Kausfiles' Trustworthy Blogging Initiative, Version 2.0

Kausfiles' Trustworthy Blogging Initiative, Version 2.0

Kausfiles' Trustworthy Blogging Initiative, Version 2.0

A mostly political Weblog.
July 29 2002 3:45 AM

Trustworthy Blogging!

Plus harrumphing hack Hoagland, cocooning Rhino-baiter Krugman, and Hispandering Gephardt.

Model-activist Veronica Webb discovers the virtues of proven internal-combustion technology ... 9:45 A.M.

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Quickie Nina B. Talking Points: Complete analysis of the latest anti-welfare reform effort  by the NYT's Nina Bernstein -- on the "rising share of children ... turning up in no-parent households" -- requires further study. But note that:

a) "No parent household" or "urban children living without a parent" makes you think these children are running around in empty houses without adult supervision, which they aren't. They're typically raised by their grandparents, which (as Wendell Primus notes) can be a good thing -- if, say, their mother is a crackhead whose problems were only smoked out when she was required to seek work. Bernstein's evidence that the kids in question are worse off is more or less nonexistent. (She says, "Children who do not live with their parents do significantly worse on average than those in single-parent homes" -- but that's a correlation you'd expect. Do these children do worse in these homes than in the presumably dysfunctional single-parent homes they've left behind?)

b) Even Bernstein admits the "no parent" trend is a smaller trend than the decline in the number of children living in single-parent households. (Bernstein would never give the pro-reform forces ammo by giving numbers on the increase in kids living in two-parent households. She does note one study concluding that among urban blacks "the share with an unmarried mother dropped to an average of 51 percent from 64 percent." That's a stunning positive trend, especially if, as Bernstein's wording suggests, it doesn't even count, in the decline, kids who are living with a mother who is now cohabiting with another adult whom she hasn't married).

c) Bernstein's billboarded assertion that the "no-parent" trend is "contributing to second thoughts among some of the most optimistic analysts" isn't really backed up by the rest of the story. She cites three "optimistic" analysts, all respectable people: 1) Wade Horn, who as Bush's point man on reform is obviously not having second thoughts about reform; 2) Gregory Acs of the Urban Institute, who (like Horn) simply says there's a good two-parent trend and a no-parent trend, which he doesn't even say is bad; 3) Wendell Primus, in whom it shouldn't be hard to spark second thoughts (since he's a veteran liberal advocate who famously quit his HHS job in protest over reform) but who nevertheless offers only carefully-hedged doubts -- the best Bernstein can do is say he has a "more nuanced view." If Bernstein, in her "billboard" paragraph, had said "more nuanced view," it would hold up. "Second thoughts" is the sort of loaded overstatement.editors often stick in to sell a story to the front page, or ambitious reporters stick in when trying to sell their editors, or agenda-driven reporters stick in to, well, advance their agenda.

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There are liberalish, fault-finding reporters I've learned to trust (Tony Horwitz, for example, or Blaine Harden, or Kate Boo, or even Rachel Swarns, who wrote some disturbing anti-Giuliani pieces). Nina Bernstein isn't one of them -- she seems pretty much a pure attack animal. Even liberal welfare mavens distrust her. But I need to make some calls before deciding if she's stumbled on to a small, troubling trend in a positive overall picture -- or if there's even less to her story than that. ... Developing! ... Faster than kf: Reason's Ron Bailey reacts to Bernstein's rifle shot by describing that positive overall picture.  . ...8:20 P.M.

Bada Bing? The Scrum has what looks like a  genuine insidery post  on why it's significant that Liz Hurley's sperm donor, Steve Bing, is a leading contributor to Democratic presidential aspirant John Edwards. Bing isn't a policy guy, it seems -- he just wants to hang with political celebrities:

 A donor like Bing gives money to whoever the people who he's trying to impress tell him to. In his case, Bing is listening to [Bill] Clinton and his man in SoCal, Ron Burkle ...

So if Bing is giving to Edwards it indicates that Clinton is steering money to Edwards. ... That seems to be what the mysterious Scrum means when it says "Steve Bing is the fluoride-18 in the PET-scan of the political money network." ... 6:30 P.M.

