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Saturday, April 10, 2004

NEW TIMES JOB "FEARS" -- NOT ENOUGH SEASONAL WORKERS    I wonder who's on vacation at the New York Times business section? Somehow some good news slipped in. How about the headline: "A Shortage of Seasonal Workers Is Feared." Perhaps heads won't roll, as at least they managed to frame a good jobs outlook in negative terms -- fear. And in today's paper edition, on the same front page of the business section, is a chart showing the spectacular recent performance of stock markets throughout the Middle East. Who knew? Who didn't?

Posted by Donald L. Luskin at 3:15 PM | link  


Friday, April 09, 2004

ANOTHER TOP TEN LIST...    ...from the Ace-O-Spades. I like number eight best.

Posted by Donald L. Luskin at 9:52 PM | link  

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OKRENT CLARIFIES HIS DUTIES   
I asked New York Times "public editor" Dan Okrent to comment on the email his associate Arthur Bovino sent to a reader, published here Thursday, seeming to abdicate any responsibility for the op-ed columnist page. Thanks to Dan for this terrific response:
    My man Bovino sent out the wrong message from our store of semi-stock responses, and he feels horrible about it. I feel worse -- I'd like to insulate him from public opprobrium and take the hit for any misdeeds or bad policies myself.

    I have not absented myself from oversight of what appears on the opinion pages. But I do feel I have made my position on columnist corrections clear in as public a fashion as I could -- in the pages of the newspaper, and in the column's continuing presence on the web. I'm also very confident that this debate can proceed without my constant involvement. The Times is a big paper, and I've got many other things to attend to.


Posted by Donald L. Luskin at 10:21 AM | link  

READERS REACT ON LIBERAL PREJUDICE AGAINST CONDI   Email from an anonymous reader concerning Maureen Dowd's and Gary Trudeau's remarks about Condi Rice:
    Can you imagine the liberal uproar if it had been Rush Limbaugh saying these things about Bill Clinton's black female National Security Council chief? Oops -- Clinton didn't have one of those.

Posted by Donald L. Luskin at 6:26 AM | link  


Thursday, April 08, 2004

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LIBERAL PREJUDICE AGAINST CONDI RICE   
Gary Trudeau calls her "Brown Sugar" in this Doonesbury strip (thanks to Robert Musil for the link). And Maureen Dowd judges her 911 Commission testimony "character assassination" in a column published the night before Rice even testified.
    Maybe after high-definition TV, they'll invent high-dudgeon TV, a product so realistic you can just lunge through the screen and shake the Bush officials when they say something maddening about 9/11 or Iraq, or when they engage in some egregious bit of character assassination. It would come in handy for Karen Hughes's Bush-nannying book tour and Condoleezza Rice's Clarke-riposting 9/11 commission testimony.
Sometimes I wish Condi didn't have so much class. I'd love to see her play the race card and blow these smug bigots away.

Posted by Donald L. Luskin at 7:03 PM | link  

TIMES ON CONDI    They can barely stand how well she did. Reporter David Stout was so discombobulated he penned this surpassingly bizarre paragraph about the proceedings:
    The session before the panel, formally known as the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, produced long stretches of bureaucratic language, including the word "task" as a verb, with images of people with their "hair on fire," figuratively speaking, in alarm.

Posted by Donald L. Luskin at 12:39 PM | link  

GOOD SENSE ON CEO PAY    Alan Reynolds debunks the silly stuff you read every year about CEO pay -- and introduces "the coveted Krugman Award for Economic Trickery."

Posted by Donald L. Luskin at 8:07 AM | link  

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SAY IT AIN'T SO, DAN OKRENT   
A reader whose name I won't mention passed along a troubling email he got from Arthur Bovino, assistant to New York Times "public editor" Dan Okrent, in response to the reader's complaints about the deceptively truncated quote from Wolf Blitzer in Paul Krugman's column last Friday. What the hell is Bovino talking about here? The reader's question is about an op-ed columnist, but Bovino's response is about the "editorial board" -- the folks who write the unsigned house editorials. And how can Bovino possibly think he's being responsive by positioning Krugman's bitchy reinforcement of his deception in Tuesday's column as some kind of remedy?

Dear Mr. [omitted],

The positions taken by the editorial board of The Times are not within Mr. Okrent's purview. I include a response from him below to this effect:

The positions taken by the editorial borad [sic] of The Times are not within my purview nor should they be; the editorial board is entitled to its views, and readers are free to agree or disagree with them.

