In an increasingly grim and dangerous world, we must give thanks to the Old Gray Lady for providing its readers with one howler after another. Some of the latest.
Friday, February 28: Paul Krugman is more often right than his critics concede, an understandable refusal given his off-putting, angry, strident presentational style that is the meat on which his fans feed. Krugman is a master at loading the rhetorical dice. Consider this: “Everyone knows that the Obama administration’s domestic economic agenda is stalled in the face of scorched-earth opposition from Republicans.” The “everyone” is precious, reducing to non-persons the majority of Americans who rate the president’s job performance as unsatisfactory. But the best comes next. Krugman analyzes the source of the likely demise of the president’s freer trade agenda – “it doesn’t seem to be making much progress, thanks to a combination of negotiating difficulties abroad and bipartisan skepticism at home.” But everyone knows that the Democratic Senate leader, Harry Reid, personally killed the president’s request for fast track negotiating authority – one of the sources of Krugman’s “negotiating difficulties,” and that Reid did so both because he has always opposed trade deals and because he wanted to spare his Democratic colleagues being forced to choose between telling the president to take a hike, and offending their anti-free-trade union funders. Republicans generally support the trade deals, the death of which Krugman attributes to “bipartisan skepticism.” Republican opposition is “scorched-earth”; Democratic opposition is “bipartisan skepticism.”
Saturday, March 1. In a report of Ukrainians’ accusation of a Russian invasion, a three-person team of reporters quite accurately noted that Obama has said, “There will be costs” if Russia intervenes. The trio characterized that statement as a “pointed warning.” That was the latest in a long line of the Times’s efforts to give heft to the President’s empty warnings. Earlier (February 19) Steven Lee Myers, reporting from Moscow on Obama’s statement aimed at Ukraine’s military during the crisis that “there will be consequences if people step over the line,” said the president “pointedly warned the Ukrainian military.” Empty warnings rarely have any point at all.
Sunday, March 2. A page 1 story headlined “Big-Money Donors Demand Larger Say in Party Strategy” devotes several paragraphs, running over onto page 17, to tales of Republican donors’ decreased willingness to defer to party elders on policy matters. Over to page 17, where the Times news reporters finally mention that elite donors “in both parties” are becoming more active in policymaking. Any reader who has better things to do on a Sunday than plow through this piece in its entirety just might miss that add-on point to an article that is, all in all, reasonably fair, but misleads by consigning mention of Democratic donors to a far less prominent spot than accorded their Republican counterparts.
Krugman is a commentator and can be forgiven his less-than-precise use of language; the “pointed” crowd are reporters, and should know better than to use that word in the context of Obama’s threats; the editors are the arbiters of balance, and might have used some of the page one space on donors to inform the reader that the rather long piece they were being invited to read related to developments in both parties.