: Daryl Cobranchi on April 8, 2009 at 5:09 PM | PERMALINK

"Our political discourse can be awfully frustrating sometimes."

Like when we read some liberal web sites.

Posted by: bob somerby on April 8, 2009 at 5:39 PM | PERMALINK

Where are the Dems/progressives?

If the Democrats don't respond quickly and forcefully to make corrections every chance they get when these talking points come up, they are as dimwitted as you keep trying to pretend the Republicans that make the charges in the first place are.

Posted by: qwerty on April 8, 2009 at 5:42 PM | PERMALINK

The political world has apparently skipped right over the "some critics of the administration charge...." and gone right to accepting false GOP talking points as fact without debate.

And in other news, water is wet.

It's been like that at least since Clinton, for crying out loud. The fact that the GOP needs to rely on lies is never discussed.

"Liberal media," my ass.

Posted by: Gregory on April 8, 2009 at 5:55 PM | PERMALINK

The progressive response should be that we wish Obama would cut defense spending, but that in fact he is increasing it. The problem is that this line of attack, followed by the usual Dem defensiveness, means that US military spending cannot be cut ever ever ever.

Posted by: Joe Buck on April 8, 2009 at 5:56 PM | PERMALINK

Republican math--2+2=3
Besides being liars the fact that they are incapable performing simple math.

Posted by: Gandalf on April 8, 2009 at 6:10 PM | PERMALINK

Would it be asking too damn much for Obama, during one of his near daily press conferences, to make a simple statement like “There is no decrease in defense spending. My budget calls for a 4% increase. Sounds to me like someone has their knickers in a knot over the prospect of adult supervision and oversight of military procurement. May I suggest certain reporters and news organizations do their jobs and report accurate news in lieu of hysteria for a change. This job is tough enough without this military-industrial-financial-media cluster fuck attempt to obstruct a long overdue change this nation desperately needs.”

Posted by: Chopin on April 8, 2009 at 6:11 PM | PERMALINK

Look, you want to go after the GOP members of Congress who are mischaracterizing Mr. Gates' budget proposal?

Then stop quibbling over the language of "cuts" and point out where they're straight out lying.

Here's Mr. Gates during his testimony to Congress:

I have concluded that there are significant unanswered questions concerning the FCS vehicle design strategy. I'm also concerned that, despite some adjustments, the FCS vehicles -- where lower weight, higher fuel efficiency and greater information awareness are expected to compensate for less armor -- do not adequately reflect the lessons of counterinsurgency and close-quarters combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The current vehicle program developed nine years ago does not include a role for our recent $25-billion investment in the MRAP vehicles being used to good effect in today's conflicts.

Compare this with the criticim leveled by Sen. James Inhofe:

“F.C.S. is Army modernization,” Senator James M. Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma, said of the Future Combat Systems, a program that links soldiers with weapons, robotic sensors, a communications network and combat vehicles. “Without it, we risk sending our sons and daughters into combat in vehicles that are second-rate and are less survivable and effective in combat. What price should we place on the lives of our children we send off to war?”

Mr. Gates says the FCS vehicle is suitable for the kind of environment American military men and women face in Iraq or Afghanistan. Mr. Inhofe wants those vehicles built anyway--and claims they're safer.

Op-Ed contributors in the Wall Street Journal claim our Air Force needs more F-22s. Mr. Gates says the Air Force has enough of them.

The defense budget defies simplification in any year. This is especially true in a year when the Secretary of Defense proposes such sweeping changes. It's a difficult subject, and one that could be discussed intelligently.

On the other hand, if you'd rather continue with "$534 is a bigger number than $513," do carry on.

Posted by: Quaker in a Basement on April 8, 2009 at 6:16 PM | PERMALINK

Mr. Gates says the FCS vehicle is not suitable for the kind of environment American military men and women face in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Posted by: Quaker in a Basement on April 8, 2009 at 6:18 PM | PERMALINK

Why anyone should be surprised that broadcast media feature conservative voices on defense procurement issues is a mystery to me.

Most liberals don't care about defense procurement. They haven't for many years. They think the subject is boring, as in not worth the time to understand or even learn anything about.

It isn't like there is a strong, principled liberal constituency opposed to wasting money on the F-22, the Osprey tilt-rotor plane or the Army's Future Combat Systems vehicles. Organized interest groups have dominated the Democratic Party for decades; they are oriented around constituencies with very specific agendas, none of which has anything on it about weapons systems except for the one dedicated to making sure that the Israelis have access to anything the American military uses.

As far as the broadcast media are concerned, no conflict = no story. Everyone knows this. If Side B doesn't show up, Side A's view is the one that gets reported. Liberals who decided long ago that defense wasn't worth their time (this, incidentally, is how Bill Cohen, and Bob Gates, became Defense Secretary in the first place) and who hardly even complained when the Pentagon was getting its procurement wish list funded year after year really ought to know better than to claim media bias now. If this aspect of our political discourse frustrates them right now, it's their own fault.

Posted by: Zathras on April 8, 2009 at 6:26 PM | PERMALINK

Obama should not be getting credit for cutting military spending, which he should be cutting, but isn't.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on April 8, 2009 at 6:29 PM | PERMALINK

Well, you see, it's not so much what's true, or what's real, as it needs to be entertaining, you know, get people talking! It's what the news is all about, you know, not reality, actuality.

As in your example, if the knowledgeable expert goes off script and corrects us, it is inappropriate and disregarded as policy. We must stick to the script, the show must go on.

