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Saturday, June 04, 2005

COX A RAND ACOLYTE   I didn't know this. Great news.

Posted by Donald L. Luskin at 12:19 PM | link  

TIERNEY ON FELT   Oh my God, did the New York Times ever make a mistake when it put John Tierney on the op-ed page. This guy is a gem, a real truth-teller. Here are a couple choice paragraphs from his column this morning on Mark Felt's self-outing as "Deep Throat":
Mr. Felt's family tried profiting from his revelation, but the news cartel held firm. People and Vanity Fair both rejected the family's overtures and held to their policy of not paying sources for news.

The best their lawyer could manage for disclosing the greatest secret in journalism was a fee from Vanity Fair for writing the article. He got about $10,000, which is less than what the magazine has paid for articles in which movie stars disclose they have a major motion picture about to open in a theater near you.

The Felts' mistake, of course, was hawking the secret directly instead of persevering with the genteel approach used by celebrities and former presidents: laundering the news through a book publisher. You don't actually have to write the book yourself, but once your name is on the cover, you've joined the literary priesthood and are pure enough to accept cash offerings.

Want to make an even bigger and better mistake, Mr. "Pinch" Sulzberger? Hire this guy as "public editor."

Posted by Donald L. Luskin at 10:36 AM | link  

Friday, June 03, 2005

DOES THE BUSH-BASHING NEVER SLEEP?   No, it's not a Frank Rich column. It's just a plain vanilla movie review in today's New York Times, Manohla Dargis on Cinderella Man, the new boxing movie directed by Ron Howard and starring Russell Crowe. Toward the end of the review, totally out of the blue and apropos to nothing, this little bit of propaganda rears its Timesian head:

"In any event, given that Mr. Howard and his writers would be hard-pressed to bend this underdog narrative to our current political nightmare, it's a good thing they don't venture down that path."

Is there any department of the Times -- any subject, any story -- that will not be perverted to serve the paper's goal of discrediting George W. Bush's presidency?

Thanks to reader Larry Kudlow for the link.

Update [6/4/2005]... Reader Michael Hertzberg adds:

Manohla Dargis is not the only one. A. O. Scott loved Revenge of the Sith -- thought it was the best Star Wars film of all -- despite his acknowledgement that it had a really lousy script, the acting was awful, and it totally lacked suspense. Why? Because of its not-so-subtle criticism of George Bush's Manichean view of the world ("You are either with me or you are my enemy").

Posted by Donald L. Luskin at 6:23 PM | link  

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Poor Paul Krugman. Can't catch a break lately even on his own home ground at the New York Times. First "public editor" Dan Okrent takes him out to the woodshed. Now check out this hilarious juxtaposition at the conclusion of Thomas Friedman's column today:

Yes, this is a bad time for France and friends to lose their appetite for hard work - just when India, China and Poland are rediscovering theirs.

Paul Krugman is on vacation.

Posted by Donald L. Luskin at 1:29 PM | link  

JOBS, JOBS, JOBS   Too bad Paul Krugman is on "vacation" today (sulking, no doubt). He might have missed this mornings jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. I'd like to see how he'd spin it. He'd probably focus on how the 78,000 new payroll jobs created were well below the consensus of economists (which had called for over 200,000), like the rest of the media is doing. But he'd leave out something more important. He'd never mention that the BLS also reported that there were 376,000 new jobs last month according to the "household" survey of workers, as distinct from the "establishment" survey of employers. Krugman is always at pains to say that the "household" survey is less accurate -- yet he cites its data whenever it gives bad news (and New York Times "public editor Dan Okrent has correctly criticized Krugman for inappropriately mixing data from the two surveys). This month it gave purely good news. Not only did it report 376,000 new jobs, but also 360,000 new entrants into an expanding labor force. And perhaps best yet, the number of "discouraged" workers -- those who have given up looking for work -- fell by 1,000. Further, the number of chronically unemployed who have been looking for work for more than 27 weeks fell by 81,000.

Posted by Donald L. Luskin at 8:59 AM | link  

Thursday, June 02, 2005

PAUL KRUGMAN IS ON "VACATION" TODAY   Things getting a little rough on West 43rd Street?

