The G-File

Knox, Media Bias, and Hoover’s Mistake

Dear Reader, (and faster-than-light neutrinos who’ve already read this column),

As some of you may know, the Goldberg household often begins the day by watching The Today Show. We’re not proud of it, but it’s not always terrible, and there’s value to be had in seeing how the legacy media covers things. Yes, I realize I sound like a bit like a trucker defending his collection of kitten posters (“Hang in there, baby!”).

Anyway, The Today Show has been covering the Amanda Knox story like the nation is transfixed by it. Now, maybe the nation is transfixed by it and I am so cocooned in my political bunker I’ve lost my Fingerspitzengefühl for the Zeitgeist. I really have no way of telling, because nobody I know ever talks about it and the only news I get about the story of this attractive American girl comes from The Today Show. And going by that alone, I can only conclude the Italians have wrongfully convicted a girl who should be in Noxzema ads and this is more important than pretty much any other news story because pretty much every Today Show anchor has been out to Italy to hone their Fingerspitzengefühl for the state of Perugian justice.

Just this morning, Matt Lauer was “reporting” from there but still managed to get in a few words about the assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki.

Anyway, I bring this up for the simple reason that I’m always telling people that there are many kinds of media bias, not just liberal media bias. (This can be a little awkward when the subject of media bias hasn’t come up naturally, as when the cashier at the supermarket asks, “Did you find everything you were looking for today?” and I respond, “You know, there are many kinds of media bias . . .”)

If this trial was in, say, Whitehorse, Canada, in February, I sincerely doubt we would have seen Ann Curry, Matt Lauer, and Lester Holt rotating their pilgrimages to ensure that there was no miscarriage of Yukon justice. But, you know, a jaunt to Perugia in late summer or early fall is not exactly hardship duty. Heck, since today is Friday, Matt can make a nice long weekend out of it. Do you think these murder mysteries in the Bahamas and Caribbean are given so much attention solely because the story is so compelling and rich, as Ron Burgundy would say?

Obviously, location bias is not the only bias either. If Amanda Knox had been a horse-faced 40-year-old dude, we might not have heard so much about this case. Similarly, it is an outrageous fact that missing black girls don’t get the same coverage as missing white girls.

Also, if Knox didn’t have a sympathetic family to interview constantly, perhaps coverage would suffer. Which brings us to a different kind of bias. Because this is a “national obsession,” The Today Show spends most of its time working from the assumption that Knox is innocent and that her family’s ordeal is therefore particularly acute.

Now, Knox may be innocent. I have no idea. The Wikipedia entry is pretty confusing on the issue. But you’d think guilt and professional due diligence would at least prompt The Today Show — which is part of NBC News, after all — to spend a bit more time speculating about that.


Suskinder, Gentler Press Corps

But let’s not give short shrift to liberal media bias. For instance, when Ron Suskind wrote not one but two flawed attacks on the Bush White House, the mainstream media took it all at face value. To this day we still take it on faith that someone in the Bush White House mocked liberals for living in the “reality-based community.”

But now that Suskind is embarrassing the Obama White House, everyone is deeply, deeply dubious that Suskind himself is a member of the reality-based community. Which — hey, look at that! — brings us right back to The Today Show. As Byron York pointed out, when Suskind was invited on The Today Show to discuss his anti-Bush book, the interview might as well have been conducted by Suskind’s publicist. When it’s his Obama book, he gets grilled as some sort of the flim-flam man.

Or consider Slate’s Jacob Weisberg. He got the pneumatic tubes of the interwebs a-buzzing recently with his pretty devastating review of Suskind’s Confidence Men. The headline for his review:

Don’t Believe Ron: Suskind. His book about Obama is as spurious as the ones he wrote about Bush.

And here’s his first paragraph:

As an editor, you develop a B.S. meter — an internal warning system that signals caution about journalism that doesn’t feel trustworthy. Sometimes it’s a quote or incident that’s too perfect — a feeling I always had when reading stories by Stephen Glass in the New Republic. Sometimes it’s too many errors of fact, the overuse of anonymous sources, or signs that a reporter hasn’t dealt fairly with people or evidence. And sometimes it’s a combination of flaws that produces a ring of falsity, the whiff of a bad egg. There’s no journalist who sets off my [male bovine excrement] alarm like Ron Suskind.

(Note: I bowdlerized the term that rhymes will full-knit out of fear it would get snagged on spam filters like Dom DeLuise’s cape when he crawls under a barbed-wire fence).

This is all fine and dandy, as far as I’m concerned. Except, as Inspector Columbo might say, one last question: Why didn’t Weisberg tell us this before? Search Slate, which he was editor of during the Bush years and is now the CEO of, and you’ll find bazillions of references to Suskind. Weisberg even participated in an online debate with Suskind, and he ended up agreeing with Suskind and disagreeing with Bob Woodward, a point Weisberg highlighted in Newsweek as late as 2009.

Funny how it becomes an imperative to shout “Don’t Believe Ron Suskind” only when what Ron Suskind has to say becomes inconvenient.


The Hoover Myth

Even though this seems to be an all-media bias G-File, that doesn’t mean we can’t go high-brow. (“This is usually where you’d make a pull-my-finger joke” — The Couch.) Pull my finger!