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Dan Balz (and Joe Lieberman) blame the Democrats regression into paleolib populism on the Enron/accounting/ethics corporate scandals. Balz writes:

... the prospective presidential candidates are all trying to balance their appeals to the DLC wing of the party with their courtship of labor leaders, feminists, gays and others on the left.

Republicans say the Democrats are being pushed to the left by these forces. But it is more a shift in the economic climate -- the decline in the stock market, the exposure of corporate fraud and greed, the return of budget deficits -- that has created the sharper, more populist message.

Does this make any sense? For one thing, Bill Clinton's own vice president, Al Gore, couldn't hold the centrist line in the 2000 presidential campaign, years before the Enron collapse. Even in 2001, also before the corporate scandals, blind anti-Bush anger over Florida was pushing Democrats into immoderate positions. Are Democrats adding Davis-Bacon "prevailing wage" provisions to the H______d Security Act because of Enron, or because unions want them? Are liberals currently chipping away at welfare reform --the latest Senate Finance bill is a disaster -- because of Enron, or because (contra Balz) they never, really, embraced the DLC/centrist pro-reform position, in part because of ideological hostility embodied in a whole institutional framework of anti-poverty foundations and lobbying groups?  I understand that there is nothing more important than Enron and the declining stock market, at least this week. But scandals are fleeting; the infrastructure of unions and foundations is semi-permanent. When it comes to explaining the persistence of paleoliberalism, it's the constituencies, stupid! Plus pent-up anger over Florida. ... 12:06 P.M.

Trustworthy Blogging Initiative II -- A Dialogue in the Blogosphere! Ten days ago, fellow blogger Eric Alterman wrote:

Mickey Kaus ... could hardly be more wrong to compare the [New York] Times' op-ed page treatment of Bush to the Wall Street Journal's hounding of Bill Clinton. Kaus wrote "But the New York Times seems no more embarrassable on the subject of Bush-bashing overkill than the Wall Street Journal ed-page was on the subject of Clinton-bashing overkill."  This is laughable, but significantly so. I have on a shelf in my office six published volumes, containing something like 3,000 pages of Journal editorials inspired by a failed $30,000 land deal. They contain all manner of scurrilous, deceitful and indefensible accusation against both Clintons for actions for which both were eventually cleared.

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Good point! I didn't mean to say (nor do I think I actually said) that the WSJ wasn't more vicious in its Clinton-bashing than the NYT has been in its Bush-bashing. My point was only that the NYT is just as unembarrassed by its out-of-the-closet anti-Bushism, however strong or (relatively) moderate it might be. In other words, neither the NYT nor the WSJ seem to worry anymore whether their ed pages have "balance." (And the news pages of the NYT are now considerably more anti-Bush than the news pages of the WSJ were anti-Clinton -- the Clintophobes were on the WSJ editorial page.) ... Thanks to Eric for clearing up this nuance! ...

Meanwhile, my comrade-in-blog Brad DeLong has taken issue with my suggestion that the welfare reform of the mid-90s may have helped produce the sudden increase, between 1980 and 2000, in black women marrying white men:

Does Mickey Kaus really think that Wanda Dunn, 37 year-old African-American Stone Mountain web designer, would be on AFDC if not for the mid-1990s welfare reform?

Good point! Wanda Dunn was quoted in this this Atlanta Journal Constitution article  explaining why she wasn't going to let color dictate her dating habits. I wasn't saying (nor do I think I said!) that every black woman who dates white men is a potential welfare mother, or that welfare reform was the only factor producing the rise in miscegenation. But (a) the influence of welfare in the African-American community is more pervasive than you might think. According to Prof. Greg Duncan's analysis of data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, for example, of black children born from 1967 through 1969, some 72 percent would spend at least a year on welfare by the time they reached age eighteeen. (The figure for non-blacks was 16 percent.). More than 40 percent of black children were on welfare for seven years or more. That means welfare isn't an inescapable trap -- obviously lots of  people go on it and off it and wind up in the middle class. But it means welfare is a bigger force in shaping black culture than DeLong seems to want to admit. Also (b) you don't have to be on welfare, or poor, or black to be influenced by the welfare-conditioned culture of the urban poor -- any more than you have to be poor or black to be influenced by the ghetto-based  ideas of NWA and other rappers whose music fills headphones in Scarsdale and Montecito. So just bcause Wanda Dunn is a Web designer doesn't mean she wasn't influenced by ideas (memes!) that welfare reform provoked among people who, unlike Wanda Dunn, are poor enough to be on public assistance. P.S. Duh!

