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Oh David Cay Johnston, You’ve Done It Again! Reuters Nixes Serial Misreporter’s Debut Column

Pulitzer-winning tax journalist David Cay Johnston has been forced to withdraw his first column for Reuters. Aptly named commenter OFF TOPIC notes in another thread that Johnston, whose unreliability and bullying  style have put him in bad odor in various forums (including this one), has issued a rambling, self-dramatizing series of explanations for why he falsely claimed Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. was paying negative income taxes. 

You may have gotten an alert about the shocking Murdoch news yesterday. As Johnston claimed in a column that has now been replaced with a humiliating 404: 

Over the past four years Murdoch's U.S.-based News Corp. has made money on income taxes. Having earned $10.4 billion in profits, News Corp. would have been expected to pay $3.6 billion at the 35 percent corporate tax rate. Instead, it actually collected $4.8 billion in income tax refunds, all or nearly all from the U.S. government.

This welcome claim of further Murdoch villainy got repeated far and wee. Unfortunately, the whole thing was, in classic Johnstonian style, a crock. Reuters

Please be advised that the David Cay Johnston column published on Tuesday stating that Rupert Murdoch’s U.S.-based News Corp made money on income taxes is wrong and has been withdrawn. News Corp’s filings show the company changed reporting conventions in its 2007 annual report when it reversed the way it showed positive and negative numbers. A new column correcting and explaining the error in more detail will be issued shortly.

Johnston expands on this (sort of) in his high-carb, low-protein retraction

How did I miss the switch in convention for reporting positive and negative numbers? The company disclosed in its 2007 annual report that it was changing the way it reported some numbers. Here is the entire disclosure, from Note 2 on Page 87:

Certain fiscal 2006 and fiscal 2005 amounts have been reclassified to conform to the fiscal 2007 presentation.

Reuters commenter TinyOne notes the flimsiness of Johnston’s excuse: 

I think it needs to be made clear that in NO WAY was it necessary to know that the reporting convention had been changed in 2007 to catch this error. Cash interest paid, the line item directly below the tax numbers DCJ cited, was negative as well. Sale proceeds from investments, the next line, was positive. EVERY INDICATION suggested that negative numbers were outflows from the company, positive numbers were inflows to the company.

This is what happens what you have a dedicated ideologue reporting on technical topics. This is a case of serious and gross incompetence and stupidity by DCJ and the responsible editors. There should be terminations– truly an embarrassment.

Johnston’s columns frequently get a lot of traction on the left, regardless of their factual bases. You may recall that a few months ago the husky newsman hit paydirt with this claim: "Out of every dollar that funds Wisconsin's pension and health insurance plans for state workers, 100 cents comes from the state workers." 

My critique of that piece got a heavy response from Johnston (along with a correction of one of my own numbers, which I immediately updated with thanks). I also had a very tiresome email exchange with Johnston that supported many of the complaints you can hear about him around the web. There was at one point a davidcayjohnstonwatch.blogspot.com to keep track of his errors, and although it has disappeared, references to it can still be found, along with rave reviews like this one from commenter arbitrageur: 

David Cay Johnston showed up here on the forum a couple of years ago and left with his tail between his legs. What a coward. Wanted to dictate, not debate.

Typical.

Also recently, Johnston declared all Objectivists to be objectively terroristic

In a 2007 interview, Johnston assured Reason Senior Editor Brian Doherty, “I’m not an ideologue; I’m a practical reporter. I don’t think in those terms.” 

It's hard to imagine the practical reporter continuing at Reuters after a total retraction like this one, but I fear we’ll be hearing more from David Cay Johnston, and I don't mean a postcard:

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • ||

    This was on NPR this morning. I'll be sure not to hold my breath as I wait for the retraction.

  • ||

    I heard the same thing. They were interviewing this douchebag without a single ounce of skepticism.

