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THE BOTTOM OF THE PILE! The New York Times printed Krugman’s reply. But first, they pimped pure propaganda: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, MAY 30, 2005

FRIST’S LATEST TRANSPLANT: Uh-oh! The surgeon was transplanting himself once again, this time with a NASCAR backdrop. Bill Frist, heroic transplant surgeon, was at the Coca-Cola 600 the weekend, telling the Post’s Mike Allen why—well, we’ll let you enjoy it yourself:
ALLEN (5/30/05): [Frist] drew an analogy to surgery. "You have a team of about eight to nine people, working on a car, preparing to race tonight—everything from tires to suspension to engine to appropriate panel size to weight, all coming together almost like a symphony in preparation for a run of 600 miles tonight," he said. "So from a technical aspect, my years as a surgeon who has worked with artificial hearts and lasers and mechanical devices is sort of an innate identification."
Of course! Being a surgeon is very much like being a NASCAR driver! Plainly, Frist thinks Allen’s IQ is 11. We can also see that in this comment:
ALLEN: Frist has said he will not seek reelection in 2006, but has said he has not decided what he will do after that. His advisers are laying the foundation of a national campaign, and he doesn't bother to quarrel with how a sojourn like Sunday's is sure to be perceived.

"I think most people project to me as running for the presidency and will look at everything I do," he said patiently. "So I think you have to go back and say why four years ago was I at Bristol, with the same people—the exact same thing...”

Yeah! Why did Frist do NASCAR four years back if it’s all about running for president?!!! As a reporter, Allen is paid not to react when people like Frist make such inane comments. Instead, the Post-man deftly typed it up, and left it to us to make comment.

But then, Allen also has an ear for his fraternity’s inane lingua franca. Result? The devilish diarist knew what to do when Frist made the following bad mistake:

ALLEN: During a two-day stay, he was introduced at the drivers' meeting, worshiped at the chapel service that followed, quizzed crew chiefs about the science of tire pressure as he sauntered down pit road, and watched a Charlie Daniels concert in the extracurricular area known as "Speed Street." With his wife, Karyn, he rode in a Corvette convertible in a pre-race parade.

On race day, Frist stumbled during an appearance in the massive media center, referring to Tennessean Sterling Marlin as "Sterling Martin," and failed to correct himself. D'oh!

Uh-oh! Pretending to be a stone NASCAR man, Frist got Sterling’s last name wrong! And Allen knew what to do with this datum. Recalling the way his cohort has run with other pointless errors (real and invented), the Post-man naturally typed ’er on up. But then, there was little end to Frist’s efforts this day to say he was NASCAR before NASCAR was cool. At one point, he described what it was like growing up in Nashville’s most upper-class neighborhood:
ALLEN: Frist, who is among the wealthiest of the Senate millionaires because of his family's stake in the hospital chain HCA, recounted his NASCAR roots. "I grew up in Nashville, Tennessee," he said. "Nashville Speedway was about, probably, four miles from my house. My first recollections of stock car racing were being in my house on Bowling Avenue, and on warm summer nights, when I was 7, 8 years old, listening to the sounds of cars."
Weird! You’d almost think that Frist sat on his front lawn and listened to the sounds from the speedway! But in his classic Weekly Standard profile of Frist, David Brooks described the boyhood neighborhood of the saintly surgeon. Did Frist grow up there listening to cars? We get the feeling that noise pollution may not have been a big problem:
BROOKS (1/27/03): Bill Frist was raised in Belle Meade, the old-money suburb of Nashville and the fifth richest town in the United States. You drive down the roads and boulevards looking at the homes, which were built in the early part of the 20th century, and it looks like the Executive Mansion Hall of Fame. There are several houses that look like the White House (Al Gore lives in one [now]). There are several that look like the sort of palazzo a Venetian prince might settle in to escape a foreign invasion. And there are a few châteaus a French president might choose to inhabit on days when he was feeling particularly grand.

Although there are a few homes in the southern plantation style (including some modern-looking Tara ramblers), the dominant mode is more like Buckingham Palace, though less showy and arriviste.

