Man Without Qualities

Friday, April 02, 2004

Complete And Utter Herr Doktorprofessor

With his most recent "column" the degeneration of Herr Doktorprofessor Paul Von Krugman into a spouter of complete and utter inconsequential gibberish is now complete!

While the full story may never be known, Herr Doktorprofessor appears to have been competing with Maureen Dowd in some contest to posit the most bizarre parallels between some popular culture ephemera and a national political development of some consequence when something suddenly went tragically wrong.

Some form of journalistic autopsy may reveal more, but Herr Doktorprofessor appears to have intended to establish some connection between (1) a kerfuffle over a David Letterman show video clip of a bored boy (Tyler Crotty by name - reportedly a strong Bush backer) caught on camera yawning behind the president during a 45-minute speech and (2) remarks made on Wolf Blitzer's CNN program by a National Security Council spokesman, Jim Wilkinson, that certain passages in Richard Clarke's book were "sort of `X-Files' stuff." Herr Doktorprofessor thinks that the "sort of `X-Files' stuff" Wilkinson was referring to is a claim Clarke makes in his book that: "It was as if Usama bin Laden, hidden in some high mountain redoubt, were engaging in long-range mind control of George Bush."

So it comes to this:

Herr Doktorprofessor's entire column is based on his annoyance with Mr. Wilkinson for taking Mr. Clarke's sentence at face value as "sort of `X-Files' stuff" and not recognizing it as a "literary device." Herr Doktorprofessor is also possibly even more annoyed with Wolf Blitzer for not demanding that Mr. . Wilkinson apologize to Mr. Clarke for taking this sentence at face value as "sort of `X-Files' stuff" and not recognizing it as a "literary device."

Yes, it's true. Herr Doktorprofessor got his panties all tied in a knot about - and the New York Times actually published on its op-ed page his rant about - someone allegedly failing to appreciate a "literary device" and calling it "sort of `X-Files' stuff." A real national outrage, that. What's next? - a four inch Times front page headline denouncing some inappropriate use of the negative pregnant before the Supreme Court by the Solicitor General?

And for all that, Herr Doktorprofessor never does get the Tyler story right. Contrary to the understanding and sundry versions presented by this full Princeton Professor and Bates Medal winner, Tyler was where he was pictured in the videoclip, and he did do all those things depicted in the video clip (just as Mr. Letterman said) but the clip was then edited: "What we had was a few yawns, a few looking at the watches over a 45-minute period, and Letterman had that edited down to a 30-second piece and frankly it was hysterical," Tyler's dad said. The whole Wolf Blitzer angle is almost completely incomprehensible as Herr Doktorprofessor writes it, but some understanding of this aspect of the column can be garnered by collating this column with Herr Doktorprofessor's previous column, using a Ouija board to get the reader over the tougher spots.

So the White House never complained and Tyler's dad says his son thought the whole edited clip was "hysterical."

As fate would have it, "hysterical" is also the word most accurately describing Herr Doktorprofessor's own column. But one must keep in mind that in Herr Doktorprofessor's case the word should be taken at face value, where Tyler's dad's use was only a literary device. Yes, keep that in mind - or God help you if Herr Doktorprofessor finds out that you didn't.

And, by the way, might the entire New York Times press corp of Washington D.C. - a city that depends absolutely and utterly on the art of the nameless, unattributed leak - wish to take notice that Herr Doktorprofessor thinks that administration officials shouldn't be able to spread stories without making themselves accountable. Will it matter that Herr Doktorprofessor posits a principle that would likely put almost every one of them out of business when they demand of the New York office that he be given tighter supervision by an editor ... or a psychiatrist?

UPDATE: Hoystory suggests that Paul Krugman is making a pretty serious accusation. In his latest column, Krugman claims that the Bush administration somehow "got" to CNN.

Hoystory may well be right that Herr Doktorprofessor probably wanted to make that accusation - but he doesn't actually do it in this column. Perhaps editor/attorney intervention? I'm just guessing.

Instead, the entire CNN/Wolf Blitzer angle becomes an incomprehensible muddle of what Old Mayor Daley called "insinuendos." Herr Doktorprofessor finally settles (I think) for a rant about journalists not publishing stories based on nameless sources unless the sources can somehow be held "accountable." ("Look, I understand why major news organizations must act respectfully toward government officials. But officials shouldn't be sure — as Mr. Wilkinson obviously was — that they can make wild accusations without any fear that they will be challenged on the spot or held accountable later. And administration officials shouldn't be able to spread stories without making themselves accountable.") Or maybe he's just personally mad at Wolf Blitzer. Or somebody. Or maybe he just got an early look at the new employment numbers from some nameless unaccountable source in the Department of Labor. Mostly I have deep feelings for the cat.

And, by the way, what's with the qualifier in "administration officials shouldn't be able to spread stories without making themselves accountable." Is the point that it's OK that, say, Congressional officials be able to spread stories without making themselves "accountable?"

FURTHER UPDATE: In a development more exciting and significant than anything offered by Herr Doktorprofessor in this column, it has been announced that Tyler will be on the Letterman show:

On Thursday's show, Letterman made excuses for Tyler.

"It turns out we heard from his father that he'd been up very late the night before because he was excited about meeting the president, so they got him out of bed the early next day," said Letterman at a taping. "So, the kid, in addition to being bored silly, as would any right-thinking kid, was very, very tired and behaved just the way a kid behaves - nothing wrong with that."

Tyler and his family were reportedly flying to New York early Friday to be on the show.

That's so nice!

STILL ANOTHER UPDATE: OpinionJournal counts this passage from Herr Doktorprofessor's column as his characterizing CNN's goof as a sinister White House plot:

CNN passed along a smear that it attributed to the White House. When the smear backfired, it declared its previous statements inoperative and said the White House wasn't responsible. Sound familiar? . . .

Administration officials shouldn't be able to spread stories without making themselves accountable. . . . And there's no excuse for disseminating unchecked rumors because they come from "the White House," then denying the White House connection when the rumors prove false. That's simply giving the administration a license to smear with impunity.

I quite disagree. Herr Doktorprofessor simply does not say in this passage that the White House was the source of the "smear." He probably wanted to say that - but he in fact casts his criticism as a slap at CNN procedures. Yes, he does say thaat those procedures give the administration a license to smear with impunity. He does not say here that the Administration was the source of the smear in this case. That's a big part of what makes this column so confused. Moreover, Herr Doktorprofessor increases the confusion by referring to Wolf Blitzer's claim that the "smear" was really something said by National Security Council spokesman, Jim Wilkinson - as noted above. That segue completes the transformation of Herr Doktorprofessor's column into gibberish - unless one wants to read it as accusing Blitzer and CNN of denying that Wilkinson had made those comments on Blitzer's show.

I am no fan of Herr Doktorprofessor. What he has committed here is incoherent gibberish and unsupported, ranting "insinuendo." But he is not characterizing CNN's goof as a sinister White House plot.

MORE, MORE, MORE Tyler on tape! Deep background!

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