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Brooks and Marcus on Jobs Numbers, Debt Deal Reality, U.K. Media Scandal

July 8, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus walk through the week's top political news, including the ongoing debt-ceiling talks in Washington, the dismal June jobs numbers and what lessons the American media can take away from the News of the World scandal rocking Britain.
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JIM LEHRER: And finally tonight, the analysis of Brooks and Marcus, New York Times columnist David Brooks, Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus. Mark Shields is away tonight.

David, the News of the World thing in Britain, Sarah Ellison said a few moments ago, told Ray that we’re not immune from this. We — the United States and the American press is not immune from this kind of stuff either. What do you make of it? What do you think about that?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, well, there are some ways the British press culture is very different than ours.

It is more incestuous than ours. They all showered together at Eton.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID BROOKS: So they have known each other since they were 8 years old.

RUTH MARCUS: That is a lovely image, David. Thank you.

DAVID BROOKS: So, there is that.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID BROOKS: There is also sort of a bad boy ethos in some of the — especially the tabloids: We break the rules. We get the stories. We snoop. We’re rats.

And we don’t quite have that kind of tabloid culture. But there are some dangers here, and that which we should be aware of — first, prying. We pry. My first day on the job as a police reporter in Chicago — I’m 22 years old or whatever — I have to — a kid commits suicide, and I have to call all the neighbors and figure out why.

So that is snooping. A guy dies, a mid-level city official dies, I have to get a quote out of his wife. That is snooping. That is what we do. But you hope you build some barriers, so you’re trying to get information without violating human decency.

And then the second thing which they refer to is the incestuousness. We do try to get close to people who are powerful who we write, so we can get information. And the question is, are you then willing to make them angry? Is your loyalty to the paper, rather than to your friendship with them?

And that is a perpetual problem for all of us. But — so I do think we don’t have the same culture that they have in Britain, but we do have dangers.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree, Ruth?

RUTH MARCUS: Not entirely, because I think it’s a very different situation here than it is there.

And I hate to sound awfully, you know, overly American chest-thumping, but, look, you cannot overestimate the degree to which Rupert Murdoch and his properties have an impact in the United Kingdom that is just so different from even his impact, despite the influence of FOX News and the 8,000 Republican presidential candidates that are on their payroll, here.

He is so influential there. They own four out of 21 major newspapers. They have a major interest in — now want to gobble up the rest of the biggest private television network. It is critical for politicians in Great Britain to be on the good side of Rupert Murdoch.

And that creates a whole set of dynamics that I don’t think we have here. And, simultaneously, look, there is cozying up on — there is good cozying up. If you don’t have a relationship of trust and understanding with the people that you cover, you’re not going to get accurate information from them. That’s a good thing.

But this — this goes way further. And, also, there is a difference between what we have all had to do earlier in our careers, calling up the grieving parent and saying, how do you feel, and hacking into…

JIM LEHRER: Hardest thing I have ever had this do in my life.

DAVID BROOKS: Right. Right.

RUTH MARCUS: It’s terrible — and hacking into a cell phone. One is just repulsive and unethical.

JIM LEHRER: But David’s point is that it’s not as — as — there’s not as big a gap there as you might think.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. I would say there’s doorways. You have to walk — when you start as a journalist, you have to walk through some doorways. You have to walk up to strangers and ask them intimate questions.

JIM LEHRER: That’s right.

DAVID BROOKS: Most people are not used to that.

But then there are several more doorways before you start doing the hacking.

RUTH MARCUS: Yes.

DAVID BROOKS: So you have got to be aware of the successive doorways.

JIM LEHRER: So, you are saying the door — our doorways are what?

RUTH MARCUS: It’s a different culture.

JIM LEHRER: Different culture.

RUTH MARCUS: It is hard to imagine, even with TMZ and all the other places that paparazzi here, it is hard to imagine a similar — a scandal of similar proportions here in the United States. Or at least that’s my American story, and I’m sticking to it.

