Sydney M. Williams
Thought of the Day
“Advocacy and Bias: In Media, Universities and Federal Bureaucracy”
December 11, 2017
“It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of something he was never reasoned into.”
Ascribed to Jonathon Swift (1667-1745)
We live in a time of media bias. From universities to news anchors to reporters, opinions dominate facts. “Our information environment is sick,” so warns David Patrikarakos, in his book War in 140 Characters, “…where facts are less important than narrative, where people emote rather than debate...” What is less publicized is bias in the federal government’s bureaucracy. For example, in last year’s election, 97% of Justice Department employees’ political contributions went to Hillary Clinton. She received 94% of all donations from IRS employees, and from those in the Department of Education, she received 99.7% of all monies. That bias is understandable, in the sense that Democrats are the Party of an expanding government, while Republicans would shrink it. But, still…
Trying to uncover the facts of the tax bill, the Mueller investigation, or climate change is more challenging than a 1000-piece jig-saw puzzle, and more fraught with emotion than a teen-ager. Advocacy has replaced reporting, and angry words, reasoned debate. Political partisanship is molded into our youths in our colleges and universities. Objectivity is missing from those responsible for ensuring a smooth, post-election transition from one Party to another. We have more information at our finger tips than ever before, but fewer disinterested reporters and news sources. Consequently, we are more polarized. For someone trying to make sense of the news, these barriers are almost insurmountable. A decline in print media and the rise in internet-related news, has aggravated the bias.
The tax bill has been vilified. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) called it “Armageddon,” though later walked that back. Larry Summers, economist, and former president of Harvard, said the bill would kill 10,000 people each year. There was no evidence to support such an imprudent allegation. “…Tilting the United States tax code to benefit wealthy Americans…,” is the way The New York Times put it. The article omitted the fact that the top 1% of wage earners pay 40% of all income taxes, that the top 10% pay 70%, and that the bottom 50% pay no federal income taxes. In the Wall Street Journal, Tom Steyer was hyperbolic. The plan “…puts another knife into American Democracy.” Consider the hullabaloo regarding losing or limiting the ability to deduct state and local taxes. Who gets hurt? It is not the 80% of the population that makes less than $100,000 a year. It is the wealthy, like Mr. Steyer in high-income-taxed states like California, and New York, New Jersey and Connecticut where publishers, editors and reporters of the Times live.
All governments (including states, cities and towns) rely on taxes to fund services. But why should residents of Florida, Texas and Nevada pay higher federal income tax rates than those with the same incomes in states like California and New York? Why is the State of Connecticut’s budget, on a per-capita basis, twice that of Florida, even though the latter has more immigrants and elderly, as a percent of their population, than the former?
The current federal tax code is 74,608 pages long. Complexity helps large corporations and the wealthy through special exemptions and allowances, and their ability to hire high-priced lawyers and accountants. Complexity is what feeds the denizens of Washington’s swamps. Simplification, lower taxes and reduced regulation is what encourages economic growth – a necessity for government to maintain essential programs. The best answer would be a flat tax, but that is not possible in a country of 330 million people, where legislation is crafted by 535 elected representatives, each representing different parts of the country, and each susceptible to special interests and reliant on them to fund campaigns. One might conclude that a benevolent dictator would be preferable, but there is no such thing as a dictator (or administrative state) that is benevolent.
The Mueller investigation is another example of facts rendered extraneous by a media that dislikes Mr. Trump, loyalists to the “resistance,” and by Left-leaning employees of the Justice Department. The original purpose of Robert Mueller’s probe was to uncover proof of collusion between Mr. Trump and the Russians. After seven months and almost seven million dollars, they have found nothing. The arrest of Michael Flynn on charges of lying to the FBI raised hopes on the Left, but that was for a conversation after the election. The Washington Post and The New York Times recently disclosed that Peter Strzok, a lead FBI investigator – a chief lieutenant to former FBI Director James Comey – was demoted after it was discovered he had sent anti-Trump texts to his mistress (also an employee of the FBI) last summer. Given less ink was the fact that Mr. Strzok was outed in August, but no one on Mr. Mueller’s team bothered to tell the House Intelligence Committee (or the press), and his texts have not been released. And what about another of Mr. Mueller’s deputies, Jeannie Rhee? She was personal attorney to Ben Rhodes and also represented the Clinton Foundation. And Andrew Weissmann? He had praised acting Attorney General Sally Yates for defying President Trump. Where are investigative journalists? Where is fairness? Where is justice?
The investigation brings to mind Edwin Fadiman’s 1971 novel, Who Will Watch the Watchers?, a story of post-World War II Nazis in South America. If we can’t trust our elected officials and can’t trust those who are supposed to conduct non-partisan investigations, and we can’t trust the media, who can we trust? Special Counsels are appointed by the Justice Department, and are not accountable to voters. Once embedded, they are hard to remove, regardless of legitimate reason.
Climate change is yet another area where politics trumps common sense. Anthropogenic global warming is accepted wisdom by a credulous press. EPA Secretary Scott Pruitt has urged the creation of “red-teams, blue-teams,” where scientists publically challenge each other’s evidence on man-made climate change. But the Left refuses to participate in this logical exercise, expressing outrage that their conclusions should be questioned. No sensible person doubts that man has had an effect on climate. The questions have always been: The degree of effect? Is change inevitable? Is it part of nature? Can it be reversed? While the Left has always referred to skeptics as “deniers,” the truth is they are agnostic, while the Left are fervent believers.
Keep in mind, climate change is big business. Oil companies, coal mining and myriad other resource businesses depend on laws governing the environment. But, so do organizations like the Sierra Club, Greenpeace and the Audubon Society. They have budgets involving millions of dollars. The Sierra Club employs over 500 people in the U.S. Greenpeace has a budget in excess of $250 million. The National Audubon Society has over 550,000 members in 518 chapters in North America. These may be eleemosynary organizations, but they are big, with a self-interest in their perpetuation. Both sides employ lobbyists. Remember also, Al Gore made tens of millions of dollars off man-made climate change. One is reminded of H.L. Mencken – a cynical but insightful reporter – who wrote in his 1918 book, Defense of Women, “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed – and hence clamorous to be led to safety – by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”
Advocacy should not be the purpose of the press, nor the job of government bureaucrats. It should not be the role of universities. The first has responsibility for keeping citizens informed – to keep them apprised of the facts. Opinion writing should be limited to the paper’s editorial page. Bureaucrats have the obligation to keep the wheels of government running smoothly and fairly, regardless of which Party is in power. Fairness and justice should supersede Party loyalty. Colleges are supposed to inform, not apostatize.