Posts Tagged ‘Ezra Klein’

Political Speak

Monday, March 9th, 2009

by Brien Jackson

Following up on my last post, it occurs to me that the most obvious answer for the “discrepancy” between what Ezra Klein and David Brooks were told by anonymous sources inside the White House; they weren’t contradictory at all. Sounds like a stretch but consider the clips Greenwald uses to build his case. First, from Ezra:

What people at the White House have told me on Social Security — and what I wrote in the post she’s referencing — is that there’s no intention to touch Social Security in the foreseeable future. It’s not a priority and it’s not a political winner. . . . The problem, they say, is health care, not Social Security, and that’s where the White House is focusing.

And from Brooks:

Besides, the long-range debt is what matters, and on this subject President Obama is hawkish.

He is extremely committed to entitlement reform and is plotting politically feasible ways to reduce Social Security as well as health spending.

Now, at first blush those statements certainly seem mututally exclusive. But it’s important to remember that it’s politicians giving these quotes, and adminitration officials are always going to choose their words carefully, and that because of that you really need to parse what they say before you do something definitive like publish a blog post about them. So let’s game these out. On the one hand, someone told Ezra Klein that the administration was going to use the fiscal responsibility summit to make the arguement that Social Security was more or less sound, and that healthcare reform was much more important for our fiscal stability (they did), and that there was no political room to make changes to Social Security at the moment (which seems fair enough), and so there were no plans to do anything with Social Security for “the foreseeable future.” It’s important to remember that the source is hedging, as administration officials are always going to do. Anyone who sets some sort of concrete proclomation about the future years out isn’t in a position to be informed on these things, because political actors of that caliber just don’t do that. And what was told to Brooks is even less specific and substantive. Basically we’re told, second hand, that Obama is “extremely committed” to something, and that something is defined very broadly as “entitlement reform.” Indeed, we don’t even know if the sources mentioned Social Security themselves, or if Brooks embellished somewhat. The more I think about it, the more it seems that anonymity is a rather large red herring here, at least in Brooks’s case, and the larger issue is the sloppy and ambiguous write up of a completely empty quote he got.

It’s also important to consider that these are two different things. While Brooks is publishing second hand conjecture about things Obama is committed to doing “in the long term,” at least one of the issues Ezra addressed, the nature of the fiscal responsibility summit, has been proven to be accurate. That should pretty clearly tip the scale, at least for now, in Ezra’s favor, and cast more skepticism in Brooks’s direction. When adding in that the quote Brooks relayed didn’t really say anything and leaves a football field’s worth of political wiggle room (the nice thing about committing to “the long term” is that you can always come back and claim that things are just different down the road), I don’t really think it’s helpful to give the two equal weight. Clearly, Ezra has infinitely more credibility than Brooks at this juncture, and giving them equal credence is a false equivalency. That it helps build the desired case against anonymous quotes doesn’t really change that.

Talk Radio Liberals Watch: Always Right

Monday, March 9th, 2009

by Brien Jackson

With the budget coming out and some more substantive things in the hopper, I promise I’m going to scale back these type of posts, but this missive from Jane Hamsher is simply too egregious to let go. The matter in question goes back to the run-up to the fiscal responsiblity summit, when a lot of progressives, notably Hamsher and Digby, were absolutely foaming at the idea that the Obama administration was going to cut social security. Someone in the administration talked to Ezra Klein, and told him that social security was not going to be on the table, and that they were going to explicitly argue that healthcare reform was a much more pressing need than anything related to social security, which, coincidentally, is exactly what happened.

Without sugarcoating things, what Hamsher is doing is straight out of Orwell. Ezra’s source was completely accurate, at multiple points, but Hamsher makes multiple references to Ezra being “lied to.” Karl Rove couldn’t pull off that sort of up-is-downism with a straight face. Moreover, Hamsher references a completely unsourced, even anonymously, throwaway line from a New York Times report about Obama’s relationship with labor as evidence that she is really right, which is, obviously, pretty ironic, but also underscores the real point to Hamsher’s post.

Hamsher is employing an old right-wing trick, in which the writer is always right, no matter what happens. If it turns out that they’re spectacularly wrong, it’s really just proof that they’re right. Digby, I’m sad to say, has been using the exact same slight of hand to avoid facing up to, well, being completely, loudly, wrong. To wit, most people would look at the discrepancy between what Ezra reported and what Digby/Hamsher were screaming about and conclude that Ezra is well sourced, and Digby/Hamsher were somewhere between wildly inaccurate and slightly paranoid. But, to hear Hamsher and Digby tell it, they were never wrong, rather it was their efforts who forced the administration to change course. So, on top of being right all along, they’re also Very Important People. There’s a word for this; delusional. I like Digby as a writer (Hamsher not so much), but she doesn’t have the political influence to push a local state legislative candidate, let alone to move the White House. I mean c’mon.

I don’t really care much about the anonymous source question (and neither does Hamsher, as she lays bare, she ust picked up Greenwald’s critique to take another shot at Ezra because she’s pissed off he was right). I think Greenwald is being a bit flippant, and doesn’t seem to have considered the fact that the sources can always hang up on the reporter if the latter refuses to grant them anonymity. Or maybe Greenwald thinks that’s a preferrable alternative, although I wouldn’t agree. I also tend to agree with Ezra; there’s no reason to burn a source that’s giving you accurate information. If you feel like you have a source who is routinely lying to you, then yes, you should probably burn them, because that’s a story in its own right. But in this case, not only was Ezra’s source not lying, he wasn’t even mistaken. He was exactly right, something that is understandably a foreign concept to Hamsher.¬† But what really disturbs me is the reaction. Hamsher’s post has nearly 70 responses, mostly uncritical of her ridiculous post¬†(and glaring contradiction). Ezra’s response has 30 responses at the moment, nearly half of which are critical of him. And again, for posterity’s sake, in the initial question Ezra was right, and Hamsher was spectacularly wrong. But at least in the narrow segment of commentors on the matter, opinion seems to have lined up behind Hamsher anyway. And that’s very troublesome, and makes me question whether the progressive movement will crumble on itself even faster than the conservative movement did.