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Friday, June 06, 2003

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AN OP-ED HOMAGE TO CHEATING   
An alert reader asks how this could have possibly shown up on the op-ed page the first day of Joseph Lelyveld's interregnum at the New York Times? It's an homage to cheating by retired baseball pitcher Bill Lee.

"Cheating is inherent in the game of baseball. After I hurt my arm in 1976, I couldn't get enough velocity on my sinker. So I cut out part of my glove, on the outside near the thumb hole, and stitched in a piece of an emery board. I was able to pitch for five more years instead of having to drive a school bus.

"...I wasn't the only one who would scuff up the ball occasionally. (I also kept a tube of petroleum jelly in my locker. Your hands could get pretty chapped on those cold nights late in the season.) In August 1987 one of the Niekro brothers, I think it was Joe, was kicked out of a game for having an emery board in his back pocket. If I had been his lawyer, he would have beat the rap. My defense? Knuckleball pitchers need well-manicured nails."

Right. And Times reporters and op-ed columnists need to plagiarize, make up sources, suck stringers, distort quotes and all the rest of it that got Jayson Blair and Howell Raines thrown out -- but are still standard operating procedure for the likes of Paul Krugman, Maureen Dowd, and the rest of the Times op-ed page chop-shop.

Posted by Donald L. Luskin at 5:06 PM | link  

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A LOT OF THINGS MORE IMPORTANT THAN TRUTH   
A new econoblogger, Steve Antler (known as "Dr. A" around the economics department of Roosevelt University) thinks that Paul Krugman "pulls a Maureen Dowd" in his op-ed in today's New York Times. Krugman wrote,

"Most media attention has focused on the child tax credit that wasn't. As in 2001, the administration softened the profile of a tax cut mainly aimed at the wealthy by including a credit for families with children. But at the last minute, a change in wording deprived 12 million children of some or all of that tax credit. 'There are a lot of things that are more important than that,' declared Tom DeLay, the House majority leader. (Maybe he was thinking of the 'Hummer deduction,' which stayed in the bill: business owners may now deduct up to $100,000 for the cost of a vehicle, as long as it weighs at least 6,000 pounds.)"

But Dr. A found Tom DeLay's entire statement in this June 4 story in USA Today. And just as was the case with Krugman's quote from Grover Norquist in today's column, the meaning is precisely the opposite of the impression that Krugman gives.

''There are a lot of other things that are more important than that,'' House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, said of addressing low-income families. ''If it is a part of a bigger bill . . . and can get us some votes over in the Senate, then I'm more than open to it.''

Dr. A: "Doesn't this exclusion of the second part of the quote completely change its meaning? Am I missing something here?" If you agree with Dr. A, drop a note to retrace@nytimes.com.

Oh... and by the way... this was no "last minute" "change in wording," as Krugman asserts (in his previous column, he called it a "last-minute switcheroo"). As Senate Finance Committee chair Charles Grassley pointed out on May 29, before either column was written, "The accelerated refundable child tax credit was not in the President’s original proposal, and it was not in the bill passed by the House of Representatives." The non-inclusion of this Senate provision in the House/Senate conference bill puts it on equal footing with about a hundred of other faces on the law-making room floor.

Posted by Donald L. Luskin at 4:17 PM | link  

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KRUGMAN REPEATS A LIE THAT THE POST HAD ALREADY CORRECTED   
Paul Krugman's op-ed in today's New York Times contains an out-of-context and misleading quotation lifted from the Denver Post-- a quotation so out of context and misleading that that when a Washington Post columnist lifted the same quote two weeks ago, he issued a correction in his next column. So much for fact-checking.

Here's Krugman, talking about Grover Norquist, head of Americans for Tax Reform (whom Krugman identifies instead as "the right-wing ideologue who has become one of the most powerful men in Washington"):

"Which brings us back to Senator Miller, and all those politicians and pundits who still imagine that there is room for compromise, that they can find some bipartisan middle ground. Mr. Norquist was recently quoted in The Denver Post with the answer to that: 'Bipartisanship is another name for date rape.'

So what do you come away thinking? First, that this quote is something that Norquist said. Second, that its implies his endorsement of coercive and abusive partisan legislative strategies. Hold those thoughts...

Here's the way that quote appeared in the original Denver Post on May 26:

"Bipartisanship is another name for date rape," Norquist, a onetime adviser to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, said, citing an axiom of House conservatives."