That said, Mr. Krugman did append a statement regarding your concern at the bottom of his column:

A Yawngate update: CNN called me to insist that despite what it first said, the administration really, truly wasn't responsible for the network's claim that David Letterman's embarrassing video of a Bush speech was a fake. I still don't understand why the network didn't deny White House involvement until it retracted the charge. But the main point of Friday's column was to highlight the way CNN facilitated crude administration smears of Richard Clarke.

As we know that the editors are concerned with reader response, I have forwarded your comments regarding a possible correction to editorial page editor Gail Collins.

Sincerely,
Arthur Bovino
Office of the Public Editor

Maybe Bovino just dashed this one off without having understand just about anything about the matter at hand. Or maybe he understands it perfectly, and he's saying that Okrent is washing his hands of the whole issue of the truthfulness and accuracy of the Times columnists, this after his very constructive column on the subject two weeks ago. Fine -- we can all agree that opinion qua opinion is inviolate. But considering what this letter is supposed to be responding to, it seems that to cite the "opinion" defense amounts to abdication on the accuracy issue.

The really scary part is if Bovino really means it when he offers that Krugman's repetition of the lie supported by the doctored quote is positioned as "regarding your concerns." An uncharitable reading would be that the "public editor" is actually helping to cover up for columnists who won't correct themselves, by pretending that they are.

I've asked Okrent for a comment. I hope he'll tell me that Bovino did not respond appropriately here.

Posted by Donald L. Luskin at 12:58 AM | link  


Wednesday, April 07, 2004

MERCURY FALLING    Here's a good fact-checking of Krugman's column on mercury pollution from Galen's Log. Thanks to Jon Henke of Q-and-O for the link.

Posted by Donald L. Luskin at 7:16 AM | link  


Tuesday, April 06, 2004

TOP TEN TIMES HEADLINES ON JOBS    Since Paul Krugman is so interested in David Letterman, here, from the inexhaustible Ace o' Spades, is the top ten best headlines from the New York Times on the explosive growth in jobs last month:

10. New Trends in Economy Will Displace Many Workers; Hundreds of DNC Staffers Likely to Lose Their Bulls--t, Daddy-Got-Me Jobs

9. Despite Improving Job Picture, Many Americans Report They Still Regularly Suffer From "A Bad Case of the Mondays"

8. In Ohio, Heroes Confronted With Heartbreaking Choices: Returning Iraq War Veterans Must Choose Between $65,000 Per Year Out of State or $55,000 Per Year Closer to Home

7. In Strategic Shift, Terry McAuliffe Announces New Democratic Campaign Slogan: "Who Gives a Wet S--t About Jobs, Anyhow?"

6. Robert Reich Slams Bush Administration for Growing Gap Between Upper Middle Class and Lower Upper Class

5. Silent Slaughter: Environmentalists Estimate that 50,000 Old-Growth Trees Will Be Killed in Coming Months To Print Useless Orientation Pamphlets for New Hires

4. Non-Partisan Council for Economic and Social Justice Decries March 2004 as "A Month of Greed"

3. While America Produced 308,000 Jobs in March, John Edwards Frets that Only 21,000 Jobs were Produced in "The Other America"

2. The Dark Side of Employment: Increasing Work-Loads Require Workers to Choose Between Over-Time and Leisure Time; Minorities, Single Women Hardest Hit

1. Announcing His Retirement, a Rueful Paul Krugman Remarks "It Sure was Fun while it Lasted!"


Posted by Donald L. Luskin at 5:10 PM | link  

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KRUGMAN HUMILIATED ON JOBS IN BARRON'S   
Thanks to reader Stan Greer for pointing out an outstanding Gene Epstein column in this weekend's Barron's. It's a great summary of the tortured history of jobs statistics during this economic recovery. The best part, however, is when this seasoned pro starts taking apart Paul Krugman's amateurish and politicized attempts at reading labor statistics.

These revelations of Epstein's clearly and incontrovertibly mean that Krugman's March 12 column was in error on two counts, and must be corrected. I had already found a major error in that column -- but a much simpler one (I am not the expert on labor statistics that Epstein is). And for my trouble I got a rude blow-off letter from Krugman's editor Gail Collins.

Will Krugman's errors be corrected under Collins' new columnist corrections guidelines? Of course not.

So then the only question is: exactly how will Krugman try to smear Epstein? Three consecutive New York Times columns worth of lies, as in the case of poor Wolf Blitzer? Somehow I doubt it. In this fellow Epstein, Krugman might have finally found an opponent who is willing to spend as much ink as he is. And who is absolutely right.

