August 18, 2008

Whatever Happened to David Cay Johnston? Former NYT Business Journalist’s Leftiness Is In Full Bloom

DavidCayJohnston0808.jpegA former New York Times investigative journalist who wrote primarily on business and taxation will soon be speaking at a “progressive” gathering.

Further, in his inaugural column at a post-Times gig, he misrepresented the nature of the 1980 and 2000 tax-cut proposals by the Republican presidential candidates.

Finally, in another post-Times tax column, he used vitriolic class warfare-based language in analyzing matters relating to tax compliance.

Surprised? If you’re familiar with the work of David Cay Johnston from when he toiled at the Times, probably not.

About a year ago, yours truly and Mr. Johnston had a bit of a dust-up (at NewsBusters; at BizzyBlog.com) over his questionable use of IRS tax return data in this Times article (August 21, 2007; “2005 Incomes, on Average, Still Below 2000 Peak”). To make a tediously long story very short, Johnston used the IRS data, which sort of approximates “gross income,” to reach erroneous and broad conclusions about what Americans “had to make ends meet” (i.e., after-tax income).

Johnston’s article and my posts created a bit of a blogospheric stir. He posted comments at the original BizzyBlog post (here and here). Johnston gets credit for responding, but other commenters generally gave him demerits for his responses. While I made a relatively small mistake in our back and forth and acknowledged it, Johnston made at least six, a couple of them real doozies. As far as I know, Johnston has never admitted to any mistake of significance.

But rather than rehash the numbers battle, I’m more interested in Johnston’s assertions within his comments that he played his reporting straight, assertions he in essence repeated to me in phone discussions:

  • (Comment 4) The idea that in the most scrutinized news report in the world I could twist facts for some venal purpose is laughable. We fire reporters who do that and we should.
  • (Comment 4) I did not get into this line of work more than 40 years ago to make things up or twist them. If I wanted to I would have become a novelist or a screenwriter.
  • (Comment 74) Next year, whatever the numbers are and assuming I am still walking around, I’ll report whatever they show, too.

If Johnston is going to report on this year’s IRS data, he won’t be doing it for what remains of the Times. His last article was on March 18. Wikipedia says that he took a buyout, and is now an “independent reporter.”

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August 26, 2008 Update: Johnston unexpectedly made a comeback appearance at the Times and wrote up this report based on 2006 IRS AGI data. As noted here without detailed delving (none is really necessary, as it flunks the smell test in the first sentence), it’s right up (really down) there with last year’s. A more accurate and meaningful rendering of the income situation during the decade thus far is here (“The Pernicious ‘No Real Economic Progress’ Myth”).

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So what is David Cay Johnston up to?

If three items I’ve recently come across are any indication, it would seem that Mr. Johnston has become quite a bit more agenda-driven and fact-free. Either that, or he’s been that way all along, but can now operate without a mask.

The first item: Johnston is speaking at a BuzzFlash Conference in late September (bolds and links in excerpt are mine):

David Cay Johnston and Jeffrey Feldman to Speak at BuzzFlash Sep. 27 Philly Conference

We’re slowly revealing the all star and diverse line up of progressives, labor, and working class speakers (and this will be interactive, not just speeches). First we were proud to let you know that Richard Trumka, second in command at the AFL-CIO, will be addressing the group. And we also revealed that Joe Bageant, author of “Deer Hunting with Jesus: Dispatches from America’s Class War,” will be speaking at the conference. Today, we wanted you to know of two more speakers (and we will be announcing more in the near future): David Cay Johnston, Pulitzer Prize winning author of “Perfectly Legal” and “Free Lunch,” will discuss why the working class should be concerned about government economic policies of the last few decades. And Jeffrey Feldman, “framing” expert and author of “Outright Barbarous: How the Violent Language of the Right Poisons American Democracy” will also be offering his insights.

BuzzFlash.net bills itself as “Progressive News and Commentary with an Attitude.”