This was picked up by Al Kamen in his Washington Post column on May 28:

"Quote of the Month: 'Bipartisanship is another name for date rape,' says Grover Norquist, GOP strategist and head of Americans for Tax Reform, according to an article yesterday in the Denver Post."

Kamen, unlike Krugman, isn't ashamed to admit his mistakes. In his next column, on June 2, he wrote:

"Veteran GOP operative Grover Norquist called Friday to clarify some comments in the Denver Post and in this column last week. He said he was not inveighing against the merits of bipartisanship per se, only noting that partisan fights at the state level seem to stop tax increases but bipartisanship or nonpartisanship in some states -- such as Utah and Nebraska -- seems to lead to tax hikes.

"And that line 'bipartisanship is like date rape' is not his, he said, but was coined by former House majority leader Richard K. Armey (R-Tex.) when the GOP was in the minority and being bipartisan meant getting the short end."

Okay, let's add up the score. Krugman repeats a two-week old quote from another newspaper which had already been picked up by another columnist -- and corrected by that columnist. The correction revealed that the quote was both not Norquist's, and that its meaning was not to call for coercive and abusive Republican partisanship, but to complain about coercive and abusive Democratic partisanship.

Now will the Times issue a correction? Probably not. But if you think they should, send an email to retrace@nytimes.com.

Thanks to Jonathan Collegio, the director of communications for Americans for Tax Reform, for pointing this out. 

Posted by Donald L. Luskin at 3:51 PM | link  

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AFTER THE RAINES OF TERROR   
The big-media biz war on capitalism -- what I call "the conspiracy to keep you poor and stupid" -- was dealt a severe blow yesterday with the resignation of the Times' executive editor Howell Raines.

The proximate cause of Raines' resignation -- and that of managing editor Gerald Boyd -- is the Jayson Blair scandal. But there are deeper reasons that had been developing under the surface ever since Raines took the helm 20 months ago, just waiting for an opportunity to break into the open. One is Raines' autocratic and divisive management style, which the Times itself admits in its own self-coverage of the event:

"...some of the newspaper's reporters and editors said they told [Times publisher] Mr. Sulzberger that the newsroom's disaffection with Mr. Raines was so deep as to be most likely irreparable... 'The morale of the newsroom is critical,' Mr. Sulzberger said earlier yesterday. The ability of reporters and editors 'to perform depends on their feeling they are being treated in a collaborative and collegial fashion.'"

Bully for the Times in going beyond the superficial excuse of the Blair scandal. But of course there's something else at work here, something that the Times is not yet prepared to admit. Raines had to do because the Times' relentless and reckless ultra-left wing agenda was destroying the world's greatest newspaper franchise.

Raines was the instrument of the destruction, with his rogues gallery of radical liberal op-ed screedsters and his capricious and exploitive "flood the zone" campaigns against Enron, Augusta, the war in Iraq, the peace in Iraq, Bush's tax cuts, and all the rest. But Raines is not, ultimately, to blame. Raines is no more than the creature of publisher Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., the scion of the family dynasty that owns the Times who elevated Raines first to editorial page editor in 1992 and then to executive editor in 2001, specifically because of his sympathy with Sulzberger's leftist viewpoints (according to Ken Auletta's 2002 New Yorker portrait of Raines). Sulzberger's liberal views extended not just to editorial positioning, but to the very mission and managerial style of the New York Times Company itself, of which he is chairman.

Arthur Silber pointed out yesterday on his Light of Reason blog the "mission statement" that appears as the last sentence of the boilerplate paragraph at the bottom of every Times Company press release, including the one issued today announcing Raines' resignation. This statement has appeared on every press release since at least early 1999, long before Raines was named executive editor.

"The Company's core purpose is to enhance society by creating, collecting and distributing high-quality news, information and entertainment."

Consider all that is revealed in just 18 remarkable words. First, the "core purpose" to "enhance society." Perhaps such a thing would be a worthy goal for the Ford Foundation, but the shareholders of this for-profit corporation should be quite concerned by its seeming elevation of utopianism above earnings. It's especially ironic coming from a newspaper whose business columnist Gretchen Morgenson regularly lacerates "greedy" CEO's for not putting their shareholders first.

To "enhance society," Sulzberger officiated over an aggressive affirmative action program that first elevated and then protected Jayson Blair -- a mistake that has forever tarnished the 152-year old newspaper's brand image. But the "enhance society" end justifies even Blair's fraudulent means. After all, the mission statement specifically calls for "creating" news. And isn't that exactly what Blair did?

