Real Journalism & Make Him Do It Dynamic: Obama Admin Says Dems' Panama Pressure Is Working

by: David Sirota

Tue May 05, 2009 at 19:50

Breaking news this evening: Yes, it's actually true - real journalism has been committed in the nation's capital.

That's right, after the entire Washington press corps and all of cable news did their best stenography act and refused to ask a single serious question about the blatant hypocrisy in President Obama's "we're getting tough on corporate tax havens" announcement yesterday, ABC News' Jake Tapper demanded - and actually got - some answers at today's White House press briefing. Specifically, he asked the White House how it can be claiming to be serious about cracking down on corporate tax havens while simultaneously pushing a Panama Free Trade Agreement that would reward and legitimize the practices of one of the worst tax havens on the planet.

David Sirota :: Real Journalism & Make Him Do It Dynamic: Obama Admin Says Dems' Panama Pressure Is Working
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, clearly conditioned after years of D.C. press work to be unprepared for any kind of substantive question, had absolutely no answer for Tapper, except to promise him that someone from the U.S. Trade Representative's office would get him something. Tapper stuck to the story, and eventually broke some real news when he spoke with the U.S. Trade Representatives' office:

Carol Guthrie, a spokeswoman for US Trade Representative Ron Kirk, tells ABC News that "Ambassador Kirk has been always been very clear that it will be necessary to address outstanding issues on labor and tax policies, and we continue to work on those tax issues. Our refusal to tolerate tax havens is precisely why we're working with the Panamanian government to address concerns regarding its international tax policies. We can work to improve international tax practices and open markets for entrepreneurs and workers at the same time."

Guthrie, of course, is bullshitting when she says "Kirk has been always been very clear that it will be necessary to address outstanding issues on labor and tax policies." All he's been clear on is that he wants the Panama deal passed. But now forced into a corner, he's stated that the "precise" reason the administration hasn't introduced the Panama pact in Congress is its attempt to "work with the Panamanian government to address concerns regarding its international tax policies." That's actual, genuine and important news - a statement far clearer and more precise than any of the general bromides of the past.

This is a victory both for Real Journalism as well as the Make Him Do It Dynamic.

Tapper shows the value of having reporters who do more than write fluff stories about White House officials, sourced by White House officials. And, he shows the value of Washington reporters trying to listen to voices from outside of Washington. I say that because I originally Twittered him the question idea from all the way out here in Denver - the kind of heartland locale that most in D.C. treat as Siberia. He evaluated the question idea, saw some merit to it, fashioned it in his own way, and actually asked the kind of question that the D.C. conventional wisdom-mongers would never think to ask. I'm not patting myself on the back - it was a basic, commonsense question. I'm merely giving Tapper kudos for being one of the few D.C. reporters to seek input from outside of D.C. (and if he's doing that on a regular basis with many citizens via new media, that's great).

This is also a victory for the congressional Democrats who are fighting the good fight against the Obama administration and demanding that it take the tax-haven and labor concerns in the Panama Free Trade Agreement seriously. Had they not made lots of noise - had they not "made him do it" - you can bet the Obama administration would be pushing this deal forward immediately and without change. If they don't continue making that noise - and if we don't help them - then the changes that do come out of Kirk's alleged negotiations will be weak.

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while this line of reasoning is, regardless of its truth value, (4.00 / 1)
useful for mobilizing the left, in this case i'm not sure if the story is as cut and dried as you make it out to be.

as i pointed out yesterday, in the very article you quoted about the panama fta, kirk said that labor and 'other' issues had to be resolved before he would introduce the bill to congress.  what this means is that either he had no intention of resolving the tax havens issue before tapper asked his question (in which case you are right to credit the pressure of the left), or he did have this intention before tapper asked the question, and gibbs just didn't know the details in the briefing.  

again, this is a bit of nitpicking on my part, and it really doesn't have any bearing on the question of what the left should be doing vis-a-vis obama.  this comment is more coming from the historian in me, who wants to try and determine what happened when, and for what reason.  

oh, and also, nice job pushing this into the discussion (4.00 / 1)
by posting the question on tapper's blog.  

[ Parent ]
and what they say about these things is often belied by their actions (4.00 / 5)
behind-the-scenes too -- very often.

they were fast-tracking Panama and the other deals before Tapper got this statement, and unless they've actually changed the wording of the main agreement (have they? it's already been worked out and agreed to bet us and Panama, no?), it's just lies.

and this and all the other agreements still harm us all the time -- bec of all the earlier lies about adding labor and safety wording  -- or anything that would prevent or slow outsourcing.

[ Parent ]
& "working with the Panamanian govt" does not mean that this agreement has changed (4.00 / 3)
in any way at all -- like they way they said they'd do regulations/restrictions after the TARP bill passed Congress, etc.

[ Parent ]
Micro-mini-victories of the American Left (4.00 / 5)
"... we're working with the Panamanian government to address concerns regarding its international tax policies."


Doesn't that sound like major policy changes are guaranteed?

No, David, it sounds like more of the same from Barack Obama, the all-time king of vague promises that commit him to nothing.

And even if every tax-haven in Panama were shut down (and that ain't about to happen!), it would be an almost totally meaningless victory, because there are a honking zillion other off-shore tax-havens out there!

So a "victory of the left" is an unreal little promise that wouldn't matter much anyway...

And a "victory of the right" is trillions of dollars of real money in tax-cuts and bailouts.

A "victory of the left" is a non-commital non-commitment about closing one loop-hole...

And a "victory of the right" is 30,000 real American soldiers on the way to Afghanistan.


Who needs to win, when we can always hallucinate yet another micro-mini-victory?

Yet why am I mostly pleased with the last 6 months of American history? (4.00 / 2)
The "Left" as a group banded together to craft a pleasing world must think in terms of the marathon race, not the sprint race.

[ Parent ]
Great job David (4.00 / 1)
This is Y I hope U get your own TV show.  Then U won't need a conduit 2 make more citizens aware of these issues.

It's good having Tapper in the White House press room.

Now we'll C if it really makes a difference in the end.


good job DS, but others (4.00 / 2)
You can find good journalists who will probe you for sources.  Not all but a few.  I'm talking to everyone here, they often have twitters, email addresses, etc. and they also read blogs.

But to make it to the white house press room to break sacrilege is pretty good.  

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