How to Lie With Statistics

Richard N. Weltz
With apologies to Darrel Huff and his famous book of the same title, today's papers provide a wonderful demonstration of how the mainstream press - in this case, The New York Times, can use real statistics to justify politically spun conclusions.

In this case, it is the hysterical article, complete with bar graphs emblazoning the front page of today's Business Section. Reporters Robert Pear and David M. Herszenhorn set out to convince Times readers that the Bush administration has been the most profligate spending machine in almost all of history, plunging the US economy into heretofore depths of deficit spending. The implication, of course, is that the Bush fiscal policies are responsible for current and future economic woes almost too terrible to contemplate.

The writers have even managed to find derogatory quotations from presumptive Republican president candidate John McCain to bolster their contentions:

Senator John McCain of Arizona, the presumptive Republican presidential nomination, said the new report showed "the dire fiscal condition of the federal government."

"There is no more striking reminder of the need to reverse the profligate spending that has characterized this administration's fiscal policy," Mr. McCain said.

Nevertheless, just a few sentences later, a startling reversal is noted in a quote from Jason Furman, the economic policy director for the campaign of Senator Barack Obama of Illinois:

Mr. Furman said Mr. McCain was "proposing to continue the same Bush economic policies that put our economy on this dangerous path."

All well and good, except for one startling fact. Deficits during these past four years of the Bush administration have been lowered significantly each year (2004 through 2007), both in absolute dollars and as a percent of Gross Domestic Product. Using the same statistics presented in the "gee-whiz" charts of the Times, the New York Sun's writers reduce them to a more clearly understandable picture:

We [reported] on August 24, 2007 . . . even better news, from the Congressional Budget Office:

2004: $413 billion

2005: $318 billion

2006: $248 billion

2007: $158 billion

And, as a percentage of GDP:

2004: 3.6%

2005: 2.6%

2006: 1.9%

2007: 1.2%

So here we are, the first full year after a Congress in which the Democrats controlled the power of the purse, and what do we find? The Party of Reid, Schumer, Obama, Pelosi, and Clinton is shocked, shocked, to find the deficit growing again, even after they joined to pass a "stimulus" package that consisted of sending checks to families making less than $150,000 a year. Where did they think the money for those checks was going to come from if not from an expanded deficit?

One can only wonder why the candidate McCain has been misled into such unfortunate statements, and why the Bush administration has been so weak in getting the real story of deficit reduction - let alone the need to reduce the Clinton surplus by making up for years of neglect of adequate spending on national security, and the benefits and necessity of spending some of those dollars saved at the expense of our defense posture.
With apologies to Darrel Huff and his famous book of the same title, today's papers provide a wonderful demonstration of how the mainstream press - in this case, The New York Times, can use real statistics to justify politically spun conclusions.

In this case, it is the hysterical article, complete with bar graphs emblazoning the front page of today's Business Section. Reporters Robert Pear and David M. Herszenhorn set out to convince Times readers that the Bush administration has been the most profligate spending machine in almost all of history, plunging the US economy into heretofore depths of deficit spending. The implication, of course, is that the Bush fiscal policies are responsible for current and future economic woes almost too terrible to contemplate.

The writers have even managed to find derogatory quotations from presumptive Republican president candidate John McCain to bolster their contentions:

Senator John McCain of Arizona, the presumptive Republican presidential nomination, said the new report showed "the dire fiscal condition of the federal government."

"There is no more striking reminder of the need to reverse the profligate spending that has characterized this administration's fiscal policy," Mr. McCain said.

Nevertheless, just a few sentences later, a startling reversal is noted in a quote from Jason Furman, the economic policy director for the campaign of Senator Barack Obama of Illinois:

Mr. Furman said Mr. McCain was "proposing to continue the same Bush economic policies that put our economy on this dangerous path."

All well and good, except for one startling fact. Deficits during these past four years of the Bush administration have been lowered significantly each year (2004 through 2007), both in absolute dollars and as a percent of Gross Domestic Product. Using the same statistics presented in the "gee-whiz" charts of the Times, the New York Sun's writers reduce them to a more clearly understandable picture:

We [reported] on August 24, 2007 . . . even better news, from the Congressional Budget Office:

2004: $413 billion

2005: $318 billion

2006: $248 billion

2007: $158 billion

And, as a percentage of GDP:

2004: 3.6%

2005: 2.6%

2006: 1.9%

2007: 1.2%

So here we are, the first full year after a Congress in which the Democrats controlled the power of the purse, and what do we find? The Party of Reid, Schumer, Obama, Pelosi, and Clinton is shocked, shocked, to find the deficit growing again, even after they joined to pass a "stimulus" package that consisted of sending checks to families making less than $150,000 a year. Where did they think the money for those checks was going to come from if not from an expanded deficit?

One can only wonder why the candidate McCain has been misled into such unfortunate statements, and why the Bush administration has been so weak in getting the real story of deficit reduction - let alone the need to reduce the Clinton surplus by making up for years of neglect of adequate spending on national security, and the benefits and necessity of spending some of those dollars saved at the expense of our defense posture.