Man Without Qualities

Friday, January 09, 2004

Breaking Rule Number One

Lead sentences of a front page article in the New York Times today:

Gen. Wesley K. Clark has begun to show a softer side. Gone are his navy blue suit, red tie and loafers, replaced by argyle sweaters, corduroys and duck boots.

(The article is accompanied by a photograph of the General's stylish new sweater!)

Paul Krugman's New York Times column 12.26.03:

But will the coverage of the election reflect its seriousness? Toward that end, I hereby propose some rules for 2004 political reporting.

- Don't talk about clothes.

Why is the New York Times breaking - in fact, flouting, in the very first sentences of its article - Herr Doktorprofessor's first rule of campaign coverage? Could it be because Wesley Clark is using his clothes as part of his effort to win over women voter - and that's news? It sure seems that way, and the Man Without Qualities agrees with the Times reporter here, and not with Herr Doktorprofessor Paul Von Krugman.

Political campaigning is about candidate communication - and it is common knowledge that people, including candidates, sometimes communicate significant messages with their clothes. Remember Bill Clinton's tie? If a candidate like Wesley Clark is trying to move a constituency with his clothes or his words, then the media should report on his clothes or his words.

Any rule to the contrary is just plain silly. It's pretty clear that the Times newsroom understands that, although Herr Doktorprofessor hasn't got a clue.

Bad economist, bad journalist.

UPDATE: If one were to try to think in the conspiratorial, mock-sophisticated fashion of Herr Doktorprofessor himself, one might be led to thoughts and sentences such as:

Word is circulating in knowledgeable circles that Herr Doktorprofessor Paul Von Krugman favors a Clark candidacy. The more astute analysts believe that prior to scribing his December 26 column Herr Doktorprofessor received word of the General's plan to use the women-voters-through-clothing ploy left over from the Naomi Wolff era of the Al Gore campaign. Some people think that word reached Herr Doktorprofessor through murky and conspiratorial channels, although who actually thinks that is even murkier than the channels and conspiracies themselves. Herr Doktorprofessor is thought by such astute analysts to have formulated his "first rule" of campaign coverage in an effort to intimidate reporters and suppress coverage of the expected Clark move! If these astute analyst suspicions prove out, the resulting scandal could be worse for the Times than the Jayson Blair fiasco!

But we're not allowed to have that kind of fun here.

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