Correspondence

Who's Counting?

In his review of Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush, [July/August 2006] Todd Gitlin writes that the phony accusation that Al Gore claimed to have invented the Internet appeared in the media more than 4,800 times during the 2000 presidential campaign. Gitlin does not explain how this number was calculated, nor does he indicate the exact time period covered or which media were included. However, a Lexis-Nexis search reveals only 19 mentions of the “Gore-invented-the-Internet” charge in major American newspapers between January 1, 2000, and Election Day. Moreover, the point of several of these articles was that Gore had never made such a claim but that he had been a strong supporter of the development of the Internet. Other articles in which the statement appeared were quoting a joke used by George Bush on the campaign trail. Gitlin's (and Boehlert's) claim that the media frequently and uncritically reported this accusation, like the accusation itself, appears to be greatly exaggerated.

Alan Abramowitz

Alben W. Barkley Professor of Political Science

Emory University

Atlanta, GA

Todd Gitlin responds: My source for the “more-than-4,800” claim was Boehlert's Lapdogs (p. 160). Maybe I should have checked earlier. Strangely, when I did so just now, Lexis-Nexis turned up neither 4,800-plus entries, nor the 19 that Professor Abramowitz found, but 445. But lest we succumb to the fog of dueling Nexises, I submit that we recall Karl Rove's principle: When you're explaining, you're losing. Insofar as newspapers were saying that Gore was defending himself against a deceitful charge, he sounded, to some undecided population of voters, like an evasive braggart. That was bad enough.

* * *

Who's Stressed?

Robert Kuttner [“What's the Matter with Class,” July/August] criticizes my argument that most Americans don't have a fundamental economic interest in voting Democratic by arguing that two-thirds of Americans are “economically stressed.” Unfortunately, the data he cites to support his claims are not correct.

First, the real incomes of husband-wife couples in the middle-income quintile have risen substantially (not “barely stayed even”) from $58,588 in 1979 to $71,449 in 2004. This 22-percent increase was largely due to the increased wages and work effort of the wives, while husbands' hours and pay remained constant.

Second, Kuttner misreads the data from Dew-Becker and Gordon. They show that 45 percent (not “all”) of the economic gains from productivity from 1966 to 2001 went to the top 10 percent and that 36 percent went to the middle three income quintiles.

Third, before we indict modern capitalism because of “risk shifting,” we should consider the countervailing evidence on corporate behavior and employer benefits. Over the past 15 years, the following have remained constant: the share of compensation that private companies pay for health insurance and retirement; the share of full-time, full-year workers participating in company retirement plans; the share of workers who get their health insurance through employer plans; and the share of health insurance premiums that companies pay for their employee coverage.

As I say on the PPI Web site, overstating the case of how poorly the economy has performed is an occupational hazard of progressive commentators. Inequality has risen dramatically over the last several decades, and there are plenty of needs not being met. But by presenting an overly negative picture of the financial stress faced by average Americans, average Americans won't think that we're talking about them—and they are right.

Stephen Rose

Senior Economic Fellow, ThirdWay

Robert Kuttner responds: I have long admired Steve Rose's work on inequality. I'm puzzled by his recent New Democrat tangent, acrobatically putting the best possible face on middle-class pocketbook losses, and disparaging broad social programs as pay dirt for Democrats.

Rose concedes that when couples work hundreds of additional hours annually to stay even, that reflects lost living standards. But in his DLC paper claiming only 23 percent of Americans would benefit from Democratic social programs, he slyly includes only “working-age” people, which conveniently omits Social Security, Medicare, and college aid. Read Rose closely. He misstates what's happening with employer-provided benefits, where health insurance premiums and out-of-pocket costs are shifted to employees, and 401(k) plans are replacing pensions. A tax-sheltered savings account that can run out of money is not a pension. The broad middle class would welcome government help on all these fronts.

There's a lot more to rebut. Watch for Rose's upcoming exchange with Larry Mishel and me at www.prospect.org.

Correction: In Matthew Yglesias's article, “The Price
Is Wrong” [July/August], Lawrence Lindsay's prediction of the cost of the war in Iraq was mistakenly cited as $100 million to $200 billion. It was $100 billion to $200 billion.

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