Man Without Qualities

Friday, May 28, 2004

Herr Doktorprofessor Tells The Truth!

Today, Herr Doktorprofessor Paul Von Krugman tells the truth!

Of course, it's not the whole truth or nothing but the truth - so, if he had said it under oath it would technically be perjury - but, still, it's a start! The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step!

And it is both an important truth that Herr Doktorprofessor is telling and one that has been noted by the Man Without Qualities in a prior post. In fact, for the first time it is possible to summarize the worthwhile portion of one of Herr Doktorprofessor's columns by quoting from a Man Without Qualities post:

The current state of mainstream liberal media political coverage is substantively Gonzo, written by people who (by the Pew poll) increasingly admit their orientation but (by the Carroll speech) still cling to the fiction of their professional and institutional accuracy. The next step, of course, is full-fledged, overt, out-of-the-closet liberal Gonzo journalism in the currently accepted meaning (not the Thompson original meaning) of that term: inaccurate, crazy, essentially a license for liberal journalists to write anything they want.

Herr Doktorprofessor says it his own way. First comes the admission that current mainstream liberal coverage has already gone Gonzo:

But it's not just Iraq, and it's not just The [New York] Times. Many journalists seem to be having regrets about the broader context in which Iraq coverage was embedded: a climate in which the press wasn't willing to report negative information about George Bush. People who get their news by skimming the front page, or by watching TV, must be feeling confused by the sudden change in Mr. Bush's character. For more than two years after 9/11, he was a straight shooter, all moral clarity and righteousness. But now those people hear about a president who won't tell a straight story about why he took us to war in Iraq or how that war is going, who can't admit to and learn from mistakes, and who won't hold himself or anyone else accountable.

So very true. That's just what the mainstream media have been doing recently. One may not be one of his fans, but one has to admit that when Herr Doktorprofessor is right he's right. And he's also dead-on when he notes that mainstream media is in the process of overtly casting off what he terms the "tyranny of evenhandedness." How else to achieve true Gonzo bliss?

Of course, it is not necessary to tarry for more than a moment over the rest of his spin and explanations. His suggestion that the Times or mainstream liberal media ever broadly presented Mr. Bush as a straight shooter, all moral clarity and righteousness is just delusional in the standard-issue Herr Doktorprofessor fashion. Yes, it is a little peculiar (even for him) to suggest that the New York Times has presented Mr. Bush as a straight shooter, all moral clarity and righteousness with respect to what Herr Doktorprofessor terms the President's "budget arithmetic," or that the Times has not been "willing to check his budget arithmetic." And, of course, the Times and the rest of the liberal media were very hostile to Mr. Bush's decisions to invade both Afghanistan and Iraq, and indulged in quite a bit of challenge to the President's bona fides at the time. For example, before the Afghan war there was the looming Afghan "quagmire," and that deadly Afghan winter that would exacerbate it, whose risk the President the mainstream media repeatedly reminded us was not admitting. Herr Doktorprofessor tells us we're just imagining that - and so much more.

His argument that reporters on the Times and other liberal media have been silenced by "intimidation" is mostly a bizarre insult to such reporters. How many Times reporters, for example, would be willing to accept this characterization of their intestinal fortitude:

After 9/11, if you were thinking of saying anything negative about the president, you had to be prepared for an avalanche of hate mail. You had to expect right-wing pundits and publications to do all they could to ruin your reputation, and you had to worry about being denied access to the sort of insider information that is the basis of many journalistic careers.

Herr Doktorprofessor writes so well! One can practically hear the Times reporters whining to each other in the powder room off the newsroom floor: "O-O-O, I can't report something negative about the President - or Sean Hannity might disagree with me on television, maybe mention my name! Or I might get a nasty e-mail! ... By the way, am I getting a pimple here?" Who knew that Herr Doktorprofessor considered the Times reporters to be such gutless wonders? And it would be hilarious to survey the Times reporters to determine how many of them are in agreement with Herr Doktorprofessor's charge that they censored their reporting out of what Herr Doktorprofessor calls "misplaced patriotism," or will admit that they "reach[ed] a collective decision that it was necessary, in the interests of national unity, to suppress criticism of the commander in chief" or that the Bush administration played them "like a fiddle."

