Over at CJR, Steve Lovelady mourns the departure of Donald Barlett and James Steele from Time:
CJR Daily: Once There Were Giants: In a doleful shirt-tail, or footnote, to the New York Times story this morning on the appointment of a new managing editor at Time magazine, we learn this: "Donald Barlett and James Steele, two investigative reporters who have chronicled the vicissitudes of the American economy for Time magazine since 1997, have lost their jobs in a budget squeeze. The reporting duo, who together won two Pulitzer Prizes and two national magazine awards, were on the payroll of Time Inc. Their jobs were among about 650 that the company has eliminated in the last six months."
With that, there ended a chapter in American journalism the likes of which we may not see again. First at the Philadelphia Inquirer for 26 years and then at Time for nine years, Barlett and Steele came to be regarded by many as the premier investigative team in the business, and one that consistently met benchmarks to which others could only aspire. As Jim Warren of the Chicago Tribune has admiringly noted, in an age of singles hitters, Barlett and Steele swung for the fences every time, and seldom failed.
Their body of work is a testament to an exacting, relentless, painstaking and meticulous determination that other reporters could only shake their heads at as they admired it from afar. What they practiced was the opposite of "Gotcha!" journalism, or quick hits, or cheap shots. Rather, they burrowed in for months -- sometimes years -- at a time, and then returned with an examination of entire systems gone awry, whether it be an oil crisis, the nuclear waste dilemma, corporate welfare run rampant, the nation's ramshackle tax system, or the economy itself....
Ummm... No. I have a very different view of Barlett and Steele. My view was that they didn't know enough to write the stories they wrote--and were unwilling to learn. So whatever they produced was unreliable.
Examples? Sometime last decade I wrote, on some email list or other:
Email: Barlett and Steele, Who Pays the Taxes?: Examples of unreliability? Barlett and Steele's Who Pays the Taxes? has been dug out of the basement. Let me start on page 20, with "[Single parent] Jacques Cotton [paid] 19.8 percent of his income [of $33,500] in taxes. George and Barbara Bush's tax rate, remember, was 18.1 percent."
As I noted before, this is the only year of the Bush presidency during which the Bushes paid such a low average tax rate. The cause is that the denominator includes royalties from Millie's Book, which the Bushes declared as income, gave away, and took a charitable deduction for. Our tax system is not as progressive as I would like. But it is progressive. And Barlett and Steele are trying to mask the fact that it is progressive.
Page 21: "[The Federal Government] encourages people to secure an advanced education to qualify for jobs at companies that are not hiring or are paying wages that make the degree a poor economic investment."
In fact, the educational wage premium today is higher than at any time since the end of World War II: getting a college education is an extremely good economic investment.
Page 21: "[The Federal Government] talks of retraining the newly unemployed to fill high-tech jobs that don't exist."
Stagnant real wages are--according to Janet Yellen--the result not of the fact that new jobs are by and large bad, low-wage, low-skill jobs, but the result of declining real wages at old, already-existing jobs.
Page 23: "Squeezing the American Family--Part One"
No mention of the fact that the Earned Income Tax Credit more than makes up for the decline in the relative value of personal exemptions for a typical family making less than median income.
Page 25: "If you are a middle-income [California] family, you may pay nearly as much in real estate taxes as a wealthy family whose home has a market value ten to fifteen times what yours is worth."
No mention of the fact that this is a result of the overwhelmingly-popular Proposition 13: as long as you don't sell your house, your property taxes do not rise as your house's value appreciates. Proposition 13 was not the result (as Barlett and Steele imply) of nasty politicians in smoke filled rooms eager to give the rich a break while the rest of us aren't watching, but of a voter* *referendum.
Page 30: "Every so often Congress... extends a benefit reserved for the privileged to everyone. It never lasts. A case in point: retirement savings plans.... When the Tax Reform Act of 1986 was finally signed into law, the tax-deductible IRA disappeared for millions of workers."
Barlett and Steele don't seem to understand that the tax deductible IRA as it existed between 1981 and 1986 was a regressive piece of the tax code.
That's just ten pages. Once again, enough. Barlett and Steele are unreliable. They don't understand what they are talking about.