"Enhancing society" is exactly the kind of thing that Paul Krugman thinks that "plutocrats" -- especially inheritors like Sulzberger -- should be doing. Krugman wrote last year,

"The influential dynasties of the 20th century, like the Kennedys, the Rockefellers and, yes, the Sulzbergers, faced a public suspicious of inherited position; they overcame that suspicion by demonstrating a strong sense of noblesse oblige, justifying their existence by standing for high principles."

It's chilling to imagine someone like Krugman sitting in judgment of what is required for people to "justify their existence" -- one immediately has visions of Robespierre and the guillotine. Yet this is exactly the judgment that Sulzberger submitted himself to. But he's wising up -- and just in time, before the dollars-and-cents judgment of the Sulzberger dynasty decides it's "off with his head."

Just three weeks ago Sulzberger said, "If Howell were to offer his resignation, I wouldn't accept." Oh well... a-tisket, a-tasket, a head in a basket. It can't answer the questions you ask it.

Other newspapers are getting the message, too. Two weeks ago John Carroll, the editor of the ultra-liberal Los Angeles Times, sent a memo to staff forcefully forbidding liberal bias in news stories. Carroll wrote with astonishing candor,

"I'm concerned about the perception and the occasional reality that The Times is a liberal, politically correct newspaper... The reason I'm sending this note to all section editors is that I want everyone to understand how serious I am about purging all political bias from our coverage.  We may happen to live in a political atmosphere, Los Angeles, that is suffused with liberal values, but we are not going to push a liberal agenda in the news pages of The Times."

So Raines is out, and retired executive editor Joseph Lelyveld has come back on an interim basis to manage a transition to new leadership. What happens to Paul Krugman and the rest of Raines' menagerie?

My guess is: nothing immediately. And I suspect he'll get away with it for a while, as the Times will no doubt wish to focus its reform efforts where it will count the most -- in returning the paper's "core purpose" to reporting the news rather than "creating" it. The spin will be that the editorial pages are just opinion, so they're fine as they are. There will be change there -- a key "retirement" here, a new more moderate voice there, maybe some new source-citing and fact-checking guidelines. All to the good.

But at least for the near term, if I know Krugman, he'll turn up the volume on his ultra-liberal ranting and raving just to show he has nothing to apologize for and nothing to fear. But don't worry -- Raines or no Raines, we won't let any Krugman lies slip by unchallenged.

Posted by Donald L. Luskin at 2:45 AM | link  


Thursday, June 05, 2003

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THE TIMES' CONFESSION HAS BEEN THERE ALL ALONG   
Our friend Arthur Silber (who runs the Light of Reason blog) read the fine-print of the New York Times Company's press release announcing the resignations of Howell Raines and Gerald Boyd, and discovered this little bit of boilerplate at the very bottom -- it's literally the last sentence. It's probably been part of the standard company description footer on every Times Company release for God knows how long -- but Silber points out what an astonishing yet unremarked confession it is.

"The Company's core purpose is to enhance society by creating, collecting and distributing high-quality news, information and entertainment."

Times Company shareholders will be distressed to learn that the company's mission is to "enhance society" rather than shareholder value. And readers will be concerned that the Company sees itself in the business of "creating" news.

It's really all so shockingly honest. And from the Times, yet.

Posted by Donald L. Luskin at 12:13 PM | link  

RAINES AND BOYD RESIGN    I love the smell of napalm in the morning. Smells like victory.

Posted by Donald L. Luskin at 10:17 AM | link  

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IS HE EXAGGERATING?   
There are some great blogs on Paul Krugman's most recent New York Times column. It's the one in which Krugman asks the rhetorical question,

"Am I exaggerating?"

Here's my non-rhetorical answer: Yes! Ja! Da! Oui! Si! Hai! I always knows exactly when Krugman is exaggerating (that's easy: Tuesdays and Fridays).

This time the exaggerations (and the lies and the distortions and the out-of-context quotes and the bogus statistics and all the rest) are in service of the Times' latest "flood the zone" attack on the President Bush -- trying to make it seem that Bush lied about non-existent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Krugman states,

"The public was told that Saddam posed an imminent threat. If that claim was fraudulent, the selling of the war is arguably the worst scandal in American political history — worse than Watergate, worse than Iran-contra."

Was Bush lying when he told the public that Saddam was an imminent threat? David Hogberg says "no" on his blog, Cornfield Commentary -- because Bush never said it!

"I did some checking and found the text of the President's most recent State of the Union address. Here's the exact quote regarding the 'imminent' threat:

"'Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent. Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike?'