Posted by Donald L. Luskin at 11:53 PM | link  

BALLED UP   Former long-time Social Security Commissioner Bob Ball -- now a very, very old man -- has a plan to save Social Security (a program that he, as much as any other single individual designed). Perry Eidelbus notes however, "How easy for him to call for tax increases and benefit cuts! He's been retired for over two decades..."

Posted by Donald L. Luskin at 8:26 AM | link  

JAYSON AWARDS UPDATE   Nominations are pouring in for the Jayson Awards, recognizing the worst Paul Krugman lies, distortions and howlers in six categories (enter now! win free prizes!). Reader Bill Rosenfield has a good idea -- a seventh category:
The Bad Intentions Ad-Hominem Award -- for arguing (all?) policy positions by citing the bad motivations of the other side, instead of the merits of the positions. For example, Bush's proposal to means-test Social Security cannot work because Republicans cannot possibly seriously advocate a policy that helps the poor.
Done. If we get more nominations for that new category, we'll award a seventh prize.

Posted by Donald L. Luskin at 8:21 AM | link  

AH, THE IRONY   My old nemesis Atrios has decided that Dan Okrent is my "sock puppet" because Okrent criticized Paul Krugman. I hate to disappoint any of you vast right wing conspiracy theorists out there, but it couldnt' be further from the truth. I had to drag Okrent kicking and screaming to bother to pursue even the most egregious Krugman transgressions. Okrent meant it when he wrote, "I...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." Believe me, he does. I can't tell you the number of outright errors and deliberate lies that Okrent refused to deal with on the grounds that they were just "Krugman's opinion."

Posted by Donald L. Luskin at 8:15 AM | link  

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

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It's a catfight on West 43rd Street! Former New York Times "public editor" Daniel Okrent is clawing out the eyes of America's most dangerous liberal pundit, Paul Krugman. The fur is flying as Okrent cites case after case of Krugman's inaccuracy and partisan bias in all manner of economic statistics. Check it out on the New York Times web site, unless you have a particular aversion to cruelty to animals.

In this fight, you, dear reader, can be the winner -- by participating in the Krugman Truth Squad's first-ever Jayson Awards -- named after Jayson Blair, the Times reporter who admitted to a pattern of fraudulent and plagiarized stories -- established to recognize Paul Krugman's most outrageous statements in six categories. More on that in a moment. But first, about that catfight...

It all started ten days ago. As I reported yesterday, Okrent wrote in his farewell column that "Op-Ed columnist Paul Krugman has the disturbing habit of shaping, slicing and selectively citing numbers." Next, in a lecture in Princeton last Friday, Krugman called Okrent's comment a "peculiar blast," saying he had caved to "constant pressure" from conservatives that had "built up a list of grievances in his mind." Then on Sunday, the Times published a letter from Krugman lashing Okrent for not citing specific examples and proclaiming, "I played entirely fair with my readers, using the standard data in the standard way."

Now, in postings yesterday to the Times' web-log for new "public editor" Barney Calame, Okrent has unloaded on Krugman with both barrels. Krugman wanted examples? Okrent has examples. Lots of examples. Employment statistics. Social Security benefits. Federal deficits. Taxes. To readers of the Krugman Truth Squad column, none of Okrent's examples of Krugman's sleaze will be new. They aren't even close to the most damning ones he could have used, and Okrent's a little over his head on some of the technical details. But trust me, you'll still take delight in the fact that Okrent is up off his knees at last -- finally acting like a real "public editor" and very aggressively calling Krugman's spade a spade.

And you'll take delight in watching Krugman squirm to defend himself. Okrent charges that Krugman misused employment figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics to make the economy under George W. Bush look worse, ignoring BLS research cautioning about difficulties in comparing those figures across time. Apparently this Princeton economics professor can't be bothered to know the things an expert like him is supposed to know. He lamely harrumphs,

"...I donít go hunting for research papers suggesting possible problems with the numbers unless the BLS says thereís reason to be concerned otherwise, it would be impossible to get any work done."

