Politics & Policy

Meet The Krugman Truth Squad

Unlike the Times, we got the facts.

Paul Krugman is one of the most dangerous men in the world. But don’t worry — I’m from the Krugman Truth Squad, and I’m here to help you.

Don’t make the mistake of underestimating this diminutive Princeton economics professor. Sure, as the old joke goes: those who can, do — and those who can’t, teach . . . and those who can’t teach, teach economics. But the problem is that Krugman, who teaches economics, writes a column twice a week for the New York Times — and he uses it like a flamethrower aimed at everything conservatives and libertarians hold dear.

The Bush administration? The war on Iraq? Tax cuts? Deregulation? Blown away! Melted! Utterly vaporized every Tuesday and Friday by a man recently named “Columnist of the Year” by Editor & Publisher magazine, a man on a few short-lists for the Nobel Prize in economics.

How does Paul Krugman do it? I have to admit he has a beguiling rhetorical style and he writes with supreme self-confidence. But more important is his limitless willingness to prevaricate, exaggerate, character assassinate, use innuendo, and scare-monger — whatever it takes to make his case.

For all that, what makes Krugman so devastating and dangerous is the fact he operates from the pages of America’s “newspaper of record.” Yes, yes, we all know about the liberal bias of the New York Times — but most readers assume that at least the Times fact-checks the claims made by its columnists. But I can’t see how they fact-check Krugman. If they did, his columns would be half-empty; they’d be sliced full of little cut-outs like censored letters to World War II GI’s.

But there he is, every Tuesday and Friday, amidst “all the news that’s fit to print.” As though through some horrid alchemy, falsehoods are transmuted into facts — and those facts get repeated over and over for years to come, in everything from politician’s speeches to children’s homework, with the New York Times cited as their authoritative source.

This commentary is the first of many I intend to write for NRO Financial that take on Krugman one lie at a time. I’ve already been doing this for several months on a website that I publish, a web-log (or “blog”) called The Conspiracy to Keep You Poor and Stupid. But I’m just one of many members of what has evolved informally into an online Krugman Truth Squad. In these NRO Financial commentaries I’ll draw heavily on the work of many Squad members.

Let’s start slow — this is our first time — and take a look at just one paragraph from Krugman’s column this Tuesday. It’s one of many he’s written over the last couple of months on how George W. Bush has caused the United States to be feared and distrusted around the world. You tell me if you think anyone at the Times fact-checked this Krugman paragraph:

Victory in Iraq won’t end the world’s distrust of the United States because the Bush administration has made it clear, over and over again, that it doesn’t play by the rules. Remember: this administration told Europe to take a hike on global warming, told Russia to take a hike on missile defense, told developing countries to take a hike on trade in lifesaving pharmaceuticals, told Mexico to take a hike on immigration, mortally insulted the Turks and pulled out of the International Criminal Court — all in just two years.

If you’re a conservative, you might choke on the highly questionable premise that begins that paragraph — that there are supra-national “rules” that the Bush administration is bound to play by. But Krugman asserts it with sublime self-assurance and moral authority — and then follows it up with a rapid-fire barrage of evidence. By the time you’re done with this paragraph, you know you’ve been mugged — but you’re not sure exactly how, and maybe you’re wondering if perhaps you deserved it.

And if you’re a liberal, you took mental notes so you can use all these “facts” the next time you get into an argument with a conservative.

But have no fear. Minutes after Krugman’s column was posted on the Times’ website Monday night, the Krugman Truth Squad was all over it. Here’s how Truth Squad member Matthew Hoy fact-checked Krugman on his blog, HoyStory.com.

— U.S. repudiation of the Kyoto Protocol on global warming? That happened on Bill Clinton’s watch, not Bush’s, in 1997 when the Senate voted it down 95-zero (and the Republicans did not have a 95-0 majority in the Senate then). — Missile defense? The Russians considered it no big deal — unlike certain American politicians and pundits.

— Lifesaving pharmaceuticals? The Bush administration is spending $15 billion on AIDS in Africa.

— Mexico and immigration? Maybe 9/11 has something to do with that.

— Mortally insulted the Turks? They’re still alive, and its parliament is now considering letting the U.S. use Turkish airspace for attacks on Iraq.

— The International Criminal Court? Clinton signed the treaty, and he admitted that it needed major changes. He — not Bush — never even submitted it to the Senate.

Truth Squad stalwart Robert Musil was on the job, too, on his blog, Man Without Qualities. Musil focuses on this partial paragraph from Krugman’s column:

Look at how this war happened. There is a case for getting tough with Iraq; bear in mind that an exasperated Clinton administration considered a bombing campaign in 1998. But it’s not a case that the Bush administration ever made. Instead we got assertions about a nuclear program that turned out to be based on flawed or faked evidence; we got assertions about a link to Al Qaeda that people inside the intelligence services regard as nonsense.

Here’s Musil’s fact-check:

That’s it . . . No Resolution 1441. No mention of the United Nations at all, including any of the 17 Security Council resolutions. That Japan, Australia and most European governments support the United States is omitted, especially Britain’s stalwart support. No mention of the inspector hide-and-seek or the damning evidence of deliberate concealment presented by Colin Powell. Not a word of the large quantities of previously discovered-but-undestroyed anthrax and nerve agents. Nothing of Iraq’s prior use of such agents against Iran . . . No discussion of the Administration’s rebuttal of assertions that its evidence of nuclear programs is “flawed” . . . That the Administration has presented Iraq’s cooperation with al Qaeda as likely, but supported by less conclusive evidence than the WMD charges that justify the war, warrants not a syllable . . . He willfully ignores that the entire case has been made to the public and the United Nations by both the American and British governments.

And here’s a surgical-strike fact-check from one of the many ex officio members of the Krugman Truth Squad who don’t run their own websites, but who send me e-mails whenever they discover a particularly offensive Krugman lie. Paul Philp sent me one, noting Krugman’s claim from that same paragraph that “an exasperated Clinton administration considered a bombing campaign in 1998.”

How’s that again? Clinton considered a bombing campaign? Philp recalls — correctly — that Clinton dropped 400 cruise missiles on Iraq in 1998. If Clinton had “considered” any harder, there’d be nothing left! Philp wrote, “Do you think Krugman is under-reporting this because Clinton didn’t go to the United Nations Security Council for clearance?”

Krugman is most dangerous because he can shout these falsehoods from the august pages of America’s “newspaper of record.” And he does it every Tuesday and Friday. But each time he does, the Krugman Truth Squad gets to work, busily fact-checking his words throughout the night.

Maybe you should think of us this way: We’ll read Paul Krugman so you don’t have to.


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