"...I did find news articles claiming Bush was saying the Iraqi threat was imminent. For example, one article referred to the State of the Union speech, while another referred to an October 7th address. But... Bush didn’t say the Iraqi threat was imminent in the State of the Union. And Bush never used the term in the October 7th address. The same held true for Bush’s speech last year to the United Nations, his speech/press conference of March 6th, and his speech as the war was beginning. Either Bush didn’t use the word 'imminent,' or he used the word to argue that we should not wait until the threat is imminent."

Robert Musil goes further on his blog, Man Without Qualities:

"...during the entire United Nations dust-up it was always quite clear that the United States was not arguing that Iraq needed to pose 'an imminent threat' in the meaning of that term in international law for its invasion to be justified. ...In fact, much of the public debate over the emerging 'Bush Doctrine' concerned whether the United States was constrained by arguably out-of-date notions of 'imminent threat'... the Administration and Secretary Powell did not argue that Iraq was imminently threatening to use those weapons. That's what the Administration's opponents claimed the Administration had to show. Had Herr Doktorprofessor ...perhaps drunk too much iced tea and left the room while all this was going on?"

James Taranto, on his blog Best of the Web Today, calls this Krugman op-ed "an unusually deranged column even by his standards." And he gets right to the heart of darkness in the Times' -- and the left's -- flood-the-zone strategies to discredit the president:

"...President Bush would have to be judged one of the more honest politicians of our time. He's untouched by scandal, and he keeps his promises. He said he'd cut taxes, and he did. He vowed to liberate Iraq, and he did. But now an argument is developing on the Democratic left that somehow the policies themselves are corrupt--that because Bush doesn't agree with liberal ideas, he is a liar."

Krugman despairs that the media -- which he frequently says is generally conservatively biased (here's an example, and my refutation of it) -- is siding with Bush:

"Each time the administration comes up with another whopper, partisan supporters — a group that includes a large segment of the news media — obediently insist that black is white and up is down. Meanwhile the 'liberal' media report only that some people say that black is black and up is up. And some Democratic politicians offer the administration invaluable cover by making excuses and playing down the extent of the lies."

Musil read that statement deeply, and concludes that it's a remarkable confession -- an accidental confession, but a confession nevertheless -- that the New York Times is liberally biased:

"Where does the New York Times fall in this peculiar taxonomy? Surely Herr Doktorprofessor doesn't think that the Times 'obediently insist[s] that black is white and up is down'! But is he admitting that the Times is liberal -- or is his employer only 'liberal?' If the Times is only 'liberal' -- but not actually liberal -- then Herr Doktorprofessor says it 'report[s] only that some people say that black is black and up is up.' But the Times does more than that! Why, Herr Doktorprofessor himself is proof! So he must be admitting that the Times is actually liberal - not just 'liberal.'

"My goodness! Who would have thought it would be Paul Krugman, of all people, who would break ranks and admit that the New York Times has a liberal bias?! How will that go down with embattled Times management?"

Krugman continues to present the British press as exemplars of honest political analysis (that is, views that agree with his own). In his May 30 column he quoted a Financial Times Bush-bashing editorial as though it were especially authoritative -- and now he's quoting the Telegraph.

"If this same lack of accountability extends to matters of war and peace, we're in very deep trouble. The British seem to understand this: Max Hastings, the veteran war correspondent — who supported Britain's participation in the war — writes that 'the Prime Minister committed British troops and sacrificed British lives on the basis of a deceit, and it stinks.'"

William Sjostrom notes on his AtlanticBlog, that the Telegraph article containing this quote was posted Monday on the web site of a Brad DeLong (an ultra-liberal UC Berkeley Professor and Krugman wannabe who briefly had a column in the Times several years ago -- Krugman and DeLong are a liberal, Bush-bashing folie a deux, with DeLong linking to Krugman frequently, and always adoringly, and Krugman returning the favor). DeLong introduces the Hastings column by saying it comes from the "genuinely conservative" Telegraph (much as last week Krugman positioned the FT as "normally staid") --

"But he does not bother to mention that Hastings has been opposed to the war from the beginning... So DeLong wants to pass off a column by a war opponent as an 'even the conservatives are now critical of Bush on the war' line. Hastings was hostile from day one... Krugman has pulled the same scam. Is he cribbing from DeLong?"

