Esquire's Fact-Challenged Attempt at Making Government Look Cool


Caption contest in the comments section: Go!

I typically like Esquire, but John Richardson's current profile of former CBO-chief and current Office of Management and Budget head Peter Orszag shows just how desperately major media outlets are trying to make government look and seem cool in the Obama era. It's a fill-in-the-blanks, Washington-specific variation on Esquire's signature celebrity puff piece: You couldn't quite substitute Orszag for Angelina Jolie—the subject of Ron Rosenbaum's "worst celebrity profile ever written"—but it's the same basic idea. There's almost no new content (the one interesting factoid is that Orszag seems to have supported a much smaller stimulus package), and the primary aim isn't to deliver information or insight, but to put a sheen of glossy cool on the subject. At one point, Richardson takes readers on a tour of OMB's offices and breathlessly recites headlines from the resumes of the agency's top officials—Harvard! Yale! Clinton White House! Oxford! Harvard again!—as if to say, hey, reader, you should be impressed.

Well, I'm not, especially since Richardson gets one of his few significant attempts at substance flat wrong. The piece begins in July, with its hero receiving bad news: Current CBO chief Doug Elmendorf tells Congress that health care reform will not bend the cost curve—in direct opposition to what Orszag has repeatedly said. At the end of the piece, however, all is resolved. October rolls around and the CBO decided that health care reform will "bend the cost-curve," and that it "will save the government at least $81 billion over ten years, maybe more."

Only one problem with that last bit: CBO never said any of it. Esquire's editors apparently can't tell the difference between bending the cost curve, spending less money, and reducing the deficit. These are not the same thing.

CBO did say that reform could reduce the deficit by $81 billion. But cutting the deficit is not the same as spending less. Indeed, it's possible to cut the deficit—which measures how much greater spending is than revenues—and spend a lot more. In fact, that's what reform calls for.

Nor has CBO said that reform will bend the cost curve. The last time CBO took a clear stand on the issue, the office said reform would bend the curve the wrong way. More recently, CBO has ducked the issue, saying it's not able to tell for sure. But Medicare's actuary says that reform is likely to increase medical spending.

In other words, Orszag never actually got the particular piece of good news the piece claims he did. But maybe it doesn't matter now that he's got the fact-challenged puffery of Esquire hacks on his side.

NEXT: Gag Me With a Pica Ruler

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  1. Wow, that picture just screams “I’m a smug douche that lies and fudges numbers for the Obama administration.”

    1. It also screams “Guess where my finger has been.”

  2. Making government look cool! Anybody who reads Reason knows that government is just plain bad. Showing how bad government is is Reason’s only message, it’s raison d’etre. When it comes to complaining about government,Reason put the nau in ad nauseam. Donate now!

    1. Morris, if you’re going to come here and tell us why government is always good, why don’t you give us some examples of your bullshit theory?

      You have the stench of bureaucracy about you. Probably have some sort of cologne capturing the scent of sweat and polyester and Congressional transcripts.

      1. The trail of tears was pretty ok, at least for my white ancestors.

    2. if government were really worth a shit, i don’t suppose it would need all you fucking hand-raisers to play pet to it. you’re just another bad side effect of government. congratulations!

  3. The pic screams “Orszag challenged himself to a game of ‘Smell My Finger’, and drew the short straw”.

  4. I am the kid you used to beat up in gym class. Look at me now.

    1. This is the kind of guy who got wedgies in grade school, high school, AND college… and now has his revenge on his past bullies by becoming a bully with government backing.

      1. Pretty weak theory. Please support your assertions with evidence.

        1. He’s the head of the Office of Management and Budget.

          I rest my case.

  5. I had a look over at Esquire’s website the other day, and it appeared to be a heavily feminized, trashy women’s magazine style publication aimed at men with the goal of increasing unwise consumption of luxury goods. And I like designer clothes etc …

    I assume that GQ is still a gay magazine for black men.

  6. Believe it or not, I find Orszag to be probably the least offensive of Obama’s minions. He actually seems to have a glimmer of raw intelligence, and some grasp of actual facts (however vigorously he may twist and torture them).

    Faint praise, but it’s all I’ve got.

  7. How could Esquire make a profile of being an OMB Chief so boring? I mean, that’s gotta be like a combination of Hugh Hefner and Jimmie Page, back when Led Zepplins was actually popular.

  8. Boy, I sure can’t wait to get home and have some fair-trade chocolates with my wife while we watch Scrubs. It’ll be a heck of a good time.

    1. Man I hate Scrubs. Its the Friends of this generation…

      1. Friends: 1994 – 2004
        Scrubs: 2001 – current

        Generations just keep getting smaller.

      2. I will end you.

        *glares menacingly*

      3. Seriously, MNG, Scrubs rocks. What’s it like to to have no taste?

        1. Jesus, Naga. You have a Zach Braff blow-up doll, don’t you? You make me sick.

          1. What’s wrong with blow-up dolls??

          2. What? Don’t project your Zach Braff man-crush on me, sir!

            Elliot reminds me a lot of my girlfriend. She’s a pharmacy major. I’m baffled to be honest. It’s like they my girlfriend around and record whatever she says or does.

            1. Damn you server squirrel!

              It’s like they follow my girlfriend around and record whatever she says or does.

  9. Caption: Can you substitute me for Angelina Jolie *now*?

  10. Er, wouldn’t you need something like OMB even in Libertopia?

    1. Why would “we” need one now? Don’t you trust your gun-vermin-t?

  11. And-

    If you read Esquire, you’re getting what you deserve.

  12. caption:

    “Mmmmm, I love the smell of Obama’s santorum”

  13. caption:

    “No more swirlies for me. I hang with the cool kids now.”

  14. I assume that GQ is still a gay magazine for black men.

    GQ is 232 pages of glossy ads, a style section and one article. I do feel Batemanesque when I pick up a copy.

  15. I typically like Esquire

    You lost me at “hello”.

  16. I don’t see how anyone can say that a guy wearing that shirt and that tie is “cool”. Boring is never cool, and nothing is more boring than a blue button-down collar and with an innocuous red tie.

  17. “Ah hookah punthed be in teh noze. Ahm dryin’ tuh thop teh bleating.”

  18. “I typically like Esquire,”

    You lost me right there.

    You tool.

  19. “MMMMM I love the smell of Pelosi in the morning.”

    1. Damn you for making me admit this . . .


    2. Eww. I may lose my lunch after that.

      And I like older women. But I only like older women who aren’t soul-sucking vampires. Pelosi could look like a twenty-year-old Sports Illustrated swimsuit chick, but being ugly on the INSIDE is always a turn-off.

      Unless one likes that sort of thing.

  20. “How awesome am I for driving a Prius?”

  21. “Wow, I feel better, but that was rank! I wonder if anyone else can smell that.”

  22. This kind of nonsense is precisely why I cancelled my subscription to “Esquire”. Add this publication to the long list of “news” outlets which are actually just PR firms for the prez.

  23. Here’s a question for you:

    Orzag and his ilk are undoubtedly capable, hard-working sorts, if deeply misguided. Really, I know the type, and these top-level wonks generally have some horsepower, as a rule.

    Where would they do more harm? In government, or cranking out credit default swaps and mortgage-backed securities for Goldman? Because the guys who do the latter are actually pretty interchangeable, in a lot of ways, with the Orzags of the world.

  24. I can tell from his face he thinks that one’s destined for US Attorney. It’s how we do things here.

  25. Mmmmmm…..intern….

    1. Don’t do it, bro’. Take it from me, messin’ with interns can really mess up the flow of your day.

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