Unreformed on Welfare
December 30, 2000
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The New York Times today in its national section runs a profile of the governor of Wisconsin, Tommy Thompson, that misstates his record on welfare reform. President-elect Bush yesterday announced his intention to nominate Mr. Thompson as secretary of health and human services, and the Times' treatment of Mr. Thompson is symptomatic not only of the newspaper's attitude toward welfare reform but of its treatment of Mr. Bush's conservative nominees, which has been hostile.
The Times today tells us that although Mr. Thompson's welfare reform in Wisconsin "has won him a national audience," "the program's impact on the poor remains the subject of some dispute."
"The most extensive study of the program, by researchers at the University of Wisconsin, found the average family leaving welfare fell deeper into poverty," the Times reports. Smartertimes.com is not sure exactly which study the Times is referring to, but Smartertimes.com spent some time this morning reading several evaluations of welfare reform in Wisconsin that were conducted by the university's Institute for Research on Poverty. And those studies don't purport to show what the Times claims they do.
One of the studies, issued on July 30, 1999, contains a lengthy passage quoting an article by a New York Times reporter on the welfare beat. Talk about your circular reasoning: the Times sends a reporter out to write about the problems with welfare reform, gets the Times article quoted in an academic study, and then prints another article in the Times by a different reporter, this time quoting the academic study as evidence that welfare reform doesn't work.
Another University of Wisconsin report, "Post-Exit Earning and Benefit Receipt Among Those Who Left AFDC in Wisconsin," issued in January 1999, made clear, "We have no measures for individuals who moved out of state, no measures of earnings for those who remained in the state but were self-employed or in other non-covered employment, and no measures of a spouse or partner's earnings or other income." The study also says it does not take into account the effect of the earned income tax credit.
In other words, contrary to what the Times claims, the University of Wisconsin study doesn't study "family" poverty; it studies the income of the mostly single parents who were getting welfare checks before they started working. To do that without taking into account the earned income tax credit or the income of a spouse or partner may be interesting to academics, but it is misleading for someone -- say, a Times reader -- trying to judge how Mr. Thompson's policies have actually worked.
Married His Wife: A profile of Mr. Bush's pick to be secretary of veterans affairs reports that "he married his wife in 1971." This could be redundant, because the woman a man marries is generally assumed to be his wife. Or it could be mistaken -- the woman wasn't his wife until after he married her. Either way, it's awkward.
The Cost of Competition: A front page article in today's New York Times about competition among abortion clinics quotes a Las Vegas doctor as saying "In the entire state of Nevada, there is only one Lexus dealer and only one Acura dealer." This is an easily checkable fact that should have set off the lie-detector of any decent editor. The Times passes along this quote wholesale. It turns out to be false. Nevada has at least two Lexus dealers: Fletcher Jones Lexus in Las Vegas and Lexus of Reno in Reno, Nevada.
Seven Shot To Death: A story in the national section of today's New York Times reports on the shooting deaths of seven persons in a Philadelphia row house. One can understand, perhaps, from the perspective of newsworthiness, why the Times pretty much buries this story and gave much greater space and front-page prominence to a shooting spree at an Internet company in Massachusetts earlier this week in which seven persons were also killed. But, remember, the New York Times is constantly denouncing other corporations, tax cut plans and other government policies for supposedly giving short shrift to poor minorities. It is instructive to see how the New York Times itself gives different treatment to a crime with poor minorities as victims, compared to a crime with white professionals as victims.
Can't Spell: An article in today's New York Times about the purchase of a new home in Washington, D.C., by Senator-elect Clinton and her husband refers to "the White House spokesman, Jake Siewart." The correct spelling of the spokesman's last name is "Siewert."
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