It’s Not Big News When GW Bush Lies

Apparently, it's not big news when GW Bush goes on TV and makes a statement that is totally false. So false that it's not a question of opinion, but a matter of verifiable fact. And not on a trivial matter either. Nor one that could be called a accident. It's an error on a matter of sufficient importance to government that to get it wrong shows either a willingness to try the Big Lie, or a leader very serious out of touch with reality.

Bush on Meet The Press RUSSERT: But your base conservatives, and listen to Rush Limbaugh, the Heritage Foundation, CATO Institute, they're all saying you are the biggest spender in American history.

BUSH: Well, they're wrong. If you look at the appropriations bills that were passed under my watch, in the last year of President Clinton, discretionary spending was up 15 percent, and ours have steadily declined.

Angry Bear has the facts: discretionary spending went waaaay up not steadily down every year of this Administration.

Now, if “gotcha” questions like the price of eggs or the capital of foreign countries were once big news, surely voluntarily mis-stating (or not knowing) a fairly basic fact about the trend line (forget knowing the dollar figure details, we're talking trends and gross effects here) about what one's own administrations budgets are like ought to be big news, shouldn't it?

Nope. The Miami Herald (running a Dana Milbank story from the Post) buried this in the last paragraphs of the story, and did it in a way that no one will understand that what Bush said wasn't true.

Bush said critics, including conservatives, are ''wrong'' to say he has not kept control of the federal budget. ''If you look at the appropriations bills that were passed under my watch, in the last year of President Clinton, discretionary spending was up 15 percent, and ours have steadily declined,'' he said.

Federal discretionary spending has grown by more than 25 percent in the past two fiscal years, following average annual increases of 2.4 percent in discretionary spending in the 1990s, according to figures from congressional budget panels.

Note that without a lead-in like “In fact,” that second paragraph is going to be impenetrable to many readers…or at least won't jump out at them as a direct contradiction of the previous graph.

The error isn't mentioned at all in Elisabeth Bumiller's News Analysis of the speech, which is all about whether it was a good idea (isn't lying or demonstrating ignorance relevant to that?). Of course, that could be because she only read the New York Times article on the interview, in which Richard w. Stevenson doesn't mention this little detail at all.

Why isn't this issue more important than the fact that Bush re-stated many opinions we've heard before? Somehow, it's just not 'news”.

If this is the Big Lie, it's working. If this is a sign of a lack of contact with reality, this news coverage isn't going to bring reality any closer.

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5 Responses to It’s Not Big News When GW Bush Lies

  1. Kevin Drum at can explain how Bush got so confused and/or thought he could get aaway with deception. There is a graph in his budget on non defence non homeland security spending authorisation which corresponds to what he said to Russert. The point is that numbers can be massaged (mauled in this case). This makes the lie/error a matter of leaving out “non homeland dsecurity” and “authorisation”. Given how hard it is to get journalists to look at numbers, it will be impossible to convince them that such an omission makes the claim totally totally false, although, of course, it does. In fact, it seems hopeless. If Journalists don’t recognise the importance of sticking to the same definition of a statistic, there is no reason for them to bother with numbers anyway.

  2. quasi says:

    I will try and keep this as civil as possible.

    there is a big difference between budget outlays and budget Budget Authority. Budget Authority is that percentage of the budget that is approved by congress and the President for spending in a specific year. Budget Authority often gets extended over several years and is supplemented by congressional spending supplementals.

    All of these figures are included in Budget Outlays, which an end of year calculation of all of the money spent by a certain agency. Agencies do not operate on 365 day schedules and have multi-year carry over spending obligations and funding sources. one example was President Clinton’s police officers initives which was budgetted in one year but caused outlays in several years.

    Therefore you are comparing apples and orages. In the 2001 budget, there was a 14.9% increase of discretionary budget authority in non-military non homeland defense spending. The outlays do not reflect this because of other spending done by agencies throughout the year. remeber September 11th? The war in Afganistan? The clean up of the World Trade Center?

    The budgets sublitted to the country since then have staedily decreased this authority since, to 65, 5.4%, 4%, etc. The outlays, which operate on a different schedule are going to catch up eventually, when the multi year spending initiatives come to an end.

    Your desire to call Bush a liar has overcome your ability to reason or investigate and many of your posts on your blog make me seriously concerned for your students. I can only hope that you keep your politcal views out of your class room.

  3. Michael says:

    I think you are confusing the apples and oranges. But even in your own terms, if I follow them, I understand your claim to be that the rate of increase in current Budget Authority is now lower than under Clinton. Even if that is true, can you please explain how it justifies the statement “If you look at the appropriations bills that were passed under my watch, in the last year of President Clinton, discretionary spending was up 15 percent, and ours have steadily declined”?

    There’s a rather big difference beween “yes, we are spending more than ever, but the rate of increase has declined” and claiming that discretionary spending has simply “steadily declined”. That means “got smaller” in my book, and will have meant that to anyone listening. And it’s still not so.

    PS. If you were trying to be civil, I don’t think you did such a great job in that last paragraph.

  4. Michael says:

    Followup. See Angry Bear for a much fuller discussion of how the numbers were cooked.

  5. Michael says:

    Followup (2): Heck, even the Volokh Conspiracy guys call Bush’s statement a grotesque lie. Here’s just a sample of Jacob Levy’s take:

    Authorization is not spending. A question about whether one is spending a lot of money is not responded to with an answer about how much one said one intended to spend. And “discretionary spending” is not the same as “non-defense, non-homeland discretionary spending.” This isn’t harmless abbreviation. In order to obscure the explosion in spending, the president’s advisors had to come up with an obscure and tortured way to measure what has happened (one that, again, doesn’t measure what actually happened but only what it was said that it was intended to have happen). If you’re going to offer an answer that’s intends to mislead about substance but is technically true, one had better be sure to get the technicalities right. (That is what Bill Clinton excelled at, of course: “There is no sexual relationship.”) Bush’s answer intended to mislead about substance (a strange way of measuring was used for the clear purpose of having a more palatable spending story to tell than is reflected in actual expenditures), and didn’t even manage to be technically true (because ‘discretionary spending’ wasn’t qualified).

    Moreover, it seems to me that the technical meaning of “ours have steadily declined” is that the relevant quantity declined, i.e. that budget authorizations fell from one year to the next. The technically-correct deceptive statement would have been that the rate of growth (in this particular measure) has declined– 15% growth was followed, not by cuts, but by 5% growth. Bush didn’t manage to get the technically-correct deception articulated; he simply lied.

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