House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a news conference to express their opposition to the GOP tax reform plan in Washington, DC, on Oct. 25, 2017. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
In Part 1 of a two-part interview, former Reagan economic adviser Bruce Bartlett says Trump is lying about tax reform: it will benefit the super rich and hurt everyone else.
By Michael Winship / 10.31.2017
On Sunday’s edition of CNN’s Reliable Sources, guest Bruce Bartlett referred to the right-wing hosts of Fox & Friends as “those three idiots.”
This gave show host Brian Stelter the vapors, but it was simply Bartlett being Bartlett: blunt, astute, opinionated and — to our minds at least — accurate. His knowledge of government and the attendant industries of money, media and manipulation that swirl around it are second to none.
Bruce Bartlett has his own conservative bona fides: A veteran staffer on Capitol Hill, he was staff director of the Joint Economic Committee of Congress, then senior policy analyst in the Reagan White House and deputy assistant secretary for economic policy at the Treasury Department during the George H.W. Bush administration. But as Bill Moyers noted in late June, Bartlett is “a man of fierce intellectual independence — and courage, too. Telling the truth about Republican economic policies during the George W. Bush presidency got him fired as a senior fellow at a conservative think tank and brought to an end his long career as an esteemed GOP ‘insider.’”
Nonetheless, today, Bartlett is a sought-after writer and commentator who, among his other outlets for speaking out, keeps current a smart and often acerbic Twitter feed: @BruceBartlett. A quick scan of it quickly reveals no love lost for the current administration.
We set out to interview him about his new book, The Truth Matters: A Citizen’s Guide to Separating Facts from Lies and Stopping Fake News in Its Tracks, a timely subject given the constant hammering of the press from Trump and the proliferation of disinformation and conspiracy theories from Fox News, talk radio and the internet.
In the second half of this interview we’ll focus on The Truth Matters, but first we took advantage of his expertise in economics and tax policy to get his thoughts on the next big legislative battle: Trump and the Republican Party’s crusade for tax cuts.
Michael Winship: The Republicans are proposing $1.5 trillion in tax cuts. Do you think it makes sense?
Bruce Bartlett: Let me put it this way: I don’t believe that our economy needs this sort of tax cut at this time, and certainly not one that is grossly, overwhelmingly, [weighed] toward the ultrawealthy. I think there are policies that the economy does need, and $1.5 trillion will go a long way toward meeting those needs. So if we’re going to raise the debt by at least $1.5 trillion, I think we should do it in a way that is much more likely to raise growth and improve the lives of the people.
MW: In fact, on Monday morning, you tweeted that our major cities are dangerously vulnerable to flooding, but there’s no money proposed for infrastructure, only tax cuts.
BB: That’s correct. And I think it’s sad that Donald Trump, who said he wanted to have a big infrastructure program, has apparently abandoned that in favor of a tax giveaway to the wealthiest people in the United States.
My feeling is that the economy is suffering from a lack of aggregate demand — that is to say, spending. And we need to be doing something to get that going. One way is to get people who don’t have jobs to get jobs. Then they have money to spend. Or to raise wages — then people who are working will have more money to spend. So I think that that is what the economy needs, but if you cut taxes for the ultrawealthy, this does not lead to any increase in spending at all, because the ultrawealthy already have everything they could possibly want. They have no unmet needs. They’re not going to go out and buy second and third yachts just because they’ve gotten a tax cut. All they’re going to do is save the money.
On the surface, that sounds like a good thing, but the fact is, interest rates are so ridiculously low, this is pretty strong evidence that we don’t really need additional saving. We need spending. And therefore, I think to the extent that there’s any potential growth effects of this tax cut, it’s correctly characterized as trickle down and I just don’t think that is going to work or have any meaningful effect on the economy.
MW: Trump has said, “There’s no way that the middle class doesn’t greatly benefit” from the proposed tax cuts.
BB: Well, that’s just a lie… the middle class really isn’t going to get any kind of tax cut and in fact it’s going to get screwed in lots of ways. For example, he’s talked on many occasions about getting rid of the deduction for state and local taxes. He’s talked about reducing the ability of people to save in 401(k)s. These are tax increases, really, that are going to hurt the middle class.