If I may quote liberally (adding my own emphasis here are there)...

THE UNEMPLOYMENT-RATE DECLINE has been a bone in the throat of the doubters ever since it fell to 5.7% in December. This figure, confirmed for the past three months, is printing at either 5.6% or 5.7%, as it did in March -- down from a range of 6.3% to 6.1% from June through September.

So what more do they want? Well, the anonymous reporter or reporters at the Economist (the articles are never signed) declared Friday that the unemployment rate for March was not to be believed because "many Americans, despairing of ever finding a job, had dropped out of the work force altogether in recent months and were therefore not counted as unemployed."

This false statement may have been inspired by Princeton economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman. According to a recent column of his, the fact that the "unemployment rate has fallen since last summer...[is] entirely the result of people dropping out of the labor force" (March 12). But the labor force has increased since last summer, not decreased. Krugman and his possible protégé at the Economist believe otherwise because someone ignored a footnote.

This footnote I'm referring to appeared quite prominently below the officially posted time series for the civilian labor force on the Bureau of Labor Statistics Website. It reads, "Data affected by population changes in population controls in January 2000, January 2003 and January 2004."

Now, anyone who has actually followed the employment numbers will know immediately what the agency is trying to tell us. The recent figures are no damn good, is what it's trying to tell us, and to find out why, you'll have to dig a little.

Go on the Internet and click on www.bls.gov/cps/cpspopsm.pdf -- a Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) paper posted March 3, 2004 -- to get the real numbers. By the third sentence of that paper, it's clear that the decline you might find in the officially posted data is a mirage. (The math's a bit too involved to go into here.)

The official numbers with the big footnote do show a decline in the labor force since the summer of last year; but the real numbers show an increase. So the fall in the unemployment wasn't caused by "people dropping out of the labor force," because people didn't.

Is this a practical joke that might fool any professional? Well, the BLS pulls these jokes all the time. Indeed, I don't know of any Wall Street economist, good or bad, who's not aware of these glitches.

In that same column, Krugman falls for yet another BLS joke: "40 percent of the unemployed," he informs us, "have been out of work more than 15 weeks, a 20-year record."

Wrong again and for the same embarrassing reason. Someone was looking at the officially-posted data. Yet in this case there was no footnote. If there were, it would have said, in some way, that you can't compare the recent figures for long-term unemployment with the same figures 20 years ago.

Or if you did, you had to adjust the recent figures downward. Based on an analysis in a BLS paper of March '95 (at www.bls.gov/ore/abstract/ec/ec950090.htm), Krugman's "40 percent" would have to be lowered to 34.2 percent to make it comparable to the pre-1994 data. And that would not even be a 10-year record, much less a 20-year one.

Why so? Well, in January '94, the Bureau of Labor Statistics and Bureau of the Census introduced a redesigned questionnaire for the Current Population Survey (CPS). The CPS is the monthly door-to-door survey of about 60,000 households from which all the "Household Data" are derived, including the data on unemployment and unemployment duration.

The old version had been in use since 1967, and was clearly in need of an overhaul. Questions were dropped; others added; and virtually all were reworded.

The BLS and Census had already expected the new questionnaire to cause certain tallies to change radically. Indeed, the revised version suddenly found many fewer involuntary part-timers, "discouraged" workers, and unemployed "job leavers."

It also found many more of the long-term unemployed. Just how the new questions were suddenly bringing new answers is a fascinating story in itself. In the case of the long-term unemployed, I personally believe the old questions were better.

In sum, to make an historical comparison between now and 20 years ago, you either had to adjust the old data upward, or the new data downward. If you want to use these numbers to know what's happening in the real world, you have to know these things.


Posted by Donald L. Luskin at 4:52 PM | link  

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IS THE TIMES LEGALLY LIABLE FOR UNCORRECTED ERRORS?   
Two readers have inquired why the New York Times (or other newspapers) cannot be held legally liable for the accuracy of the facts it publishes -- or at least for willfully not publishing corrections of known errors. Of course there is a First Amendment defense that the Times would surely mount. But it's not clear why the "commercial speech" of, say, mutual fund companies can be regulated and litigated for liability while that of newspapers cannot. If a reader detrimentally relies on something offered as a fact in the Times -- which the Times subsequently learns is false, but does not correct -- why shouldn't the reader be able to recover damages arising from the Times' willful negligence? Or, alternately, if the Times is to be shielded from such liability, then why not also shield mutual fund companies?

