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COLUMN SEVENTY-SIX, OCTOBER 1, 2002
(Copyright © 2002 The Blacklisted Journalist)
BY PAUL KRUGMAN
THE MEMORY HOLE
NYTimes.com Article: The Memory Hole
Date: Tue, 6 Aug 2002 11:17:58 -0400 (EDT)
article from NYTimes.com has been sent to you by email@example.com.
Smith, the protagonist of George Orwell's "Nineteen Eighty-Four," was
a rewrite man. His job was to destroy documents that could undermine the
government's pretense of infallibility, and replace them with altered versions.
Winston Smith has gone to Washington. I'm sure that lots of history is being
falsified as you read this---there are several three-letter agencies I don't
trust at all---but two cases involving the federal budget caught my eye.
is the "Chicago line." Shortly after Sept. 11, George W. Bush told his
budget director that the only valid reasons to break his pledge not to run
budget deficits would be if the country experienced recession, war or national
emergency. "Lucky me," he said. "I hit the trifecta."
I first reported this remark, angry readers accused me of inventing it. Mr.
Bush, they said, is a decent man who would never imply that the nation's woes
had taken him off the hook, let alone make a joke out of it.
afterward, the trifecta story became part of Mr. Bush's standard stump speech.
It always gets a roar of appreciative laughter from Republican audiences.
what's the Chicago line? In his speeches, Mr. Bush claims to have laid out the
criteria for running a deficit when visiting Chicago during the 2000 campaign.
But there's no evidence that he said anything of the sort during the campaign,
in Chicago or anywhere else; certainly none of the reporters who were with him
can remember it. (The New Republic, which has tracked the claim, titled one of
its pieces "Stop him before he lies again.") In fact, during the
campaign his budget promises were unqualified, for good reason. If he had
conceded that future surpluses were not guaranteed, voters might have wondered
whether it was wise to lock in a 10-year tax cut.
that 10-year tax cut: It basically takes place in two phases. Phase I, which has
mainly happened already, is a smallish tax cut for the middle class. Phase II,
which won't be completed until 2010, is a considerably larger cut that goes
mostly to the richest 1 percent of taxpayers.
two-phase structure offers substantial opportunities for misdirection. If
someone suggests reconsidering future tax cuts, the administration can accuse
him of wanting to raise taxes in a recession---implying, falsely, that he wants
to reverse Phase I rather than simply call off Phase II. On the other hand, if
someone says that tax cuts have worsened the budget picture, the administration
can say that tax cuts explain only 15 percent of the move into deficit. This
sounds definitive, but in fact it refers only to the impact of Phase I on this
year's budget; by the administration's own estimates, 40 percent of the $4
trillion deterioration in the 10-year outlook is due to tax cuts.
is, however, an art to this sort of deception: you have to imply the falsehood
without actually saying it outright. Last month the Office of Management and
Budget got sloppy: it issued a press release stating flatly that tax cuts were
responsible for only 15 percent of the 10-year deterioration. The Center on
Budget and Policy Priorities noticed, and I reported it here.
for the fun part. The O.M.B. reacted angrily, and published a letter in The
Times attacking me. It attributed the misstatement to "error," and
declared that it had been "retracted." Was it?
depends on what you mean by the word "retract." As far as anyone
knows, O.M.B. didn't issue a revised statement conceding that it had misinformed
reporters and giving the right numbers. It simply threw the embarrassing
document down the memory hole. As Brendan Nyhan pointed out in Salon, if you go
to the O.M.B.'s Web site now you find a press release dated July 12 that is not
the release actually handed out on that date. There is no indication that
anything has been changed, but the bullet point on sources of the deficit is
government tries to make excuses for its past errors, but I don't think any
previous U.S. administration has been this brazen about rewriting history to
make itself look good. For this kind of thing to happen you have to have
politicians who have no qualms about playing Big Brother; officials whose
partisan loyalty trumps their professional scruples; and a press corps that,
with some honorable exceptions, lets the people in power get away with it.
us: we hit the trifecta.
(Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company) ##
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