It’s so nice to see that “objective investigative journalist” David Cay Johnston has found a venue such as this where he can “objectively” present his work as a “progressive, labor, and working class speaker.”

The second item: Johnston began writing a column for Tax Notes called “Johnston’s Take.” His inaugural offering was posted at the TaxProf blog in late June, complete with “objective” statements such as this one (bold is mine):

….. this is not 1980 or 2000, when the candidates whose vague but grand promises of lower taxes carried them to the White House.

Vague?

For the record, Reagan’s “vague” promise (scroll to July 29, 1981 at link) consisted of three consecutive annual 10% across-the-board cuts in federal income tax rates, or a total of 30%. He accepted 25% instead (5% in 1982, and 10% each in 1983 and 1984), but also included indexing the tax brackets for inflation. This prevented further inflation-driven automatic tax increases caused by “bracket creep.”

It wasn’t only Reagan’s promise that was “grand,” it was the result — namely, “The Seven Fat Years.”

President Bush’s promise was a “vague” $1.3 trillion in tax cuts over 10 years. The second result listed at this Google News Archive search on “$1.3 trillion” (not in quotes) shows that this is the amount Bush promised. This fourth result at this search on “$1.3 trillion signed” (again, not in quotes) shows that a $1.3 trillion tax cut is what Bush signed into law in June 2001.

Bush’s “grand” result was 44% growth in federal receipts in 4 years; too bad he and the GOP Congress didn’t sufficiently control spending when they had the chance.

Vague, schmague, David.

The third item: At his August 4 Tax Notes column posted at TaxAnalysts.com, Johnston appears poised to do his annual “analysis” of IRS data. In preparation, he rails about possibly large unpaid taxes by the super-wealthy. Fair enough, but along the way he gets awfully strident for a supposedly playing-it-straight reporter:

  • “….. the Bush administration, which came into office with a nine-figure budget surplus.” (Those were pre-Internet bubble projections, David.)
  • “The pressure to end this divide between the wage slaves and the ownership class should be intense …..”
  • “Congress treats Americans who work for wages ….. the way Ronald Reagan said we should treat the Soviets on arms reduction: Trust, but verify.”

I have a difficult time buying into the idea that David Cay Johnston was not similarly agenda-driven and fact-challenged when he was at the Times.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

Oh Boy ….. Here We Go Again

Filed under: MSM Biz/Other Bias,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 6:11 am

This is from Drew M. at Ace’s Place on Saturday, as he watched Rick Warren’s Saddleback Showdown between the one I refer to as “JS3M3″ (John Sidney the Mad Maverick McCain III) and “The One” I refer to as “Mr. BOOHOO-OUCH” (Barack O-bomba Overseas Hussein “Obambi” Obama – Objectively Unfit Coddler of Haters):

I don’t agree with McCain on a lot of things but compared to Obama he’s simply filled with substance. I don’t mean on policy prescriptions (though McCain is stronger there) but just on being a man. McCain has lived, he’s succeed (sic), he’s failed and he just come off as someone who knows himself and the world he lives in.

An all upper-case transcript of the proceedings is here.

Don’t be too hard on Drew for his indirect denigration of “The One.” He’s just echoing concerns that have been apparent ever since Obama threw his arugula in the ring.

Those concerns have primarily come from the Left. Two examples are here and here. In the second, you won’t believe (well, maybe you will) who employed “a one-word epithet that is also used to describe kitty cats” to describe “The One.”

Also, how many times in the past few weeks have we heard questions from traditional media types and Democrats (I know, that’s redundant) about whether Obama will “fight back” against this or that real or imagined slight? Update, 9AM: One such example comes from David Shuster of MSNBC, as noted in this NewsBusters post by Geoffrey Dickens.

In fact, that big “I told you so” you just heard came from Maureen (“We’re Trying to Toughen You Up”) Dowd at what remains of the New York Times (here, here, and here). Last time I checked, she’s not exactly a rightie.