Posted by: Liberal Media on April 8, 2009 at 6:31 PM | PERMALINK

And "defense spending" is a dishonest euphemism for military spending.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on April 8, 2009 at 6:32 PM | PERMALINK

Just saw senator Inholfe of Oklahoma on the Ed show speaking from Afghanistan, really badmouthing Obama and saying that Obama is gutting the troops, and leaving them without what they need, and reducing the military budget. Inholfe's state has one of those defense contracts that is obsolete, he has a personal interest and probably political donations from the companies, but he lied, lied. lied. Let us all email his office and tell them we are onto the game they are playing.

Posted by: JS on April 8, 2009 at 6:34 PM | PERMALINK

These GOPsters are shameless liars. They will say anything at all to suit their purposes. Eight years of the Bush/Cheney regime taught them that there is no accountability and no consequences for lying or just making stuff up. None. Their handmaidens in the media will just repeat what they say.

Stop being surprised. You are now running two a day of this sort of thing. Just set up a Dept of Shameless Liars and add new ones to it every day in short hits. But don't keep recycling your credulity.

Posted by: Mimikatz on April 8, 2009 at 6:35 PM | PERMALINK

Would it be asking too damn much for Obama, during one of his near daily press conferences, to make a simple statement [...] -- Chopin, @18:11

Yup, it would, especially considering that he only got back to DC late last night, with a jet lag. I'm waiting for the -- by now, "usual" -- sequence of events:

The right wing whips itself into a frenzy over something that doesn't exist and Obama lets them. They all bay with one voice, he pays no attention. Until they've well and truly committed themselves to their idiocy... at which point, he makes a gentle, amused, correction and their whole whipped egg concoction collapses amid laughter and red faces galore.

Posted by: exlibra on April 8, 2009 at 6:42 PM | PERMALINK

On the other hand, if you'd rather continue with "$534 is a bigger number than $513," do carry on.

You have to admit, it's much more fun that way. Make the right wing explain why $534 is a smaller number than $513. Let them be the ones to get out the charts and balance sheets for a change to try and explain to people why something that seems as simple as 534 > 513 really isn't.

Posted by: Mnemosyne on April 8, 2009 at 6:56 PM | PERMALINK

You have to admit, it's much more fun that way.

Sure. So if it's fun you're after, that's the way to go. I'm sure Mr. Gingrich and his pals back in 1994 had a grand time while they rolled out their "Don't You Dare Call It a Medicare Cut" talking points. Liberals who like role reversal should enjoy following Mr. Gingrich's lead.

However, liberals who want to discuss the actual defense department budget proposal will note the explanation Mr. Gates offered during his recent press conference: that this year's *larger* base budget includes items that were not included in last year's.

If we take the trouble to set aside the oranges, do we have more or fewer apples than last year? Perhaps when we're all done having "fun," we'll find out.

Posted by: Quaker in a Basement on April 8, 2009 at 7:15 PM | PERMALINK

Obama has realized that many defense projects are porked to dozens of States. It's not okay that we build weapons via brazzilions of States. Efficiency rules!

Posted by: Tom Nicholson on April 8, 2009 at 7:16 PM | PERMALINK

However, liberals who want to discuss the actual defense department budget proposal will note the explanation Mr. Gates offered during his recent press conference: that this year's *larger* base budget includes items that were not included in last year's.

In other words, we should buy into the frame that the right-wing screamers are setting up and start saying, "Well, okay, there are some cuts, but let me show you these charts ..."

You are making the common mistake of thinking that the media is interested in broadcasting anything other than simplistic "he said, she said" reports. Republicans say the budget is smaller; Democrats say it's larger. Film at 11. Don't miss the waterskiing squirrel!

Should Gates go on Bill Moyers or another actual news show to walk us through the plan? Of course. He's spending our money, and we should know where it's going. But there's no point in sending him to "Meet the Press" so John McCain can sit across from him and insist that $513 is a bigger number than $534 while David Gregory nods along.

Posted by: Mnemosyne on April 8, 2009 at 8:27 PM | PERMALINK

In response to Mnemosyne:

John McCain approved of the Gates budget, didn't he?

Posted by: Alex on April 8, 2009 at 8:35 PM | PERMALINK

"Most liberals don't care about defense procurement. They haven't for many years. They think the subject is boring, as in not worth the time to understand or even learn anything about."

LOL.... Do run along and play, won't you? The adults are trying to have a conversation.

Posted by: PaulB on April 8, 2009 at 11:32 PM | PERMALINK

MSNBC's Contessa Brewer asked Cohen to address the administration's proposed "cuts" -- not "what some are calling 'cuts,'" just matter-of-fact "cuts," as if this were plainly true.

Huh. A news organization owned by General Electric is spreading misinformation about a defense budget that might cost General Electric - major contractor to the US military - a lot of money over the next few years. Shocking. I can't imagine how such a thing could possibly come to pass.

Posted by: NonyNony on April 9, 2009 at 12:09 AM | PERMALINK

In other words, we should buy into the frame that the right-wing screamers are setting up and start saying, "Well, okay, there are some cuts, but let me show you these charts ..."

Those aren't my words or an approximation of them.

It's my opinion that we don't have to choose between a confusing message and a dishonest one. We can choose the truth instead.

The defense department budget has grown substantially over the last few years and this year's proposed budget maintains defense spending at comparable levels. The proposed budget will increase spending for personnel and weapons systems needed to begin winding down our mission in Iraq and continue operations in Afghanistan.

Mr. Gates is proposing much-needed changes in the Pentagon's acquisition procedures to get rid of waste and favoritism in defense spending so more of our tax dollars end up supporting people who put their lives on the line.

That wasn't so hard now, was it?

Posted by: Quaker in a Basement on April 9, 2009 at 12:41 AM | PERMALINK

Further, I expect our progressive journals to go a little deeper into the facts than tossing a few barbs at the other side.

Posted by: Quaker in a Basement on April 9, 2009 at 12:45 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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