Your nation’s C-minus newspaper: We’re constantly struck by the low wattage of the New York Times’ political writing.
Latest example: Yesterday morning, Richard Oppel tried to fact-check an ad.
The ad belongs to Rick Perry. In our view, analyzing Perry’s words was a bit too much for the Times.
This is the text of Perry’s ad, which deals with jobs jobs jobs. In the ad, the candidate seems to make a rather obvious claim on his own behalf:
PERRY: As president I’ll create at least two and a half million new jobs, and I know something about that. In Texas we’ve created over one million new jobs while the rest of the nation lost over two million. I’ll start by opening American oil and gas fields. I’ll eliminate President Obama’s regulations that hurt other sources of domestic energy like coal and natural gas. That will create jobs and reduce our reliance on oil from countries that hate America. I’m Rick Perry and I approve of this message.Oppel tried to analyze that. We’d have to say he failed.
For starters, consider the number of jobs Perry says he’ll create as president. The promised number is oddly low, as Steve Benen notes in this earlier post. Let’s go beyond what Benen wrote: In Bill Clinton’s eight years in office, more than 20 million new jobs were created. (To see Paul Krugman say that, click here. The more typical claim on Clinton’s behalf is “more than 22 million new jobs.”)
It’s odd that Perry promised only 2.5 million jobs. Unless you read the New York Times, where a point like this won't be noticed.
Second, consider Oppel’s attempt to evaluate Perry’s claim about job creation in Texas. This strikes us as a very weak attempt at analysis:
OPPEL (10/27/11): In the ad, Mr. Perry also focuses on job creation—as opposed to unemployment—and it is easy to see why: Texas’ unemployment rate has risen over the last two years as the national rate dropped. (Different surveys are used to calculate the two measures; possible explanations for the seemingly contradictory numbers include more Texans working more than one job, or fewer self-employed people report finding work.)Strange. Oppel wanders off into the weeds concerning the way unemployment rates are calculated. As he does, coherence flees the scene; we’re still not entirely sure what he means when he refers to “the two measures” and “the seemingly contradictory numbers.” At any rate, he never tells us what the Texas unemployment rate actually is. It has risen in the last two years, he says, even as the national rate has dropped. But how high has the Texas rate risen? How does it compare to the national rate? How does Texas compare to other states?
Times readers never get told.
A similar problem occurs when Oppel discusses the number of jobs created in Texas during Perry’s tenure. We’re puzzled by certain parts of this passage. And isn’t something missing here too?
OPPEL: According to federal data, Texas has gained over a million jobs since Mr. Perry became governor, as he says. But Mr. Perry chooses his words carefully, and there may be a reason: Early in the campaign he was criticized for suggesting he deserved credit for new jobs in Texas when economists cited other factors, like a strong oil economy and relatively mild housing problems.Here again, Oppel seems to get lost in the weeds. He says Texas has gained over a million jobs during Perry’s tenure, just as Perry claims in the ad. But for unknown reasons, Oppel thinks Perry has “cho[sen] his words carefully” in the ad about this particular matter. Here and at the end of his piece, he wastes time musing about this impression. In the process, he fails to evaluate the rather obvious claim to expertise which Perry makes in the ad.
Perry says Texas gained a million jobs—while the nation was losing two million. It sounds like Texas has done something right on the jobs front.
Plainly, that is Perry’s suggestion. Lost in the weeds about “choosing words carefully,” Oppel fails to evaluate this implied claim. Perry says he knows a few things about creating jobs—and he cites two numbers to buttress his claim. Oppel never attempts to discuss the relevance of the second number.
This problem persists right up to the end of his piece, where Oppel offers his overall view of the ad. We find this appraisal baffling:
OPPEL: If Mr. Perry can convince voters that his policies can create jobs, it could help him in states where many people have been spent long, frustrating periods looking for work. And unlike, say, tax proposals, which voters are more efficient at determining what would be better for them, the jobs issue may be more confusing. And it may be easier for Mr. Perry to convince people of his record by using one clean number that avoids discussion of whether jobs data—or unemployment data—is the most appropriate measure, and also avoids questions about who, or what, truly deserves the credit.We find that appraisal baffling. In our view, there’s nothing confusing or nuanced about the claim Perry makes in the ad. Will any viewer find himself puzzled by the conflict between jobs data and employment data? Will anyone doubt that Perry is saying that he deserves the credit for the Texas job growth?
Maybe some voter on Mars will be puzzled. That implied claim by Perry is the whole point of the ad.
Rather plainly, Perry seems to say that he created a lot of jobs in Texas while the rest of the nation was losing jobs. “I know something about that,” he says about job creation.
But does he know how to create new jobs? Based on the numbers he cites in his ad, is there good reason to believe him?
Oppel flounders and thrashes around. Pity the fool who buys the Times expecting to sort out such questions.