I took particular delight in Okrent's candid portrayal of how difficult it's been to get Krugman to ever admit error. After 18 months of a 40,000-word email correspondence with Okrent, in which I pointed out dozens upon dozens of substantive factual errors and distortions, only one published correction resulted -- and that one wasn't even labeled a correction (Krugman now claims, "I forgot"). Here's Okrent:

"...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 canít come up with an adverb sufficient to encompass his general attitude toward substantive criticism."

Okrent also explains why he had always let Krugman off so easy:

"...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 theyíre entitled doesnít mean I or you have to like it, or think itís good for the newspaper."

Now, about those Jayson Awards. I'll offer six lucky readers their choice of any piece of Krugman Truth Squad logo merchandise from our online catalog, for coming up with the best-ever most outrageous Krugman statements in six categories. Here are the categories, with great examples to get you started.

1. Shaping, Slicing and Selectively Citing Numbers. An old favorite is the notorious "divide by ten" incident. In Krugman's April 22, 2003 column, he claimed that the Bush tax cuts, designed in part to increase employment, would cost $500,000 for each $40,000 job created. He neglected to mention that $500,000 would be spread over ten years, and can't be fairly compared to a $40,000 annual salary. Krugman was so humiliated when I pointed this out that he wrote no fewer than eleven increasingly loony and desperate rationalizations -- ten spread over eight postings on his personal site (one, two, three, four, five, six, seven and eight) and the eleventh in a special column in the Times.

2. Biggest Howler (Political). It's going to be hard to beat this one from his January 29, 2002 column:

 "I predict that in the years ahead Enron, not Sept. 11, will come to be seen as the greater turning point in U.S. society."

3. Biggest Howler (Economics). There are so many. Here's a recent one, from his Times column last Friday. Keynesians will be shocked to hear their most prominent acolyte reduce the theory of the business cycle to this:

"...the Fed's ability to manage the economy mainly comes from its ability to create booms and busts in the housing market."

4. Worst Prediction.  Market tops? Krugman's a bull. Bottoms? Always a bear. But I like his prediction of an "inflation time bomb" back in 1982 when he was working for the Reagan administration, just when inflation had peaked and was destined to head lower for more than two decades.

5. Funniest Inadvertent Confession. How about the time Krugman debated Bill O'Reilly on Tim Russert's show, and got so flustered that he said,

"Compare me Ö compare me, uh, with anyone else, and I think youíll see that my forecasting record is not great."

6. N. Gregory Mankiw Award for Excellence in "Just Making Stuff Up." My favorite is when Krugman claimed in his August 10, 2004 column,

"When Friday's dismal job report was released, traders in the Chicago pit began chanting, 'Kerry, Kerry.'"

A tape of CNBC's coverage of trading that morning -- which Krugman cited as his source -- revealed that no such chanting took place. Krugman just made it up. Dan Okrent acquired a copy of the tape at my suggestion to see for himself, but back then -- when there was still an election for John Kerry to win, perhaps? -- Okrent decided not to pursue it.

Want to nominate an outrageous Krugmanism for a Jayson Award? For a head start, visit the "Unofficial Paul Krugman Archive," an online shrine maintained by a Krugman acolyte known only as "Bobby," where every word Krugman has ever written is lovingly archived and dangerously searchable -- all for free (and worth every penny). Just email your nominations to me at, with the word "Jayson" in the subject line. I'll pick the winners and announce them next week.

The envelope please...

Posted by Donald L. Luskin at 11:49 PM | link  

WE SMEAR VICTIMS HAVE TO STICK TOGETHER   Here's an unexpected note from an unexpected reader:
Thanks for setting the record straight regarding Okrent's smear job on me. I appreciate it very much.

What a day. Both you and Atrios give me a tip of the hat on the Nagourney mess, while Okrent and Krugman slug it out over at the New York Times Public Editor's blog. I love the new media!

Steve Schwenk

Posted by Donald L. Luskin at 6:01 PM | link  

OKRENT V. KRUGMAN, ROUND TWO   Okay, here it is... the exchange on the New York Times "public editor" web log between Paul Krugman and Dan Okrent. I'll comment in more detail later, but I have to say that Okrent really gets his licks in here. I can't help but note, though, that Okrent criticizes Krugman for the way he "dismisses his critics as ideologically motivated." True. But Okrent himself dismissed Krugman's critics (i.e., me) using the very same words in his column two weeks ago that started all this.