JIM LEHRER: OK. All right. And we will hum a song and go…

(LAUGHTER)

JIM LEHRER: … and go on to, what do you make of today’s job numbers?

DAVID BROOKS: Pretty terrible, obviously.

I guess, to me, one of the things you take away is that we constantly have gotten this wrong. And I say “we” as sort of the economic consensus. There has been a view — first, the administration saying that jobs — unemployment would be down at seven percent or eight.

JIM LEHRER: Right.

DAVID BROOKS: Then we had the summer of recovery. And then we had some real job growth. And then we had a lot of economists saying, even up until yesterday evening, that the job creation was going to be better.

And it is just not there. And so one of the lessons I take away is, we don’t know much about the economy. And the second lesson I take away…

JIM LEHRER: Nobody knows very much.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. Nobody knows very much.

DAVID BROOKS: And I think most economists would concede that.

JIM LEHRER: Yes.

DAVID BROOKS: And the second thing I take away is that we’re just not really good, the government is not really good at manipulating quarter-to-quarter growth.

The government can create the terms for long-range growth with human capital policies and good structures and good tax — but boosting the economy from quarter to quarter, month to month, we just — especially with fiscal policy, just don’t have that within our power.

JIM LEHRER: All right.

Ruth, the president — one of the things the president said today was that maybe one of the reasons for the fact that private business has not been hiring is that they are all worried about the debt limit vote. Do you buy that?

RUTH MARCUS: No, but I — any — any argument that can get to an agreement on the debt limit, I give some tolerance to.

One of the things that’s fascinating about the job numbers is that how you react to them and how you understand them within the context of the debt limit depends on what your preexisting conceptions are, so that Republicans saw the terrible job numbers and — which are terrible — and said, well, this just shows that the last thing on earth that we can do is raise taxes and squelch the prospect of job creation.

And Democrats saw it and said, this shows that we need to make sure that, whatever we do in the short-term, it doesn’t — you know, we can’t cut spending and, therefore, cut growth, and we need to think about further stimulative things.

So, each side is going to take these numbers and use it to just make the same arguments that they would have made absent those numbers.

DAVID BROOKS: I just wish somebody would measure the magnitude of these effects. So, cutting taxes, it probably does hurt growth a little. Does it hurt growth a lot? I kind of doubt it. Cutting spending, it probably hurts growth a little, but a lot? Hard to measure these things.

RUTH MARCUS: Raising — raising taxes.

DAVID BROOKS: Raising taxes, yes.

JIM LEHRER: But you cut spending, government spending, people lose their jobs. And that’s what — those people were counted in today’s unemployment numbers.

RUTH MARCUS: Sure. You saw the — you saw, the biggest category of loss was government, and state and local governments. Duh.

JIM LEHRER: Yes.

RUTH MARCUS: But the magnitude — the thing that I find so frustrating about the use of these jobs numbers in the context of the tax debate — or — I’m sorry — the debt ceiling debate is that people are not talking about massive tax increases now.

We’re talking about — and so, yes, there is a magnitude, and we can disagree about how great it is, about the impact of raising taxes. Nobody is talking about huge tax increases now. We’re talking about the prospect of raising tax revenue over 10 years.

And lord knows, if we’re not out of this terrible economy in 10 years, we’re — you know, we will be sitting here in sackcloth and ashes.

JIM LEHRER: What is your reading — what — I’ll just — no, what is your feeling or what is your level of optimism about whether or not there’s going to be a deal before Aug. 2?

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID BROOKS: Well, let’s put it this way. It’s higher than it has been in about five years.

And so I think, if Boehner and Obama were in the room, they would have a deal already. And I think they have made…

JIM LEHRER: You really believe the two of them are in — look in synch?

DAVID BROOKS: The two of them would have a deal, right. They would have a deal.

And I think they have made significant progress in private. Now, there are a couple of things that are holding them back, and which should make us a little more pessimistic. One, can they get Republicans to sign on to this deal? Boehner is clearly…

JIM LEHRER: You’re talking about the Tea Party Republicans or all Republicans?

