Man Without Qualities

Wednesday, July 16, 2003

Life After The Big Sleep II

Don Luskin notes a thrilling account of Paul Krugman's journey to the underworld of partisan hack columnist - from Lying In Ponds.


It's interesting that Herr Doktoprofessor now ranks only behind Ann Coulter and Robert Scheer in partisanship - but Ms. Coulter is a frankly partisan polemicist, while Messrs. Krugman (as LIP points out) and Scheer deny their partisanship - as LIP defines that term.

The Man Without Qualities is actually rather skeptical of LIP's methodology. For example, suppose for the sake of argument (and very much contrary to fact) that Herr Doktorprofessor Krugman's columns were impeccable economic analyses each and every time - but each time he chose a topic on which Republicans in general - and the President in particular - were on the wrong side of the pristine, objectively correct economic analysis, and Democrats were on the right side. This would be tough for Herr Doktorprofessor to pull off, but suppose he did - and further suppose that he did it because he subjectively doesn't like Republicans and Mr. Bush. That would mean that essentially all of his references to "Democrats" would be positive and essentially all of his references to Republicans and the President would be negative - which would seem to make Herr Doktorprofessor overwhelmingly partisan - in the sense that LIP uses that term, notwithstanding the complete absence (by hypothesis) of partisan spin in any Krugman column. Instead, the "spin" is (again, by hypothesis) all in Herr Doktorprofessor's selection of topics.

Now it is unquestionably the case that a general media outlet can render itself highly partisan merely by its selection of stories. For example, assuming that the Presidential trip to Africa is objectively more newsworthy than the simultaneous "he lied" meme, a general media outlet could show partisanship by electing to devote massive coverage to the "he lied" meme - but little to the simultaneous Presidential trip to Africa.

But I have a big problem labeling a columnist "partisan" solely on the basis of topic selection - even where that selection is motivated by subjective partisan motives. One does not read Paul Krugman to find "all the news that fit to print" - or commentary on "all the topics that are fit for an academic economist to write about."

My difficulties with Herr Doktorprofessor stem largely from his reliance on (1) a constant stream of bad economics, including incomplete economics, (2) false, misleading and materially incomplete statements of fact and economic theory, (3) evasive language often intended to allow him to claim credit for predictions where none were made, and (4) a boring parroting of the then-current liberal Democratic line that he attempts to tart up as original commentary.

I still enjoy reading LIP – but I don't see how LIP's criteria pick up much of what bothers me about Herr Doktorprofessor. Perhaps I’m wrong.

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