By Arthur Alpert
Is a newspaper responsible for its syndicated columnists? For the columnists’ factual accuracy and intellectual honesty, I mean. It’s not an easy question. An answer in the affirmative puts a serious burden on editors. It’s time-consuming to read copy carefully and decide if it should be published as is, corrected or shelved.
Victor Davis Hanson’s column in the Albuquerque Journal Monday, January 5, under the rubric, “Oil glut saved Obama from himself”, inspired the query.
As a member of the Journal’s squad of conservative and far right syndicated columnists, Hanson’s primary role (befitting a “classicist and historian”) has been rewriter of history. A tireless cherry picker, he inevitably finds evidence in the Past for endorsing the partisan desires of today’s oligarchs.
And he is creative. I’ve never forgotten his portrayal (Feb. 13, 2014) of George Orwell as a rightist! This required that Hanson ignore testimony to the contrary from George Orwell himself, which is precisely what he did.
It was downright Orwellian.
But Hanson sometimes plays another role at the Journal. Editors use him, in rotation with other syndicated and local rightists, as a political hit man on trending political and economic issues.
As in Monday’s column, the message of which is clear if a trifle convoluted:
The American economy is not surging, but if it is surging, don’t credit President Obama. He did everything wrong. Heroic oilmen rescued us.
That’s fine. It’s an opinion column.
I’ll try to steer around the politics below so as to focus on Hanson’s accuracy and intellectual honesty – the better to discuss the Journal’s responsibility, if any.
First, though, let’s cheer the editor who wrote the headline – accurate, active voice, easily understood. Journal editors can write good rubrics when they want to.
Also, let’s note that the editors interjected information (on Albuquerque gas prices) at the very top of Hanson’s column. This is evidence they read it, worth keeping in mind.
In paragraph six Hanson claims that President Obama “promised” in the 2008 campaign “Under my plan…electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket.”
He adds that Mr. Obama proposed that, “shutting down coal plants and using higher-priced but cleaner natural gas would pave the way for even pricier mandated wind and solar generation.”
This is a canard.
In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, Mr. Obama did say those words. If, however, you credit the Washington Post’s fact checker, Hanson’s use is unfair.
When a fossil fuel lobby included that quote in an ad, WaPo’s Josh Hicks analyzed it. His Oct. 22, 2012 account headlined “Did Obama promise a ‘war on affordable energy’?” reached this conclusion:
“The American Energy Alliance used cropped footage of Obama’s 2008 interview to suggest the president is bent on raising electricity rates and bankrupting coal-powered energy plants. But the extended version of his remarks show that he supported clean-coal technology and thought it was possible to mitigate the higher electricity rates that would result from cap-and-trade.”
Yet Hanson doubled down on the American Energy Alliance misuse.
Five graphs further down, Hanson implied the Keystone XL pipeline is a factor in domestic oil supply, though TransCanada’s goal is to export its product.
In the next graph, Hanson referred to the “noble cause of curbing supposed man-made global warming.”
Forget the sneering “noble,” but make a note of the “supposed.” Hanson, a Hoover Institute scholar, is a climate change denier.
Why am I surprised?
Moving right along, Hanson writes that “sky high oil prices” proved an economic disaster.” Now I’m not certain to what disaster he refers. I hope it wasn’t Wall Street’s gift of 2008 which inspired President George W. Bush (and later, President Obama) to bail out the banks, insurance and mortgage companies that brought down the Temple.
Next Hanson complains those elevated gas prices were the reason the economy didn’t recover faster from the recession.
That’s borderline nuts. You will find few economists of any political stripe who agree.
But four graphs further down, Hanson soars. Oil and gas prices finally fell, he explains because of the “can do attitude of the private sector.
“Americans can thank the US oilman…who did the impossible.
“Oilmen, not the government, returned hundreds of millions of dollars to American consumers,” he added.
Funny, that’s not the way Pete Domenici tells it.
In Pete’s version, those heroic oilmen got a hand up from the taxpayer. As the former Senator put it in a Journal column Monday, Aug.18, 2014:
“Decades of research and development, a partnership of government and energy producers, prepared the way to current innovation.”
Domenici singled out for kudos Sandia and Los Alamos National Labs, the Bureau of Mines and the National Energy Technology Laboratory for developing the technology used in fracturing rock.
He didn’t quite say it, but the American taxpayer paid for those “decades” of R&D by, er, government agencies. Which subsidies Domenici thinks right, proper and the way to go:
“And that government-industry partnership is paramount to future breakthroughs,” he wrote.
Duly noted – Victor Davis Hanson and Pete Domenici both like the “can do” oil industry but one of them also knows what government can do for the industry.
Back to the Hoover Institution classicist/historian whose next paragraph boggles the mind:
“Almost everything Obama tried for six years in an effort to rev the economy – from near-zero interest rates and $1 trillion annual budget deficits to Obamacare and vast increases in entitlements – has failed.”
Forgive me for not parsing that sentence in full; I don’t want to slip into political commentary. But it opens with blatant ignorance – the Fed determines interest rates, not the White House. And the Constitution empowers the House on budgets, not the White House. Oh, and the Fed’s interest rate policy has been very successful; that’s the consensus not just nationally but worldwide.
Well, except for Mr. Hanson and the governor of Texas.
Time to taper off. I’ve suggested that Hanson’s essay combines (scholarly) ignorance with fierce partisanship. And that’s just in what he states affirmatively. Imagine the length of this post if I had to examine what he left out!
Like the effect of austerity on economic development, best expressed as premeditated murder. See Western Europe.
Like what the exploitation of fossil fuels does to humans and their environment. (Yes, I know Milton Friedman said corporations should shirk social responsibilities.)
Now it’s time to step back and consider the Journal editors who read Mr. Hanson’s essay riddled with basic inaccuracies and a gaping hole where intellectual honesty should be?
What to do?
Nothing, they did nothing but add a few words about gas prices in Albuquerque. Perhaps those editors agree with Hanson that the President determines interest rates and passes a budget. Perhaps they think journalists should excel in the picking of cherries.
Or maybe they just get s kick out of publishing syndicated columns proclaiming the Journal’s political agenda.