Posted by Donald L. Luskin at 2:11 PM | link  

AND ANOTHER THING...   While we're at it (see the post below), here's another example of the very same thing from the same Paul Krugman column (last Friday)-- the distortion of the track records of various market "authorities" who happen to be saying today what Krugman wants them to say (and who happen to be Democrats). Krugman writes,
"In July 2001, Paul McCulley, an economist at Pimco, the giant bond fund, predicted that the Federal Reserve would simply replace one bubble with another."
The conventional wisdom is that McCulley and his boss Bill Gross are brilliant economic forecasters and market timers. Reality: a bit more than a year after McCulley made that pronouncement, in September 2002, PIMCO's Gross predicted that the Dow Jones Industrial Average would go to 5000, in a commentary called "Dow 5000" (which, judiciously, has been removed from Pimco's website and tossed down the memory hole). When Gross wrote that the Dow was at about 8300. Gross was calling for a 39% drop, using rationales very much like those of Robert Shiller, whom Krugman cites in the column. Today the Dow is at 10542, 27% higher (not including dividends, which should add at least another 5%).

Posted by Donald L. Luskin at 8:48 AM | link  

Monday, May 30, 2005

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Want an example of how Paul Krugman "has the disturbing habit of shaping, slicing and selectively citing numbers," as New York Times "public editor" Dan Okrent recently put it -- even as Krugman uses "the standard data in the standard way," as he put it in his defense? Here's one from Krugman's Times column last Friday. Krugman wrote,

Some analysts still insist that housing prices aren't out of line. But someone will always come up with reasons why seemingly absurd asset prices make sense. Remember "Dow 36,000"? Robert Shiller, who argued against such rationalizations and correctly called the stock bubble in his book "Irrational Exuberance," has added an ominous analysis of the housing market to the new edition, and says the housing bubble "may be the biggest bubble in U.S. history."

This is, indeed, "the standard data in the standard way." It's entirely standard for people to accept the urban myth that the book Dow 36,000 came out right at the top of the bubble market and urged people to buy stocks with gay abandon. And it's entirely standard for people to accept the urban myth that Robert Shiller prophesied the great post-bubble bear market. Standard or not, both those urban myths are false -- and Krugman, an economics professor, knows it. He also knows that the authors of Dow 36,000 (Kevin Hassett and James Glassman) are prominent conservatives and that Shiller is a prominent liberal -- so he's all too happy to perpetuate myths that falsely denigrate his ideological enemies and falsely elevate his ideological friends.

Here are the facts. Let's start with Shiller. He "called the stock bubble" because when the bubble burst in 2000 he had already been bearish for years -- bearish, and wrong. The Wall Street Journal reported on November 26, 1996 that "At best, he expects the market to be stagnant for the next decade." But since that date, for all its gyrations, the S&P 500 has returned 80.1% in dividends and capital gains. Two years later, after stocks had already risen 68.4% following his first terrible prediction, Shiller tried again, writing in the Winter 1998 edition of the Journal of Portfolio Management that his valuation measures are "extraordinarily bearish for the U.S. stock market." But even since then, when the market was already well into the bubble phase, the S&P 500 has returned 7.0% through the present day. Not great, but certainly not "extraordinarily bearish," either. It turns out the third time was a charm for Shiller's broken clock -- it was finally right when his book Irrational Exuberance came out in 2000. Since then, stocks are indeed lower.

But Krugman's "shaping, slicing and selectively citing" would have you believe that Shiller was a market-timing guru who absolutely nailed it in 2000 when he "correctly called the stock bubble in his book 'Irrational Exuberance.'"

Now let's take a look at Dow 36,000. Granted, the title was flamboyant -- it's easy to assume it was chosen to cash in on the stock mania that was underway in September, 1999 when it was first published. But the book itself was anything but flamboyant. It made a sober case that shifting investor risk perceptions could lead to higher stock prices -- as indeed they could, and as indeed they have over the last several decades (as Paul Krugman himself acknowledged in an article for Fortune in 1999).

