Fleischer Watch, Part 1.

Gossip, speculation, and scuttlebutt about politics.
March 21 2005 4:41 PM

The Fleischer Watch

Introducing an ongoing inquiry into dishonest or insane assertions buried inside Ari Fleischer's White House memoir.

In his new book, Taking Heat: The President, the Press, and My Years in the White House, Ari Fleischer, the former White House press secretary, lays out various "biases and predilections" of "the liberal press." (The passage is actually an extended quotation from ABC News's Web log "The Note"; Fleischer praises it as "breathtakingly frank.") * Among these is its 'belief that government is a mechanism to solve the nation's problems," its insistence that "emotional examples of suffering … are good ways to illustrate economic statistic stories," and its tendency to stay "fixated on the unemployment rate." Fleischer might just as well have complained that the press believes the Earth revolves around the sun.

At risk of belaboring the obvious:

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  1. If the government doesn't exist to solve problems, what the hell do we have it for? We can argue about the particular problems government should solve, and about how successfully government addresses them at any given time, but not, I think, about whether government should be in the problem-solving business.
  2. Un-picturesque though they may be, people do tend to suffer when the economy is faltering, as it did throughout the period covered in Fleischer's memoir. If a lagging economy didn't cause people to suffer, there would be no great reason to keep track of the economy at all. Anecdotes about individual sufferers help the public understand in a concrete way what it means to have a weak economy.
  3. The principal way people suffer when economic growth is weak or nonexistent is by losing their jobs. The statistic that keeps track of the people who lose their jobs is the unemployment rate (at the moment a so-so 5.4 percent). Fleischer doesn't want the press to focus on the "micro" story of individual suffering, but neither does he want the press to focus on the "macro" story of economic statistics. In effect, Fleischer is saying that it's unfair for the press to cover the economy at all.

Correction, March 18: The original version of this column failed to note that the words, though quoted with approval, were not Fleischer's own.

Timothy Noah is a former Slate staffer. His  book about income inequality is The Great Divergence.

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