  • Tman||

    I've started listening to NPR again during the AM commute for no good reason and it's truly fascinating how bad it's become. They are like FOX on steroids, made even worse by their elitist tone of condescension.

    I can only listen to bits and pieces before I have to stop, so maybe I'm missing the balance, but I don't remember it being this bad.

  • ||

    Our tax dollars at work!

  • ||

    They are like FOX on steroids, made even worse by their elitist tone of condescension.

    Oh, THAT's why I want to punch someone in the face every time I hear Mee-shell Norris pronounce her name.

  • ||

    Agree. It's too precious when someone has their own variation on how to spell and pronounce a conventional name. When I found out Mee-shell is actually spelled conventionally, but she pronounces it that way, it really hit my gag reflex.

  • ||

    It's those snide little voices that really annoy me.

  • ||

    sorry for the big words

  • ||

    We need them to reinforce all the pretentiousness.

  • ||

    Ah! Well, here's the mea culpa. I missed it on the broadcast, but at least it's on the front page.

    Nothing about NPR's unfounded credulity in the first place. Shock!

  • ||

  • ||

    The maths, how do they work?

  • ||

    As crazy as the 70's were and as many things happened that make no sense today, for me the hardest to believe is that for six months, Ray J Johnson was considered the funniest man alive. That clip was the entire bit, yet he did it every week on the Redd Foxx show and nobody got tired of it.

  • ||

    I think it was the dope and the Quaaludes. That is totally something that no sober person would ever find funny.

  • ||

    No, older, sober people raised on radio and early "talkies" loled at that routine too.

  • ||

    While I can't claim my dad wasn't on drugs, my mother wasn't and both of my parents (intelligent folk) thought he was hilarious. They were indeed raised on radio and early TV. The early 'talkies' crowd was a bit before that, like my grandparents, who I don't believe found him amusing.

  • ||

    Wait, was that actually supposed to be funny? It's a bit before my time, but I doubt that humanity's sense of humor has changed all that much.

  • ||

    I don't remember anyone laughing at that bit. What I remember is grabbing the remote control to hit the mute button whenever those stupid beer ads came on.

    -jcr

  • ||

    I knew of that bit, but had never actually witnessed it. Until now, I hadn't grasped its awfulness.

  • ||

    "In a 2007 interview, Johnston assured Reason Senior Editor Brian Doherty, “I’m not an ideologue; I’m a practical reporter. I don’t think in those terms.”"
    Yep, just like Kruggie doesn't 'fiddle' with data and the X scale on his charts.
    http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.c.....erity-usa/
    'I'm just trying to get a point across.' Right!

  • Jim Treacher||

    Fish Denies Dampness

  • ||

    Do beards come standard on all models produced at the smug liberal douche factory?

  • ||

    I would have actually assumed that libertarians were beardier. We like booze, technology, gold, and weapons and you almost never see our female counterparts, though rumors of our troglodytic nature are overstated. I figure beards and Scottish accents come with the territory.

  • ||

    The stache might be the libertarian counterpart to the beard... perfectly complements the monocle and top hat, or Rothbard-style bow tie.

  • ||

    Light stubble is the preferred facial hair situation of the discriminating--and good looking--libertarian (or anarchist).

    And as we all know, neck beards are one of the most threatening beards there are.

  • ||

    Pete Eyre and Adam Kokesh confirm this. Balko would look hella imposing if he did a light stubble.

    Only problem is the hair on your head has to be less than or equal to the stubble on face.

  • ||

    If you look closely at the chart, you can see the Chin Strap and the Neck Beard are exactly the same, yet are placed on opposite ends of the spectrum.

  • ||

    I think they only look the same because the neck isn't drawn. The chin strap stops where you see it, the neck beard continues down further.

  • ||

    Here I thought I kept light stubble because my wife likes it, not to keep up with the Libertarians.

  • ||

    Damn,it appears my beard is slightly less threatening than the neck beard (Unkempt Beard a.k.a. The Homeless Beard).