Cribbing? It's worse than that -- in DeLong's hands, positioning Hastings as "genuinely conservative" is a bit of a flim-flam -- but Krugman turns it into an outright lie: that Hastings "supported Britain's participation in the war." Musil warns of a "Krugman/DeLong rhetorical inflationary cycle" in which,

"Herr Doktorprofessor's rhetoric has already reached Weimarian dimensions, comparable to the benighted German era in which one routinely brought a wheelbarrow of currency to market just to buy a loaf of bread. ...Surely, given the current credibility crisis at the Times, draconian inflation fighting solutions are appropriate. Yes, yes, one could bring in a new columnist and impose some harsh rhetorical conversion ratio (say, 100,000-to-one) between the new rhetorical currency and the outgoing, debased Krugmark, much the way Argentina and those banana republics which Herr Doktorprofessor adores comparing to the United States do repeatedly."


Posted by Donald L. Luskin at 4:26 AM | link  


Tuesday, June 03, 2003

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RANDOM MOODSWINGS: GREENSPAN SAID, GREENSPAN FINALLY SAID, KRUGMAN SAID  

HE SAID, HE SAID   Washington Post headline: "Greenspan No 'Major Evidence' of Growth."

New York Times headline: "Greenspan Is Upbeat on Economy..."

NOW YOU TELL US   Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan on Bush's tax cuts: they "will create a fairly marked increase in after-tax income in the third quarter and one must presume that a goodly part of that will filter into consumer markets" and lead to more hiring." And, ""Fortuitously, this particular cut in taxes is happening at the right time although I doubt if one could have planned that in advance."

KRUGMAN ADMITS NY TIMES IS BIASED     Robert Musil writes on his Man Without Qualities blog, concerning Paul Krugman's June 3 op-ed:

"Herr Doktorprofessor writes: Each time the administration comes up with another whopper, partisan supporters — a group that includes a large segment of the news media — obediently insist that black is white and up is down. Meanwhile the 'liberal' media report only that some people say that black is black and up is up.

"Where does the New York Times fall in this peculiar taxonomy? Surely Herr Doktorprofessor doesn't think that the Times obediently insist[s] that black is white and up is down! But is he admitting that the Times is liberal - or is his employer only 'liberal?' If the Times is only 'liberal' - but not actually liberal - then Herr Doktorprofessor says it report[s] only that some people say that black is black and up is up. But the Times does more than that! Why, Herr Doktorprofessor himself is proof! So he must be admitting that the Times is actually liberal - not just 'liberal.'

"My goodness! Who would have thought it would be Paul Krugman, of all people, who would break ranks and admit that the New York Times has a liberal bias?! How will that go down with embattled Times management?"


Posted by Donald L. Luskin at 11:31 PM | link  

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MATTERS OF EMPHASIS   
Paul Krugman's New York Times column, today:

"The public was told that Saddam posed an imminent threat. If that claim was fraudulent, the selling of the war is arguably the worst scandal in American political history — worse than Watergate, worse than Iran-contra."

Paul Krugman's New York Times column, January 29, 2002:

"I predict that in the years ahead Enron, not Sept. 11, will come to be seen as the greater turning point in U.S. society."


Posted by Donald L. Luskin at 11:49 AM | link  

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KRUGMAN: "FOR THE CHILDREN..."   
Paul Krugman covers all too familiar ground in his New York Times column today -- supposed  Bush/Blair lies about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and a quote-fest from the always-reliable British press (no correction or retraction of his uncritical quotation of Vanity Fair's misquotation of Paul Wolfowitz, natch).  David Hogberg does a fine job of revealing the true context of Krugman's deceptively out-of-context Bush quotes. Robert Musil has speculated that Krugman is positioning himself for a job at the Financial Times.

But the best single paragraph is about Bush's tax cuts. It says, in part:

"Republican National Committee declared that the latest tax cut benefits 'everyone who pays taxes.' That is simply a lie. You've heard about those eight million children denied any tax break by a last-minute switcheroo. In total, 50 million American households — including a majority of those with members over 65 — get nothing; another 20 million receive less than $100 each. And a great majority of those left behind do pay taxes."

Krugman thus joins another Howell Raines "flood-the-zone" attack (in the fine Times tradition of its coverage of Enron and the non-admission of women members to Augusta). In under a week Times readers have already had inflicted upon them to this May 29 story by David Firestone, this May 30 editorial, this June 1 follow-up by Firestone, these five June 1 letters (4 supporting the Times' position), and this June 2 op-ed by Bob Herbert.

But in none of that coverage is there any mention of the strongly worded refutation by Senate Finance Committee chair Charles Grassley of the Times lie that Krugman repeats here -- that there was a "last-minute switcheroo." As Grassley puts it,

"The change reported in today’s New York Times was not a last-minute revision. The accelerated refundable child tax credit was not in the President’s original proposal, and it was not in the bill passed by the House of Representatives.