My satirical take on the Left’s obsession with testosterone from early 2007 is here.

Couldn’t Help But Comment (081808, Morning)

Front-runner for “Worst Business Reporting Math Error, Ever.” In an August 12 report (HT Powerline), New York Times reporter Lynnley Browning assumed that corporations pay the highest federal income tax rate (35%) on their gross receipts, and not their profits (I’m not kidding). Thus, Browning claimed that the corporations reviewed in a GAO study of eight years of tax returns weren’t paying $875 billion in taxes on their $2.5 trillion in sales during that period. Assuming collective pretax profits of 20% of that $2.5 trillion (even that’s probably high), they would owe only $175 billion (35% of $500 bil). That’s at least a $700 billion error, even before taking into consideration Uncle Sam’s lower rates on small amounts of reported corporate profit, and the fact that many of these firms are Sub-S Corporations and LLCs, which pass through their profits and tax-paying responsibilities to the firms’ individual owners.

The Times did issue a correction at the end of the article, and took out the original erroneous text.

An error that size is appropriate, given how much latitude the Times gave former investigative journalist David Cay Johnston to annually mishandle IRS data to promote class envy for so many years. We had fun with that last year — less-than-perfect fun, but fun nonetheless.

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IBDeditorials.com made the hugely important point last Monday that one of the reasons we don’t have good estimates of the oil available on the Outer Continental Shelf is that Congress, including “The One” I refer to as “Mr. BOOHOO-OUCH” (Barack O-bomba Overseas Hussein “Obambi” Obama – Objectively Unfit Coddler of Haters) won’t let us find out. So the opposition claims that 20-40 year-old data is OK, despite decades of improvement in methods for finding and extracting oil, and getting more of it economically. Horse manure. Based on experience elsewhere, there are billions of more barrels available.

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The Clintons REALLY didn’t like “The Path to 9/11″ when it was on TV in September 2006, largely because it blew their attempt at a crafted legacy to bits. ABC, which held firm and showed the film despite intense protests, won’t release it on DVD. 2+2+??. Given that the DVD would probably make millions, there’s no business reason not to release it, and its value diminishes over time. “Path’s” producers and Disney shareholders should sue.

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Race to the bottom — The presidential candidate I refer to as “JS3M3″ (John Sidney the Mad Maverick McCain III) might name Objectively Unfit Mitt Romney as his Veep, putting a hero and a zero on the same ticket.

In what must be causing wailing and gnashing of teeth in the leftosphere (indeed), “The One” is considering naming 2004 Dem nominee John Kerry as his Veep, putting a race-baiter and a 1970s traitor on the same ticket, with the added bonus of giving us a replay of “Christmas in Cambodia.”

Each presumptive nominee needs to remember that convention delegates must approve their choice. I think there’s a legitimate chance that neither would be acceptable to their respective assembled multitudes.

Positivity: Bright future for leukaemia girl after stem-cell transplant

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 5:56 am

From Scotland:

Published Date: 09 August 2008

EVERY time three-year-old Bethanie Thomson looks at her little brother, she will be staring at the boy who saved her life.

The young leukaemia sufferer is recovering after receiving a life-saving stem cell transplant from her baby brother – without which she would have faced certain death.

Now she is taking her first steps on the road to recovery and, although she still requires 15 different types of medication and regular trips to the Sick Kids hospital in Edinburgh, and Yorkhill in Glasgow, the future is looking bright – thanks to seven-month-old Joshua.

Her dad Stuart Jackson, 31, said: “The bond between her and her brother is just amazing. We’ve always told Bethanie what a special boy he is and what he has done for her. They’re like two peas in a pod and I have never seen her look so healthy.

“She has even been able to go on rides at a funfair, which she’s never been able to do before. That was so nice to see.

“There’s a whole new world out there for her now, and that’s all because of Joshua.

“She’s still not able to stand – the doctors are looking into that – but we stand Joshua in front of her as motivation because she wants to teach him to walk.

