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Thursday, March 25, 2004

VandeHei Watch 3.25.04: Doing the Math!

Well, sort of, at least. Two days ago I implored Jim VandeHei to do the math--or at least share it with us--regarding charges that Kerry's budget numbers don't add up. In Thursday's Post, we get a joint effort by VandeHei and Dan Balz that partly does what VandeHei should've done weeks ago in laying out the important fiscal figures for readers. "In a War of Words Over Numbers, Both Campaigns Have Problems" is the headline above the "analysis" piece running on A5.

The content seems reasonable throughout, leaving me only to make a broader critique of the article's overall structure. This paragraph sums up the main point nicely:

Peter R. Orszag of the Brookings Institution has looked at the ideas and plans and found both campaigns wanting. "The administration's budget is somewhere between misleading and dishonest," he said, "and I just don't have enough information from the Kerry side to render a judgment."

Despite assurances that Kerry's camp is still working on a full-fledged budget that they hope to release soon, most of the article focuses on Kerry's budgetary promises and how they have been attacked by the GOP. I give VandeHei and Balz credit for juxtaposing this Kerry critique with reminders of the disastrous fiscal policies of the Bush administration, though I still think they're going out of their way somewhat to appear neutral and non-partisan in a way that hurts the reporting.

The stuff debunking Bush's attacks, such as the president's false claim that Kerry intends to increase everyone's taxes, is welcome to see in the Post. My only wish is that this material were more central to the article, which leads off with the scrutiny of Kerry's still-unfinished budget, rather than coming more toward the latter half. There's not quite the emphasis I wish we would see calling the Bush administration's credibility into question on the basis of the misleading forecasts they have repeatedly put out in the last few years (a brief mention of the withholding of the real cost of the Medicare bill would've been nice to throw in, perhaps). The headline's statement that "both have problems" also seems to equate the sides too much, omitting that Kerry naturally will have less detail than the incumbent at this point and that the administration's own records deserve tougher scrutiny based on 2001-2004. Still, this article does much better than repeating GOP spin, an indication the coverage may be heading in a promising direction.