CyberAlert -- 08/13/1997 -- Welfare Disaster Averted

Welfare Disaster Averted; Crediting Bush's Tax Hike; Elvis

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  1. NBC decided that on welfare reform "not all of the predictions of disaster have come true." And who made those predictions: NBC.
  2. Howard Fineman and the New York Times credit Bush's tax hike for leading to a balanced budget. But the record shows otherwise.
  3. Would Elvis be alive today if President Carter had said the right things to him? Tuesday's Today actually considered the possibility.

1) Now that Bill Clinton has decided that welfare reform works, so too have the media. On Tuesday President Clinton flew to St. Louis for a photo-op showcasing a job training program which prepares welfare recipients for jobs.

NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams reported Tuesday: "He proudly pointed out that a year after he signed welfare reform into law the rolls are down, way down nationwide. And as NBC's Gwen Ifill reports, not all of the predictions of disaster have come true."

Ifill began her August 12 story: "The homeless shelters were supposed to be overwhelmed. The soup kitchens overflowing. But that nightmare hasn't materialized, so far."

After a soundbite from an aide worker who said she expected an onslaught of requests for help, Ifill highlighted two women who moved from welfare to work, a symbol of how welfare cases are down three million in three years. But Ifill had to end on a down note, as she turned to Wendell Primus, a Clinton official who quit in protest over Clinton signing the welfare bill. He warned:

"What we don't know yet is when they hit time limits in an inner city area like Detroit or New York City or here in Washington, DC. When we have large numbers of mothers with small children hitting the time limit what will happen."

Ifill agreed, concluding her piece: "Because, for all the good news about welfare reform, everyone knows that somewhere someone is falling through the cracks."

So who made all those "predictions of disaster" that Williams found had "not all" come true? How about NBC News. Two examples:

-- When Clinton agreed to sign the welfare bill, Tom Brokaw declared on the August 1, 1996 NBC Nightly News:

"So, who will be effected by all of this? There were more than 13 million, six hundred thousand people receiving assistance from the government's main welfare program last year. That included five million families, two-thirds of those families, of course, made up of children. When federal assistance for these people runs out under the new rules, states are going to have to pick up the tab. And there's another kind of immediate impact in states like California that could be devastating."

Reporter Mike Boettcher began: "Welfare reform could leave Los Angeles County as penniless as the poor who line up each day for public assistance. County officials were out early today warning that Los Angeles County itself could become a welfare case" because "California law requires its counties to pay for welfare programs not covered by the state and federal governments."

-- Fast forward to this year. On the April 10 NBC Nightly News, Brokaw ominously warned:

"In Southern California, the welfare reform requirements could have a disastrous effect. That's the conclusion of a university study out today. Too much expected too soon of too many."

NBC's George Lewis relayed the liberal line: "Today's USC study predicts that welfare reform will push thousands of people deeper into a life of poverty and overwhelming personal problems."

Lewis predicted that homelessness would soar, just the kind of baseless charge that NBC dismissed Tuesday night: "And homelessless could rise by as many as 190,000 people." Lewis concluded: "Most everyone thought that overhauling the welfare system would be a good idea. Now, there are new concerns being raised about the human consequences of doing that."

2) Tax cuts are irresponsible and tax hikes are always wise, or so goes the media line. The passage of the budget bill has led some in the media to decide that George Bush did at least one thing right: he raised taxes. By repudiating supply-side economics he helped lead to a balanced budget:

-- The "Hall of Fame" pick on CNN's Capital Gang on August 10, from Newsweek Washington reporter Howard Fineman:

"You remember the guy: hated broccoli and pronouns, played golf really fast. Well, let's raise a glass tonight to George Herbert Walker Bush, not you, Jim Glassman. A few years ago he agreed to cut spending and raise taxes; in other words, he moved his lips and lost the presidency. Seven years later we have a humming economy and a balanced budget in sight. In 1990, Bush's deal looked plain stupid. Now it looks selfless, prudent, and almost wise."

-- The opening paragraph from an August 8 New York Times story by reporter David Rosenbaum:

"While President Clinton and Speaker Newt Gingrich are grandly congratulating themselves and each other over the balanced budget deal they wrought, George Bush, the man who risked the most and paid the biggest price for cutting the deficit, is off in Maine, feeling unappreciated."

-- As recounted in the August 7 CyberAlert, on the August 1 Inside Politics Bill Schneider tagged Bush as one of the "unsung heroes" of the budget deal. "When he was faced with a deficit crisis, President Bush delivered." (A fuller quote appears in the latest NQ which is item #4 in this CyberAlert.)

Reality Check: After citing the Rosenbaum and Schneider polemics, Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby pounced on the claims. In his August 12 column Jacoby outlined what Bush's deal really set in motion:

"Not to put too fine a point on it, this is revisionist nonsense. Raising taxes in 1990 not only didn't balance the budget, it triggered three years of record-high deficits. It slowed an already limping economy, helping erase more than 1 million jobs. It sent the national debt streaking upward, from $3.2 trillion in 1990 to $4.3 trillion in 1993. And far from curbing federal spending, Bush's budget deal accelerated it by an average of $52 billion a year."

To read Jacoby's full column, go to the Globe's web site:

They normally get the columns up the next day, that would be today, and leave them for a few days.

3) Could Jimmy Carter have saved Elvis? Yes, this really was a subject MRC news analyst Geoffrey Dickens noticed was raised on a network news program on Tuesday. Today brought on history professor Douglas Brinkley who wrote a piece for the New Yorker on how, as substitute co-host Ann Curry explained, "just a few weeks before his death, 20 years ago this Saturday, a stoned Elvis phoned President Carter."

After a couple of questions about the call, Curry, apparently serious, inquired: "The call came just a few weeks before Elvis died, and when you talked to President Carter, he was sad when he talked about it. Do you think that he wonders if he could have done something to save Elvis?"

If only Bill Clinton had been elected President instead of Attorney General in 1976.

-- Brent Baker