When authors Hassett and Glassman first put forth this theory in a Wall Street Journal article on March 30, 1998, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was at 8782. It closed last Friday at 10542, a gain of 20% -- not including dividends. Investors who followed Dow 36,000's advice even a year later when the bubble was near its peak fared better than those who listened to Shiller. The book singled out 15 specific stocks as good investments, including Gillette, Johnson & Johnson, Tootsie Roll Industries, Wells Fargo and Cintas. According to the authors in a December 2004 article in Kiplinger's, a portfolio of these 15 stocks rose a total of 17%, compared with a loss of 7% for the S&P from October 1999, when Dow 36,000 was published, through mid- October 2004.

And by the way, what was Krugman himself saying at the top of the bubble market in 2000? He certainly wasn't calling the top like he pretends that Shiller was. In a February 27, 2000, New York Times column, just two weeks before the NASDAQ flamed out at 5,000 (before dropping 80% over the following two years), Krugman wrote, "I'm not sure that the current value of the Nasdaq is justified, but I'm not sure that it isn't."

Krugman faults Okrent's critique of him by saying, "surely it's inappropriate for the public editor to attack the ethics of one of the paper's writers without providing any supporting evidence." Krugman had better let sleeping dogs lie. The little matter of Dow 36,000 versus Irrational Exuberance is but one of dozens upon dozens of examples. Krugman may feel safe challenging Okrent for examples. I dare him to challenge me.

Update... Our reader whose pseudonym just happens to be "Irrational Exuberance" notes that Alan Greenspan once spoke highly of the Dow 36,000 theory, too. From an October 1999 speech:

"Some analysts have offered an entirely different interpretation of the drop in equity premiums. They assert that a long history of a rate of return on equity persistently exceeding the riskless rate of interest is bound to induce a learning-curve response that will eventually close the gap. According to this argument, much, possibly all, of the decline in equity premiums over the past five years reflects this learning response. It would be a mistake to dismiss such notions out of hand. We have learned to no longer cower at an eclipse of the sun or to run for cover at the sight of a newfangled automobile."

Posted by Donald L. Luskin at 4:22 PM | link  

KRUGMANIA ON PARADE   Perry Eidelbus counts the ways Paul Krugman has said the sky is falling over the years. Alex Tabarrok wonders if Krugman is really a closet Austrian who hates Austrians (thanks to "Irrational Exuberance" for the link).

Posted by Donald L. Luskin at 2:51 AM | link  

EASTER IS CELEBRATED LATE THERE   Grateful peasants in Tbilisi decorate the car of their benefactor George Soros with rustic foodstuffs. Thanks to reader Jill Olson for the link.

Posted by Donald L. Luskin at 2:47 AM | link  

Sunday, May 29, 2005

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Ring up a win for the Krugman Truth Squad! It's official -- according to the New York Times itself, what we've been carefully documenting in my National Review Online column and on this blog for more than two years is true:

"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.

"...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."

Thus wrote New York Times "public editor" Daniel Okrent in his column last week, his final one before resigning his post. There it is, right in the newspaper of record.

To be sure, Okrent could have gone much, much further in blowing the whistle on America's most dangerous liberal pundit. He could have cited the dozens upon dozens of Paul Krugman's partisan distortions, uncorrected errors, deliberate misquotations and flat-out lies that we've caught over the years. For that matter he could have said what N. Gregory Mankiw, the universally respected former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors, told Fortune in a recent interview -- that Krugman "just make[s] stuff up."

Okrent knows all these things. I know he knows them, because I've met with him and corresponded with him about them since he became the Times' "public editor" 18 months ago. Our email correspondence on Krugman totals almost 40,000 words (some of which was "off the record," so I'm using my honest judgment here in determining certain portions that are fair to reveal now that Okrent's tenure as "public editor" is over). Yes, I'm the one he's talking about when he says "Krugman's enemies."

So why didn't Okrent's critique go further? And why, as the self-described "readers' representative," did he feel it was necessary at the same time to take that gratuitous swipe at me -- one of his readers?