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Finally, my blogging colleague Diane E. says I "suck ... bigtime" because an item I wrote about a Paul Krugman column was "shockingly obtuse," and "misleading." Also that

If this is a defense of George Bush, then Kaus has his head so far up his own butt he can't figure out whose he is sucking.

Good point! I wasn't defending George Bush, just noting that Bush may be (a) guilty of effective land-grab string-pulling as head of the Texas Rangers owners' group, for which he was compensated with an extra $12 million (over and above his approximately $2.3 million formal share) by grateful, now-richer partners, or (b) he may have done nothing for the extra $12 million, in which case it was a highly-suspicious  "gift" to a man who was by that time a sitting governor. But Bush can't be guilty of both of these things at the same time. ...Note to fellow-blogger Diane: I've reread the Krugman passage and he's pretty clearly making exactly the suggestion I say he's making. P.S.: Same to you!

Thanks to everyone for their valuable feedback! 12:05 P.M. 

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Can't Anybody Here Play This Game? Jim Hoagland Can! Columnist Jim Hoagland hits two of Tim Noah's five contentless economic cliches  -- (a) and (d) -- contributing a museum-quality specimen of Beltway blowhardism. The tell-tale markings:

1) Hoagland bases his column ("A Tone-Deaf Economic Team") almost entirely on the perception of a big problem, which saves him the annoying task of figuring out what the reality is. Is the economy going to hell, or is it really growing at a reasonable pace, as a too-short piece elsewhere in the same WaPo section suggests? Hoagland doesn't say.

2) Hoagland warns about the "costs of inaction" if Bush " continues "non-managing the financial free-fall." But what actions, exactly, would Hoagland have Bush officials take? He doesn't say, except that they should stop making "gaffes" and "pratfalls" -- in other words, PR mistakes like SEC chief Harvey Pitt's completely trivial request for a salary hike. Also, Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill neds to be a "reassuring spokesman," which implies that what needs to be "managed" are mainly appearances. N.B.: It seems like only days ago that there was a policy being demanded of Bush -- he had to agree to the Sarbanes bill on corporate fraud. He's now agreed to the Sarbanes bill. But he's not going to get off that easy! He's still, according to Hoagland, guilty of failing to "hear what markets" and "the media ... try to tell" him. ... Could it be that "the media," perpetually ready to rev up into full crisis mode, are wrong? It doesn't matter! If you don't listen to them, you have a "tin ear," which is why it's fun to be the media and not so much fun to be a Bush (or Clinton) official.

3) Instead of policy change (hard to write about on deadline) Hoagland calls for personnel change (easy to write about on deadline).  Bush needs "new faces" to remedy the "dysfunctionality of [his] economic policy team." Oh  yes, and "close coordination between the White House and Treasury." Close coordination is always a good one! Add some authoritative sounding This-Townism ("Late July is when official Washington begins to think seriously about Act Two of a presidential term") and Hoagland's successfully hacked his way across the finish line.

To be sure: Yes, yes, the actual health of the economy does depend in part on perceptions about the health of the economy -- on consumer and investor confidence. There is a feedback loop. Still: Still, as my Slate colleague Michael Kinsley has written, shouldn't the job of journalists be to bring perceptions into line with reality rather than to simply bow down before perceptions, however accurate or inaccurate? ... 11:50 A.M.

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Thursday, July 25, 2002

WaPo's Lloyd Grove continues his disturbing obsession with an obscure left-wing magazine, The American Prospect. It seems they are involved in a spat with the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists over TAP's use of an image of the "Doomsday Clock." Grove reports:

We hear a settlement might involve a favorable article about the Bulletin in a future issue of the Prospect.