So what his economic advisers have done is come up with this ridiculous rationalization that workers will see a huge increase in their wages if we cut the corporate tax rate. The fact is that we have experience with this. We don’t need to look to some esoteric mathematical model to know what’s going to happen. You can very easily go to bls.gov, which is the website of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and look up real median wages and you can see what happened after the Tax Reform Act of 1986, which lowered the tax rate on corporations from 46 percent to 34 percent. And if you look at what happened to wages in the 10 years after 1986, wages fell. They did not go up. They fell. Workers were worse off.
Now I’m not saying there’s a cause-and-effect relationship. I’m not saying that cutting the tax caused workers’ wages to fall. All I’m saying is that we have a real-world experience in which the results were the exact opposite of what the administration is asserting.
MW: And yet there are Republicans who claim that these proposed cuts are in the fine tradition of Ronald Reagan.
BB: Well, that’s just a lie, too. And I know because I drafted the 1981 tax cut.
MW: That’s why I mentioned it. [laughs]
BB: Oh, OK. [laughs] Well, in 1977, while working for [New York Republican congressman] Jack Kemp, I drafted what came to be called the Kemp-Roth tax cut. It was endorsed by Ronald Reagan in 1980 during the campaign, and he sent the same exact piece of legislation that I developed to Congress in February of 1981 — and it was signed into law in August of 1981.
So this makes another interesting point, by the way, which is that the Republicans are convinced that they can just ram this tax reform package through. Really, it’s just a tax-cut package — I mean, Trump himself has said it’s not really tax reform, it’s just tax cuts. They think they can enact this in the next couple of weeks, before the end of the year.
But here you had Ronald Reagan, who had vastly greater powers of persuasion and had vastly more competent staff than Trump has, proposing legislation that was bipartisan, was very popular, and was in fact needed very badly in 1981 because inflation was pushing people into higher tax brackets. You had a legitimate need for a big tax cut, and yet it still took him from February to August to get this legislation enacted.
So I think the idea that they’re going to get this done in the next couple of weeks, when they have absolutely no clue as to what the hell they’re doing, is just rank nonsense.
MW: You wrote that you think the ultimate goal of the GOP is to create a deficit so large that Medicare and Medicaid can be decimated.
BB: That’s correct. The Republicans don’t advertise this, but in fact they all believe in a theory that I call “starve the beast,” which says that the purpose of cutting taxes is to create a deficit which will then justify spending cuts. Under normal circumstances, you’re not going to be able to cut popular programs like Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, but if the deficit gets really, really big, people may be frightened of it and be willing to accept as necessary spending cuts that would not otherwise be politically plausible.
We saw an excellent example of this strategy just recently in the state of Kansas. Republican Gov. Sam Brownback and his party rammed through huge tax cuts relative to the size of the state, equivalent to what Trump and the Republicans in Washington are proposing, and they even hired economist Arthur Laffer of Laffer curve fame, paid him $75,000 [but] he didn’t even do a real study. He just lied and said this tax cut is going to be so powerful, it’s going to lead to so much additional growth and jobs that revenues will not decline, so we won’t have any increase in the state’s debt.
Well, what happened is, of course, revenues collapsed. The state — states have to operate under a hard balanced-budget requirement — was hemorrhaging revenues. They were desperate to balance the budget. But did they say, “Okay, these tax cuts apparently are not working, let’s just go back and restore the taxes that previously existed”? They did not do that. What they said was, “We must slash spending for the poor, we must slash spending for education, we must slash spending for police and fire and roads and bridges” and all kinds of popular programs that would have been impossible to cut except under the circumstances of an extreme fiscal disaster.
So this is very much in the Republican playbook. They cut taxes, they lie and say they will not lose revenue. When the revenues collapse, they say, “Let’s slash spending for the poor. That is what’s causing the deficit, not huge tax cuts to the rich.”
MW: Is there any evidence at all, as Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin claims, that the stock market would fall if there’s not a corporate tax cut?
BB: I think it’s highly unlikely, but I can’t say for sure. But I think to the extent that the stock market embodies any Trump policies, they’re not tax policies, they’re deregulation policies. I think the stock market likes that. But I also think they like low interest rates that the Federal Reserve has given us and I think that they like the fact that the fundamentals of the economy are pretty strong. And of course, the stock market has been rising pretty much continuously for quite a few years and it’s kind of stupid to look at one part of that general trend and say, oh, this is because of Trump. He’s really just benefiting from policies that were already in place on Election Day.
MW: What do you think would be appropriate for us to do as far as tax reform goes?
