Last night, Bill O’Reilly took to his talking points to complain that taxpayer money is being wasted “at a colossal rate.” It's not hard to discern that what he really meant was that it’s the Obama administration doing the wasting. Because while O’Reilly seizes again on that fictitious $16 muffin – with the suggestion that this is what has caused our financial mess – he has conveniently overlooked a huge waste of money caused by the Bush administration: The Iraq War. UPDATED AND CORRECTED: O'Reilly noted that the $16 cost was not for the muffin, alone.
O’Reilly’s excuse last night, was the firing of the head of the General Services Administration, Martha Johnson, for having “presided over a conference” in Las Vegas that cost $820,000. According to O’Reilly, $146,000 was spent on food, $130,000 “just to scout the hotel location,” $75,000 on a “training exercise” and $4/shrimp at a cocktail reception.
This, O’Reilly intoned, “demonstrates the mindset of the federal government.”
Actually, I’d say O’Reilly demonstrated more about his own mindset and that of Fox News than anything about the federal government. I’ll explain why in a minute.
“It’s happened before: We all remember the $16 muffin,” O’Reilly said gravely.
Correction: Bill O’Reilly remembers the muffin. We remember that PolitiFact ruled that allegation “mostly false” because the $16 muffin included other charges.
PolitiFact noted that the muffin may well have been overpriced. But newflash for O’Reilly viewers (because the wily O’Reilly almost certainly already knows): In a federal budget of nearly $4 trillion, $820,000 is statistically insignificant. With or without any $16 muffins.
Not that that’s any excuse for overspending on a conference, a muffin or anything else. I’m for cutting government waste as much as anyone. But if O’Reilly really cared about out-of-control, wasteful spending, he’d have been yelling about the Iraq war like – well, as if it were part of the war on Christmas. The pretext for the Iraq war – WMD’s - turned out to be even more fictitious than the $16 muffin. O’Reilly, himself, has admitted the war was “a mistake.”
As an article in U.S. News reported, the Congressional Research Service pricetag for the Iraq war is $806 billion. But, as the article also noted, “the long-term costs will well exceed this total, and the budgetary consequences are far-reaching.” And that’s not even taking into consideration the incalculable human costs that go with it.
I get that a $16 muffin and an $820,000 conference makes for better political theatre than an $806 billion war. But O’Reilly’s a clever guy. Surely, if he’s truly devoted to looking out for taxpayer money, he’d find a way to dramatize it into a punchy soundbite.
If he and Fox News need any help with it, I’ve got a suggestion: Pretend the war was started by President Obama.
UPDATE: When I watched this segment, I missed O'Reilly saying that the $16 muffin "was actually a $16 continental breakfast that was worth about $2.50." I apologize to readers and to Bill O'Reilly for the error. However, I think it's a stretch to say that the $16 was for a continental breakfast "worth about $2.50." If O'Reilly or anyone else knows where you can get a continental breakfast that includes coffee and a fruit plate - along with the muffin and the meeting space in Washington, D.C. - for $2.50, please do tell.
Nevertheless, I strive for accuracy and it's not accurate to say that O'Reilly was still "pushing the $16 muffin myth." But I think it is fair to say that O'Reilly was still overstating the cost of the muffin. But more importantly, my larger point in this post - which is the selective, partisan outrage with which Fox examines "government waste" - stands.
As for the $820,000 for the Vegas conference, I have to admit he has a point. Which is why some people have been resigning about it – it really looks bad to have an agency spending that kind of money just to “scout” the conference. The $4 shrimp is a silly figure, but the other numbers do speak to government waste.
The part that I believe Karl Rove was off on was where he opined that the hotel driving up the costs for the food to pay for the preferential rates on the hotel rooms and conference rooms was somehow illegal. It isn’t, if the payer is willing to pony up the money. The payer is just as able to say “No, this is too much money.”
And the cost for that $16 continental breakfast, as well as for the $4 shrimp hides a few things. The biggest one is that there are a bunch of servers working the room and maintaining the dishes. And there is a kitchen full of people working all day preparing food for all the people at the conference. The cost of the food pays for the chefs and the servers and the other hotel staff who are essentially being turned over to the conference, which is getting free conference rooms and deeply discounted hotel rooms. Winds up being a good deal for the government, which pays way under the market value for the overall package, and a good deal for the hotel, which still brings in a good number for itself. And it fits within the budget the government agency has. But that’s parsing numbers O’Reilly either doesn’t know or doesn’t understand.
OâREILLY: “We all remember the $16 muffin, which was actually a $16 continental breakfast which was worth about $2.50.”
Well we know why you didn’t it’s just surprising you thought you get away with it.
Can you imagine what kind of NON-reaction would be going on at FoxNoise if the Dubya/Cheney White House had been spending $16 on muffins?
Why, it’d be just like the reaction Daffy Duck gets after an elaborate song and dance routine trying to show up Bugs Bunny—the sound of crickets chirping.