Fred Hiatt keeps delivering self-inflicted body blows to the dwindling reputation of the Washington Post editorial page. His latest punch to the Post‘s kidney (or is that groin?): Running a misstatement-filled piece trashing the House climate bill by one-time Reagan administration chief economist Martin Feldstein — just two weeks after the uber-right-wing Wall Street Journal editorial page ran a very similar piece by Feldstein.
Heckuva job, Freddie! What’s next — reprinting the Washington Times editorial page?
Banish forever the notion of the Washington Post editorial page as a space for presenting diverse, fact-checked views from people who don’t have widespread access to the media. Under Hiatt, the purpose of the editorial page is to repeat a narrow set of unfactchecked, ideas from the same advocates for the status quo that publish everywhere else.
You’d think that after the major hit to their reputation from the repeated publication of lies and misstatements by columnist George Will, that Washington Post editors — particular Hiatt — would stop publishing such crap on their op-ed page (see “In a blunder reminiscent of Janet Cooke scandal, the Washington Post lets George Will reassert all his climate falsehoods plus some new ones” and “The Washington Post, abandoning any journalistic standards, lets George Will publish a third time global warming lies debunked on its own pages.” You’d be wrong.
Indeed, a month ago Hiatt let James Schlesinger and Robert Hirsch trash solar and wind energy, with the Post blurb on the piece claiming, “Solar and wind power’s limits are clear, two experts say” (see “The Washington Post op-ed page remains the home of un-fact-checked disinformation about clean energy and global warming“). Hiatt did not think the few remaining readers of the Washington Post needed to know that until last year, Schlesinger sat on the board of Peabody Energy, the “world’s largest private-sector coal company” and that he served as a Director of Seven Seas Petroleum Inc. from September 1999 to December 31, 2002.
How do I know this? I emailed him and he replied, “Dear Mr. Romm. Yes, we are aware that Schlesinger sat on the board of Peabody Energy.”
Terrific. Fred and his buddies were aware the co-author of the piece trashing renewable energy is a hard-core fossil fuel guy. No need to trouble the readers with that apparently irrelevant fact.
Now we come to Hiatt flacking for the Wall Street Journal editorial page. On May 14, the WSJ op-ed page did what they do best — run a misstatement-filled piece by a rightwinger attacking some progressive policy, in this case, Martin Feldstein, chairman of Reagan’s Council of Economic Advisers from 1982 to 1984, with a piece laughably titled and subtitled, “Tax Increases Could Kill the Recovery: The cap-and trade levy would hit low-income earners especially hard.”
Memo to right-wingers, especially former Reaganites and WSJ editorial board members: No one believes you care about low income earners (see “The poor ye shall always have with you “” or at least as long as we have conservatives who pretend to care about them“). Also, the cap doesn’t start until 2012 and barely bites much until 2020, so it’s not going to “kill the recovery” — quite the reverse (see Krugman: Climate action “now might actually help the economy recover from its current slump” by giving “businesses a reason to invest in new equipment and facilities”). But I digress.
So along comes Hiatt, apparently needing to fill his quota of right-wing anti-climate, anti-clean-energy op-eds (since columns by Krauthammer, Will, and Samuelson, plus the occasional piece by Schlesinger aren’t enough). And so he publishes an op-ed by Feldstein titled, “Cap-and-Trade: All Cost, No Benefit.”
And people wonder why newspapers are dying.
Let’s compare the core argument of the two pieces for repetition and inaccuracy. Guess which excerpt is from the WSJ and which from the Post:
1. Companies would buy permits from each other as long as it is cheaper to do that than to make the technological changes needed to eliminate an equivalent amount of CO2 emissions. Companies would also pass along the cost of the permits in their prices, pushing up the relative price of CO2-intensive goods and services such as gasoline, electricity and a range of industrial products. Consumers would respond by cutting back on consumption of CO2-intensive products in favor of other goods and services. This pass-through of the permit cost in higher consumer prices is the primary way the cap-and-trade system would reduce the production of CO2 in the United States. The Congressional Budget Office recently estimated that the resulting increases in consumer prices needed to achieve a 15 percent CO2 reduction — slightly less than the Waxman-Markey target — would raise the cost of living of a typical household by $1,600 a year. Some expert studies estimate that the cost to households could be substantially higher. The future cost to the typical household would rise significantly as the government reduces the total allowable amount of CO2. Americans should ask themselves whether this annual tax of $1,600-plus per family….
2. CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf testified before the Senate Finance Committee on May 7 that the cap-and-trade price increases resulting from a 15% cut in CO2 emissions would cost the average household roughly $1,600 a year, ranging from $700 in the lowest-income quintile to $2,200 in the highest-income quintile. Since the amount of cap-and-trade tax rises with income, the cap-and-trade tax has the same kind of adverse work incentives as the income tax. And since the purpose of the cap-and-trade plan is to discourage the consumption of CO2-intensive products, energy or means of transportation by raising their cost to consumers, the consumer-price increases would be the same for a 15% reduction in C02 even if the government decides to give away some of the CO2 emissions permits.
The first excerpt is from the Post. Yes, all you need to do to get into the Washington Post is take your WSJ op-ed, rearrange the paragraphs and submit it to Fred Hiatt.
For those fact-checking at home — somebody’s gotta do it — the CBO did testify in May about the cost of climate action (and the cost of climate inaction) but they have not modeled Waxman-Markey or anything that looks like it.
But what about the claim the CBO recently estimated that “the resulting increases in consumer prices needed to achieve a 15 percent CO2 reduction — slightly less than the Waxman-Markey target”? Well, that was based on a 2000 analysis of a 15% cut from 1998 levels, quite different than Waxman-Markey. And that study didn’t model the aggressive clean energy deployment strategies that Congress and Obama have advanced in the stimulus and the climate bill. And that study was at a time of low prices whereas the reality of high oil prices again makes any target much easier and cheaper to meet.
And then we have this utterly unsubstantiated statement: “Some expert studies estimate that the cost to households could be substantially higher.” This is like the Post with their overuse of unnamed sources. Indeed, I’m surprised Feldstein didn’t write, “unnamed sources say climate bill a terrible idea.”
In fact, the MIT professor whose work is often misrepresented as projecting higher costs to households, finds “the cost to a typical family in 2015 of $80 (in terms of reduced economic welfare” (see Exclusive: MIT Professor says GOP, Weekly Standard “misrepresentation” of his April 2007 study to project costs for Waxman-Markey is “inappropriate,” “silly” and “just wrong”).
And then we have this whopper from Hiatt/Feldstein:
… the Waxman-Markey bill would give away some 85 percent of the permits over the next 20 years to various businesses instead of selling them at auction.
Simply not true. The bill auctions 15% of the allowances, but the remaining 85% do not go “to various businesses.” States start by getting more than 10% of the allowances. Technology gets several percent, as does tropical deforestation and adaptation.
Again, the appropriate timeframe is the life of the bill and as non-progressive Harvard economist Robert Stavins explained, “The appropriate characterization of the Waxman-Markey allocation is that more than 80% of the value of allowances go to consumers and public purposes, and less than 20% to private industry.”
The price of the permits and the burden to households would be the same whether the permits are sold or given away. But by giving them away the government would not collect the revenue that could, at least in principle, be used to offset some of the higher cost to households. The Waxman-Markey bill would give away 30 percent of the permits to local electricity distribution companies with the expectation that their regulators would require those firms to pass the benefit on to their customers. If they do this by not raising prices, there would be less CO2 reduction through lower electricity consumption.
I’ll address the weak argument in the final clause of the last sentence in a later post. The point for now is that the bill currently specifies that local electric utilities can’t do this by simply not raising prices (see “UPDATED exclusive report: Preventing windfalls for polluters but preserving prices “” Waxman-Markey gets it right with its allocations to regulated utilities“).
Hiatt has let Feldstein utterly misrepresent the bill, but that is no surprise since we’ve already seen the Post doesn’t do serious fact checking of its op-eds.
Debunking Post op-eds could easily be a full-time occupation. Note to Post: Why don’t you consider actually making it a full-time occupation.
Readers can write to Andrew Alexander at firstname.lastname@example.org to complain, but I can’t imagine that would do much good (see “The Post ombudsman whitewashes George Will’s columns, the editors, and his own role“).
Bottom Line: The Post continues to savage its reputation by publishing — or in this case republishing — such easily fact-checked and debunked right-wing disinformation. Fire Fred Hiatt already. Or at least move him over to obituaries where his ability to hurt the living is severely minimized.
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