Today’s Anne Applebaum column is pretty good, but it also appeared on the Washington Post’s op-ed page so apparently she decided to toss a major misstatement of fact into the piece in order to ensure it passes muster with the editors. Hence:
Yet it is Social Security, Medicare and the ever-expanding list of earmarks — federal grants — that are going to sink the American budget in the next few decades, not President Obama’s health-care reform (though that won’t help). Yet in Washington, these expenditures are known as “third rails”: If you touch them, you’re dead.
She’s managed to pack two or three different mistakes into the sentence. For one thing, the expansion of earmarks has no budgetary impact whatsoever. For another thing, President Obama’s Affordable Care Act will in fact reduce the budget deficit according to the Congressional Budget Office, the Joint Tax Committee, and the Office of Management and Budget. If Applebaum has some argument that these authorities are mistaken, she’s welcome to present it, but it’s odd for her to simply state that they’re mistaken as a matter of fact without even acknowledging that the main budgetary authorities disagree with her. Last, though I’m not sure whether it should count as a separate error or an extension of the previous one, Applebaum seems not to realize that the aforementioned Affordable Care Act does in fact touch Medicare expenditures.
Something that I don’t think The Washington Post’s editors fully realize is that people who read the columns that appear in their paper—and the syndicated versions of those columns that appear in papers across the country—generally believe that The Washington Post’s editors take some kind of action to ensure the factual content of the stories that appear in their newspaper. The op-ed page doesn’t come with a banner saying “WARNING: THIS IS THE OPINION SECTION WHERE WE LET CONSERVATIVES MAKE THINGS UP.” But the policy of the paper is, in fact, that if conservatives want to make things up in the op-ed pages they are free to do so. Under the circumstances, I’m not entirely certain why the Post doesn’t offer that disclaimer. Presumably they think it would be bad for business for people to realize that a certain share of their daily “opinion” content consists of false assertions of fact. But if this is what they believe, they ought to take some steps to reduce or eliminate the quantity of such assertions in their pages.