BB: Well, look, I think the tax code could certainly be cleaned up and improved in lots of different ways. But I think unless they follow the same three principles that underlay the 1986 tax reform, we’re unlikely to get anything that is worth doing. And those three principles were revenue neutrality — that is, you’ve gotten rid of tax loopholes and things of that sort to pay for any reduction in rates. So you’re not depending on growth effects. You’re just saying I’m going to raise taxes by a dollar and I’ll cut taxes by a dollar so we’re held even.
The second principle of the Tax Reform Act of ’86 was distributional neutrality. That is, the tax cuts were about the same in percentage terms regardless of your income. So the rich did not benefit disproportionately, the middle class and working classes got something meaningful out of this legislation.
And the third provision, that this administration has completely ignored, was bipartisanship. The 1986 Tax Reform Act was genuinely and popularly bipartisan, had the support of the Democratic leadership and the Republican leadership, and this is one reason why it was well-designed legislation.
And so Trump has abandoned the three critical principles that underlay the Tax Reform Act of 1986 and that’s why he’s come up with something that bears absolutely no similarity to that legislation. No matter how many times he lies about it, it’s just not true.
MW: So to reiterate, you think there’s little or no chance that this will get through by the end of the year?
BB: Well, let’s just say I would be shocked beyond belief. In fact, I’m not sure whether they can pass this before the end of next year. I just think that making the sausage — you know, it’s one thing to talk about the theory of making sausage and it may be rather tasty at the end of the day, but the making of the sausage is kind of disgusting and we’ve just now begun the process of sausage making. I think they’re going to have a lot of problems, especially in the Senate.
Reporters surround Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) after a brief press conference before an Armed Services Conference Committee meeting on the National Defense Authorization Act in Washington, DC, on Oct. 25, 2017. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
In Part 2 of our conversation, the Trump foe and former Reagan adviser discusses his new book, The Truth Matters.
Over the years Bruce Bartlett has experienced how the media covers politics and government from both sides – first as a Capitol Hill staffer and adviser to Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, and now as an author, columnist and much sought-after commentator.
Never one to pull punches, he has been a pointed critic of the Trump administration and what has happened to the Republican Party he once called home. Now a self-described independent, he wrote at the BillMoyers.com website in June, “The simplest way to explain my intellectual and political evolution is that I had previously seen the Republican glass as half-full, now I saw it as half-empty. (These days, it is completely empty.)”
Bartlett’s latest book, The Truth Matters, is a concise and essential primer filled with information on how best to use and understand the media. It offers techniques and resources that will help anyone who ever wanted to dig deeper into a story or make an educated decision about its accuracy and possible bias.
This is the second part of our conversation, focusing on Bartlett’s new book. (Yesterday, in Part 1, we concentrated on his expertise in economics and tax policy for a frank evaluation of the GOP and Donald Trump’s proposed tax cuts.)
Michael Winship: What compelled you to write The Truth Matters at this particular point in time?
Bruce Bartlett: After the election, I was rather dismayed by the results and I thought about why it was that so many of my fellow Americans voted for the most incompetent person who’s ever run for president, let alone been elected president. And I believed then and believe still today that the media had a great deal to do with this.
Clearly, we have a broken media in a lot of different ways. It’s a rare week that goes by that we don’t hear about layoffs at major newspapers and things of this sort. And clearly, the economic problems of the mainstream media are very much at the root of their failure to properly do their job during the last campaign.
One of the areas that I focus on is the problem of politicians who don’t need the media to get their message out. Trump is the most famous example. With his 30-some-million people on Twitter to whom he can talk directly, he doesn’t have to give interviews to newspapers and television stations to reach his voters. He can just reach them directly, and this puts the media in very much of a weakened position that forces them to run stories that they would otherwise prefer not to run and to run them with a spin that Trump and his supporters have chosen. And so as a result, the American people are not really getting the truth about many things that are going on.
MW: The subtitle to The Truth Matters is A Citizen’s Guide to Separating Facts From Lies and Stopping Fake News in Its Tracks, which is a very ambitious goal. What kinds of things can citizens do to stop fake news, or at least to stop taking fake news seriously?
BB: Well, what I felt that people needed is a little bit more understanding about the nature of the media and journalistic techniques. I mean, think about living in a country like Cuba before Castro, OK? You could buy cars imported from the United States, you could import parts, you could just drive around in your car without having to know a great deal about how cars work. But after the embargo, you couldn’t get parts so it was very hard to find people who knew how to fix these old cars as they got older. You had to learn how to be a mechanic yourself. You had to learn how to actually manufacture parts yourself if you wanted to keep your car going.