But the houses are mere specks compared with the front yards, which stretch on forever. I began to measure the yards by what kind of golf club you would need to use from the street to send a ball through a front parlor window. Some of the homes have mere 3 iron yards, but many have 2 wood yards, and several have Tiger Woods-with-a-driver-and-the-wind-at-his-back yards.

Yards like these require boulevard-sized driveways. It's not even fair to call them driveways. They have so many graceful curves, guest parking areas, and scenic view pullouts near the topiary highlights it's more accurate to call them Multi-Time-Zone Lexus Glideways. You expect to see signs halfway up—"Last Gas Station Before House”...

Let’s be fair—Brooks was describing Belle Meade today, not as it was when Frist was a boy, “listening to the sounds of cars.” Minor details may have changed. But, according to Brooks’ description, young Frist had to call a cab to get close enough to the street where he grew up listening to cars. Is there any chance that this consummate faker may have been—uh-oh!—embellishing?

We ask because there’s a rich recent history to these sorts of comments. Did NASCAR freak Frist blow Marlin’s name? During Campaign 2004, many pundits had good solid fun when Candidate Kerry misnamed Lambeau Field; meanwhile, the New York Times was so eager to make Kerry a NASCAR fake that—in the paper’s finest tradition—they simply invented an embarrassing quote, then kept pretending that Kerry had said it (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/6/04, with links to earlier posts). And of course, Frist’s silly account of his boyhood revery recalls the early days of Campaign 2000, when horrified pundits, far and wide, agreed to pretend that Candidate Gore had embellished about his early life on the Gore family farm. You know how things worked in those days; they knew Gore’s statements were perfectly accurate, but they pretended to be horrified all the same. In Frist’s case, his statements to Allen are simply absurd. So Allen, knowing his cohort’s traditions, went home and typed them on up.

So now we we’ll all sit back and watch the press corps’ vultures go to work. Or will we? On this weekend’s Chris Matthews Show, Howard Fineman let the world know that Frist “is a great guy.” Yes, Bill Frist offered plenty of grist as he pulled his NASCAR transplant. But hacks like Fineman pick-and-choose when it comes to character outrage. Kerry was mocked, and Gore was savaged. How will they deal with the sanctified Frist? Admit it—we don’t have to ask.

HOW BIG A FAKE: Is anyone in the U.S. Senate a bigger confection than Frist? According to earlier profiles, Frist’s friends and colleagues were quite surprised when he began coming out as a fervent conservative; they had never seen any sign that he held such heart-felt views. Indeed, profiles have said that, when Frist decided to run for the Senate, he commissioned polls to see if he’d have a better chance as a Republican or as a Democrat. But now, the saintly surgeon is a fervent conservative, and, of course, he grew up on NASCAR. The chauffeur would drive him down to the street so he could “listen to the sounds of cars.” And by the way, did he mention that he was only four miles (68 nine-irons) from the speedway when this nonsense occurred?

BROOKS ON CARS: In his profile, Brooks describes some of young Frist’s interests at Montgomery Belle Academy, “the 136-year-old school where Belle Meaders send their boys to be educated:”

BROOKS: Bill Frist was class of 1970. He was class president, a quarterback on the football team, editor of the yearbook, and a member of Totomoi, the elite honor society. He dated the school's head cheerleader (who attended the sister school). He was active in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, the Forensic Club, the Service Club, the Photography Club. He won the math medal, the Outstanding Sophomore and Junior awards. His nicknames were "Mr. President," "Precious," and "Wilbur," and the saying he put under his yearbook photo was, "But I don't like to rest."

You look through the yearbook Frist edited (this is 1970, remember) for any sign that the sixties are happening—Woodstock, the peace movement, hippies. There is none. The yearbook looks like it was produced in 1962.

Huh! But then, we’d also guess that there’s little sign that the Nashville Speedway was four miles away. Weird, isn’t it? Young Frist was in many clubs—but the NASCAR club isn’t numbered among them. Secretly, Young Frist longed for the day when he could escape the smothering hood and acknowledge his life-long love of NASCAR. Over the weekend, bungling Marlin’s names, he finally got his big chance.

