Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Profoundly wrong

In the Daily Telegraph of all places, we find this fawning article about Princeton economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman. Apparently Krugman is over here in London, and channel 4 economics correspondent Liam Halligan had the pleasure of meeting up with him. According to Halligan Krugman is a “arguably the most brilliant economist of his generation”. Which I guess is another way of saying that, arguably, he is not.

But Krugman’s questionable status among the greats of economics aside, what really caught my attention was this:
Krugman combines the virtues of a great economist - analytical clarity and profound respect for facts - with none of the usual caution.
Not just a respect for facts, mind you, but a profound respect for facts. And with that Halligan has just destroyed whatever credibility he might otherwise have had.

I mean, it doesn’t take much to discover that Krugman’s commitment to factual truths is, well, questionable to say the least. The internet is chock-full of examples of Krugman’s shading of facts, selective use of data, deceptive use of quotations, and outright misrepresentations in his column. Donald Luskin has created a semi-weekly event over the last 4 years out of uncovering Krugman’s journalistic misdeeds in his twice-a-week NYT column, right up to just the other day, when Krugman tried to pass off a Democratic scandal as a Republican scandal. Anyone who is interested can go to National Review's archives and see 109 articles by Luskin, most of which go into great detail showing just how much “respect” Krugman has for facts.

But you don’t even have to look to Krugman’s political foes to know how Krugman operates. Just look to his employer. In the wake of the Jayson Blair fiasco, the New York Times created a new position of “Public Editor”, to whom readers were encouraged to write with their complaints about the paper’s reporting. Daniel Okrent was appointed to the position in December 2003, and Krugman quickly became a regular target of complaints. After a year and half on the job, in announcing his departure from the position, Okrent wrote this column, titled The Public Editor; 13 Things I Meant to Write About but Never Did”. In it, he says this:

Op-Ed columnist Paul Krugman has the disturbing habit of shaping, slicing and selectively citing numbers in a fashion that pleases his acolytes but leaves him open to substantive assaults. Maureen Dowd was still writing that Alberto R. Gonzales ''called the Geneva Conventions 'quaint''' nearly two months after a correction in the news pages noted that Gonzales had specifically applied the term to Geneva provisions about commissary privileges, athletic uniforms and scientific instruments. Before his retirement in January, William Safire vexed me with his chronic assertion of clear links between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, based on evidence only he seemed to possess.

No one deserves the personal vituperation that regularly comes Dowd's way, and some of Krugman's enemies are every bit as ideological (and consequently unfair) as he is. But that doesn't mean that their boss, publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr., shouldn't hold his columnists to higher standards.

This resulted in an exchange between Krugman and Okrent on the NYT message boards, in which Okrent had this to say in response to Krugman’s defense:
This was the first he heard from me on these specific issues partly because I learned early on in this job that Prof. Krugman would likely be more willing to contribute to the Frist for President campaign than to acknowledge the possibility of error. When he says he agreed “reluctantly” to one correction, he gives new meaning to the word “reluctantly”; I can’t come up with an adverb sufficient to encompass his general attitude toward substantive criticism. But I laid off for so long because I also believe that columnists are entitled by their mandate to engage in the unfair use of statistics, the misleading representation of opposing positions, and the conscious withholding of contrary data. But because they’re entitled doesn’t mean I or you have to like it, or think it’s good for the newspaper.
This, remember, is coming from one of Krugman’s colleagues at the NYT, not an opinionated political opponent.

All of this is fairly common knowledge to anyone who follows Krugman's columns at all. In describing Krugman as having a “profound respect for facts”, Halligan has shown himself to either be “profoundly” ignorant of the very subject of his article, or profoundly shameless in adopting the dishonest ethics of his economic hero.


Anonymous dan m said...

Great job! I was staggered by the Telegraph's spin: when they go off the rails there, which is too often for comfort, they really do blow it big. What a dismal piece of reporting. Don't British reporters ever get beyond the sages propped up at the bar at the internat'l press club?

You've got the right stuff, Scott. Keep it pumping and good luck.

5:20 PM  
Blogger James B. said...

It wasn't just fawning, it practically lusting.

7:55 PM  
Anonymous Alasdair said...

Ummmm ...

It is kinda obvious, but ...

Did you *really* intend to have the following in your posting ?

"After a year and half on the job, in announcing his departure from the position, Okrent wrote this column, titled The Pubic Editor; 13 Things I Meant to Write About but Never Did”. In it, ..."

[my emphasis]

or was it simply your slip showing ?

(innocent grin)

11:02 PM  
Blogger Scott Callahan said...


Thanks for pointing that out. It's now fixed. That's the second time this week that I have made the same typo with the same word. Must be something freudian.


12:08 AM  
Blogger James B. said...

Speaking of lustfull...

12:09 AM  
Anonymous Mark said...

How interesting! William Anderson says the same thing that I once said about Krugman: He is not an economist, he is a political commentator. I said this once in an online discussion forum, and got trounced by someone who knew Krugman's credentials. I was just judging Krugman's profession going by what he was saying. Indeed, Krugman's credentials are worthy of respect, however, I still maintained that it was difficult to trust Krugman's analysis, because he laces everything with ideology.

I was surprised by Anderson's analysis of the economic problems in Japan. I've read and heard analysis from a few other people: Ravi Batra, Pat Choate, and Robert J. Samuelson, that Japan was suffering its economic depression due to a "liquidity crisis": people were saving too much, and not spending enough. I've since learned that Batra is not respected in economist circles, and Choate may not be either. I do take what Samuelson says seriously.

Anderson's is the first analysis I've seen that suggests that the problem in Japan is that too much money is forced to follow too much in bad investments.

Scott, great entry. I got a good laugh out of your take on Krugman! How the Telegraph, or anyone, could say that Krugman has a profound respect for the facts is beyond me!

1:57 AM  

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