Monday, August 05, 2002
Remove the log from your own eye...: It should come as no surprise that there is nary a mention of Krugman's little gaffe on the Bush/Rangers deal in his latest column. Instead Krugman continues his partisan attacks on Bush.
I'm sure that lots of history is being falsified as you read this -- there are several three-letter agencies I don't trust at all -- but two cases involving the federal budget caught my eye.
First is the "Chicago line." Shortly after Sept. 11, George W. Bush told his budget director that the only valid reasons to break his pledge not to run budget deficits would be if the country experienced recession, war or national emergency. "Lucky me," he said. "I hit the trifecta."
When I first reported this remark, angry readers accused me of inventing it. Mr. Bush, they said, is a decent man who would never imply that the nation's woes had taken him off the hook, let alone make a joke out of it.
Soon afterward, the trifecta story became part of Mr. Bush's standard stump speech. It always gets a roar of appreciative laughter from Republican audiences.
I think Krugman would be shocked to hear what is said at the site of a fatal automobile accident. As a reporter and photographer I've been at the scene of fatal accidents. You can either laugh or you can cry. If you cry, you don't last long in the business. Ask a psychologist if humor can be used as a coping mechanism. Krugman must not visit the Times' newsroom very often -- off-color jokes and "insensitive" comments are the norm in every newsroom I've been in. And talking to other journalists leads me to believe that it's the case just about everywhere.
Krugman needs to work on his ability to detect sarcasm. Unlike how Krugman tends to color it, "Lucky me" is obviously a sarcastic comment. Otherwise, I'll begin to suspect that Krugman is a card-carrying member of the "Cynthia McKinney Wacko Conspiracy Theory Club."
Let's set aside the comment and its dubious historicity. Bush isn't the first politician to fabricate bits of the past -- he won't be the last.
Is Krugman, the economist, suggesting that the federal government should be running a budget surplus during a recession?
Is Krugman, the economist, suggesting that the federal government should be running a budget surplus during a war?
Is Krugman, the economist, suggesting that the federal government should be running a budget surplus during a national emergency?
But let's set that aside. Krugman's recent faux pas doesn't chasten him in writing his column.
There is, however, an art to this sort of deception: you have to imply the falsehood without actually saying it outright. Last month the Office of Management and Budget got sloppy: it issued a press release stating flatly that tax cuts were responsible for only 15 percent of the 10-year deterioration. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities noticed, and I reported it here.
Now for the fun part. The O.M.B. reacted angrily, and published a letter in The Times attacking me. It attributed the misstatement to "error," and declared that it had been "retracted." Was it?
It depends on what you mean by the word "retract." As far as anyone knows, O.M.B. didn't issue a revised statement conceding that it had misinformed reporters and giving the right numbers. It simply threw the embarrassing document down the memory hole. As Brendan Nyhan pointed out in Salon, if you go to the O.M.B.'s Web site now you find a press release dated July 12 that is not the release actually handed out on that date. There is no indication that anything has been changed, but the bullet point on sources of the deficit is gone.
Check out Krugman's July 16 column. Has the Times retracted Krugman's inaccuracies? Nope. Is there an added note on that archived article noting the mistake? Nope.
My suggestion for Krugman would be for a little humility when it comes to angrily pointing out the mistakes of others, considering his own history. Krugman gets a lot of mileage out of a mistake in a press release. (Current count: 2 columns.)
Every government tries to make excuses for its past errors, but I don't think any previous U.S. administration has been this brazen about rewriting history to make itself look good. For this kind of thing to happen you have to have politicians who have no qualms about playing Big Brother; officials whose partisan loyalty trumps their professional scruples; and a press corps that, with some honorable exceptions, lets the people in power get away with it.
Consider Occam's Razor: The simplest answer is usually right (paraphrased). Which is more likely? There's an insidious plot by the Bush administration to rewrite history books, back issues of newspapers and to institute mind control on the American people. Or, somebody put the wrong figure in the wrong column on press release?
Some have lauded Krugman's economic work as worthy, someday, of a Nobel Prize in Economics. Is it possible that Krugman is following in the footsteps of Nobel Prize-winning mathematician John Nash? An explanation for the paranoia?
*UPDATE* Krugman's concerned about history being rewritten. Well, maybe he should check out this article.