Favorite

Lyons: Lying about Obamacare 

click to enlarge Niall Ferguson Newsweek image

During a presidential campaign, the temptation is always to melodrama. Having spent most of 20 years lamenting the vanishing professional ethics of the news media, I nevertheless found myself gobsmacked, as the Brits say, by Newsweek's cover story by Harvard University historian Niall Ferguson entitled "Obama's Gotta Go."

Ferguson's surely entitled to his opinions (although not his vote, as he's a British subject, not an American citizen) but to paraphrase the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, he's not entitled to his own facts. Riddled with ludicrous errors and manifest deceptions, the article's publication on the cover of a major news magazine at first struck me as ominous.

That Ferguson's a professor made things worse. Academics theoretically hold themselves to more strenuous standards than journalists. I even found myself rummaging around in the University of Virginia honor code, where I went to school, for definitions of academic fraud.

And yes, it's that bad. Vote for whomever you like. But if you make your choice based upon the following howler, then you've been had: "The president pledged that health-care reform would not add a cent to the deficit," Ferguson charged. "But the CBO and the Joint Committee on Taxation now estimate that the insurance-coverage provisions of the [Affordable Care Act] will have a net cost of close to $1.2 trillion over the 2012–22 period."

In fact, as New York Times columnist and Princeton economist Paul Krugman pointed out, the Congressional Budget Office concluded that Obamacare will actually reduce the yearly budget deficit by an estimated $210 billion over the decade. There's a chart documenting that non-obscure fact on page two of the CBO report.

Krugman demanded a correction by Newsweek.

Instead, editor Tina Brown's latest plaything allowed Ferguson to double-down. Rather than apologize, he posted an online rejoinder calling Krugman's objection "truly feeble," and boasting that he'd "very deliberately" written " 'the insurance coverage provisions of the ACA,' not 'the ACA.' "

In short, Ferguson very deliberately misled his readers to the tune of $1.4 trillion — considering only the debit half of Obamacare's balance sheet, but not its revenues and savings. Then he falsely cited the CBO to cover his tracks.

Even his alibi quoted the CBO report out of context. Internet sleuths quickly caught him out. A flabbergasted John Cassidy summarized in the New Yorker: "[O]ne more time: The Oxford-trained, Harvard-employed, Newsweek contributor Niall Ferguson just edited the CBO report to change its meaning."

To repeat, it's perfectly legitimate to doubt the CBO's conclusions or to argue that Obamacare will prove a budget buster. What's not OK is falsifying quotes and misrepresenting data.

(According to the UVa student Honor Code, "alteration of data to deliberately mislead," constitutes academic fraud, punishable by expulsion. With Harvard alumni crying foul from sea to shining sea, I just thought I'd throw that in.)

Nor is it just Obamacare that makes Ferguson crazy. His Newsweek article is riddled with similar absurdities everywhere you look. Writing in The Atlantic, Matthew O'Brien documented a dozen factual/logical blunders the embattled historian couldn't explain away.

Some are so transparent as to evoke laughter, such as Ferguson's complaint that while the stock market has risen 74% on Obama's watch, "the total number of private-sector jobs is still 4.3 million below the January 2008 peak."

What happened next, if you've forgotten, was the worst financial crisis since the 1930s. By the time of Obama's 2009 inauguration, the economy was shedding 750,000 jobs a month.

If hardly anybody's happy with the 427,000 private sector jobs added to the US economy since Obama took over, blaming him for a crisis he inherited is hardly playing the game.

Then there's Ferguson's fraudulent lament that "nearly half the population is not represented on a taxable return....We are becoming the 50-50 nation — half of us paying the taxes, the other half receiving the benefits."

Never mind that the Bush administration wrote the current tax code. People who don't pay federal income taxes do pay many other kinds of taxes. Challenged by The Atlantic's O'Brien, Ferguson again resorted to weasel-words, sniffing that "I specifically said 'taxable return.' "

Do let's be charitable. It's remotely possible that Ferguson doesn't know that almost every American with any income whatsoever must file a return remitting payroll taxes which in turn finance Social Security and Medicare — the U.S. government's two largest benefit programs by far.

In short, the tax lament's humbug too.

I'm not one to wax sentimental about the glory days at Newsweek. But when I worked there during the 1980s, a phalanx of fact-checkers would have spiked Ferguson's screed before it reached galley proofs. Today's magazine employs none. Meanwhile, the good news is the vigorous, Internet-driven pushback the article's gotten.

Exactly why a man like Ferguson would sacrifice his academic reputation for the sake of this demagogic rubbish is a bit of a mystery.

The usual answer, however, is the lure of power.