I think that analogy is somewhat akin to what we’re dealing with in the media. People used to be able to just turn on the evening news. There were just three newscasts: ABC, CBS, NBC, 30 minutes a day. You could subscribe to any major city newspaper and get a good description of the news and you knew what you needed to know to be a proper citizen. Today that’s simply not true.
Clearly, many people now live in a closed loop where they hear only information that has been vetted by people with a political agenda who keep certain news away from you or present it with a certain spin. In the past, I’ve referred to this as self-brainwashing, and obviously it applies primarily to people on the right, but I suppose it’s also perhaps true that some people on the left live in universes where they only get progressive news and they never hear other news that might be less congenial to their point of view.
And so people who do at least care about getting the news need to know a little bit more about where to find it and I tried to give them a guide.
MW: I think one of the great things about the book is that you offer practical suggestions and point readers toward specific sources and websites that you think are useful.
BB: I’m not sure if I did it as well as I could have. But I think there are certain things in there that will surprise people. For example, I doubt that very many people realize that most local libraries have news sources available on their webpages that maybe give them access to publications that they would otherwise not be able to afford.
I mean, a subscription to The New York Times costs $15 a month. I think The Wall Street Journal is $400 a year. This is beyond the means of a great many people, but in most cases you can access these publications through the library and all you need in most cases is a library card, which will have code numbers on it identifying you. You can check out books if you want to, but you can also gain access to the library’s website and through that, gain access for free to The New York Times and other publications that would give you a better sense of the truth.
MW: I was very happy to see you reminding people that libraries are not extinct, that they still have these important functions.
BB: I use mine all the time. One of the things that I discuss in the book is how to gain access to academic-quality publications that have been peer reviewed and are written by experts in the field. And this is another thing that you can get on library websites.
Also, people don’t know that if you’re a graduate of a university, in many cases, you can gain access to at least some of the university’s proprietary publications through the university’s website. I’m a Georgetown graduate, which gives me access to a number of very useful publications that would be prohibitively expensive for me. For example, the publication Congressional Quarterly, which has long been an essential source for knowing what is happening on Capitol Hill — I can access that for free through the Georgetown University website by virtue of being an alumnus.
Some of these things are simply useful to know, to help do research and not just rely on the first 10 items that show up on a Google search.
MW: I was fascinated by the fact that the template for your book is The Elements of Style by Strunk and White. Even the size and length of the book are reminiscent of Strunk and White.
BB: The Elements of Style is a classic. All writers are familiar with this book — very short, one that could be read in an hour or so. I reread it every year just to remind myself of grammatical rules and conventions that I’d been taught in school but had forgotten or needed to be reemphasized.
That’s what I thought some of this book would be, a reminder to people of things that are rather commonsensical. For example, learning to trust primary sources, or knowing the difference between a primary source and a secondary source. I mean, this is just basic analysis and research. Your primary sources are much more trustworthy than secondary sources.
Or just think about Wikipedia. Many people abuse Wikipedia, and I talk a little bit about that. One of the things that I always tell people is that it’s a great place to start your research but you never, ever want to end your research there. Although I’ve never, that I know of, been misled by information I got on Wikipedia, nevertheless, I would still double check everything. But if you’re starting to research a subject that you know absolutely nothing about, it’s a great place to start, because sometimes all you need is the name of one person or one book or one article that is a good summary of the subject you’re interested in and then you have search terms that you can plug into Google or Google Scholar or Google News.
I hate to overemphasize Google, but I’m afraid that’s the search engine that I’m most familiar with. But I think people too often are lackadaisical about these things and that leads them astray.
MW: You’ve had so much interaction with journalists over the years. How has that influenced your thinking about the media and the contents of this book?
BB: Once upon a time, it would be very rare for people to have any direct contact with a reporter at all. But I think in the internet era, it’s much more common. Almost all major journalists have Twitter feeds, and if you read one of their articles, they’ll very often attach their email address. So they’re much more open and available to contact if you have some story you want to tell or you object to something that they wrote. I think there are many more people now who have contact with the media than used to be the case, and as a consequence, I think sometimes they are thrown off by certain journalistic techniques and conventions.