Okay, blogosphere -- let me have it. I know this is a sinful thought that must not be uttered.

Posted by Donald L. Luskin at 8:47 AM | link  

CHERNOBYL BIKING    The latest in extreme sports.

Posted by Donald L. Luskin at 7:51 AM | link  


Monday, April 05, 2004

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KRUGMAN SMEARS CNN AGAIN   
Paul Krugman has adopted a new modus -- using his New York Times column to engage in public bitch-outs of opponents who, inevitably, end up having to let him have the last word from sheer fear and exasperation. He started in on CNN's Wolf Blitzer a week ago. Blitzer responded, and Krugman used the response as the occasion for more bitching based on scandalously doctored quotes in Friday's column. Now he's after Blitzer again today, in the last paragraph of his column -- after he gets his licks in on the matter of the yawning boy at the Bush speech:

A Yawngate update: CNN called me to insist that despite what it first said, the administration really, truly wasn't responsible for the network's claim that David Letterman's embarrassing video of a Bush speech was a fake. I still don't understand why the network didn't deny White House involvement until it retracted the charge. But the main point of Friday's column was to highlight the way CNN facilitated crude administration smears of Richard Clarke.

The lesson: don't dare speak out against Krugman, because he'll smear you in America's newspaper of record -- and you'll run out of ink before he does. Well, go ahead Paul -- make my day, if you dare.

As to the example at hand, what possible difference does it make that "the network didn't deny White House involvement until it retracted the charge"? Who knows? But it sure makes it sound like Krugman's got pictures. And let's take the opportunity to smear Blitzer again, while we're at it (teach those guys at CNN to complain!) -- Blitzer, whose quotes Krugman doctored to make it seem as though he was passing on White House smears when in fact he was asking another reporter about them -- who denied there were any!

But the best part of Krugman's column is his citation of the New York Times Magazine's story last Sunday about the supposed evisceration of the Clean Air Act. Krugman: "As a devastating article in Sunday's New York Times Magazine documented, the administration's rollback of the Clean Air Act has gone beyond the polluters' wildest dreams."

What can I do but quote Gregg Easterbrook, writing for the blog of the liberal-leaning The New Republic?

"Up in Smoke: The Bush Administration, the Big Power Companies and the Undoing of 30 Years of Clean Air Policy." So blares the cover of yesterday's New York Times Magazine. Author Bruce Barcott isn't responsible for the headline, but might not it have occurred to some editor somewhere at the Times Magazine that there is nothing in the 13-page article that supports a claim of "undoing" clean air policy? All pollution regulated by the Clean Air Act is declining, has been declining for years, and continues to decline under George W. Bush. That's not mentioned in the 13 pages, since it would more or less spoil the entire premise of the story and the dramatic cover.


Posted by Donald L. Luskin at 11:23 PM | link  

THE AP CHANNELS KERRY ON JOBS NUMBERS   The Columbia Journalism Review site noted on March 30,
    The gang at the Associated Press evidently hasn't been reading its own clips. As we pointed out yesterday, the AP's Tom Raum and Nedra Pickler let the Kerry camp spin them by declaring that Bush has "lost 3 million jobs" during his term in office. The actual number is either 2.2 million, if you're counting from January 2001, or 2.3 million if you start with the employment numbers from February 2001. Today, AP's Terence Hunt follows ignominiously in the tracks of his fellow wire servers, quoting Kerry stating that "This administration has one economic policy for America -- 3 million jobs lost and driving gas prices towards $3 a gallon," without contradicting the Massachsuetts senator's bogus number.
But what a difference a couple days makes. Based on Friday's report, the actual numbers are either 1.8 or 1.9 million.

Posted by Donald L. Luskin at 9:11 PM | link  

ONE LOUSY PULITZER    That's all the New York Times got -- and for "public service," at that (remember the neediest!) -- in a year dominated by the Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times.

Posted by Donald L. Luskin at 5:01 PM | link  

IS "OUTSOURCING" A RACIAL CODE WORD?    David Hogberg wants to know.

Posted by Donald L. Luskin at 9:02 AM | link  

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SMEARS LOOKING AT YOU, KID   
Ah, the fantasies that ran through one's mind upon first seeing the headline of Paul Krugman's New York Times column on Friday: "Smear Without Fear."

