Yesterday was Pity the Poor President Day in Old Media.
Early last night, I noted how the Associated Press's Ben Feller chose to characterize an already-planned visit by Barack and Michelle Obama to a DC elementary school as an "escape" that "surely made him happy for a while."
A few hours ago, NB's Brent Baker reported with amazement the absurd attempts by CBS's Katie Couric and NBC's Brian Williams to portray Obama -- who either allowed poor vetting by his team or was nonchalant about the tax and other irregularities they found -- as somehow being a "culture of Washington" victim. Zheesh.
Babington stuck with the same Beltway victimization theme ("even a clearly gifted politician cannot escape the gravitational pull of Washington forces"), and took it to new heights -- or make that depths.
It's not even possible to note all of Babington's errors, omissions, and excesses in a reasonable space. I'll just go to his fifth and worst paragraph, which is all you'll need to know how bad it is (bold is mine):
An old story, with new actors, played out Tuesday: A new president's team imperfectly vetted top nominees. The nominees, it turns out, had not paid taxes for household help or other services when they were private citizens. The news media and political adversaries bored in. And rather than spend more valuable time and political capital defending the appointees, the administration dropped them and moved on.
This is beyond risible. Babington knows full well that Tim Geithner's and Tom Daschle's tax problems went way, way beyond "household help or other services."
Geithner's nanny tax problems were relatively small, and had long since been addressed. The real biggie was his failure to pay Social Security and Medicare taxes on his 2001-2004 income earned when he was at the International Monetary Fund. This failure occurred despite the fact that the IMF did all it could to explain what he was required to do. It gave him money to partially pay his taxes, sent him quarterly reminder updates, and had him sign attestations that he had paid taxes (which he had in fact not actually paid).
Beyond that, Geithner had issues with an unpaid penalty on a retirement-plan withdrawal, non-allowed overnight summer camp expenses, and excessive deductions for in-kind charitable contributions.
Daschle's tax problems were also multi-faceted. What Babington described in throwaway fashion as "other services" probably dwarfs the nanny tax problems of every presidential nominee since 1990. Those services related to a free car and driver provided him by the private equity firm he worked for during 2005-2007. Daschle failed to pay well over $100,000 in taxes over that three-year period relating to the car and driver, unreported consulting income, and charitable contributions made to non-qualifying charities.
Babington only mentioned the tax amounts involved for Geithner and Daschle (plus Daschle's interest). In over 900 words, he never informed readers about any of the issues involved, or that both men had "somehow" avoided late-payment penalties that average taxpayers would likely have been forced to cough up. Someone learning of Obama's nominee problems for the first time in Babington's report would have to believe that these guys got tripped up by nanny taxes and "other services" alone.
An "Editor's Note" at the bottom of Babington's report says that "Charles Babington covers the White House for The Associated Press."
I suggest a revision: "Charles Babington covers up for the White House for The Associated Press."
Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.
UPDATE, Feb. 6: A Media Matters post accuses me of misreading Babington's worst paragraph.
Imagine that. I thought Babington's article was largely about Tom Daschle. The title ("Analysis: Daschle debacle humbles Obama") "somehow" gave that away.
As to the accusation of misreading the fifth paragraph -- Nice try, no sale. Of course, "Tuesday's nominees" in the fifth paragraph weren't Geithner or Daschle; but the "old story" Babington referred to was all about them. Babington made it look as if Tuesday's nominees had the same problem as the previous nominees (taxes on "household help and other services). That's obviously not the case.
This looks to be an effort by Babington to minimize the earlier nominees' problems. The AP writer might get a pass if he actually described later why Geither and Daschle had to pay $34,000 and over $100,000 in back taxes, respectively. But he didn't, leaving the reader with no prior knowledge no other choice but to believe that their problems also had to do with "household help and other services." They obviously didn't.
This is either deliberately sloppy and incomplete reporting or just a bizarre, deadline-driven oversight. Given AP's record, it would be hard to criticize anyone for believing it's the former.
I recommend remedial reading and comprehension courses for MM's "County Fair."