My friend and AEI colleague Nick Schulz has done something I don’t have the intestinal fortitude to do: Read John Judis’s New Republic cover story on the economy. Apparently Judis believes he’s cornered Mitt Romney on the Achilles heel of Romney’s — and the GOP’s — economic agenda. Judis confronted Romney and asked him:

I want to ask you something about history. You know, when Herbert Hoover had to face a financial crisis and then unemployment, his strategy was to balance the budget and cut spending, and that made things worse. When Roosevelt came in, unemployment was twenty-five and went to fourteen percent by 1937. With deficits. Aren’t you repeating the Hoover mistake?

Ah, the “Hoover Mistake,” capitalized for your eternal reifying pleasure.

If you ever doubt that liberal historians have imbibed the partisan talking points of the New Deal, you need look no further than the maligned figure of Herbert Hoover. Judis’s characterization is simply what “everyone knows” to be true about Hoover’s response to the Depression of 1929. I say “the Depression” and not “the Great Depression” because it took FDR, the Tony the Tiger of liberalism, to make it Grrrrrrrrrrreaaat!

The problem is that almost everything “everybody knows” about Hoover is wrong. This creates a real challenge for conservatives and libertarians because while Hoover the man was very impressive, Hoover the Progressive Republican was, well, a Progressive Republican. As anyone who’s read Liberal Fascism should remember, Hoover was all-in on Wilson’s war socialism, serving as national food administrator; he considered “supper . . . one of the worst pieces of extravagance that we have in this country.” He promulgated the Little American’s Promise, a pledge card every child was expected to sign:

At table I’ll not leave a scrap 

Of food upon my plate. 

And I’ll not eat between meals but

For supper time I’ll wait.

I make that promise that I’ll do

My honest, earnest part

In helping my America

With all my loyal heart.

For kids who couldn’t read yet, he offered them a nursery rhyme:

Little Boy Blue, come blow your horn!

The cook’s using wheat where she ought to use corn

And terrible famine our country will sweep,

If the cooks and the housewives remain fast asleep!

Go wake them! Go wake them! It’s now up to you!

Be a loyal American, Little Boy Blue!

Hoover was such a card-carrying Progressive, guess who considered running on his ticket as vice president in 1920? Wilson’s toady at the Navy Department, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

But none of that matters. Hoover was a crazy, heartless libertarian, don’t you know anything?! I mean, just look at what a spendthrift he was during the Great Depression! Hoover mistake, Hoover mistake, Hoover mistake! I’m not listening to you!

Well, if you tell a certain breed of libertarian that Hoover was a budget-balancing fiscal tightwad, you’ll get punched in the face, at least figuratively. Here’s Tim Taylor:

Hoover’s budget strategy over his term of office was not to balance the budget. The budget ran a small deficit of -.6% of GDP in 1931, followed by a much larger deficits of 4.0% of GDP in 1932 and 4.5% of GDP in fiscal year 1933 (which, as Judis points out at a different point in his discussion, started in June 1932 and was thus mostly completed before Roosevelt took office in 1933).

Let me say it clearly: Hoover didn’t cut spending. In nominal terms, federal government spending went from $3.3 billion in 1930 to $4.6 billion in 1933. As Taylor notes, given the price deflation that came with the crash, the real federal outlays nearly tripled from 3.4 percent of GDP in 1930 to 8.0 percent of GDP in FY 1933.

In the spring of 1930, the New York Times said of Hoover’s efforts, “No one in his place could have done more” and “very few of his predecessors could have done as much.”

But, hey, maybe Hoover’s reputation as a spendthrift of Jack Fowlerian proportions (Jack, as you should know, is the head suit here at NR; he’d object but he’s busy searching for a 10 percent off at Arby’s coupon I told him was in the corner of a round room) is derived from his effort to cast himself as a responsible steward of the public fisc. Er, no. Here’s Hoover defending his record in his acceptance speech at the 1932 convention as he prepared to run for another term:

Two courses were open to us. We might have done nothing. That would have been utter ruin. Instead, we met the situation with proposals to private business and to the Congress of the most gigantic program of economic defense and counterattack ever evolved in the history of the Republic. We put that program in action. Our measures have repelled these attacks of fear and panic . . . We have used the credit of the Government to aid and protect our institutions, both public and private. We have provided methods and assurances that none suffer from hunger or cold amongst our people. We have instituted measures to assist our farmers and our homeowners. We have created vast agencies for employment.

Perhaps because I am so cynical, I’m no longer shocked that liberal historians and Democratic politicians still cling to the Hoover myth, but what is amazing to me is how liberal economists who swear they are empiricists and fact-finders propagate it as well. Paul Krugman is constantly invoking the Hoover myth. So is Brad DeLong, who has driven many decent students of economic history to the point of sputtering rage with his insistence that Hoover was a “liquidationist.”

The Hoover myth endures for a simple reason — it has to. Because otherwise the FDR myth will tip over.


Various & Sundry


I returned to the Riccochet Podcast this week.

Here’s my column on the radicalization of the “center” under Obama.

Bomb shelters!

Frank Miller’s holy terror!

I passed 25,000 Twitter followers today. Which means I am only 975,000 away from my goal.

Correckshuns! Last week’s G-File misidentified Omega House as Delta House in Animal House. I also said Slim Pickens rode an ICBM when he clearly just rode a bomb. I beg thy forgiveness.


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