Man Without Qualities

Sunday, November 23, 2003

The Times on That Mustache

The New York Times admits it:

Unlike the relatively staid cover of the American edition published by W. W. Norton, the British book jacket bears caricatures of President Bush as Frankenstein-like and Vice President Dick Cheney with a Hitler mustache. A dark scrawl on the vice president's forehead reads, "Got Oil?"

Does this mean the Man Without Qualities convinced the Times that the "Got Milk?" dodge was just that - and failed to mask the British publisher's rather obvious actual intent and objective meaning?

Herr Doktorprofessor himself is delightfully evasive:

Mr. Krugman, for his part, said he did not remember seeing the cover until prepublication copies were sent to reviewers. "I think it was intended to be ironic."

Herr Doktorprofessor's response seems crafted to meet an expected revelation that he was, in fact, sent a copy of the cover long before he received a "prepublication copy" - hardly itself a well-defined term. It is common for publication contracts of writers like Paul Krugman to include at least limited reasonable approval rights on book covers - together with a clause providing that failure to object in a set period (two weeks? three days?) after receiving approval copy constitutes deemed approval. If his contract is of this sort, then his failure to object was deemed approval of the cover.

And Herr Doktorprofessor's other comments suggest that he actually did have such rights and opportunity to object:

"It is a marketing thing, not a statement," he said. "I should have taken a look at that and said, `What are you doing marketing me as if I am Michael Moore? This is silly.' " Incivility is one thing, he said, but the book cover "may be undignified, which would be a reason to object."

But how could Herr Doktorprofessor have "taken a look at the book cover" and said anything if he didn't receive and review a copy of the book cover in advance? And how could he have said "What are you doing marketing me as if I am Michael Moore? This is silly," unless he has some right to disapprove it? He sure makes it sound as though he did receive an advance copy of the cover, didn't object to it and was therefore deemed to have approved it under his contract, but had a reason to object to the cover under his contract because the cover is "undignified."

Depicting the Vice President of the United States as Hitler is no laughing matter. But Herr Doktorprofessor's I do not remember seeing the cover defense is just hilarious baloney. The man's a natural - a comic genius!

UPDATE: Don Luskin has more.

FURTHER UPDATE: "Bobby," who runs the Unofficial Paul Krugman Archive is in a sad but frantic dither:

Also, contrary to what David Kirkpatrick (whose NYT story looks like a cut-and-paste job from an RNC press release) and Gollum Luskin say (I'm going to ween myself off of linking to his vile site), that picture of Cheney on the U.K. cover (below) is *NOT* comparing Cheney to Hitler. ... This is a picture of Cheney with an oil mustache, like in the "Got Milk" commercials (it says, "Got Oil?" on his forehead and the oil is dribbling out of his mouth) -- so the Cheney picture is political satire regarding Cheney's very very close ties to Halliburton and big oil. ... The oil mustache is far too wide and covers far too much of Cheney's upper lip to be a Hitler mustache, which would cover only the middle of the upper lip.

But Bobby should please calm down. The Times is fully aware of that "Got Oil?" - Got Milk?" dodge - it was fully vetted. The Times reporter has heard the argument and rejected it, maybe because the "Got Milk?" campaign never ran in Britain - as suggested here. The mustache is seen as being like Hitler's by most people - and it's pretty obvious that the British pubilsher intended that. That there is a "Got Milk?" allusion in the image is completely consistent with it also being a Hitleresque mustache.

Perhaps if Bobby asked nicely, Herr Doktorprofessor would tell Bobby whether Herr Doktorprofessor's book contract gives him approval rights on the cover and whether the British publisher actually sent Herr Doktorprofessor a preview of the cover for approval - regardless of whether Herr Doktorprofessor "remembers" seeing it.

Bobby also shouldn't worry about the Times taking its articles from the RNC by cut and paste. Paul Krugman is a Times columnist. The Times is not out to "get" its own columnist. The Times acknowledged the Hitler allusion because it's obviously correct, and to deny it would have made the Times look naive and tendentious past the point where even the Times is willing to go.

There is one factor I can think of that might suggest that the Times was a bit miffed with Herr Doktorprofessor here. Reports are that the Times had no veto right over the cover. If that is so, then the Gray Lady was trusting Herr Doktorprofessor not to embarrass her - and he let her down pretty badly. Perhaps the Times article reflects some sense of betrayal on the Gray Lady's part. After all, sometimes it's just not worth it to the Gray Lady to deny or ignore warts on those in her favor - such as her erratic columnists - especially when they fail to look out for her. Herr Doktorprofessor's betrayal of his employer's trust is something entirely within his control - so any retribution on the Times part (if there is any in this article) is nothing for Bobby to worry about.

But Bobby should be concerned about whether he's contracting some of Herr Doktorprofessor's trademark paranoia.

Right now the replica Louis Vuiton is luring me. Available in both gris and noir, the Artsy is a double threat because of its classic hobo shape and design. When it comes to python skin, I prefer a monotone color rather than the natural look.
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