Reporter Spots Hanging Curve Ball, Hits Home Run

When the White House announced Thursday that the federal deficit would top $400 billion, only one reporter remembered his history - and cut through the spin.

Yesterday, in a conference call with reporters, White House officials estimated that this fiscal year’s federal budget deficit would likely top a whopping $400 billion — an estimate that was much higher than had been expected. According to the White House, the increase in the projected budget deficit was due in large part to Hurricane Katrina.

Today, various news outlets including Reuters, the New York Times and the Financial Times dutifully reported the projected numbers. Most of the reports focused on the Katrina angle. A few noted that the forecasts would increase pressure on Republican lawmakers to trim fat from the federal budget in the coming year. Only one reporter, however, came away from the session with something else — specifically, an eerie sense of deja vu.

“This is the third straight year in which the White House has summoned reporters well ahead of the official budget release to project a higher-than-anticipated deficit,” Jonathan Weisman reported today in the Washington Post. “In the past two years, when final deficit figures have come in at record or near-record levels, White House officials have boasted that they had made progress, since the final numbers were below estimates.”

“This administration has a history of overestimating the deficit early in the year, lowering expectations, then taking credit when it comes in below forecast,” Stanley E. Collender, a federal budget expert, told the Post. “It’s not just a history. It’s almost an obsession.”

Obsessions, like history, tend to repeat over and over, round and round.

It’s nice to know that somebody in the Washington press corps isn’t too dizzy to see the spin coming and call it what it is.

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Felix Gillette writes about the media for The New York Observer.