"I thought Krugman was writing about the Times' corrections policy for its columnists!" wrote new ex officio Krugman Truth Squad member Robert Lawrence.

My own fantasy was that Krugman was writing about the time he falsely accused me on national television of having "stalked" him "personally." No? Maybe, then -- speaking of stalking -- it would be about when Bill Clinton gave instructions to his political operatives to smear Monica Lewinsky as a stalker. No, that got nixed when Lewinsky produced a certain blue dress with another kind of smear on it.

Come on. This is Paul Krugman we're talking about. America's most dangerous liberal pundit. If he's talking about smears -- or about anything bad, for that matter -- we can be sure that it's something he thinks the Bush administration has done. In this case the, Bush administration's so-called "smear" was -- as Krugman Truth Squad member Jim Taranto put it on his Wall Street Journal Best of the Web Today blog -- "an accusation of airing made-up stuff on a comedy show."

Yes, it's all about a story that the New York Times didn't deem important enough to bother to waste ink on, other than Krugman's ink -- the matter of the yawning boy standing behind President Bush at a Florida speech, caught on video and shown last week as a gag on David Letterman's "Late Show." Why would Krugman even bother to mention such a thing? Robert Musil theorizes on his Man Without Qualities blog that Krugman "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." If  that's the case, then Krugman wins with this one.

The so-called "smear" is that CNN ran the Letterman clip last Tuesday during its morning news show, after which host Daryn Kagan said "We're being told by the White House that the kid, as funny as he was, was edited into that video, which would explain why the people around him weren't really reacting." Later, CNN reran the tape during another show, and anchor Kyra Phillips said, "We're told that the kid was there at that event, but not necessarily standing behind the president." Late in the afternoon CNN called Letterman's office to say it was all a mistake. Letterman said on his Tuesday show, "CNN has just phoned and ... the anchorwoman misspoke. They never got a comment from the White House. It was a CNN mistake."

As the Associated Press summed it up, "The truth was: The White House never complained, and the footage was real."

But that's not good enough for Krugman. Krugman will cite the AP as an authority when its views agree with his, as he did in his Tuesday column last week, stating that "an Associated Press news analysis noted that...personal attacks were 'standard operating procedure' for this administration." But in this case, Krugman writes, "here's the really interesting part: CNN...told Mr. Letterman that Ms. Kagan 'misspoke,' that the White House was not the source of the false claim. (So who was? And if the claim didn't come from the White House, why did CNN run with it without checking?)"

"Fact checking"? Krugman -- he of the infinitude of unchecked unfacts so lovingly documented for him ex post in these web pages, he who writes for a newspaper that admits it does no fact-checking itself -- must be joking. This isn't about fact checking. It's about something so alien to Krugman that he didn't recognize it when it was right in front of his face: this was a correction. That's right: CNN had the guts to do what Krugman and the rest of the Times columnists can scarcely bear to imagine -- admit a mistake in public, and apologize for it.

Unless, of course, Krugman knows something about the yawning boy incident that the rest of us don't know. As he would say, "here's the really interesting part" -- my own digital frame-by-frame forensic analysis of the video reveals a man standing behind the boy, pulling a string attached to the back of the boy's neck.

Of course, we're being told by the New York Times that the man, as funny as he is, was edited into that picture. So on to more serious matters.

In the same Friday column Krugman takes another shot at CNN, in this case following up on a shot he took at the network in his previous Tuesday column. This time it's a serious accusation. As Krugman Truth Squad member Matthew Hoy puts it, "Krugman claims that the Bush administration somehow 'got' to CNN...a New York Times columnist has called several of the network's journalists liars." But as you'll see, it's Krugman who is lying, and who is willing to shamelessly distort quotations to do it.

On Tuesday Krugman wrote,

"...other journalists apparently remain ready to be used. On CNN, Wolf Blitzer told his viewers that unnamed officials were saying that Mr. Clarke "wants to make a few bucks, and that [in] his own personal life, they're also suggesting that there are some weird aspects in his life as well."

Wolf Blitzer shot back the same day, saying on air:

Last Wednesday, while I was debriefing our senior White House correspondent, John King, I asked him if White House officials were suggesting there were some weird aspects to Richard Clarke's life...I was not referring to anything charged by so-called unnamed White House officials as alleged today by New York Times columnist Paul Krugman. I was simply seeking to flesh out what Bush National Security Council spokesman Jim Wilkinson had said on this program two days earlier."

