Politics & Policy

Insane, Wild-Eyed, and Sourced

But if al Qaeda says so, is it true?

I have good news, and I have bad news. The good first: Paul Krugman is cleaning up his act.

In his latest New York Times column he has actually cited most of his sources. There are nine — count ‘em, nine — source citations. That’s one citation for every 81 words in the column. That might be a world record for any op-ed and certainly a personal best for Krugman.

#ad#Now the bad news: One of his sources is al Qaeda.

This latest column blasted the Bush administration for deception about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. But this was not Krugman’s usual pastiche of insane, wild-eyed, and unsourced allegations. No, it was a pastiche of insane, wild-eyed, and sourced allegations. As you’ll see, when America’s most dangerous liberal pundit is holding the pen, citing sources is just a whole new way of lying.

But, as you know, the Krugman Truth Squad isn’t easily fooled.

For example, Krugman wrote,

… look at the way the administration rhetorically linked Saddam to Sept. 11. As The Associated Press put it: “The implication from Bush on down was that Saddam supported Osama bin Laden’s network. Iraq and the Sept. 11 attacks frequently were mentioned in the same sentence, even though officials have no good evidence of such a link.”

Krugman here gave the impression that the Associated Press itself has, as an institution, arrived at this judgment against the Bush administration. But as I pointed out on my blog, The Conspiracy to Keep You Poor and Stupid, a little fact-checking reveals that this quotation — from a Saturday AP story — is actually the news bureau’s paraphrase of one man’s view — that of Greg Thielmann, a retired State Department intelligence official. (Note to Joseph Lelyveld, interim executive editor of less than a week at the New York Times: vigorous fact-checking can only lift a damaged paper’s credibility.)

Source-happy Krugman then went for corroboration, and he looked to no less a paragon of probity and truthfulness than those wonderful folks who brought you the World Trade Center terrorist attack — al Qaeda. Krugman wrote,

Not only was there no good evidence: according to The New York Times, captured leaders of Al Qaeda explicitly told the C.I.A. that they had not been working with Saddam.

In the story where this was reported Monday, even the Times had the good sense to quote an intelligence official “explaining that everything Qaeda detainees say must be regarded with great skepticism.”

Krugman then accused the Bush administration of “cherry-picking, of choosing and exaggerating intelligence that suited the administration’s preconceptions.” But just look at Krugman’s own cherry-picking. Here he again cited the Associated Press:

It’s now two months since Baghdad fell — and according to The A.P., military units searching for W.M.D.’s have run out of places to look.

Yep, that’s what the AP said in a story on Monday. But Krugman Truth Squad member Matthew Hoy showed on his blog, Hoystory.com, that Krugman picked that particular cherry from a tree that also included this fruit:

The Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency said work will resume at a brisk pace once its 1,300-person Iraq Survey Group takes over … “We’ve interviewed a fraction of the people who were involved. We’ve gone to a fraction of the sites. We’ve gone through a fraction of thousands and thousands and thousands of documents about this program,” National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said Sunday.

Not content to only lacerate the administration over WMD’s, Krugman hauled out fears of “quagmire” that should have been set to rest one spectacular victory ago. Where does he get tired old antiques like this? On eBay? Nope, the British press! He wrote:

The Independent reports that British military chiefs are resisting calls to send more forces, fearing being “sucked into a quagmire.”

Krugman Truth Squad member Tom Maguire tracked down the Independent story on Saturday in which Krugman found this quote (the Independent, by the way, is the home of Robert Fisk, the rabidly and delusionally anti-war war correspondent). Maguire revealed on his blog, Just One Minute, that the Independent story was not “resisting calls to send more forces,” as Krugman stated, but rather “resisting calls for British troops to be sent to join American forces in Baghdad,” simply to redeploy them from southern Iraq into the capital. Forget the images of brave, doomed British lads being sent off on troopships never to see their mums again.

Maguire also caught Krugman distorting quotes by President Bush and other administration officials. Krugman quoted Bush this way:

… the Bush administration found scraps of intelligence suiting its agenda, and officials began making strong pronouncements. “Saddam Hussein recently authorized Iraqi field commanders to use chemical weapons — the very weapons the dictator tells us he does not have,” Mr. Bush said on Feb. 8.

Maguire revealed that the full quote from a Bush radio speech is not quite such a “strong pronouncement.” Bush qualified it, but Krugman cut out the qualification. Here’s what Bush really said (I’ve set in bold type the “scrap of intelligence” that Krugman stripped out because it didn’t “suit his agenda”).

And we have sources that tell us that Saddam Hussein recently authorized Iraqi field commanders to use chemical weapons — the very weapons the dictator tells us he does not have.

Krugman next resurrected an often-quoted statement by Vice President Dick Cheney. It’s from an appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press at the onset of war.

On March 16 Dick Cheney declared, “We believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons.”

Maguire wrote that while this quote is technically accurate, it is “hopelessly misleading”:

From the transcript, it seems clear that [host Tim] Russert did not even blink. This is because Cheney mis-spoke, and Russert knew it. Russert had asked whether Iraq had a nuclear program; earlier in the interview, Cheney had asserted his belief that Saddam had “reconstituted these programs since the Gulf War.” With this response, Cheney managed to substitute “weapons” for “programs,” but it is clear from the context what he meant. Later in the show, Cheney also said this: ” … over time, given Saddam’s posture there, given the fact that he has a significant flow of cash as a result of the oil production of Iraq, it’s only a matter of time until he acquires nuclear weapons.”

Krugman complained that the “Bush and Blair administrations are trying to silence critics.” He claimed that last week “a Blair official accused Britain’s intelligence agencies of plotting against the government.” He cited no source for the latter, but a web search of the British press reveals that he’s talking about House of Commons Leader John Reid who criticized “uncorroborated briefings by a potentially rogue element — or indeed elements — in the intelligence services,” but never said anything about a plot.

And Krugman found it unacceptable that “Colin Powell has declared that questions about the justification for war are “outrageous.” But Tom Maguire pointed out that Secretary of State Colin Powell never claimed that mere questions of justification were outrageous. What he really said was that “it is really somewhat outrageous on the part of some critics to say that this was all bogus.”

It’s ironic, isn’t it? Krugman criticized the administration for distorting sources for its own political ends. Yet, as you can see, that’s precisely what Krugman did while preparing his column. Should Powell be faulted for finding such politically motivated distortions “somewhat outrageous”? You bet he should. They’re just plain outrageous.

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