“In many ways he is like her big brother – a mini version.”

Bethanie was diagnosed with leukaemia when she was just six months old. She bravely fought her way through it, started to learn to walk and was looking forward to a normal childhood when she relapsed aged two – just before Joshua was born on Boxing Day.

When doctors told her parents, Stuart and Vicky Thomson, from Wallyford, East Lothian, that cells from the umbilical cord were a perfect match making them suitable for a transplant they could not believe it.

Stuart said: “I didn’t really think it would work – I always had doubts. When it did work it took a few days to sink in.

“There was the possibility of a lot of side-effects afterwards, but Bethanie has breezed through it, she’s really done well.” …..

Go here for the rest of the story.

Pew Poll: Obama-McCain Statistically Tied; AP Decides It Knows Better

Filed under: MSM Biz/Other Bias,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 12:31 am

The Associated Press is so omnipotent that it can divine what poll results mean, even if it directly contradicts what the pollster says about them.

The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press announced the results of a poll it did on the presidential race on Wednesday:

Presidential Race Draws Even
GOP Base Getting Behind McCain

With less than two weeks to go before the start of the presidential nominating conventions, Barack Obama’s lead over John McCain has disappeared. Pew’s latest survey finds 46% of registered voters saying they favor or lean to the putative Democratic candidate, while 43% back his likely Republican rival. In late June, Obama held a comfortable 48%-to-40% margin over McCain, which narrowed in mid-July to 47% to 42%.

Two factors appear to be at play in shifting voter sentiment. First, McCain is garnering more support from his base – including Republicans and white evangelical Protestants – than he was in June, and he also has steadily gained backing from white working class voters over this period. Secondly and more generally, the Arizona senator has made gains on his leadership image. …..

AP must not have liked Pew’s results or its conclusions, because, in an unbylined report, it totally recast them:

Poll: Obama with slim edge over McCain nationally

THE NUMBERS
Barack Obama, 46 percent
John McCain, 43 percent

The Democrat Obama led McCain, the Republican, by 8 percentage points in June in the Pew Research Center poll, though by July his lead was 5 points, about the same as now. Since June, McCain has solidified his support among whites, men, Republicans, white evangelicals and whites who haven’t completed college. Obama has made few gains, but has retained his overwhelming advantage among blacks and leads by 13 points with women and 24 points among those under age 30.

Even for AP, this is desperately weak:

  • Pew’s margin of error was 2.5%. Pew decided that the 3% difference was close enough that it concluded that McCain has drawn even, and that Obama’s lead “has disappeared.” Oh, but AP knew better than the pollster, and turned it into a “slim lead.” It even misdirected readers by “reminding” them that Obama’s 5-point July lead was “about the same as now.” Really? Twice the margin of error is “about the same” as within a half-point of it?
  • AP’s list of where “McCain has solidified his support” (“whites, men, Republicans, white evangelicals and whites who haven’t completed college”) appears to be calculated to make him appear as the “white guy” candidate. There’s only one problem: While McCain picked up 2 points from June to August with white men (up 55-35), he picked up THREE points among white women, and is now leads Obama 46-43. I guess AP didn’t want to let that little factoid get in the way of its white male stereotyping.
  • Even AP’s statement that Obama “has retained his overwhelming advantage among blacks” is in a sense shaky. Obama’s 90-3 advantage has narrowed by 4 points to 88-5. Obviously that’s still huge, but considering that the Illinois senator consistently got 90% or more of the black vote in virtually every post-Pennsylvania primary against another Democrat, the fact that there’s any narrowing at all against McCain has to be a bit worrisome to Team Obama. But AP blew right by it.

Ed Morrissey at Hot Air got the bottom line right, noting that McCain has gained momentum, and that Obama needs to figure out a way to reverse it.

You would have barely a clue from AP’s coverage of Pew’s poll that this is what has happened. It’s hard to believe that this is accidental.

Cross-posted with slight revisions at NewsBusters.org.