Favorite

Speaking of Paul Krugman, Niall Ferguson

  • The stakes for the planet in the 2016 election

    February 29, 2016
    Paul Krugman in this morning's New York Times argues that "the choice in 2016 is starker than ever before." Okay, people say that every year, but Krugman argues that the chasm between the parties on climate change — and the potential for the next president to determine whether "the ongoing revolution in renewable energy" continues — means that the stakes for the planet in the 2016 election are "deadly serious." /more/
  • Picture worth a thousand words department: Employment under Obama

    December 29, 2015
    I am hoping that Steve Benen, who created the graph above using figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics won't mind that I've stolen his image from MSNBC, where Benen writes about President Obama's "jobs-killing agenda." /more/
  • National unemployment rate falls below 6 percent for first time since summer of 2008

    October 3, 2014
    Good news from today's jobs reportwith nonfarm payrolls growing by 248,000 jobs in September. The unemployment rate is now 5.9 percent, the lowest it's been in more than six years. Today marks the first time the nation has ever recorded a four-year straight period of positive employment growth. Doesn't look like Obamacare is ruining the economy so far! Will the good news help Democrats or incumbents in November? /more/
  • Welfare, entitlements and race: The old Republican dog whistle

    March 17, 2014
    New York Times opinion writers have appointed things to say about Republican opposition to welfare handouts: 1) Depends on who's getting the handouts and 2) when they say it's not about race, it's about race. The Arkansas legislature evidences the same mindset. /more/
  • Let them eat slime

    April 2, 2012
    Paul Krugman calls slime slime — pink slime, in fact — in his column about the Republican move to turn the U.S. into a feudal nation by passing Paul Ryan's budget last week. /more/
  • Laying blame for the financial mess

    May 9, 2011
    Hold on, Paul Krugman says, before you go blaming an unrealistic and uninformed public for our financial crisis.These days Americans get constant lectures about the need to reduce the budget deficit. /more/
  • Lies, damn lies, Republicans

    December 24, 2010
    If you watch Fox News or similar, you probably believe government employment has been exploding. /more/
  • More »

Comments (9)

Showing 1-9 of 9

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-9 of 9

Add a comment

More by Gene Lyons

  • Trump show

    The first thing to understand is that before it's a presidential election, it's a TV program. To the suits at CNN, NBC and Fox News, that means it's about ratings and money. So of course they're going to play it as a cliffhanger.
    • May 26, 2016
  • Back off the saddle again

    What do Genghis Khan, William the Conqueror and Geronimo all have in common? Mighty warriors, they died not in battle, but by falling off horses.
    • May 19, 2016
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • The cult of gun-toting

    That Idaho mother shot to death by her 2 year-old son in a Walmart store? Judging by Veronica Jean Rutledge's biography, you can be just about certain that she'd driven to the store wearing a seat belt, with her little boy buckled carefully into his car seat.
    • Jan 8, 2015
  • In God's name

    Because I'm not running for anything, I can give it to you straight: Christianity pretty much got out of the genocide business when church and state became separated in the United States and Europe following the American Revolution.
    • Feb 12, 2015
  • Dog life

    As I write, the love of my life is off to the state penitentiary. I expect her back at the farm in late afternoon. She's a volunteer with "Paws in Prison," an organization that matches homeless dogs with inmate trainers.
    • Nov 20, 2014

Most Shared

  • Trump show

    The first thing to understand is that before it's a presidential election, it's a TV program. To the suits at CNN, NBC and Fox News, that means it's about ratings and money. So of course they're going to play it as a cliffhanger.
  • Brantley: Free lunch Asa

    Gov. Hutchinson has just proved there is a free lunch. Thanks to the recent special legislative session, he can have his money, dodge accountability and claim it's good government.
  • Planned Parenthood: more than abortion

    IUDs, LGBT care, STI treatment — there's a whole alphabet of services at clinics.
  • The Mansion takeover: Of course it was Hutchinson's idea

    Of course the take over of the Governor's Mansion by Asa Hutchinson was his idea, not that of legislators who claimed credit. And the reason portends changes in historic appearance and use of what was once the people's mansion.
  • Truth, not Trump

    The rationalists in both parties and the nonpartisan public have little time left to sort out Donald Trump and his magic with the lusty crowds that show up for his rallies, hang on his tweets, follow his Fox News gabfests and give him outsized votes in the primaries.

Latest in Gene Lyons

  • Trump show

    The first thing to understand is that before it's a presidential election, it's a TV program. To the suits at CNN, NBC and Fox News, that means it's about ratings and money. So of course they're going to play it as a cliffhanger.
    • May 26, 2016
  • Back off the saddle again

    What do Genghis Khan, William the Conqueror and Geronimo all have in common? Mighty warriors, they died not in battle, but by falling off horses.
    • May 19, 2016
  • Silly season

    For a man with a satirical turn of mind, presidential election years can be trying. Apparently your humble, obedient servant here isn't angry enough to participate fully in the festivities.
    • May 12, 2016
  • More »

Event Calendar

« »

May

S M T W T F S
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
8 9 10 11 12 13 14
15 16 17 18 19 20 21
22 23 24 25 26 27 28
29 30 31  

Most Viewed

  • Brantley: Free lunch Asa

    Gov. Hutchinson has just proved there is a free lunch. Thanks to the recent special legislative session, he can have his money, dodge accountability and claim it's good government.
  • Trump show

    The first thing to understand is that before it's a presidential election, it's a TV program. To the suits at CNN, NBC and Fox News, that means it's about ratings and money. So of course they're going to play it as a cliffhanger.
  • Truth, not Trump

    The rationalists in both parties and the nonpartisan public have little time left to sort out Donald Trump and his magic with the lusty crowds that show up for his rallies, hang on his tweets, follow his Fox News gabfests and give him outsized votes in the primaries.

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Trump show

    • Well put, Vanessa.

    • on May 27, 2016
  • Re: Truth, not Trump

    • Ernie,you need to read outside of your inner circles. You make statements out of context…

    • on May 27, 2016
  • Re: Trump show

    • What Trump needs is a sycophant like Gene"Would I lie to U" Lyons. There is…

    • on May 26, 2016
 

© 2016 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation