Media Matters: Where facts don't. 

Media Matters has singled out my column on Monday, “Seven reasons not to vote for Democrats,” for criticism. And as per usual, they are wildly off target. Here’s what they said:

In his May 3 Washington Examiner column, Mark Hemingway writes as one of “seven reasons not to vote for Democrats,” based on statements taken from “Democratic talking points”:

4. “Two million people or more have jobs today who wouldn’t have without the bold action taken by this president and Democrats in Congress.”

According to Pew, 62 percent of Americans say the $862 billion stimulus bill isn’t working. A recent National Association for Business Economics survey shows a majority of business economists think it didn’t create jobs. And Democrats want to tout their employment record by saying, “It could have been worse”?

Read that again. Hemingway is trying to refute a factual claim — a fact confirmed by the Congressional Budget Office and Moody’s — by citing opinion polls.

Hemingway seems to think that what people perceive about something trumps reality, no matter what reality actually is. In this case, reality is pretty easy to determine; Hemingway has chosen to pretend that reality doesn’t exist.

The fact that Hemingway cites only a couple of opinion polls claiming the stimulus “isn’t working” suggests that he can’t find any actual facts making that claim. And admitting that Obama’s stimulus is working would run afoul of the Examiner’s right-wing tilt.

This is just unfair, petty and wrong. (Then again, as anyone who’s ever dealt with Media Matters can tell you, “unfair, petty and wrong” is a sort of an unofficial organizational creed.) Let us count the ways:

1) Why are there scare quotes around “Democratic talking points”? If you read the column you’d know that these were the seven themes that DNC head Tim Kaine said would be referred to as part of the Democrats national reelection message. They are literally talking points, and I am not characterizing them as such to be pejorative.

2) Again, these talking points show about the Democrats' reelection message. The fact that Americans don’t think the stimulus worked is directly pertinent to whether talking up the stimulus is an effective message for Democrats seeking reelection. That is the actual topic of my column, not some explicit attempt to prove the stimulus didn’t create jobs.

3) I did not just cite an popular opinion survey. I also cited a survey showing that a majority of business economists — who have special expertise and relevance to the debate here — did not think the stimulus had any impact. I don't put it past a Media Matters blogger to think he knows more than the collective wisdom 68 professional economists, but he should at least say so if he's going to make the claim.

4) As for their proof the stimulus is working, Media Matters cites the Congressional Budget Office and a Moody’s analysis. CBO's report on the stimulus was not based on anything happening in the economy -- and CBO readily admits to this. CBO's analysis simply assumed that stimulus spending would create growth according to a pre-set formula with pre-set multipliers. The only input is how much was spent. Further, the CBO’s stimulus job estimates for the last quarter range from 800,000 to 2.4 million. They’re basically throwing at a dartboard.

As for Moody’s, boy those rating agencies’ economic analyses have really acquired a reputation for accuracy lately, haven’t they? Seriously, though without delving into what Moody’s says, it’s pretty fair to say that the stimulus’ impact on private sector job creation is highly disputable. Moody’s says one thing, business economists say another.

However, when you weigh the current 9.7 unemployment rate against the White House’s specific promises about what the stimulus would do for jobs (unemployment was supposed to be in the 7 percent range by now), it’s safe to say that anyone who’s defending the stimulus bill and its “saved or created” sophistry is on pretty shaky ground.

But again, this is all secondary to the explicit point of my column: Telling voters that “The stimulus worked!” when they don't believe it, and when unemployment is perilously close to double digits, is a losing message. So yeah, better luck next time, Media Matters.

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Mark Hemingway

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