My commentary last week dealt with the destructive effects of the capital gains tax increase that was part of the House’s Build Back Better (BBB) bill. The facts of my article were accurate, except the capital gains tax increase provision (fortunately) was dropped before the final vote last Friday. I incorrectly assumed that the destructive language was still in the bill but should have waited until the final passage before writing my commentary. The bill now goes to the Senate, where I assume and hope that the offending provisions will not be reinstated.
In the more than two decades I have been writing this weekly economic commentary, I have striven to be accurate, so the readers can rely on what is presented. Frequently, my column contains numerical data, and my assistant double-checks the sources, the data, and my math – and often catches mistakes. The unfortunate fact is that we all make mistakes. Reputable publications like the Wall Street Journal provide readers with corrections, recognizing that inaccuracies still make it into print even with many editors. Presenters in the electronic media tend to be less forthcoming – but even so, many do acknowledge mistakes.
Mistakes are different from biases. Many in the news business are overtly biased, particularly opinion columnists, which is fine, provided the reader or listener is made aware of the bias (I lean towards limited-government libertarianism, as is well known). Problems arise when a news source claims not to be biased but slants stories one way or another or just leaves out relevant facts that do not fit the “agenda.”
Many politicians lie – yes, you are shocked – but they are often just sloppy or lazy with the facts. Honest politicians do not continue to repeat incorrect facts when their early mistakes are brought to their attention. They may not correct their errors, but they don’t continue to repeat them. A greater problem is when people who claim to be journalists – both straight reporters and opinion presenters – knowingly lie in an attempt to deceive their audience. This is particularly harmful when their lies influence public policy.
One of the most notorious cases of lies being accepted as fact with harmful consequences was Walter Duranty, who served as Moscow bureau chief for the New York Times from 1922- 1936. He was an apologist for Stalin and denied the deliberate Soviet-caused Ukraine famine (which killed an estimated four to seven million people), among other sins, and attacked other journalists who were truth-telling. He was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1932 for his reports about the Soviet Union. As a result of Mr. Duranty’s false reporting, the U.S. government recognized the Soviet regime earlier than they otherwise would have and treated Stalin more kindly than if the public were more aware of the truth. The New York Times later apologized, “some of the worst reporting to appear in this newspaper.” There is now a nationwide effort to have the Pulitzer Prize given to Mr. Duranty for his lies to be revoked. (Those wishing to learn more about this effort or sign the petition should go to Ukraine Genocide website – https://ukrainegenocide.com.)
It is no secret that many in the press are lazy because original reporting, and particularly investigative journalism, takes real imagination, time, and effort. It is also no secret that most journalists are biased towards the establishment and big government. These tendencies, coupled with the fact that there are those in government who are willing to lie to further their own careers and/or political agenda, are responsible for some of the biggest and most destructive scandals.
The Russian Trump hoax is a prime example. Many in the media felt a need to explain Mr. Trump’s win over Hillary Clinton other than more people liked Mr. Trump than Hillary. So, the Hillary team hatched the phony dossier and Russian conspiracy, knowing that their media allies would uncritically run with it. It would have taken real work by investigative journalists to uncover the truth – and again, the Hillary team was confident that the combination of bias and laziness on the part of the press would keep the truth from coming out.
Many conservatives were skeptics and did not buy the story. And Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and the others could be dismissed as Mr. Trump partisans and Hillary haters. But then Sean Hannity, in particular, gave voice night after night to serious, experienced people who raised troubling questions that the Hillary crowd, including the FBI and others in government, were not providing satisfactory answers. Gregg Jarrett of Fox News, an able attorney and investigative reporter, put together a detailed, well-researched and reviewed book that exposed the conspiracy in ways that were not easily refuted.
As a result of the accumulation of evidence and the Durham investigation, some writers for the New York Times, the Washington Post and others in the establishment press have acknowledged mistakes. The few remaining holdout commentators at MSNBC and CNN have gone well beyond being labeled as just biased or lazy but well-rehearsed liars.
• Richard W. Rahn is chairman of the Institute for Global Economic Growth and MCon LLC.