What Does Politico’s Editor Really Think of the Stimulus?

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By Francis Wilkinson

I recently finished reading Michael Grunwald's excellent book, The New New Deal. Grunwald, a Time magazine correspondent, is not only a crisp and engaging writer, he is also a blunt one. He offers a detailed case that the much-maligned stimulus signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2009 has been an enormous success for the economy, employment and the future of energy in the U.S.

I confess I didn't need much convincing on points one and two. But I was pleasantly surprised, if not fully sold, by Grunwald's argument that the Obama administration has had a powerfully positive impact on the future of clean energy development. As for Grunwald's portrait of a Republican Party devoted largely to pursuing partisan ends during a national emergency, that story is both familiar and, to my mind, depressingly credible. Congressional Republicans made little secret of their desire to facilitate failure in the White House -- global meltdown or no.

There is something about the book I continue to find irritating, however. It's a blurb on the back cover:

Michael Grunwald is one of our generation's most original and tireless journalists—a reporter who is allergic to received wisdom, a writer with an uncommon talent for illuminating hidden truths. So it is a delight, but not a surprise, that The New New Deal demolishes cliches and vividly reframes our thinking about President Obama and his stimulus package through a gripping narrative. Even if everyone doesn't agree with Grunwald's provocative conclusions, every serious reader will see in Grunwald’s book a vindication of serious journalism, at a time when we need it.

That's a whole heaping paragraph of praise. But the blurb writer, Politico Editor-in-Chief John Harris, never commits himself to endorsing or disputing any aspect of Grunwald's important thesis. We get applause for Grunwald "illuminating hidden truths" without Harris sticking his neck out sufficiently to identify a single one. The book, we're told, "demolishes cliches" and "reframes our thinking," but apparently not to such a degree that it's worth causing offense by pointing out how honestly or accurately it achieves such effects . Finally, Harris cites the book's "provocative conclusions" and its "vindication of serious journalism, at a time when we need it."

Is Grunwald's book an accurate depiction and analysis of stimulus politics and policies? Is the book true? Or is it a "provocative" flight of unconventional fancy? Judging by the blurb, I have no idea.

One of the debates in "serious journalism" at the moment concerns what is true, what is false and what the role of journalism is in determining the sometimes obscure, other times stark, boundary between the two. Grunwald clearly believes it's his job to tell readers the truth as he sees it and to marshall evidence to support his conclusions.

A blurb is not a book. But words have meaning no matter how compact their arrangement. Harris's language is so meticulously evasive that it's hard not to conclude -- in this instance, at least -- that he and Grunwald play entirely different sports.

(Francis Wilkinson is a member of the Bloomberg View editorial board. Follow him on Twitter.)

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-0- Sep/05/2012 14:00 GMT