But Brooks does let us know a bit about Young Frist’s life with cars:

BROOKS: In Transplant, his 1990 book about his early days as a surgeon, Frist recalled that his mother "worked hard to protect my sense of self-worth. If Woodmont Grammar school conducted a paper drive, she motored me about afternoon after afternoon, making sure I collected more newspapers than anyone else." (How many middle-class Americans use the word "motored" as a verb?) Frist's mother made sure he sold more raffle tickets, got better grades. "She wanted me never to know humiliation, never to suffer defeat, never to feel self-doubt. . . . Not surprisingly, with the family emphasis on self-worth, I longed to be first in everything, to be king of the hill, the grammar school capo di capo. I imagine I was quite insufferable."
Revealing, isn’t it? Even then, as late as 1990, Frist was still hiding his real early self—the NASCAR-lovin’ rebel redneck who had grown up four miles from the speedway. He was still posing as a plummy fellow who used the word “motored” as a verb. Only now has he freed himself to reveal his deepest inner being.

The press corps hammers Dems for this sort of thing—indeed, they even make up “quotes” and “misstatements” so they can have their will with the fakers. But Fineman’s fawning shows us the obvious; Frist’s string of silly statements to Allen will find their way to the circular file—to the file whose shape is somewhat like the oval Young Frist loved so well.

FRIST SLIPS: For the record, no one has to pretend any more that only Dems call it the “nuclear option.” Slightly rattled, Frist fumbled last week. Dan Balz reports, without comment:

BALZ (5/30/05): The biggest gap in interpretation of the agreement centers on the nuclear option itself. The morning after the Gang of 14 announced its deal, Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) took to the Senate floor to declare: "It took the nuclear option off the table. It is gone for our lifetime." Moments earlier, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) offered the opposite view. "Let me be clear," he said. "The nuclear option remains on the table. It remains an option. I will not hesitate to use it, if necessary."
"Let me be clear," Frist said. "The nuclear option remains on the table.” Oops! Everyone knows that all good Reps are supposed to say “constitutional option”—and they’re supposed to feign indignation when Dems use the naughty “nuclear” term. But Frist was rattled a bit, and he slipped.

This slip recalls the way the GOP rewrote the language of Medicare during the mid-1990s. After doing a brickyard of polling, Reps decided they should never say that their Medicare plan involved any “cuts.” But that was the term they had always used to describe the proposal they were making, and so they had to train themselves to adopt their party’s poll-tested new language. Maraniss and Weisskopf described it brilliantly. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/20/99, then click on “The Speaker’s new language.”

THE BOTTOM OF THE PILE: Amazing—absolutely amazing. In yesterday’s New York Times, Paul Krugman was allowed to reply to Daniel Okrent’s disgraceful parting cheap shot (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/23/05, 5/24/05 and 5/26/05). Here’s his letter, just as it appeared, at the bottom of a tall, stupid pile:

KRUGMAN (5/29/05):
In Daniel Okrent's parting shot as public editor of The New York Times, he levied a harsh charge against me: he said that I have "a disturbing habit of shaping, slicing and selectively citing numbers in a fashion that pleases his acolytes but leaves him open to substantive assaults."

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.

I want to go back to doing what I have been doing all along: using economic data to inform my readers.

PAUL KRUGMAN
Princeton, N.J., May 24, 2005

Gee, really? Do you think? Do you think “it's inappropriate for the public editor to attack the ethics of one of the paper's writers without providing any supporting evidence?” Krugman’s statement is true, but it’s much too limiting; surely it’s inappropriate for any writer to offer nasty condemnation of the kind Okrent penned without offering any examples or evidence. In fact, it’s the sort of thing a public editor should criticize, from any member of a newspaper’s staff. But Daniel Okrent is king of the pimps. So he typed his cheap shot. Then he ran.

But how big a fraud is the great Daniel Okrent? Try to believe what you see if you actually dare to click here; try to believe the pile of letters at the bottom of which Krugman’s letter appears. That’s right, rubes! Before the mighty New York Times let readers see what Krugman had written, they presented a fair-and-balanced set of twelve different letters, all of which praise Darling Okrent for the brilliant way he conducted his mission. The sheer stupidity of these writers is matched by the balls-out pandering of the paper itself. Stalin himself wouldn’t play it so bold. But this insulting pile of propaganda perfectly captures the essence of Okrent. And it tells you things about the people who run the Times—things we all need to understand.