Let me give you a good example. There are certain terms like “on the record” and “off the record,” “on background” or “deep background” or “not for attribution.” Terms like this are somewhat technical but are not necessarily entirely understood or spelled out. And in fact, it’s been my experience over the years, perhaps yours as well, that not every reporter interprets these terms in exactly the same way.
We can see that even people at the very top of the news chain make mistakes by not understanding these things. For example, as you remember, Anthony Scaramucci was appointed to be the White House communications director. This is normally a job that goes to somebody at the very pinnacle of the journalism, or at least the public relations field, whom you would expect to have had very long and deep experience dealing with the media.
But one of the first things he did after getting this job was to give an on-the-record interview in which he said a great many things that were then quoted and he was named as the source for these quotes. He was shocked that this material appeared in print and he was fired from his job.
I know Mr. Scaramucci very slightly and I sent him a copy of my book, signed, “To Anthony Scaramucci, who would still be White House communications director if he had read Chapter 4 of my book.”
MW [laughs:] What stories do you think we’re missing? What are the stories that right now, in this time and place, the media is overlooking or underreporting?
BB: There’s a long, long list. It’s not so much that they’re ignoring stories as they’re not emphasizing the right stories. They’re emphasizing garbage. A lot of people live in a loop in which there are certain important stories that they don’t see or hear at all.
And so I think in terms of the economy, the fact that we’re still suffering from a lack of aggregate demand is something that extremely few people know. The problems associated with global warming, climate change, are being ignored. I don’t know how many hurricanes have to hit before people realize that maybe there’s some kind of connection here, maybe we need to be doing something to protect ourselves by building seawalls and other protections against rising waters.
I think the massacre that takes place every day due to guns is another. Guns have become like car accidents, you know? I mean, it’s one of the leading causes of death. Those stories are not reported because they’re ubiquitous. They happen all the time. People just accept it, and unfortunately, they seem to have accepted the fact that many people are just going to be slaughtered because we allow crazy people to get guns. And the NRA’s power prevents any rational fixing of this problem. I could go on and on.
MW: You write in the book that fact-checking shouldn’t be considered a separate journalistic function but rather the core function of all journalism.
BB: That’s right. One of the things I talk about in the book is that, because politicians and other powerful people, corporations, now have so much more power than the media, they can ignore the media, or go around them, or go to their competitors with information. The media are forced to sort of go hat in hand to their sources and basically promise them, not in so many words of course, that, “Look, whatever you tell me, I’ll just repeat verbatim.” And so they’ve sort of become stenographers rather than reporters.
Rather than subject their comments to scrutiny and have the reporter say, well, here’s what this guy told me and it’s clearly a lie, or it’s completely nonsensical, it’s contradicted by the facts, what reporters will then do is go to the campaign of whoever’s running against this politician and ask them for a comment and publish that. But the reporter himself or herself is not exercising their own judgment on the subject. It’s become what people call “he said, she said” journalism.
Obviously, that’s not what journalists should be doing. They need to be subjecting statements to scrutiny and determine whether they’re truthful or not. So in order for the media to fulfill their function, they have completely separate organization thats they call fact-checking, and these fact-checkers will do due diligence and say, “OK, this statement is a lie,” or “This statement is clearly untrue.”
That’s fine, except that I’ve never seen a fact-checking story on page 1. Fact checking is kind of a little ghetto in the media. You very seldom ever see one of these fact-checkers interviewed on television. So it’s kind of a backwater that allows them to feel, “Well, we did do our job. We did the fact-checking.” This seems to me kind of backwards; fact-checking really ought to be the core journalistic function, and every single story by every single reporter, no matter what the subject, should involve fact-checking and not just taking someone’s word for something, especially if they have a clear and obvious ax to grind.
MW: You place a lot of store in critical thinking and skepticism. How does that apply to citizens interpreting the news that they read and hear?
BB: Well, that’s a very difficult problem and I certainly don’t pretend that I have the answer. But I do talk a bit about being skeptical of stories that are too good to be true, stories that too conveniently fit your point of view, whether it’s your religious point of view or your political point of view or whatever. And to try to get people to slow down a little bit and don’t just immediately hit the Facebook button or the Twitter button or cut and paste it into an email so that your friends can see these things.
Try to slow down, double check these stories, because it’s very easy to do so. You go to Google News or some other site such as that, and if you don’t see this story prominently mentioned, maybe it’s something that’s made up. And I think, you know, experienced people can just look at a URL, you know, the address for anything on the web, and see if this looks a little bit funny; this isn’t The New York Times website, it’s the New dot York dot Times or some variation of a legitimate news site that some people have set up to fool people.
