What if the Speaker of the House gave a speech that was just all wrong? And what if the Speaker gave that speech to a bunch of people who knew it was all wrong? Throwing out crazy statement after crazy statement, to the bewilderment of his audience, lecturing those who make their living, in part, by knowing better? Would that be a scandal?
Apparently not. John Boehner did just that, giving a speech filled with economic mumbo-jumbo to a group of Wall Street executives. Relying on GOP talking points, Boehner spoke to Economic Club of New York Monday, and received "a cool reception," according to The Hill.
"The Speaker's stand drew little reaction from the banquet hall of Wall Street executives," the paper reported, "who offered polite applause at the end of Boehner's speech but sat in silence through his demands on the debt limit."
Bloomberg gets into the details of just how wrong Boehner was on the facts, reporting that Boehner "built his case on several assertions that are contradicted by market indicators and government reports." For example, "that government borrowing was crowding out private investment, the 2009 economic-stimulus package hurt job creation, and a Republican plan to privatize Medicare will give future recipients the 'same kinds of options' lawmakers have."
None of this stuff is true, Boehner's audience knew it wasn't true, and the speech flopped. For example, the idea that government borrowing "crowds out" private capital is being proven untrue before our very eyes -- if could actually happen, it would be happening now. And it's not.
Writing for the Washington Post, Ruth Marcus said Boehner's remarks were based on an "incoherent, impervious-to-facts economic philosophy." And then she gets to the heart of the real problem:
Reporters naturally tend to ignore this boilerplate. Journalistically, that makes sense. Boehner's economic comments were nothing particularly new. Indeed, they reflect what has become the mainstream thinking of the Republican Party. But that's exactly the point. We become so inured to hearing this thinking that we neglect to point out how wrong it is.
We live in a world where "House Speaker Addresses Wall Street; Statements Are Economic Gibberish" is not an allowable headline. Bloomberg's audience is the investor class, so they can get away with it -- it's often said that the business page is generally the truest news in the paper. To find them debunking economic flateartherism should surprise no one.
But for the rest of the press, the story that the man who is third in line to the presidency babbled nonsense in an economic policy speech is a non-story. There are two sides to every story, the press believes, and if one of those sides is complete fantasy, so what? The media exists to report what people say, not what's true. If John Boehner says that the problem with the economy is a shortage of unicorn milk, then John Boehner says the problem is unicorn milk. Let's get a couple of talking heads to yell at each other over it. One takes the pro-side, one takes anti-, and when it's all done you're just as poorly informed as you were before. The only real takeaway for the news consumer is that there's a profound disagreement on the influence unicorn milk holds over the economy. You haven't learned a damned thing -- and now a pollster calls to get your opinion on it.
Think of the seriously awful way the media handled the death panels lie. Are there going to be death panels? Aren't there? Who even knows? We'll just report on the controversy, get morons to shout over each other to demonstrate the controversy, and our job is done. The truth? The truth is that there's a controversy. Reporting any truth other than that would be bias. Bias would be bad -- even if that bias is in favor of truth.
So John Boehner can stand before Wall Street investors, tell them that the financial system is infested with mischievous elves, and that's not news. That's not a scandal. That's one man's opinion. It would be wrong for media outlets to make a big deal out of that, because that would be choosing sides. Objectivity means that you write down all the crazy stuff some lunatic says, then get someone else to rebut it. Who's right? Who's wrong?