I suspect that primarily it's fear of reprisal. Indeed, the reprisals have started already. Last Friday Krugman told a lecture audience in Princeton, essentially, that Okrent had lost his marbles: his "very peculiar blast" was the result of "constant pressure" from conservatives that had "built up a list of grievances in his mind."

Let's talk about "pressure." It so happens that, by sheer coincidence, I was in Princeton on business Friday. But I decided it was best not to attend Krugman's lecture, because the one time I did attend one of his many public appearances he went on national television and smeared me by accusing me of stalking him. Okrent knows how the pressure game works. So he kept his "blast" against Krugman modest and took out an insurance policy against charges of bias by blasting me a little bit, too.

Okrent wasn't always afraid of pressure. When I first met him in early 2004 he was full of the burning zeal of the reformer, and eager for intellectual allies. His first words to me were, "You're much better looking than Paul Krugman." He told me that the Times didn't deserve to be called the "newspaper of record" and vowed, "When I'm done with this assignment, I want everyone to know that." We had a long discussion on accuracy and fairness on the op-ed page, which led a month later to the Times' new policy on columnist corrections.

It was all very hopeful, and very flattering. But I knew it wouldn't last when Okrent ended our meeting by announcing, with what seemed a certain pride, that a limo was picking him up to take him to a dinner party with Times publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger, Jr., and executive editor Bill Keller. I wondered how long Okrent could maintain his independence as a reformer if he was getting sucked into the glittery social world of Times management. The pressure had begun.

The pressure continued as Times staff fought Okrent in his role as "readers' representative." For example, financial reporter David Cay Johnston went so far as to organize other reporters into what Okrent called a "lynch mob" -- and accused Okrent of conflict of interest because of a board position, according to a story in the Wall Street Journal.

And as to that columnist corrections policy, the columnists and their boss, editorial page editor Gail Collins, stonewalled it from the beginning. When corrections were made at all in Krugman columns, they were snuck into the text of subsequent columns, hidden in the form of what Okrent calls a "rowback." Or they were appended to subsequent columns without the designation "correction," with the original erroneous columns remaining uncorrected in the Times' web archive.

That's when corrections were made at all. For the most part, corrections were not made. Why? Because when Okrent went to Gail Collins for corrections, she quickly learned that she could get away with stonewalling him. I couldn't get Collins to even acknowledge my emails, so at one point Okrent suggested I send corrections to Collins under a false name (she didn't respond to those, either). Finally, Okrent went directly to Krugman himself for corrections, even though Collins had set herself up as the responsible party under the policy. Okrent gave up on Collins and Krugman, and I gave up sending corrections to Okrent and Collins. Was it self-delusion or sheer gall that led Okrent to write in a December column, "judging by the shrinking volume of complaints I receive from readers, columnists' errors have become much less frequent."

But here's one complaint Okrent can't ignore. In an angry letter to the Times on Sunday, Krugman blasted Okrent for being "inappropriate" by not citing specific examples of his statistical sleight of hand, and claimed,

" each of those columns I played entirely fair with my readers, using the standard data in the standard way."

Now, according to a footnote to Krugman's letter, he and Okrent will be "addressing this matter further" on the Times' website this week. When it comes to coming up with seemingly credible rationales to cover over lies, Krugman's the best there is -- so Okrent is going to need some help in this debate. I offered mine, but he replied, 

"I've already written my response, and now I'm washing my hands of him."

Krugman's angry letter will stand as only the last of many putting pressure on Okrent from the Times' Angry Left readers, complaining that the liberal Times isn't liberal enough and that any of Okrent's attempts to create partisan balance are "unfair." You'd think the Left would have nothing to complain about. But Okrent once told me that "the readership (at least the readership that gets engaged enough to write) is simply, and rather heavily, left of center."

The pressure from readers reached its peak just before last year's bitter presidential election, when the Times had become increasingly partisan in both its editorials and its news stories. In a long-awaited October column on whether the Times' campaign coverage was biased, Okrent cited views from readers on the Left and the Right and then concluded,

"Is The Times systematically biased toward either candidate? No."

