Man Without Qualities

Friday, May 30, 2003


The erosion of New York Times credibility now appears to be complete - the washing away of its last clod signaled by Herr Doktorprofessor Krugman quoting twice in a week what he terms the "normally staid Financial Times" in lieu of his own employer: Stating the Obvious, (May 27 - arguing that the recent federal tax cut is too big) and Waggy Dog Stories (May 30 - asserting that the President lied when saying that he believed Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction). In each case Herr Doktorprofessor cites only to the Financial Times - although his employer, the New York Times, had editorialized and reported its own fulsome condemnations of the president's tax cuts (May 22), followed that with more fulminations (May 30), and offered its own condemnatory ponderings on the issue of WMD (May 26) - in each case in plenty of time for Herr Doktorprofessor to have cited the homegrown version. So why does Herr Doktorprofessor feel he has to look all the way to some London-based competitor? Of course, Herr Doktorprofessor's characterization of the paper he does cite as the "normally staid Financial Times" is itself at least misleading, since the London papers - including the Financial Times - are substantially more colorful, less "staid" and - in the opinion of most of the more reliable factions of the newspaper industry, less accurate and less careful - than their American counterparts, at one time including the pre-Howell Raines/Jayson Blair/Rick Bragg New York Times.. Indeed, in many respects Herr Doktorprofessor's column is now something that would be more at home in London than New York - so perhaps he is signaling interest and/or negotiations on his own part by fawning over the FT? Herr Doktorprofessor's fondness for the FT lapsed when it came to its May 26 item (subscription required) arguing that inflation is a bigger danger than deflation - contrary to the current Krugmania line that the risks of deflation "look uncomfortably high." Unsurprisingly, Herr Doktorprofessor seems to view the "normally staid Financial Times" as authoritative only when it suits his purposes. Could one seriously ask, "Who knew?"

The Waggy Dog Stories column is particularly revealing of Herr Doktorprofessor's own eroding intellectual and journalistic capabilities. The column crudely compares the Bush Administration with the 1997 movie "Wag the Dog" - but omits any mention that such a comparison was widely and far more accurately made about certain actions of the Clinton Administration. Generic 1998 example from the Scripps Howard News Service: President Clinton's double-barreled strike at terrorists in Afghanistan and Sudan on Thursday triggered instant comparisons to the movie "Wag the Dog," in which a president caught having sex with a young girl deflects public attention by pretending to attack a small foreign country.

But even more curious is Herr Doktorprofessor's criteria in his Waggy Dog Stories column for ascribing actual, policy or personal intent to the Administration, and even the President himself, for all kinds of things incurring Krugmaniacal ire: It's now also clear that George W. Bush had no intention of reaching a diplomatic solution. It's couldn't be just that the President didn't believe a diplomatic solution was possible from his own assessment of Saddam Hussein. No, no - the Krugmaniacal analysis tells us that something much more sinister was going on inside Mr. Bush. And, to Herr Doktorprofessor: The failure to find W.M.D.'s has been described as an "intelligence failure," but this ignores the fact that intense pressure was placed on intelligence agencies to tell the Bush and Blair administrations what they wanted to hear. Excuse me, but has there ever been a case in which a national intelligence service did not feel "intense pressure" to tell its administration "what they wanted to hear?" Are we suppose to think that the intelligence services were not aware that there is a huge downside risk to anyone who did invent such intelligence, especially where it is completely predictable that in such a case the relevant administration and legislature would be looking for post-war scapegoats? Are the people in the intelligence services babes in the woods of national politics? And was Tony Blair unaware that rigging the intelligence - thereby pointlessly risking the lives of many British soldiers and sending at least some to death - might destroy his entire career? Of course not. What the heck is supposed to be the big pay-off to Mr. Blair in falsifying intelligence, or maliciously "pressuring" his intelligence services, anyway?

If there were mistakes in pre-war intelligence, they were almost certainly just that: mistakes best laid to Sadam Hussein's refusal to cooperate with inspectors or abide by international law. But the simple fact is that there almost certainly were WMD in Iraq, and Tony Blair continues to deny vigorously all allegations that exceptional or improper pressure was placed on the intelligence services or that the weapons will not be found. One could profitably go on sifting through this column for the evidence it provides of the erosion that afflicts Paul Krugman's analytical abilities, ethics, journalistic competence, mental health and even his reason itself. Don Luskin does his customary excellent job. Somehow the mere possibility of error "proves" to Herr Doktorprofessor that: Meanwhile, the administration has just derived considerable political advantage from a war waged on false premises. At best, that sets a very bad precedent. At worst. . . . "You want to win this election, you better change the subject. You wanna change this subject, you better have a war," explains Robert DeNiro's political operative in "Wag the Dog." "It's show business."

Which brings us back to the other Blair in the news: Jayson Blair. Evidence of that Blair's malfeasance had accumulated for years around the Times - reportedly even to the point of having been expressly brought to the attention of Messrs. Raines, Sulzberger and Boyd. If the Krugmania standards of implying policy or deliberate intent from bad results are applied to the Jayson Blair case, one would be forced to conclude that Messrs. Raines, Sulzberger and Boyd all intended the plagiarism and lies that resulted. And if these same Krugmania evidentiary standards are again applied to this ineluctable deduction from his Waggy Dog Stories column, we are required to conclude that Paul Krugman actually intends to, and does, accuse Messrs. Raines, Sulzberger and Boyd of perpetrating all that plagiarism and all of those lies.

So it makes sense that Herr Doktorprofessor may be signaling an interest on his part in that position at the Financial Times.

Or, at least, he should be.


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