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Wouldn't that be a violation of, you know, journalistic ethics? (Imagine if the NYT or WaPo settled a libel suit by promising to publish a favorable article about a plaintiff.)  Surely TAP wouldn't do anything like that ... 12:00 A.M..

First of a series: Paul Krugman says I'm a conformist, authoritarian rhinoceros! ... He denies that he's part of a left-wing conspiracy, offering this useful description  of how he wrote a recent column. (He didn't get orders from Howell Raines, but he did get a fill from the NYT's angry liberal tax expert David Cay Johnston.) ... Krugman also describes his reading habits (in his anti-rhino post):

 "I've pretty much restricted my blog reading to Brad DeLong  and  Josh Marshall  ..."

I like Marshall and DeLong, but why live in a Democratic cocoon? Can't you at least read people on the other side? ... P.S.: I like Krugman too, but I think his columns have been severely degraded in the transition from Slate to the NYT. (Had it, lost it. Just like Lou Reed!) I hope to explain some of my objections in future posts, when I'm not blogging from the road and have access to actual books. 3:40 A.M.

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Two good political blogs I hadn't noticed before:

1) The Scrum pays close attention to the 2004 presidential race, noticing Dick Gephardt's recent Hispandering proposal to "legalize undocumented immigrants who have lived in the United States for five years and worked in the country for two years," which should have generated more controversy than it did. Scrum also speculates that Joe Lieberman's promise to decide by year's end on a presidential run is either a) a sign that he'll break his promise (to not run if Gore does) or b) an attempt to make Gore "put up or shut up." But there's a third possibility -- Lieberman thinks he's found a way to weasel out of his promise. After all, if he announces before Gore has decided, then he hasn't announced while Gore is running, has he? And you can't expect him to wait forever! He needs to start fundraising, etc. etc. ... P.S.: Who writes The Scrum? I know but I can't tell. ... Somebody worth reading, though. ...

2) Michael Moynihan's The Politburo  reveals that one of NYT's sources for its recent 'US-kills-hundreds-of-Afghan-civilians" story -- identified as "Marla Ruzicka, a Global Exchange field worker in Afghanistan" -- is a lefty, Green, anti-globalization activist. Not that this makes her untrustworthy! But the NYT hid her obvious bias from Times readers by describing her and her group so blandly. (Global Exchange, which says 812 Afghan civilians were killed -- and which Moynihan claims has conducted 'reality tours' of Cuba -- is described simply as "an American organization that has sent survey teams into Afghan villages.") ... The NYT story wasn't as bad as Moynihan charges, and Eric Alterman isn't "an idiot." Still ... [This guy related to Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan?--ed. Nephew, at best, but I now doubt even that. Not that it would make him untrustworthy! Update: Moynihan emails to say "I wish I was related to DPM." But he isn't. That's another Michael Moynihan..]

2:30 A.M.

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Wednesday, July 24, 2002

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kf rallies after setback: It's been pointed out by various alert readers that the item immediately below (about the NYT overplaying the AOL Time Warner reshuffle last Friday) is flawed because a)  editor Howell Raines was off fishing in Iceland when the Times decided how to play the story; b) Raines' original insight -- that "The old company won" -- was pretty much obvious to everyone when Richard Parsons was appointed AOL Time Warner CEO;  c) The Times overplayed the story mainly because it had been clobbered the day before on the AOL beat by the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and even the New York Post. The Times' not-unusual reaction to getting scooped was to produce lots of heavily-promoted stories over the next few days in an attempt to "catch up." ... So is there even a shred of value left in kf's previous item? Yes! a) In Auletta's key example of Raines' bigfooting, it turns out Raines wasn't "wrong," though he may have had an excessively simple take; b) Just because Raines is out of town doesn't mean he has no impact. Editors back at the home office may make an extra effort to do what they think the boss would want them to do, and this may actually magnify the impact of the boss' quirks. When I worked at Newsweek in the late 1980s, for example, our ultimate boss was Katharine Graham, who lived in Washington. Worry about what Mrs. G would think was a constant low-frequency subtext of editorial meetings. At the time she was intensely interested in the international debt crisis (not a newsstand winner). The result of this worry was probably more coverage of the debt crisis than would have occurred if Mrs. G had actually been present at the meetings, since the fear of Mrs. G vastly exaggerated the reality of Mrs. G, who was a relatively benign and sensible person. . ... Plus, there are phones in Iceland! ... That said, my readers are almost certainly right that the need to play catch-up had much more to do with the Times' AOL-overplay than any complex desire to say "I told you so" to Auletta. [ Why the jarring admission of error?--ed. Part of kausfiles' new Trustworthy Blogging initiative.] ... 11:45 A.M

