Man Without Qualities

Friday, January 24, 2003


Professor DeLong does not have time to correct his prior spreading of error, but he does have time to complain that a Washington Post reporter tells his readers absolutely nothing of why Paul [Krugman and Professor DeLong] are annoyed with [CEA Chair R. Glenn Hubbard]. It's an outsiders-critical-of-administration-official story--which, in the context of Washington, is dog-bites-man: not news at all.

Professor DeLong hilariously understands that it is not news that he and Paul Krugman are critical of Mr. Hubbard about anything in particular. Apparently, Professor DeLong thinks that everybody should already know that he and Paul Krugman are always annoyed at everything Mr. Hubbard does all the time. Which I'm prepared to believe is correct since Professor DeLong says it is so.

More peculiar is Professor DeLong's suggestion that he and Paul Krugman actually having reasons for being annoyed (his word) is news. Surely it's not that Professor DeLong thinks that "dog-bites-man" is not news, but "dog-bites-man with teeth" is news?

No. Professor DeLong thinks the newsworthiness lies in the actual nature of the criticism he and Paul Krugman have of the Administration this time. One is tempted to point out the risible academic vanity of Professor DeLong's thought and move on, but there's likely more going on here.

The Washington Post is not out to "get" either of Professor DeLong or his oftentimes buddy Paul Krugman, and the paper is on the lookout for newsworthy aspects of a story like this. But by not describing the reasons for their criticisms in this case, "this Washington Post reporter" (as the Good Professor calls him) is likely sending them a message, if only inadvertently, along the lines of the following:

Yes, it is not much news that Professors DeLong and Krugman are annoyed at the Administration, because in Washington many people are always annoyed at the Administration for partisan political reasons. But naming the Professors in the article does help the reader to locate some nodes of that criticism, and is therefore somewhat useful for the reader. If Professors DeLong and Krugman were economists of a different class, such as Milton Friedman or Gary Becker, their actual reasons for their current criticism would likely be news. Although Professors DeLong and Krugman are nominal economists, their "reasons" are often - even usually - partisan hooting disguised as an economist's thoughtful concern. As Professor DeLong points out, that kind of "reason" in Washington is not news - and it is certainly not additional news once you've named the partisan. A reporter can't easily distinguish a serious economic argument from a partisan screed masquerading as a serious economic argument. So the reporter has to rely on the economist's reputation.

This is where things get very dicey for Professors DeLong and Krugman: the Washington Post is not out to get them, and recognizes that they are nodes of criticism of the Administration's economic policies, but the Post has also probably caught on to their reputations and their untrustworthy trafficking in academic legitimacy. That's probably why the paper doesn't look into their reasons.

Professors DeLong and Krugman should take the note. But neither of them will. They've become addicts.

Professor DeLong thinks this incident shows how: We need a better press corps.

But the one we have may be better than he thinks.

[Note to Professor DeLong: The reporter has a name, Jonathan Weisman. Not using his name even once in your post is pushing from your mind that you're attacking a human being here. It's an inconvenient parameter, I know, the way human beings tend to be. But you really should try.]

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