Perhaps they simply did it for fun; maybe they didn’t have a nefarious purpose. But unfortunately, we know that the Russian government was very active in setting up fake websites that pretended to give honest news but were in fact just propaganda arms of the Russian government, and a lot of this stuff created negative — or I should say fake news — that did get widely distributed throughout the campaign.
MW: You write in the book that the same tools that create fake news can help fight it. How?
BB: As I said, you can double-check things much more easily than you used to by just using a search engine. If f your source is absolutely the only one on Earth that seems to have this story, there’s reason to be skeptical. But it’s possible that they were the first to break it and you’ll find that out pretty quickly.
Another thing is I think a lot of people honestly don’t seem to know what links are. I’ll write an article and somebody will make a nasty comment saying, you know, “Where’s your documentation for this statement?” and I’ll reply, “Well, if you’d simply clicked on the link, it would’ve taken you to the source of documentation.” So people seem not to realize you can click the little blue underlinings and they’ll take you to a website or a document or someplace that will provide documentation or other information.
MW: Summing up, what worries you the most about what’s happening to media in America today, and what gives you hope?
BB: One thing that reporters have mentioned to me is that when newspapers and other media sources first came under economic pressure and needed to respond by laying off people, they had this unfortunate tendency to lay off their most senior reporters first because they were the most highly paid. Many of these people were approaching retirement anyway, and were easy to induce with a relatively small payout to simply retire early.
This saved a lot of money on the budgets of these newspapers. But what they lost was the institutional memory, the experience on the job that many of these people had acquired over careers that might’ve spanned 40, even 50 years. And in the journalism field, as in many other fields, the really essential education you get isn’t at the university; it’s on the job. So young people coming into the journalism business would learn techniques from more seasoned reporters and learn especially how to tell when somebody’s lying. I mean, who’s ever taught a course in how to tell when somebody’s lying? Maybe they teach it to police officers, I don’t know, but it would be a course that I would happily take.
A reporter who’s been around for a few decades probably has a very well-developed bullshit detector and could help a young reporter not be taken in and to tell when somebody is simply lying to them. And so this mentoring kind of system within the newsrooms was destroyed because all the old timers left, and now a lot of reporters that I deal with, that you probably deal with as well, are very smart and probably much better educated than an older generation of reporters, but they’re inexperienced. They’re simply too young to have had enough experience in life to be able to, well, detect bullshit. And so they are taken in by smart people and, you know, the people they’re trying to get information out — this is especially true in the corporate area — they’re dealing with PR executives who are paid extraordinarily highly and maybe retired journalists themselves, and so they know the techniques and are very easily able to mislead and send a young inexperienced reporter down a false path. And I think that’s one of the biggest problems of the media today.
Unfortunately, I don’t really have a great deal of hope. I just hope that somebody will somehow figure out a way to make money out of doing proper news. Unfortunately, it may require some kind of subsidy. Media are rightly worried about any control that might come from some sort of subsidy, but in fact, the government has traditionally subsidized the media in important ways. For example, the bandwidth, the airways that are used by radio and television, were given to them for nothing. All they had to do was to agree to do some modest amount of public affairs programming in return, and we now know that this bandwidth is worth billions upon billions of dollars. It originally belonged to the taxpayer, to the American people, and was given to private businesses by the government, as I said, for nothing.
Another way the government subsidized newspapers is by giving them very, very low mailing rates so that people could subscribe to out of town newspapers that might be better than those that they locally had available. There are also requirements that public notices be published in newspapers and these were indirect forms of subsidies.
I think something else needs to be done to help responsible media. I think maybe something could be done through foundations. It’s very common for a foundation to set up a professorship at a university. I don’t see why we couldn’t have reporting fellows at major newspapers, and in fact, this exists. Up in Boston, some of the local museums and other civic groups were concerned that none of the local newspapers had an art critic and they thought this was something that was desirable. They were willing to pay the Boston Globe to go out and find an art critic and hire them. Everything published was subject to the same internal editing that every other reporter was subjected to, but the cost of having a full-time reporter was underwritten by a foundation.
I think something of this sort might be an answer to the economic problems of being able to hire experienced professional reporters to cover certain areas that are now being ignored completely.
MW: Bruce Bartlett, thank you.