  • ||

    i prefer the deranged lunatic beard.

  • ||

    The "one dreadlock" beard, like the one on the deranged homeless guy that took a crap behind the coffee shop a couple weeks ago.

  • ||

    Krugabe
    The Bernank
    This twat

    I can't think of a counter example, not looking good for beards.

  • juris imprudent||

    You forgot Thomas Friedman.

  • ||

    True, but if you want a smug liberal douche it doesn't get much douchier than Ezra Klein. Who appears to be clean shaven, although I can't tell if that stubble counts as a beard.

  • ||

    No. That is not a beard, that's just a douche being lazy.

  • Hugh Akston||

    He's not lazy, there just isn't a federal work program in place to shave him.

  • ||

    Looks more like Obama's dried santorum.

  • ||

    Awesome. +1

  • ||

    Eh... it's a livin'.

  • Paul||

    Lately, yes.

  • ||

    I wish Obama would grow a beard and ride a bike to his press conferences.

  • ||

    Do beards come standard on all models produced at the smug liberal douche factory?

    Yes!

    Check out the Amanda Marcotte model.

  • ||

    You just don't get it, man. The 60s was the greatest decade ever. We made a *difference*.

  • ||

    I didn't become an adult until the 80s. Just sayin'.

  • ||

    Furthermore, those of us born in the peak year of the boom (1957) were 13 years old at the end of the 60s. Yeah, we made a big difference. To whiners.

  • ||

    Random threadjack: More fun from the FCCIATFBIRS, CIA edition

    Apparently funding a half-assed polio program that doesn't actually properly protect children against polio is cool, if it helps catch bin Laden. Stay classy, guys.

  • ||

    "How did I miss the switch in convention for reporting positive and negative numbers?"
    Uh, because you hoped no one would notice your obvious lie?
    Because you're a sleazy scum-bag?
    Maybe because you're dumb enough that you should stick to reporting celebrity sightings instead of subjects needing a brain.

  • ||

    Aren't Reuters class journalists supposed to contact the corporate press hacks and ask questions? Wouldn't that have prevented this error? Doesn't Reuters have editors? There was nobody to check this story? This is more that went wrong here than just one guy who messed up reading a table.

  • ||

    All that's true, but he has a 'name', so I'm sure Reutter's management gave the story a pass on fact-checking.
    See Kruggie's lies above, but those are in the NYT so the lies would have been accepted anyhow.

  • Tim Cavanaugh||

    In his retraction, Johnston does claim there was some back and forth with News Corp., implies that others misplaced the emails he sent them, and so on.

    Why don't guys like this just go into screenwriting? Screenwriting kicks journalism in the ass: You not only don't get in trouble for making up the facts but are supposed to be making them up. You don't have to be all careful that you're quoting people accurately; you can just force them to say what you want them to say. If you get halfway through and then realize you don't have the story, you can just change the story. It's a legitimate way to write. Why drive yourself crazy with reporter stuff when there's another medium that doesn't require it?

  • ||

    I am going to make you pay for making me read that. So here you go. His error was a regulatory failure. """Here is a question for the SEC: Should companies be allowed to use inconsistent conventions on positive and negative numbers in the same document?"""

    I can believe that Newscorp didn't get back to him because their weasels are busy but then his original story should have included a boilerplate about them not responding. And any serious news provider cough NPR cough should also have also tried to contact them. Also his original story, that one of Newscorp's main lines of business is collecting tax refunds, is so freaking retarded that the weasels might have not believed that he was someone who needed to be answered.

  • ||

    Wow, it's almost as if an appeal to authority is not a valid logical defense. Will someone please alert the public at large?

    Literally (hah!) the entire (get ready for the fuck-you quotes) "factual" basis of the mainstream media is one gigantic appeal to authority. The dream of objectivity has been dead from the get-go. Any factual basis is dependent on an appeal to authority, and that means the facts themselves are only worth as much as the source they come from, at the absolute most. There's a lot to go downhill from there.