Be sure to click and gaze on the praise the Times heaps on its great Ozymandias. But before you do, let’s enjoy the promise which appears in the ID line from Krugman’s letter:

The writer is an Op-Ed columnist for The Times. He and Daniel Okrent will be addressing this matter further on the Public Editor's Web Journal early in the week.
Omigod! Entertainment for days! Anyone who has read both Krugman and Okrent will emit low, mordant chuckles—in advance—at the thought of that promised exchange. Okrent is going to debate Paul Krugman? Good God! From his hapless “liberal newspaper” column right to the end, Okrent repeatedly wrote like an idiot—like a man too lazy and too self-consumed to waste his time with the simplest research. Repeatedly, he performed like the man he seems to be—like a foppish clown prince of Manhattan society, the great inventor of rotisserie baseball. He repeated fever dreams from kooky-con swamps, failing to check them in any way. And then, in parting, he let the world know that Krugman has been gaming the evidence!

For ourselves, we whet our lips as we imagine Okrent offering “substantive assault” against Krugman. (Of course, Krugman, almost surely, does make mistakes. See below.) But let’s make sure we fully understand the nature of the Times’ presentation this Sunday. That pile of letters the paper heaped up is an open insult to its readers’ intelligence. Before they let you read Krugman’s reply, they made you wade through twelve(!) different letters telling you that Okrent’s a genius. And be sure you understand what that means—it means that the New York Times’ management hates Krugman, too. Krugman has dared to challenge power—power, to which these weaklings conform. Throughout history, millionaire quislings have always knuckled under to power. And they’ve always attacked others who don’t.

Read those letters—and yes, there are twelve! Can’t you just hear them as they shout from the rootfops? Can’t you just hear as they bludgeon their readers? Can’t you hear them—these consummate fops? Can’t you just hear them? Hey, rubes!

TOMORROW—CHURLS IN CHARGE (PART 1): More on Okrent and the gang of millionaire fops so often in charge of your “press corps.”

PEOPLE DO MAKE MISTAKES: According to Krugman, Okrent’s criticisms are “simply wrong.” Based on the rest of Okrent’s political work, we won’t be surprised if that’s true. But don’t worry—even as we type, Okrernt has a team of analysts combing through every word Columnist Krugman ever wrote, hoping to find misstatements or stretchers. And yes, everyone does make mistakes, or something that can be so presented. For example, we think Krugman may have stretched a bit when he offered this opening paragraph:

KRUGMAN (3/15/05): The argument over Social Security privatization isn't about rival views on how to secure the program's future—even the administration admits that private accounts would do nothing to help the system's finances. It's a debate about what kind of society America should be.
Krugman referred to an unwise statement by a hapless Bush Admin spokesman. Many people have made this same presentation about that statement, but we think it’s slightly misleading. On March 25, the Washington Post said this in an editorial:
WASHINGTON POST EDITORIAL (/3/25/05): Democrats defend this opportunism by saying the president is worse. President Bush, they complain, is talking up an alleged Social Security "crisis" in order to ram through an unrelated proposal to create personal accounts. But, in addressing Social Security, Mr. Bush is taking on an issue that the Clinton administration also regarded as important; he is not inventing a problem. He can be faulted for not specifying the benefit cuts or tax hikes he favors to restore solvency, but at least he acknowledges some will be needed. In that context, personal accounts are not irrelevant; they involve risks, but they are potentially a way of cushioning the necessary benefit cuts in the traditional Social Security system.
It’s true; absent any other changes, private accounts wouldn’t affect the system’s future solvency. But if those private accounts threw off big gains, they would make it easier to reduce promised benefits—and that would help the system’s solvency. Our point: Everyone says things that can be criticized, and Krugman has written twice a week for five years. Okrent’s problem is this: He has to offer a set of misstatements that justifies his nasty assertion. He made a nasty, sweeping claim. A few minor bobbles won’t support it.

The Times showed woeful judgment in printing Okrent’s cheap shot, and their propaganda on Sunday was utterly laughable. Don’t worry—Okrent, a consummate cheap-shot thug, is hunting high and low for “mistakes.” It will be his job to offer “mistakes” commensurate with his sweeping assertion.