Joe Conason's Journal

The mystery of the disappearing Dick Armey quote.


Joe Conason
August 10, 2002 1:05AM (UTC)

The case of the disappearing Dick
Readers may have noticed that an item headlined "Armey Intelligence" went up Thursday evening and then disappeared a few hours later. The reason Salon's editors took it down is that something odd happened. In fact, something odd happened twice.

The ghostly tale begins on Aug. 6, when the New York Times ran a very fine AP story about the growth in federal funding disparities between Democratic and Republican congressional districts since the GOP won a majority in the House eight years ago. The story featured a revealing remark by House Majority Leader Dick Armey: "There's an old adage. To the victors goes [sic] the spoils." I linked to the story, added a few snippy remarks of my own, and moved on.

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Then yesterday I received an e-mail from a reader named Jonathan, complaining that when he clicks on that link, the AP story on the Times site "doesn't contain the word 'Armey' at all, and implies that political considerations don't have much to do with these disparities. Did you point to the wrong URL? Or maybe it's been changed since you wrote your piece? If it's been changed, do you have an archived version? Or are you pulling our legs?"

Thinking myself clever, I wrote a fresh item citing Jonathan's e-mail and linking to a cached version of the Armey-quoting AP article on Google. I know it was there because I saw it. (From now on I'll print out these fast-evaporating bytes.) But within a few hours, that story too vanished into the electronic ether. Vigilant readers quickly notified the Salon editors that the link didn't work, and they took down the item because it no longer made sense.

OK, but by then I was getting mad. Mad but not crazy, because I had looked up the piece on Nexis and there it still was, first filed by AP's David Pace on Aug. 5. I didn't only need to prove that I hadn't invented the Armey quote (or the entire story). I wanted to publicize the AP's analysis because, in a nonpartisan style, it went to the heart of partisan and ideological bad faith among the Gingrich "revolutionaries." It wasn't just a good story; as budget stories go, it was an important and readable story, and it began as follows:

"The 1994 revolution that gave Republicans control of the House of Representatives produced a seismic shift in federal spending, moving tens of billions of dollars from Democratic to GOP districts, an Associated Press analysis shows.

"Rather than pork barrel projects for new GOP districts, the change was driven mostly by Republican policies that moved spending from poor rural and urban areas to the more affluent suburbs and GOP-leaning farm country, the computer analysis showed.

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"The result was an average of $612 million more in federal spending last year for congressional districts represented by Republicans than for those represented by Democrats, the analysis found.

"In terms of services, for example, that translates into more business loans and farm subsidies, and fewer public housing grants and food stamps."

And then came that beautifully arrogant Armey quote, followed by further analysis, which showed among other things that "When Democrats last controlled the House and wrote the 1995 budget, the average Democratic district got $35 million more than the average GOP district. By 2001, average federal spending in Republican districts was $612 million more than in Democratic districts."

Those small-government, independent-minded, free-enterprising, tax-cutting libertarian Republicans surely know how to grab with both hands when someone opens the Treasury chest. According to the AP computer analysis, GOP policies "moved spending from poor rural and urban areas to the more affluent suburbs and GOP-leaning farm country." There's compassionate conservatism in a nutshell: the upward redistribution of wealth, preferably accompanied by psalm-singing.

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As of today, I still don't know what happened to the AP story at the Times site, but several readers alerted me last night to the fact that the original version, complete with villainous, mustache-twirling Armey quote, was still available at both the Washington Times and Washington Post Web sites. (My gratitude goes out to all of you.) Who knows? By the time this is posted, one or both links may still work. Meanwhile, I'll be gone until a week from Monday, hoping we don't have to revisit this situation.
[1:15 p.m. PDT, Aug. 9, 2002]

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Joe Conason

Joe Conason is the editor in chief of NationalMemo.com. To find out more about Joe Conason, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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