    At least blogs have the ability to be fallible. Fallibility is way beyond the abilities of most elements of the media.

  • Joe Gillis||

    Because screenwriting isn't regular work, and you wind up having to do things like rewrite scripts of Salome written by crazy old women.

    But at least I got my swimming pool.

  • ||

    Are you ready for your closeup?

  • ||

    "Johnston’s columns frequently get a lot of traction on the left, regardless of their factual bases.[basis]?"

    Looks like a case of classic confirmation bias--and it's supply-side, trickle down confirmation bias too!

    Johnston apparently sees what he wants to see--and the left looks at his columns and it just confirms their biases too.

    A lot of the left gets their news from the opinion columns--and their opinions just come from the voices in their heads... I guess this makes Rupert Murdoch the new Koch Brothers?

  • ||

    < pedant asshole >

    1.)In linear algebra as in the King's English the plural of 'basis' is bases(pronounced bay-ceez).

    2.)Rupert Murdoch was the Koch brothers before the Koch brothers were the Koch brothers.

    < /pedant asshole >

  • ||

    I learn something new here at Hit & Run every day!

    That's what keeps me comin' back...

    Getting our ideas scrutinized--it's applied fallibilism. That's what makes the interwebs go 'round.

    Thanks!

  • ||

    I'd hope you'd use a sarcasm tag if you were fucking with me(exclamation points make me suspicious), but if not, thanks for 'fallibism'.

    This is the best place on the tubez.

  • Paul||

    Remember, a "Thanks!" at the end of your note gets you an automatic entry on passiveagressivenotes.com

  • ||

    I appreciate the reminder!

    Thanks!

  • ||

    No sarcasm intended.

  • ||

    "Rupert Murdoch was the Koch brothers before the Koch brothers were the Koch brothers."
    WONDERFUL observation!
    And Ayn Rand was Rupert Murdock before Rupert Murdock was Rupert Murdock.

  • ||

    Sevo...please enough...I'm getting dizzy.

  • Bill Dalasio||

    No, I'm sorry, but Ayn Rand was never in the Running to be the old Rupert Murdoch. She was in the running to be the new Rupert Murdoch, but she had insufficient funds to assume the lease on the volcano island lair.

    The old Rupert Murdoch was Richard Mellon Scaife. The old Richard Mellon Scaife was a group of secretive Texas oil millionaires.

  • Bill Dalasio||

    I guess this makes Rupert Murdoch the new Koch Brothers?


    Nah! Rupert Murdoch is the old bogeyman. He was Koch Brothers before the Kochs were brothers. Or Kochs.

  • ||

    You're welcome Mr. Cavanaugh.

  • ||

    You fool!!

    You could have totally gotten the best hat tip ever but you flubbed it by using OFF TOPIC as your name.

  • ||

    Shoulda gone with my instincts and used "Boobies69Buttsex". Maybe next time...

  • ||

    Agree with all above. The whole 'You can call me Ray' ad nauseum was the lamest shit ever. It was used as a tool to sell shitty beer so I guess it worked vis-a-vis another shitty beer.

    People who love beer are going to taste it and then make a decision. They don't need some jackass to alert them to some boring hopless beer.

  • ||

    This is all thin gruel when compared to this The Truth spoof post:

    The Truth|3.1.11 @ 12:27PM|#

    CHOO CHOO TRAINS!!

    YELLOW PERIL!!

  • ||

    Ay! My shitty opinion!

    Ay! My shitty argument!

  • ||

    I dunno guys, I have a much higher opinion of The Truth since he started appearing on those funny DirecTV commercials.

  • ||

    In a 2007 interview, Johnston assured Reason Senior Editor Brian Doherty, “I’m not an ideologue; I’m a practical reporter. I don’t think in those terms.”

