- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 14, 2004

The Columbia Journalism Review styles itself as “America’s premier media monitor.” It considers itself an objective observer of journalistic trends and bias, but it has achieved a well-deserved reputation for a blatantly left-of-center focus. So, it should hardly be surprising that its recent analysis of political spin, which, admittedly, pervades the 2004 presidential campaign, proved to be a poorly disguised hit-piece on the Bush White House. The article, “Tsunami,” which appears in the July-August issue, was written by Bryan Keefer, an assistant managing editor of CJR’s Campaign Desk and co-editor of Spinsanity.org.

Declaring that “[t]he campaign ‘04 information war is fast, deep and fraught with lies,” Mr. Keefer asserts: “President Bush, Senator Kerry and their operatives are deliberately using a cynical combination of calculated deception, speed and volume to exploit the press’ reluctance to call a lie a lie.”

To be sure, many campaign claims are heavily nuanced — as they have been for years. In an era when ” ‘facts’ are coming from every conceivable angle and around the clock,” Mr. Keefer criticizes the press for “too often treat[ing] the truth as something the reader or viewer should be able to discern from competing bits of spin.” Then, Mr. Keefer reveals his real agenda. “Bush has taken advantage of this like no other president before him,” he asserts, contemptuously adding that “this is how he governs.” And if the reader didn’t get the point the first time, six paragraphs later he again lashes out, declaring that “Bush’s presidency has been historic” in delivering “a brand of spin that tiptoes to the edge of out-and-out lying without making obviously false claims.” Of course, coming so soon after eight years of President Clinton, whose parsing of “the meaning of ‘is’ ” will remain the standard of “tiptoe[ing] to the edge of out-and-out lying” for generations, Mr. Keefer’s assertions about the Bush White House are patently absurd.

Appropriate to his anti-Bush broadside, Mr. Keefer began by praising the political reporting in The Washington Post, a paper whose White House correspondents, Dana Milbank and Mike Allen, have infused its news section with more anti-Bush spin than appears on the editorial page, where it belongs.

What really upsets Mr. Keefer is the Bush-Cheney propensity to paint Mr. Kerry as a liberal Democrat who spent the last 20 years consistently voting to maintain tax revenues higher than any level proposed by a Republican. The first example of Mr. Bush’s “calculated deception” of “historic” proportions is the president’s stump speech, which Mr. Keefer describes as “a masterpiece of misleading rhetoric.”

At a June 1 fund-raiser, for example, the president said, “When we passed the child credit to help families, my opponent voted against it. When we increased the child credit to help families, he voted against it. When we reduced the marriage penalty, he voted against it. When we created a lower 10 percent rate for working families, he voted against it. When we reduced the tax rate on dividends that helps a lot of America’s seniors, he voted ‘no.’ When we passed tax relief to help small businesses, he voted ‘no.’ ” Mr. Keefer complains that the casual listener would assume Mr. Bush was referring to six separate votes, when in fact the six provisions were contained in the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, which Mr. Kerry opposed. So what? The fact is that these bills reduced the income taxes of a married couple (with two children) earning $40,000 by 90 percent. True, in the face of Mr. Kerry’s opposition, these two tax bills also lowered the top marginal income-tax rate from 39.6 percent to 35 percent. But the 35 percent rate was still 7 percentage points higher than the top rate of 28 percent in the 1986 revenue-neutral tax-reform bill, which Mr. Kerry supported. Moreover, Mr. Kerry himself advocated eliminating the dividend tax altogether just months before the 2003 bill reduced it to 15 percent.

If Mr. Keefer is looking for a telling vote on a bona fide middle-class, family-oriented tax cut that offered token relief to the very wealthy, he should consider the stand-alone marriage-penalty alleviation measure which the Senate passed during the summer of 2000. On July 18, 2000, Mr. Kerry voted against a bill that would have increased the standard deduction for married couples to double the standard deduction for singles; it also would have expanded the 15 percent tax bracket for married couples to twice the corresponding bracket for singles. The five-year, $90-billion marriage-penalty relief bill, which was passed in fiscal 2000 when the federal budget surplus approached $250 billion, would have saved millions of middle-income families an estimated $1,500 per year. But Mr. Kerry voted “no.”

Mr. Keefer also takes issue with a Bush-Cheney tally of 350 votes by Mr. Kerry for “higher taxes on the American people.” Mr. Keefer complains that this total includes “votes against decreasing taxes, votes to trim proposed tax cuts, votes against repealing tax hikes that were already enacted and votes in favor of tax cuts that were smaller than what Republicans proposed. Confused? That’s the idea.” No, we’re not confused. By Mr. Keefer’s own definition, each of these examples would result in “higher taxes on the American people” than they would otherwise pay. And that is what Mr. Bush claimed.

Mr. Keefer does directly criticize Mr. Kerry over the Democrat’s “middle-class misery index,” which cherry-picked seven economic statistics. But he can’t bring himself to acknowledge President Bush’s very favorable relative rating on the traditional “misery index” (the sum of the inflation and unemployment rates), which Jimmy Carter first made famous in 1976. “The traditional ‘misery index,’ ” Mr. Keefer writes, “suggests that the Bush administration has done better on these indicators than the post-World War II average.” “Suggests”? How about “indisputably confirms”? In fact, the latest data available to Mr. Keefer — the year-over-year April inflation rate (2.3 percent) and the April or May unemployment rate (5.6 percent) — would have produced a misery index below 8. The postwar election-year average is nearly 10, and the average since Mr. Carter popularized the concept is nearly 12. “Suggests”?

Mr. Keefer criticizes the “Kerry vs. Kerry” animated boxing match appearing on the Republican National Committee’s Web site because it “help to reinforce the GOP’s attempt to paint Kerry as a flip-flopper.” Attempt? Even though “Kerry vs. Kerry” is accompanied by meticulous documentation, he calls it a “gimmick.” If Mr. Keefer is looking for outrageous spin exemplifying a “gimmick,” how could he ignore Mr. Kerry’s notorious defense of his October 2003 opposition to the $87 billion supplemental appropriation to finance U.S. military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq? “I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it,” the serial flip-flopping Mr. Kerry told a group of West Virginia veterans.

Glaringly absent is any mention of the blatant lie Mr. Kerry told about how supposedly undisciplined speechwriters improperly inserted attacks on “Benedict Arnold CEOs who ship jobs overseas” into his speeches. In fact, it was a charge Mr. Kerry repeatedly and enthusiastically leveled throughout the Democratic primaries en route to capturing the nomination. Nor was there any criticism of Mr. Kerry’s absurd promise to “make America independent of Mideast oil” at a time when the nation imports 13 million barrels of oil and petroleum products each day. That’s double the level of imports in 1973 during the Arab oil embargo. With two-thirds of the world’s proven oil reserves located in the Middle East, with U.S. oil demand projected to increase by 40 percent by 2025 and with Mr. Kerry leading the filibuster against developing U.S. reserves in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, his promise of “independence” qualifies as a cruel hoax.

No amount of spin will ever deflect the self-evident charge that the Columbia Journalism Review is little more than a liberal rag.

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