Then in Friday's column, Krugman replied to Blitzer,

"...here's a fuller quote, just to remove any ambiguity: 'What administration officials have been saying since the weekend, basically, that Richard Clarke from their vantage point was a disgruntled former government official, angry because he didn't get a certain promotion. He's got a hot new book out now that he wants to promote. He wants to make a few bucks, and that his own personal life, they're also suggesting there are some weird aspects in his life.'

"Stung by my column, Mr. Blitzer sought to justify his words, saying that his statement was actually a question."

First, note that at no point here does Krugman assert that anything about Clarke's personal life has actually been made public as the result of anything Blitzer might have been referring to. If anything, he should be congratulating Blitzer on not passing on smears from the administration, rather than excoriating him for having been "used."

Second, it's a stunning bit of hypocrisy for Krugman to offer the "fuller quote, just to remove any ambiguity." Tom Maguire on the Just One Minute blog points out that his "fuller quote" left out the final sentence of what Krugman falsely characterized as Blitzer's "statement" -- a sentence that makes it perfectly clear that Blitzer was indeed asking a question of CNN White House correspondent John King:

"Is that the sense that you're getting, speaking to a wide range of officials?"

It was a question. Not a statement, as Krugman claims. And don't kid yourself that Krugman didn't know the whole context. He wouldn't have even had to go to the transcript of Blitzer's March 24 show to get the whole quote: it was on the site of the ultra-liberal blogger who calls himself "Atrios," which Krugman has said that he reads.

 And wait till you hear King's answer (which neither Krugman nor Atrios dared to quote):

"None of the senior officials I have spoken to here talked about Mr. Clarke's personal life in any way."

The New York Times' "Guidelines on Integrity" state that quotes must assure that "the intent of the subject has been preserved." But I have not the slightest hope that this egregious distortion of Blitzer's intent will ever be acknowledged or corrected, even under the new columnist corrections policy announced two weeks ago by editorial page editor Gail Collins.

No, Krugman will continue to smear without fear the Bush administration, CNN, and whomever else he wishes -- all the while claiming that it is they who are doing the smearing.

Posted by Donald L. Luskin at 2:07 AM | link  

LET'S HEAR IT FOR INDEPENDENT THOUGHT    I was invited by Right Wing News to submit a list of people I'd want to invite to a dinner party. 46 bloggers responded, and I'm delighted to say that not a single one of the people I named made the list of most-mentioned by the respondents.

Here's my list:

Wes Anderson
Nathaniel Brandon
Barbara Brandon
Arthur C. Clarke
Richard Epstein
Joseph Epstein
Baz Luhrman
Michael Milken
Grover Norquist
Richard Posner
Shelby Steele
Neal Stephenson
Oliver Stone
Tom Wolfe

Posted by Donald L. Luskin at 12:04 AM | link  


Sunday, April 04, 2004

WHICH NEW YORK TIMES COLUMNIST ARE YOU?    Take this simple online quiz, and find out. It says I'm David Brooks. It told Bruce Bartlett he's Paul Krugman. Bartlett and Krugman are equally alarmed about that.

Posted by Donald L. Luskin at 7:42 PM | link  

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THE OKRENT LETTERS   
Here's a disappointing collection of letters to New York Times "public editor" Dan Okrent following up on his piece last week on the paper's columnist corrections policy. Dowd is mentioned once. Krugman not at all. It's all about William Safire, simply because of all the columnists, Safire had the courage and integrity to let himself be quoted by Okrent last week, making this rather strong statement: "An opinion may be wrongheaded...but it is never wrong. A belief or a conviction, no matter how illogical, crackbrained or infuriating, is an idea subject to vigorous dispute but is not an assertion subject to editorial or legal correction." I have no doubt that Krugman blew Okrent off. So he gets a bye today. So in today's edition of the newspaper of record, for anyone coming cold to this topic, it would appear that his whole flap is about the inaccuracy of William Safire. Great.

One bright note (sort of). Our friend Bruce Bartlett has a thoughtful letter printed here. Bartlett states that he doesn't think columnists ought to have to make trivial corrections, only ones relevant to the burden of their argument. He concludes, saying "Of course, I also assume that people do not expect me to be the final authority on every fact I cite, as may be the case with Times columnists." This is a point that Okrent has never been willing to acknowledge in his conversations with me. He is unmoved by the reality that the Times is (mis)perceived as the "newspaper of record," and as such it carries a special duty to be accurate -- even within its opinion pages.

Posted by Donald L. Luskin at 1:28 PM | link