TUESDAY, OCTOBER 21, 2003
A PLACE CALLED DENIAL: Russell Bakera Major Insiderseems to think highly of Paul Krugmans work. He limns Krugmans new book in the New York Review. Heres how he ends his assessment:
BAKER: Journalism is reluctant, however, to make much of an effort to find out who will benefit if a given candidate wins, and who will lose out It seems slightly scandalous that Krugman has persisted in noting that the present administration has been moving the lions share of the money to an array of corporate interests distinguished by the greed of their CEOs, an indifference toward their workers, and boardroom conviction that it is the welfare state that is ruining the country. Krugman has been strident. He has been shrill. He has lowered the dignity of the commentariat. How refreshing.Krugman has been slammed as strident and shrill, Baker notes. But to Bakers ear, Krugmans tone is refreshing. Indeed, Baker even knows that Bushs policies are designed to help an array of corporate interests distinguished by the greed of their CEOs [and] indifference toward their workers. At the end of his review, he praises Krugman for pointing this basic fact out.
But Baker is considerably less frank on another topic. Why has the rest of the press corps been silent? Why has Krugman repeatedly stood alone in his strident critique of Bush? Baker notes the friendly treatment the press has extended toward Bush. As for the press and television, so tigerish when Bill Clinton presided they mostly turned into timrous beasties when Bush became president, Baker writes. The question of why the media slept is open to several speculations, he says. But alas! Most of the gentlemans speculations take him deep in the bag for that press corps. As the rest of his insider class knows to do, Baker plays dumb for his high-status colleagues. Baker hides the truth from your eyes. Its what happens when things fall apart.
Why was Krugmanand Krugman aloneable to see what Bush was doing? Bakers explanation is laughable. But he presents it three separate timesearly on in his piece, for example:
BAKER: From the White House viewpoint [Krugmans] criticism itself was bad enoughBush people are famous for thin skinbut the really troublesome problem was that Krugman seemed to know what he was talking about. This is not entirely unheard of among political columnists, but the typical Washington pundit is stupefyingly uninformed about economics, a field in which Krugman is exceedingly well informed. He had the professional skills needed to tell when the political rhetoric was nonsenseWhy did Krugman stand alone? Only he understood, Baker says. Later, he says it again:
BAKER: Why was [Krugman] able to detect the outrageous dishonesty of the Bush administration long before most of the rest of the punditocracy? Well, for one thing, because his training as an economist enabled him to see what most journalists couldnt.Bakers colleagues would have spokenbut they just didnt have enough training! Indeed, in case you missed his point the first two times, Baker states it again, near the end of his piece:
BAKER: Few are equipped to challenge the mathematics and economic theory underlying the Bush budget, and though Krugman may scold them for not doing their homework, doing so would involve prodigious feats of reeducation.Three separate times Baker hands you this message. His bosom pals, from New Yorks finest tables? They would have spoken up, just like Krug. But doing so would have involved prodigious feats. Sadly, they just didnt know.
And so it goes as a high elite lies in the face of the peons. This explanation is utter, sheer nonsensea high elite protecting its own. Indeed, Bakers attempt to present this dumb tale begins with some cracked recent history. Krugman entered the journalism scene at a moment when most of the big newspapers and networks and the Bush political group were harmoniously telling the same story, he writes. The narrative line held that though Clinton may have left the economy in good shape, he was not to be trusted, especially not with other mens wives and daughters, so the nation was now fortunate to enjoy the governance of good, honest, born-again George W. Bush. But as Baker himself notes in this piece, Krugman entered the journalism scene in January 2000, when Clinton had not left the economy at all; President Clinton was still in the White House, and Bush and Gore were battling for the right to succeed him, as they would do for the next ten months. Indeed, Krugman made his mark on the journalism scene during his coverage of that electionand the press corps decision to ignore his work most plainly showed up in the fall of that year. On what point did the media sleep? As he campaigned, on TV and in person, Bush was grossly misstating his own budget plan, in a way designed to blunt Gores criticisms; it took no economic training at all to see this, especially after Krugman devoted three separate columns to this one simple point (links below). But guess what? When Bush and Gore held their first debate, Bush made his howling presentation again, made it right in his opening statement! And Bakers colleagues all stood silent. Amazing, isnt it? All of them knew what Krugman had written. It took no mathematics and economic theory to understand it, and Krugman had laid it out three separate times. No, they didnt stand silent because they didnt know. They stood silent because they chose to stand silent. They stood silent as a matter of politics.
Weve described this event again and again, an event which Baker politely ignores. But readers, things fall apart when a nations discourse is stewarded in this rank, stupid way. Meanwhile, the Bakers insist on concealing the truth about your press corps recent conduct. Why did they mostly turn into timrous beasties? Bakers fine class, ensconced at high tables, still doesnt want you to know.
VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: Krugman explained it three separate times. It took no training as an economist to understand. No, Bakers high cohort pretended not to know. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/11/02 and 3/21/03.
WHY THEY STOOD SILENT: Three separate times, Baker swears that his insider class didnt know. And then, just once, he gives a hint about the actual source of the corps recent conduct. What explains journalisms limp coverage during Bushs first three years? After an utterly silly discussion of political journalisms heavy dependence on polling, Baker finally lets us spend a few seconds where the rubber really does meet the road:
BAKER: The healthy income of top Washington-based political writers may also have an effect. For those with a foot or two in television, the income is very healthy indeed. Six-figure incomes are the rule, and those seen frequently as TV performers may be millionaires. We are talking of people who may well be in that top bracket so generously favored by the Bush tax cuts. Self-interest almost always begets a little prudence.Self-interest almost always begets a little prudence? This probably explains Bakers silly core claimthe claim that his millionaire buddies would have spoken, loud and clear, if only they, like Paul Krugman, had known.
TOMORROW: Things fall apart! General Strangelove.