The game the WSJ likes to play

THE GAME THE WSJ LIKES TO PLAY…. The far-right editorial board of the Wall Street Journal has a problematic approach to … well, most things, actually. But let’s take letters to the editor for a moment.

Last week, the Journal published a letter from a reader that insisted that the “Cornhusker Kickback” was “in the final bill” on health care reform that was signed into law. That’s clearly false, the WSJ editors surely knew it was false, but they published the letter anyway without correction or clarification. That’s just poor journalism.

Today, meanwhile, the Journal published a letter from Larry Summers, director of President Obama’s National Economic Council. Summers was responding to a recent WSJ editorial that took some of Summers’ work out of context to argue that extending unemployment benefits encouraged out-of-work Americans not to find a job.

The Wall Street Journal ran the letter, but nevertheless devoted an entire editorial to slamming Summers, defending its out-of-context quote, and again making the case to cut off benefits for the unemployed.

A few things to consider here. First, Sumnmers’ case on the merits is persuasive.

The reality is that the most important economic impact of extending temporary relief through unemployment insurance is to increase consumer spending, thereby contributing to employment, not to prolong joblessness, as argued in your editorial. […]

In the wake of the worst economic crisis in eight decades, at a time when eight million Americans have lost their jobs in the previous two years, there can be no doubt that the overwhelming cause of unemployment is economic distress, not the existence of unemployment insurance. In fact, recent analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office identified increased aid to the unemployed as one of the two most cost-effective policy options for increasing output and employment. Not only is unemployment insurance vital to the individual families whose lives have been turned upside down by tough economic times, it is an important tool for maintaining the aggregate demand our economy needs to establish a sustainable recovery.

Second, it’s fascinating to see the WSJ publish demonstrably false claims in a letter to the editor without comment, and then publish accurate claims in a letter to the editor with an accompanying editorial attack.

And third, if the Journal‘s far-right editorial board spent a little more time looking out for the interests of the unemployed, and a little less time carrying water for the irresponsible clowns who crashed the economy and put so many out of work in the first place, it’d be easier to take the newspaper seriously.

*last paragraph edited

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.