What, you are no doubt wondering, could Okrent possibly have been thinking about? Whatever it was, it wasn't the Times' coverage of the campaign, which was self-evidently biased toward John Kerry to the point of self-parody. No doubt he was thinking about the hundreds of emails from the Angry Left that flooded his mailbox each day -- for he concluded his column with this:

"I do want you to know just how debased the level of discourse has become. When a reporter receives an e-mail message that says, 'I hope your kid gets his head blown off in a Republican war,' a limit has been passed.

"That's what a coward named Steve Schwenk, from San Francisco, wrote to national political correspondent Adam Nagourney several days ago because Nagourney wrote something Schwenk considered (if such a person is capable of consideration) pro-Bush... As nasty as critics on the right can get (plenty nasty), the left seems to be winning the vileness derby this year...."

With this, Okrent had not only succumbed to the pressure from the Left, he had cracked under it. Here we had the "readers' representative," using the mighty power of the New York Times to lash out at one of its readers, naming that reader by name, calling him a "coward," and quoting him not only without his permission, but in defiance of his pleading not to be quoted.

In another column two weeks later, Okrent apologized -- but only for using the word "coward." Instead of admitting that Schwenk had begged him not to print his name, Okrent wrote, "Every message sent to my office gets an instant response asking if the writer wishes his or her name to be withheld," -- as though Schwenk had failed to make his wishes clear. But that was a lie -- such instant responses did not start being sent until after Okrent had cited Schwenk's name. And besides, Schwenk had nevertheless objected.

Okrent went on in the same column to liken Schwenk to a "man who vandalizes a church," and, in BusinessWeek, to "someone who goes out at night and paints a swastika on the door of a synagogue." So just whom was this "readers' representative" representing? Not the readers -- but instead the sacred institution of the New York Times, a "church," a "synagogue," a holy place, what Okrent called in a column last December a "daily miracle." It's amazing the kind of loyalty you can buy with a couple of rides in a limousine.

So Okrent ends his 18-month term as the Times' "public editor" a broken man, having turned against the readers he was supposed to represent, having failed to institute a single significant reform --and, worst of all, having acted as a fig-leaf behind which the paper has continued to do its partisan worst.

At least, just before Okrent cleaned out his desk and made his ignominious retreat from the Times building on West 43rd Street (no limo this time), he managed to pull off a small but important act of truth and courage -- to call Paul Krugman the cheater that he is. The Krugman Truth Squad is grateful for any victory at all when it comes to the flagship of the liberal media establishment and America's most dangerous liberal pundit.

Now we eagerly await Okrent's replacement, Barney Calame, formerly of the Wall Street Journal. I have no doubt Okrent has already warned Barney about what a headache the Krugman Truth Squad can be. But we won't deal with him in that adversarial spirit. After all, we (the Times' readers) and he (our new representative) are after the same thing -- the truth. Aren't we?

Update [5/31/2005]... Robert Musil of the Man Without Qualities blog writes:

This is hilarious stuff. Krugman:

He offered no examples of my "disturbing habit," and maybe I should stop there: surely it's inappropriate for the public editor to attack the ethics of one of the paper's writers without providing any supporting evidence. He responded to my request for examples with criticisms of specific columns. Those criticisms were simply wrong: in each of those columns I played entirely fair with my readers, using the standard data in the standard way.
That should be the end of the story.

Yep, Paul Krugman looked at the examples of his own intellectual dishonesty and decided ex cathedra that they were all "wrong" and that he had been "fair." No disinterested third party judges (especially no "Public Editors") need apply. And no appeals necessary or allowed! Paul Krugman is just right! That should be the end of the story.

That "a man cannot be a judge in his own case" is sometimes said to be the first rule of ethics, and was once used by one of the greatest Chief Justices of England to defy King James I (who almost killed the CJ on the spot when it happened, by the way). But Paul Krugman does not believe it - as long as that man is Paul Krugman!

I have an idea: As his first official act, let Barney Calame arbitrate this dispute between his predecessor and Paul Krugman. That would only be "fair," right? After all, Mr. Calame is new, clean and presumably the Times has decided he's disinterested. And this initial little task would let us get some idea of what he's made of and give him a chance to see what he's signed up for. "Two year term," indeed!

Posted by Donald L. Luskin at 11:46 AM | link