Following hard on the heels of Politico's own 'Up With-Misinformation!' take on Tuesday's Congressional Budget Office report, here comes Chris Cillizza, writer of "The Fix," a Washington Post political blog named after the thing that Philip Seymour Hoffman died seeking.
Cillizza has gotten a lot of crap over the past 24 hours, it seems, for a piece in which he declared that the CBO report was going to be the "worst headline for Democrats this year." That's a weird proposition, considering that (a) the Affordable Care Act headlines that Democrats really fear will involve the level of enrollment and the relative age and health of those enrollees, and (b) the overall fundamentals of the midterm elections favor the GOP with or without any attendant Obamacare controversies, anyway.
Oh, and there's also the little matter that the CBO report was actually mostly good news for proponents of Obamacare: It projected that the law is going to give a lot of Americans the opportunity to retire or start their own businesses or leave jobs they hate but were stuck with because of employer-provided health care.
This is as the authors of the Affordable Care Act intended. It would actually be bad news if the CBO said that none of these things were likely to happen.
Cillizza is armed with this knowledge, and he's happy to cite it at length. He lengthily quotes Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler just to demonstrate that he understands there's a "difference between killing jobs and a decline in the labor supply." But he doesn't actually want to use the knowledge. Instead, he wants to undermine Kessler's work by presenting it not as inexorable fact, but as just one point of view among many. To Cillizza's mind, the facts Kessler offers are no better than the misperceptions that Kessler is attempting to debunk. In fact, they are worse because the "real world" is one in which perception "trumps reality." Cillizza writes:
My job is to assess not the rightness of each argument but to deal in the real world of campaign politics in which perception often (if not always) trumps reality. I deal in the world as voters believe it is, not as I (or anyone else) thinks it should be.
Economics blogger Brad Delong gives a good response:
Note the assumptions here:
--That what actually happens to Americans as ObamaCare is implemented is not the “real world”
--That the real world is the world of “campaign politics”
--That in this real world of campaign politics reality does not count -- "perception trumps”
Yep, basically Cillizza is saying that his world of misperception is, in fact, purer and better than the actual world that people live in. (Again, folks, the blog is called "The Fix," so it makes sense that Cillizza's pitch is the same one made by every bog-standard heroin dealer.)
Cillizza has already anticipated that many of you might argue that his job is to inform people, but he's totally not going to ever do that, so stop asking.
Now, I can already hear people saying some version of this: "It's your job in the media to INFORM people. To tell them what's right and what's wrong. To cut through the clutter." Absolutely true. And that's why I included the actual language from the CBO report in my initial post and why I think Glenn's post is so valuable.
But if he really believed Kessler's work is valuable, he wouldn't insist on devaluing it by suggesting that it's an essentially pointless and shrill exercise in the very next sentence.
But, I would say to those critics: You overestimate the media's ability to (a) cut through the clutter or (b) change peoples' minds about what's true and what's not.
But ... you could try, right? I mean, that's what Glenn Kessler is doing. Cutting through the clutter and pointing out what's true!
Cillizza isn't interested in that because -- as he states -- it's too "complicated." Explaining what the CBO actually said actually takes time and requires one to write paragraphs explaining it. But lying about what the CBO actually says just takes a sentence! So lies win. Sorry, Josh Barro, but in order for "The Fix" to be interested in your fair-minded analysis of this report, it's gonna have to fit on a bumper sticker.
Naturally, we're not going to get through a Cillizza post without notching a "both sides do it," so he includes this tweet from Amy Walter:
Watching Ds outraged response CBO attacks by R's, you'd think they never took anything out of context b4 to use in attack ads.
— amy walter (@amyewalter) February 5, 2014
Yeah, Amy, that's so true! And it is also so bloody wearying to hunt down the context and correct these errors and try to explain to ordinary human Americans what officials actually meant when they said or did something. Thanks for standing there, helplessly flapping your arms in the air.
This all goes well beyond the incidents and accidents of occasional CBO reports. Someday soon, some politician is going to give a speech, and he or she is going to get a pronoun wrong, or elide a sentence, or get distracted and drop a line, and it will present an occasion on which it appears as if that politician has said something really dumb, or even bad. Every fair observer will say, "Oh, he didn't mean to say that. Clearly she really meant this." And this will be an appreciable fact. We'll be at a moment when if fairer heads prevail, we shall note that sometimes public speaking is hard and that humans are not perfect, but we're not slaves to misperceptions and, because of this, it's possible for everyone to simply move on, contentedly.
It's going to be people like Chris Cillizza who insist that what we really need to do is open the 'What About Your Gaffes?' carnival. He'll insist, "No, no, everybody! We can't move on from this! This is a game changer! Oh, my, how this is going to be perceived! It's going to present a lasting problem. This is that person's Worst Week in Washington ..." Until it's another person's Worst Week in Washington, and so on, forever, until we completely bend and distort the meaning of the words "worst" and "week" and "Washington"! Yeah, when pressed, he'll take luxurious offense and protest that of course he knows what the facts are and that the facts are valuable. But perceptions, man.
My perception is that Chris Cillizza is a bad person who makes your world worse, but who knows, maybe he's just really, really stupid?
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