But, relative to Herr Doktorprofessor's overall precarious mental condition, such evidence of further marginal deterioration is but detail! The important thing is that Herr Doktorprofessor understands and has come to tell us all that (1) mainstream liberal media reporting has now gone Gonzo ("A new Pew survey finds 55 percent of journalists in the national media believing that the press has not been critical enough of Mr. Bush, compared with only 8 percent who believe that it has been too critical. More important, journalists seem to be acting on that belief."), and (2) they're casting off that old tyranny of evenhandedness fig leaf - unafraid to let the world at large see what they've got and what they're made of!

This is important stuff. As Alcoholics Anonymous has long counseled: Recovery often can only begin after the dipsomaniac has hit bottom and admitted what he has become. That may now be happening for the liberal media. As with so many of "his" academic economic insights, Herr Doktorprofessor may not have been the first to see what is happening, but he has now popularized the observation.

And that matters.

Of course, one problem for what Herr Doktorprofessor hopes to gain from all of this is that there are now other places for consumers of news to obtain quite a different spin and explanation for the truths to which he admits here - including those dreaded right-wing pundits and publications before whom he thinks liberal reporters cower. In other words, the public is very likely now to figure out what the liberal media are up to - thereby depriving them of the credibility and influence that the modest, discarded tyranny of evenhandedness provided. Indeed, even Herr Doktorprofessor's own truthful admissions on the subject help to advance that process of public education. And for that we truly owe him our thanks.

Odd, though, that he misses the economic point that it's cheaper for the media companies to have reporters just write their biases than actually go out and find news. Isn't he supposed to be an economist or something?

POSTSCRIPT: Curiously, the Times' own analysis of what it now says were deficiencies in some of its Iraq coverage specifically rejects attempts by "some critics" (apparently including of Herr Doktorprofessor, in advance) to place the blame on individual reporters acting under any incentives - which would seem to include "intimidation" of individual reporters, or "misplaced patriotism" of individual reporters, or any of the rest of Herr Doktorprofessor's silly litany:

Some critics of our coverage during that time have focused blame on individual reporters. Our examination, however, indicates that the problem was more complicated. Editors at several levels who should have been challenging reporters and pressing for more skepticism were perhaps too intent on rushing scoops into the paper. Accounts of Iraqi defectors were not always weighed against their strong desire to have Saddam Hussein ousted. Articles based on dire claims about Iraq tended to get prominent display, while follow-up articles that called the original ones into question were sometimes buried. In some cases, there was no follow-up at all.

Gee. Editors "intent on rushing scoops" without incurring the costs of fact-checking and follow-up? That's another way of saying that the problem was mostly caused by editors trying to increase production while minimizing costs: the very economic incentive approach Herr Doktorprofessor leaves lying untouched. The Times note to its readers was written by Executive Editor Bill Keller and Managing Editor Jill Abramson. Those worthies would do well to ponder that their own economic instincts and insights here are considerably more acute than those of Herr Doktorprofessor, especially when they proceed to the next logical step of their analysis: exactly why did the Times have policies and procedures in place that encouraged its editors to cut such corners? Profit maximization, anyone? Or was it "agency costs," perhaps? Any parallel here with the Jayson Blair fiasco? (Howell Raines, who was Times executive editor during that period [from October 2001 through May 2003], objected to the editors' note, calling it "vague and incomplete" and saying a broader examination was warranted. In a statement on, the journalism Web site, he wrote that faulty reporting did not result from a desire for scoops: "No editor did this kind of reckless rushing while I was executive editor." Amazing.) Neither the Times nor anyone else gets the useful answer without asking the correctly focused questions. No help there from Herr Doktorprofessor.

And given his paucity of insight, they would also do well to ponder exactly why they think the Times needs Herr Doktorprofessor on its staff.

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