The Lewis-Bush Tax Cut
March 16, 2001
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The most well-known New York Times Company executive at the moment is Arthur Sulzberger Jr., who is chairman of the company and publisher of the New York Times. The president and chief executive of the New York Times Company is a man with a less famous last name, Russell Lewis. And before turning to Mr. Sulzberger, Smartertimes.com would like to pause for a moment this morning to congratulate Mr. Lewis for finally saying in public that -- essentially -- his own flagship newspaper's editorial page is wrong on the question of the effect that President Bush's tax cut would have on the economy.
Mr. Lewis spoke to investors and analysts at the Bear Stearns 14th annual media, entertainment and information conference in Boca Raton, Fla. A text of the March 5, 2001, speech is posted on the Times Company's own corporate Web site. "We do not believe that we are in the midst of a protracted downturn," Lewis said. "We anticipate that the economy will begin to bounce back sometime in the second half of the year. The aggressive action of the Fed to date and the growing likelihood of a tax cut make this a realistic assumption."
So, there you have it, straight from the chief executive officer and president of the New York Times Company: "The growing likelihood of a tax cut" makes it more realistic to assume there will be a bounce-back of the economy.
Well, the tax cut that is growing in likelihood is the one passed by the House of Representatives, the one proposed by President Bush. And it may have slipped Mr. Lewis's mind as he was talking to Wall Street, but here's a sampling of what the New York Times has been saying in its editorials about that very same tax cut:
On February 25, 2001, the Times said that the Bush tax cut "is twisting the entire budget out of shape in a very unhealthy way. It is too big, too weighted toward the rich and too unlikely to be of immediate help to the economy."
On March 11, 2001, the Times said "the Bush tax reduction is too big." The same editorial said, "It makes no sense to pass a tax cut so sweeping that it diminishes the choices future Congresses, and future taxpayers, should face."
On March 14, 2001, the Times said, "Democrats and moderate Republicans in the Senate must ensure that the tax cut is not so large as to risk a return of runaway deficits, further undermining consumer confidence."
Funny how you don't hear Russ Lewis fretting about how the tax cut might be too big. After all, Mr. Lewis has a business to run and a stock price to keep up. And his comments at Boca Raton suggest that just maybe, in the course of those tasks, he's come to a conclusion that the editorial writers who work for him are unwilling to face up to: the Bush tax cut would be good for the economy.
Young Sulzberger: A little-noticed speech by Arthur Sulzberger Jr. that is also posted on the Times Company's corporate web site demonstrates, alas, none of the independent-mindedness of Mr. Lewis. Instead, it betrays either breathtaking smugness or a stunning ignorance about New York. Mr. Sulzberger recounts in his February 22, 2001, speech how Times forefather Adolph Ochs turned down a chance to invest in the Coca-Cola Company, how the Times foolishly sold its pioneering fax-machine technology for a song in the early days, how the Times missed an opportunity to create a television station in New York. Then, according the text of the speech, he said, "Before I paint too dark a picture, let me remind you that in 1896 there were seventeen English language daily newspapers in New York City. Today there are 2 and a half."
Whoa. Mr. Sulzberger's listeners are supposed to brighten at the fact that there are fewer voices and less competition in the New York newspaper market? This, too, is a direct contradiction of the newspaper's stated editorial policy: On August 16, 2000, commenting on the proposed purchase of a television station, a Times editorial said that "eliminating competition between two independent sources of news and entertainment would not serve the public interest." Mr. Sulzberger seems here to be indifferent to the public interest as he tackily rejoices in the death of competing newspapers. Imagine the field day the Times editorialists would have if Microsoft's Bill Gates were caught engaging in similar bright talk about the elimination of his competitors.
Just as tasteless and misguided is Mr. Sulzberger's claim that there are "2 and a half" English-language dailies in New York today. This sounds like an attempt at a joke, but the joke is really on Mr. Sulzberger, because he ends up sounding more arrogant than even Smartertimes.com. How could Mr. Sulzberger have arrived at the "two and a half" figure? Perhaps he was counting the Wall Street Journal (based in New York), the New York Daily News (the sixth-largest newspaper in the country by circulation), the New York Post (14th largest), the Staten Island Advance, the New York Law Journal, the Brooklyn Eagle and the Columbia Daily Spectator. We'll assume he's ignoring American Banker, the Daily Deal and Womenswear Daily, which also publish daily at New York. And we'll assume he's also ignoring Newsday, which is one of the top 10 papers in the country in circulation and which sells more copies than the Times does in Queens, but which is based outside of New York City, on Long Island. That would still yield a total of seven. And we haven't even mentioned Mr. Sulzberger's own newspaper. Maybe the way Mr. Sulzberger arrived at the "2 and a half" figure was by counting those seven papers, but by counting the Times as the equivalent of negative four-and-a-half newspapers.
In any case, Smartertimes.com welcomes suggestions from readers about how Mr. Sulzberger arrived at the notion that "Today there are 2 and a half" daily English-language newspapers in New York.
Unregulated: The national section of today's New York Times carries an article about the McCain-Feingold free-speech infringement bill. "Mr. McCain, an Arizona Republican, and Senator Russell D. Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin, have proposed a ban on the unlimited unregulated donations to political parties known as soft money," the Times reports. It's just false to say that soft money is now "unregulated." Disclosure is required, and there is a regulatory agency, the Federal Election Commission, charged with enforcing the disclosure requirement. That disclosure requirement in itself constitutes a regulation. What other regulation the Times or anyone would propose, other than a limit or a ban, is unclear. The idea that soft money is "unregulated" is scare language thrown around by those hoping to impose additional regulations; it's strange to see the Times use it unattributed in a news article.
Putin's Vacation: The international section of today's New York Times carries a dispatch from Moscow reporting that "President Vladimir Putin is deep in the Siberian taiga -- either skiing or hunting wolves, the Kremlin will not say for sure." But a Reuters dispatch that runs on the same page of the Times reports that Mr. Putin is "on a skiing holiday in Siberia." Maybe Mr. Putin is hunting wolves while he is skiing, or maybe Reuters has authoritatively eliminated the wolf-hunting possibility in a way that the Times was unable to.
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