"This credit, a new and expanded spending program, was added to the jobs and economic growth bill on top of the tax-cut provisions during the Senate Finance Committee markup. When House-Senate conferees were forced to fit all of the tax cuts and all of the new government spending into a $350 billion package, the add-ons, including this new government spending, were dropped from the bill."

And how about some sources... there are none. It's just "you've heard about." Krugman now expects us to source his claims about taxes from the "impeccable statistical work" of the liberal think tanks he mentioned on his personal website last week. I checked those web sites, and I couldn't find anything about "eight million children denied any tax break." In fact I couldn't find anything about eight million children who even pay taxes in the first place.

Posted by Donald L. Luskin at 8:16 AM | link  


Monday, June 02, 2003

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A NOT-SO-BEAUTIFUL MIND   
Paul Krugman begins his May 30 New York Times op-ed by recounting the plot of the 1997 film, Wag the Dog, in which he says,

Click here now to order from Amazon.com!"An administration hypes the threat posed by a foreign power. It talks of links to Islamic fundamentalist terrorism; it warns about a nuclear weapons program... The war drives everything else — including scandals involving administration officials — from the public's consciousness. ...If you don't think it bears a resemblance to recent events, you're in denial."

Recent events? Maybe it's just me, but Wag the Dog evokes nothing but memories of the time in August 1998 when Bill Clinton deployed cruise missiles against what turned out to be a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan, on the same day that Monica Lewinsky delivered her most damning grand jury testimony.

Click here now to order from Amazon.com!Krugman's column itself evokes another movie altogether -- the parallels are truly eerie. Remember the most horrifying scene in A Beautiful Mind when John Nash -- an economist, and Princeton-based no less! -- is descending into madness? His long-suffering wife throws open the doors of Nash's isolated workshop and discovers a room papered floor to ceiling with layer upon layer of clippings from magazines and newspapers with seemingly random passages highlighted, connected together with push-pins and tangled bits of yarn -- the encoded evidence in Nash's disturbed brain of a vast plot to destroy America. If you don't think Krugman's latest column is that room, you're in denial.

Let's trace the yarn in Krugman's column, from clipping to clipping, to see the evidence assembled in Krugman's not-so-beautiful mind that the war in Iraq was a Wag the Dog fake staged by the Bush administration.

First there's the completely unsubstantiated accusation that the war's "Kodak moments — the toppling of the Saddam statue, the rescue of Pfc. Jessica Lynch — seem to have been improved by editing." TimesWatch conjectures that  

"Krugman appears to rely on an April 9 column by cartoonist and left-wing columnist Ted Rall. (Rall has also wondered if Minnesota Sen. Paul Wellstone, who died in a plane crash, was assassinated by the Bush administration.) Krugman’s Lynch rescue allegation apparently rests on a now-discredited BBC report."

Follow the yarn to the next push-pin -- this one attached to a clipping from the Financial Times. As I've pointed out (here and here), the FT has been on an anti-Bush shooting spree, and Krugman now loves to quote it. This time he says,

"It's now also clear that George W. Bush had no intention of reaching a diplomatic solution. According to The Financial Times, White House sources confirm that the decision to go to war was reached in December: 'A tin-pot dictator was mocking the president. It provoked a sense of anger inside the White House,' a source told the newspaper."

Why is anyone surprised? President Bush himself had already declared his military resolve way back in September, in his address to the United Nations -- but that doesn't mean, and the May 26 FT story that Krugman cites does not contend -- that subsequent diplomatic efforts were fraudulent, as Krugman suggests.

But Krugman suggests more than that, when he pulls that particular quote from the FT story -- "''A tin-pot dictator was mocking the president. It provoked a sense of anger inside the White House.'" Krugman is trying to make it seem as though Bush just plain old lost his Texas temper, and that the commitment to war was nothing more than personal pique. But go read the whole story, and you'll see that Krugman's pulling that quote out of context is as vicious a fraud as his colleague Maureen Dowd's infamous May 14 New York Times column in which she elided a Bush quote to make it seem that the President was boasting that Al Qaeda had been completely eliminated.

In the FT story the quote is directly preceded by this paragraph:

"...Mr Bush was briefed on the contents of Mr Hussein's 12,000-page declaration responding to the charges of possessing, or attempting to produce, chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. The president's advisers said it was 'not even a credible document'. Mr Hussein, they concluded, had made a 'strategic decision' not to co-operate."