    Anyone else notice that Johnston has a Doherty look about him. Like an evil older non-libertarian twin.

  • ||

    "David Cay Johnston showed up here on the forum a couple of years ago and left with his tail between his legs. What a coward. Wanted to dictate, not debate. Typical."

    Ha ha! "arbitrageur" pwned him! Johnson didn't want to argue with strangers on the internet. Dude wanted to dictate! More anonymous man-on-the-blog quotes, Tim.

  • ||

    Maybe DCJ is known for making numerous mistakes but why didn't you link to other examples? I have know idea whether what you said is true and without any other examples this article comes off like an ad hominem.

  • ||

    New here?

  • ||

    Yes. I'm one of those who hate the government and corporations equally, so I do enjoy many of the posts here. I'm skeptical about most beliefs and skeptical about my ability to discern what's true and false about the big questions of the world, but I can say with confidence that this comment section often rivals youtube.

  • ||

    I predict dismay from the peanut gallery.

  • ||

    "I'm one of those who hate the government and corporations equally..."

    Government: Makes and enforces laws. Has guns, cages, and legal certification to use these instruments when you run afoul of their interpretation of these laws.

    Corporations: Make products/services for sale in the private sector. Have no guns, no cages, and no legal certification to use such instruments to force you to voluntarily buy and use their products/services.

    If you can't make this distinction, I am also skeptical of your ability to discern what's true and false about the big questions of the world.

  • ||

    their [government] interpretation of these laws

    That's why laws must be objectively defined based on individual rights, not arbitrary gang rule, and why capitalism--not anarchism--is the only politico-economic system that can guarantee individual rights.

    http://www.aynrand.org/site/Pa.....man_rights

  • ||

    I probably shouldn't have said I hate both of them equally, it's a far too vague comment and they are hard to compare.

    But what I meant by hating them both is that I think it's obvious that they both often are responsible for bad things. And when they do bad things, I oppose them.

    Not to mention that to talk of the government and corporations as if they aren't inseparably linked is a fantasy.

  • ||

    And the politicians who run government are the ones responsible for creating that linkage.

    If they weren't interfering in the free market, there would be nothing for corporations to lobby about.

  • ||

    Correct. But lobbyists use political pull to A) protect the rights of their clients and B) to gain unjust political advantage over their competitors. Under an objectively defined system of individual rights (and a corporation is just a organization of individuals), lobbyists would be both unnecessary and impotent.

  • ||

    I'd blame the institutional structure of our government coupled with the way corporations/corporate law have evolved.

    It's a fantasy to think that elites from business (individuals often from corporations) and politicians don't heavily interact and form a symbiotic protective relationship. To lay all the blame on the government seems to be missing the point.

  • ||

    But corporations have evolved that way because the government has had a big "FOR SALE" sign on their front porch.

    If gov't weren't open for business, corporations would focus on building/marketing better products and services.

  • ||

    What you despise is termed "rent-seeking". Here is the link to the wikipedia entry. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rent-seeking
    As you wander through these discussions, you will see the term often. Also, the commenters here at H&R are a pretty snarky crew, so you better toughen up a little. But, my god are they hilarious sometimes.

  • ||

    Not always. Not often. You are seeing things through the lens of ideology, not the facts themselves. Corporations often DO bad things in order to SCREW people because they CAN. Doesn't mean gov't is better, but don't glorify corporations either.

  • ||

    Except for the facts that it's about a specific, indisputable fuckup, the author notes another recent fuckup, and notes an unfortunately-dead blog dedicated such fuckups, yeah, this is just ad hominem.

    Wait, what's ad hominem mean?

  • ||

    Holy shit, I just read through the entire comment section and there wasn't a single interesting comment. It almost seems as if there are 30 people who spam meaningless drivel all over the internet (almost all places that allow non-registered comments).

  • ||

    Regardless of the prevailing philosophy, every blog comments section is exactly like every other, right down to the "we are special" group-think.