DAVID BROOKS: Right.

Well, the question is how big a chunk the Tea Party is, or what we might call the Michele Bachmann rejectionists…

JIM LEHRER: OK.

DAVID BROOKS: … that I’m — they’re going to vote against the debt ceiling raising no matter what, they’re going to vote against a tax increase no matter what.

How big are they? Then how big are the rejectionists on the left? And then how many tricks are they trying to play off against each other, Obama and Boehner? There is some tricking going on.

Nonetheless, I have to say, for those of us who have been waiting for the leaders of the two parties to have serious negotiations about big things, that is happening now. And, overall, I think it’s excellent news.

JIM LEHRER: Wow.

Do you agree with that?

RUTH MARCUS: I — I’m not quite as overly optimistic, exuberantly optimistic.

JIM LEHRER: You are disagreeing with David here.

RUTH MARCUS: I know. And it pains me so much.

JIM LEHRER: No, it’s OK. It’s all right. It’s all right.

RUTH MARCUS: But when you ask if there is going to be a deal — I hate to sound Clintonian, but it depends on what the meaning of deal is.

JIM LEHRER: OK.

RUTH MARCUS: The White House has set out this sort of Goldilocks trifecta of deal possibilities. There is the little, weeny, tiny deal. There’s the medium-size $2 trillion deal.

JIM LEHRER: You’re talking $2 trillion, $3 trillion, $4 trillion.

RUTH MARCUS: Or something — something like that.

JIM LEHRER: Yes.

RUTH MARCUS: And there is the big deal. The big deal is what gets David and me actually really revved up and excited.

And there is a better prospect for that than there has been for a very long time. But I would still put the prospects of that at somewhere south of 50 percent.

JIM LEHRER: Why is there — are the prospects for the biggest deal better than for the medium deal or the little deal? What’s happening?

RUTH MARCUS: Well, I’m not sure they’re better, but the argument for the bigger deal and the reason that we might see a bigger deal is, bigger isn’t just better in this circumstance. It actually might be easier, because you can trade off more different parts and more different constituencies.

And the Republicans — Boehner, in order to get his Republicans, needs some Social Security cuts. And, so…

JIM LEHRER: And that takes — the Democrats can get — they can get some…

RUTH MARCUS: And then Democrats — and the Democrats need a trillion dollars in tax revenue. And so maybe you can play around and make it look like less than a trillion. And then you whisper to your friends that it is actually a trillion.

It is going to be — what’s going on behind the scenes is absolutely fascinating. The oddest couple around is the president and the speaker. They are completely in synch in wanting to get this done.

DAVID BROOKS: Everyone else…

RUTH MARCUS: Whether they will — everybody else, not so much.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. Everyone else is miserable here.

JIM LEHRER: How do you explain that? What — what has happened to make Obama and Boehner — beyond just being golf partners?

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID BROOKS: Two things. One, I think they both seriously think the country has a problem, a deficit problem.

JIM LEHRER: OK. They agree that the debt limit, too, is a problem.

DAVID BROOKS: They agree, right.

And, third, incumbents have mutual incentives. The party of the incumbents wants to get reelected. If Obama cuts a deal, he’s very likely to get reelected. If Boehner changes the trajectory of spending, he can say, we came to Washington. We did it.

And so, secretly, what’s going on here is that Obama is really sticking the knife in Nancy Pelosi, making it unlikely that she’s going to get — get the speakership. And Boehner, if he cuts a deal, is hurting Mitt Romney or whoever the Republican nominee is.

And so the party of the incumbents are sticking together and hurting the party of the outs.

JIM LEHRER: Wow.

RUTH MARCUS: Do we have time?

JIM LEHRER: … do you agree?

RUTH MARCUS: I mostly agree.

JIM LEHRER: You mostly agree?

That is as far as we can go. Sorry, Ruth. Good to see you.

(LAUGHTER)

RUTH MARCUS: Nice to see you.