The "mocking," then, is Saddam Hussein's abrogation of the diplomatic process -- and the White House's "anger" is because Saddam left it no choice but to pursue costly and hazardous military options.

The next clipping we find pinned to the wall of Krugman's demented workshop is from an as-yet unpublished issue of Vanity Fair, containing a seemingly damning quote that suggests the Bush administration was insincere about its belief that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction:

"Administration officials are now playing down the whole W.M.D. issue. Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy defense secretary, recently told Vanity Fair that the decision to emphasize W.M.D.'s had been taken for 'bureaucratic reasons . . . because it was the one reason everyone could agree on.'"

Apparently Vanity Fair published a press release last week announcing an interview with Paul Wolfowitz by reporter Sam Tannenhaus. I haven't been able to obtain the actual press release, but it seems the Wolfowitz quote was presented just that way -- ellipsis and all -- at least that's how it was picked up on Wednesday in USA Today, which may be where Krugman found it. But he should have checked his sources, instead of just reporting on the media reporting on the media. By Thursday, the day before Krugman's column was published, the Pentagon had posted the entire 9,999-word Wolfowitz interview, and -- surprise, surprise, surprise! -- that quote was both inaccurately transcribed and taken entirely out of context, and it completely reversed Wolfowitz's intent.

Tannenhaus admitted in the interview that "...I type as we speak, which is one reason I'll want to see the transcript just so I don't make errors. I'm reliable, but I'm not a letter-perfect typist." He must not have bothered to follow through, or perhaps he liked his version better -- but here's that same sentence, according to the Pentagon's transcribed recording:

"The truth is that for reasons that have a lot to do with the U.S. government bureaucracy we settled on the one issue that everyone could agree on which was weapons of mass destruction as the core reason, but...[Wolfowitz broke off mid-sentence to take a phone call]"

In the true version it's no longer Wolfowitz confessing that the hunt for WMDs was just an institutional expedient -- he's talking about the process of complex institutional decision-making. But more important is this sentence's context. The conversation both before and after it concerns several other reasons for action against Iraq, including links to terrorism, the cruelty of Saddam's regime, and the desirability of being able to withdraw US troops from Saudi Arabia. Wolfowitz is hardly "playing down the whole W.M.D. issue" -- he's saying it's the key issue about which everyone could agree! And elsewhere in the interview Wolfowitz makes it clear that he fully believes that Saddam had WMDs -- to Wolfowitz, the only mystery is why Saddam didn't use them in the war.

But for Krugman, it's simply an established fact now that "No evidence of the Qaeda link has ever surfaced, and no W.M.D.'s that could have posed any threat to the U.S. or its allies have been found." David Hogberg refutes that on his blog Cornfield Commentary:

"The only serious response to the charge of 'no evidence of the Qaeda link' is 'HUH!?!?' How about the capture of an al Qaeda terrorist in Baghdad on April 28? Or the capture Iraqi official Farouk Hijazi who has admitted that he met with Osama bin Laden in 1994 (and may have met with him in 1998)? For more on those links, see this article by Stephen Hayes."

Wolfowitz -- in a part of the interview naturally not seen as fit to print by Krugman -- adds, "...we killed 100 or so of an al Qaeda group in northern Iraq in this recent go-around." Back to Hogberg:

"As for WMDs. Krugman might consider taking a look at the news stories about the two mobile bio-labs that have been discovered. Or other stories showing that of the 1000 potential WMD sites, only the 'most likely'—about 100—have been searched thus far."

Or we could just follow the yarn back to a Krugman column published just two weeks ago, in which he blamed the Bush administration for "...an orgy of looting — including looting of nuclear waste dumps that, incredibly, we failed to secure. Dirty bombs, anyone?" Now is it just me, or does a dirty bomb sound like something that could pose a "threat to the U.S. or its allies"?

And, inevitably, the tangled yarn finally leads to a clipping from Krugman's favorite source for war news -- the BBC.

"This week a senior British intelligence official told the BBC that under pressure from Downing Street, a dossier on Iraqi weapons had been 'transformed' to make it 'sexier' — uncorroborated material from a suspect source was added to make the threat appear imminent."