  • ||

    But we are special...

  • ||

    Very true. Although a higher proportion of angry and incoherent comments often correlates with no moderation and anonymity.

  • ||

    Absolutely. It's anarchy in practice. Lovely, isn't it?

  • ||

    I see you haven't run into this yet...

  • ||

    I have. Who knew that references to clouds and silver linings were spam?

  • ||

    "we are special" group-think.

    I would rather hang with you guys then with the best people in the world.

  • ||

    I detect a note of concern.

  • ||

    It's almost like...he has (wait for it)...sand in his vagina! Ha ha ha ha ha!

  • ||

    The Ray J Johnson subthread was interesting. You are a tool.

  • ||

    If he likes companies with huge tax benefits he should poke around GEs financials. I won't hold my breath.

  • ||

    ...and GE is claiming a tax benefit almost as large as News Corps tax payment...

  • ||

    But GE is doing God's work.

  • ||

    Put him in a room with Michael Fumento and let's see which bitch emerges victorious.

  • ||

    It's a fantasy to think that elites from business (individuals often from corporations) and politicians don't heavily interact and form a symbiotic protective relationship. To lay all the blame on the government seems to be missing the point.

    Sure, sure. There's an Iron Law that summarizes the relationship:

    Money and power will always find each other.

    You've got two options for dealing with this dynamic. You can either reduce the power of the State, or you can make everybody poor.

    Pick one.

  • ||

    There's an Iron Law: Money and power will always find each other.

    "Iron law" or aphorism? Either way, the statement is just an intellectual shortcut that does not (and cannot) address complex issues in any meaningful way.

    Pick one.

    Right. It's that simple. Or should I say, simpleminded.

  • ||

    PWN'D!!11!

  • ||

    PWNAGE!!!

    I'm meeeeellllllllllllltiiiiiiiiiiiiing!

  • ||

    Pulitzer prize or not, not only does David Cay Johnston not have a background in accounting, finance or economics, he never even completed a degree in anything according to Wikipedia. I was going to make a snarky comment about why Reuters would trust a journalism major or English major on such a story. It turns out the guy dropped out of three colleges without getting a degree. That doesn't make him automatically wrong, but it hardly makes him an expert.

    In the interview he gave NPR, the interviewer responded "Wait, wait, wait, wait," how can you make 10 billion dollars and get a 5 billion tax refund? DCJ should have asked himself that question and then realized that maybe he should double check his work. With as many people who hate News Corp. was he really so arrogant to think HE would uncover such an incredible fact going back to 2007? Wouldn't someone else have noticed it? He didn't want do that basic test of his premises because it would have killed his story. It also would have saved him a lot of embarrassment. What a fool. From his standpoint the story was "too good to check."

    He teaches journalism? Weep for the future.

  • ||

    "He didn't want do that basic test of his premises because it would have killed his story."

    Yes, because making an embarrassing mistake is what all journalists want.

  • ||

    I hope he gets banned from Reuters. I got banned for writing a curse word. This is worse.

  • ||

    I can do better than that! I got fired last week for writing an accurate story.

  • ball mill||

    In the interview he gave NPR, the interviewer responded "Wait, wait, wait, wait," how can you make 10 billion dollars and get a 5 billion tax refund? DCJ should have asked himself that question and then realized that maybe he should double check his work. With as many people who hate News Corp. was he really so arrogant to think HE would uncover such an incredible fact going back to 2007? Wouldn't someone else have noticed it? He didn't want do that basic test of his premises because it would have killed his story. It also would have saved him a lot of embarrassment. What a fool. From his standpoint the story was "too good to check."

  • ||

    I'm not surprised. Reuters are nothing short of Nazis. They ban anyone who disagrees with them. They pretend to be unbiased and respectable, but they're not. People are quickly figuring this out and Reuters's downfall will be their own doing.

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