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Sunday, July 21, 2002

John Ellis shorts the New York Times because it's badly managed, is wasting money on television, and "is squandering its greatest asset, which is its reputation for delivering high quality information." The last charge is true, but I'm not sure that it follows that the Times won't succeed commercially. It certainly seems as if there is a large market of readers who share the paper's unembarrassed, moralistic anti-Bushism.... Meanhwile, alert kf reader G.R. remembers the following unflattering section of Ken Auletta's New Yorker profile of Times editor Howell Raines:

Sometimes Raines imposed his own views on a story. In December, when Gerald Levin announced that he would step down as C.E.O. of AOL Time Warner and that his protege, Richard Parsons, would replace him, editors were puzzled by the meaning of the move. Suddenly, from one end of the long conference table, Raines asked, "It's obvious, isn't it?"

The others weren't so sure that it was.

"The old company won," Raines said. "That's the story!" The former political reporter, who is proud of being able to anticipate stories, was convinced that Levin and the Time Warner side of the company had won a battle with the AOL side. This editor-driven account appeared the next day, and it upset several business reporters, who thought the analysis was simplistic -- and wrong.

It now looks as if the simplistic, seat-of-pants angle Raines imperiously imposed on his reporters was, basically, right. ... Might Raines' overblown three-column-hed Saturday treatment  of the AOL Time Warner executive reshuffle have been a big I-told-you-so? Ordinarily, "Media Exec Forced Out" is only moderately more newsworthy than, say, "New Jersey Mayor Indicted" or "Italian Government Falls."  12:15 P.M.  

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Links

Drudge Report--80 % true. Close enough! Instapundit--All-powerful hit king. Joshua Marshall--Escapee from American Prospect. Salon--Better click fast! Andrew Sullivan--He asks, he tells. He sells! Washington Monthly--Includes "Tilting at Windmills" Lucianne.com--Stirs the drink. Virginia Postrel--Friend of the future! Peggy Noonan--Gold in every column. Matt Miller--Savvy rad-centrism. WaPo--Waking from post-Bradlee snooze. The Liberal Death Star--Registration required.  NY Observer--Read it before the good writers are all hired away. New Republic--Left on welfare, right on warfare!  Jim Pinkerton--Quality ideas come from quantity ideas. Tom Tomorrow--Everyone's favorite leftish cartoonists' blog.  Ann "Too Far" Coulter--Sometimes it's just far enough. Bull Moose--National Greatness Central. John Ellis--Forget that Florida business! The cuz knows politics, and he has, ah, sources. "The Note"--How the pros start their day. Romenesko's MediaNews--O.K. they actually start it here. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities--Money Liberal Central.. Steve Chapman--Ornery-but-lovable libertarian. Rich Galen--Sophisticated GOP insider. Man Without Qualities--Seems to know a lot about white collar crime. Hmmm. Overlawyered.com--Daily horror stories. Eugene Volokh --Smart, packin' prof, and not Instapundit! Eve Tushnet--Queer, Catholic, conservative and not Andrew Sullivan! WSJ's Best of the Web--James Taranto's excellent obsessions. Walter Shapiro--Politics and (don't laugh) neoliberal humor! Eric Alterman -- Always annoying, occasionally right. Joe Conason -- Bush-bashing, free most days.  Nonzero--Bob Wright explains it all. [More tk.]