But it turns out that Krugman's version of the BBC story is what's uncorroborated -- by the actual content of the BBC story, that is. Hogberg found John H. Hinderaker of the Power Line blog has tracked down the BBC story, "Iraq Weapons Dossier 'Rewritten'". Hinderaker writes,

"Even the BBC's own anonymous source concedes that 'Most things in the dossier were double source.' In fact, there is only one fact stated in the dossier that the BBC's anonymous official questions: the statement that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction could be 'ready for use within 45 minutes.' This statement was based on information from only one source, who was not considered reliable by the BBC's informant

"That's it. Everything else in the British dossier is conceded to be correct: '[T]he official said he was convinced that Iraq had programme to produce weapons of mass destruction, and felt it was 30% likely there was a biological weapons programme. He said some evidence had been 'downplayed' by chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix."

Why does Krugman go on like this, clipping his clippings and linking them together and searching endlessly for the key to the secret code that will reveal the truth about the Bushie plot to hijack America? Is he just plain nuts -- or does he think if he follows in John Nash's footsteps that someday he, too, will get the Nobel Prize in economics? If that's his plan he's going to learn that there are a couple of very real differences between himself and Nash. First, Nash made a fundamental contribution to the science of economics. And second, Nash lived out his paranoid delusions in private -- not every Tuesday and Friday on the pages of the New York Times.

Posted by Donald L. Luskin at 4:45 AM | link  


Sunday, June 01, 2003

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THE ROT IN THE TIMES' GARDEN   
So far the scandals at the New York Times that have cost Jayson Blair and Rick Bragg their jobs have the unsatisfying quality of Al Capone's conviction on tax evasion charges. Sure, it's great to see evil-doers punished -- but we are left feeling they got away with something because their punishment was not linked to their larger crimes. Plagiarism, fabricating quotes, failing to acknowledge contributions of stringers -- all these things are technical journalistic transgressions, violations of rules of process that have little to do with the quality of results. So while the Times collects more (and likely, increasingly trivial) examples of such technical process transgression at retrace@nytimes.com, and as a few more employees will undoubtedly be made examples of, the Times' larger crimes in the domain of results -- the systematic distortion of news, analysis and opinion to fit a political agenda -- go on unabated, and in some sense validated by being exempted from the scandal going on in the background.

Here's an example that is, admittedly, incredibly trivial. Yet its very triviality reveals the extent to which the Times' political agenda has completely permeated every nook and cranny of the paper. In today's Book Review section, there is a round-up of gardening books by Jamaica Kincaid, identified as "a novelist and the garden editor of Architectural Digest." At the end of the round-up, following descriptions of books such as Tree Bark: A Color Guide and Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses, Kincaid concludes with:

William Cobbett. THE AMERICAN GARDENER (Modern Library, paper, $11.95), written in the early 19th century, is being republished as part of a series of worthy books about the garden, edited by Michael Pollan. Cobbett's writing is important in garden literature: he writes so well; he is full of still relevant advice on how to do all sorts of things. This book has an introduction by the American garden writer and essayist Verlyn Klinkenborg, who writes editorials for The New York Times, briefly sketching out the political and personal turmoil of Cobbett's life. Apparently he went from radical right to radical left and remained so -- that is, radical left-- for the rest of his life. Such a gardener as William Cobbett is exactly the kind of gardening friend I would like to be with in my garden. Such a person would be better than a book. But that he comes at this time, only in a book, is enough happiness.

Note that Kincaid says utterly nothing about what the book is about, merely that it is "important," that the author "writes so well" (get me rewrite! -- writes so well that... what??), and that the book contains "advice on how to do all sorts of things" (presumably having to do with gardening). What gets all the ink is the book's introduction, which just so happens to be by someone "who writes editorials for The New York Times," and which just so happens to tell the story of how a gardener who was a radical conservative became a gardener who was a radical liberal. And we learn that, according to Kincaid's lights, a gardener who becomes a radical liberal is, presumably by virtue of his political beliefs (because no other reason is given), "exactly the kind of gardening friend I would like to be with in my garden."

And then, remarkably, this closing sentence: "But that he comes at this time, only in a book, is enough happiness." What exactly does Kincaid mean by "at this time"? At this time when we all need more gardening advice than ever? I doubt it. She means at this time when we need a good dose of "the radical left" more than ever in this country.

Now if it turned out that Kincaid plagiarized any of that (not that anyone else but the Times would ever publish such a stupid thing), then you can be sure that Howell Raines would convene a staff meeting and pull out his little stuffed moose and Kincaid would be banished back to the pages of Architectural Digest. But overt politicization -- extending all the way to the Sunday Book Review section, and all the way to a review of a book on gardening for crying out loud -- is of no interest to the minions who read the emails sent to retrace@nytimes.com.

Posted by Donald L. Luskin at 5:52 PM | link