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Monday, March 01, 2004

VandeHei Watch: 3.1.04

Welcome to March! Jim VandeHei and John F. Harris have an article on Sunday's debate on the front page of Monday's Post, and I think it is unduly harsh on John Kerry.

Describing how John Edwards attacked him as a Washington insider, they write, "His irritation evident, Kerry responded, 'Last time I looked, John ran for the United States Senate, and he's been in the Senate for the last five years. That seems to me to be Washington, D.C.'" Was it really "irritation" that made Kerry respond to Edwards' nonsensical critique by pointing out such an obvious fact? Is it not acceptable to defend oneself in such a basic manner? I think Edwards' fatuous "I'm an outsider!" schtick is deserving of an irritated response, frankly. Media bias in favor of Edwards, much discussed in recent weeks, seems to live on.

The other questionable part of the article deals with the discussion during the debate of VandeHei's Sunday Post article that charged Kerry with proposing $165 billion more in spending than he is able to pay for. That article was covered in Sunday's VandeHei Watch, and it is revisited in Monday's paper as follows:

Edwards opened a new line of attack in New York, accusing Kerry of advocating more spending proposals than he could pay for with his tax increases. Pointing to a report in Sunday's Washington Post showing Kerry has promised to spend at least $165 billion more than his tax package could finance during his first term in office, Edwards said the front-runner is offering the "same old Washington talk people have been listening to for decades."

Kerry, noting sarcastically that he thought "John would have learned by now not to believe everything he reads in a newspaper," termed the story "inaccurate."

He said The Post did not take into account the plan's emphasis on "stimulus," spending that he maintained "is by definition something you do outside of the budget for one or two years." This argument, which echoes the case President Bush has made on behalf of tax cuts and one that many Democrats criticized, was not made by Kerry's policy advisers in interviews before the article was published.

Kerry also said during the debate and during a town hall meeting later in the day that $139 billion in Medicare savings should have been factored in. But a top Kerry adviser said afterward that most of that savings would come after the candidate's first four years in office. On Sunday night, the adviser did not dispute that Kerry has promised to spend at least $165 billion more than he would save with his tax package and said the candidate was simply trying to highlight his confidence in reducing the deficit.

I think Kerry was actually being serious, rather than sarcastic, in denying the veracity of the Sunday article. The critique of the stimulus argument seems fair, but the Medicare argument underlines that we don't know whether the Post's calculation takes into account every part of Kerry's program or not. There's still no full-scale explanation of where the $165 billion figure comes from. What I would like to see is a breakdown of the full federal budget, estimated costs of all of Kerry's new spending and estimated revenues from his tax proposals. Then I would be able to judge the accuracy of the $165 billion claim. Seeing it just thrown out there, however, I'm not convinced. Why should I trust the Wasington Post over the candidate on this? Neither has proven anything to me on this question. In other words, the complaints from yesterday's watch remain. You'd figure that in two articles on this, the Post might want to lay out the numbers to back up such a key assertion.

I'm not so keen on the use of the anonymous "top Kerry adviser" here either. Who is to say whether this person is credible when we don't know who it is? Even so, I realize anonymous sources are a fact of life in newspaper reporting, as Okrent said in his Sunday Times Public Editor column. Okrent pointed to the new Times guidelines for using confidential news sources in the column, and they go into effect today, so have a look if it's of interest.