Politics & Policy

Paradigm Crimes

All the news that's fit to be mangled on the Times op-ed page.

The New York Times — once America’s newspaper of record — chose not to report on the fact that the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security approved its 2004 appropriation bill last Thursday. That is, until today. The story finally showed up — in the op-ed column of Paul Krugman, America’s most dangerous liberal pundit.

Is this the Times’s new paradigm for handling political news in the post-Jayson Blair, post-Howell Raines era?

Here are the first two paragraphs of Krugman’s column — er — news story — er — whatever it is.

Last Thursday a House subcommittee met to finalize next year’s homeland security appropriation. The ranking Democrat announced that he would introduce an amendment adding roughly $1 billion for areas like port security and border security that, according to just about every expert, have been severely neglected since Sept. 11. He proposed to pay for the additions by slightly scaling back tax cuts for people making more than $1 million per year. The subcommittee’s chairman promptly closed the meeting to the public, citing national security — though no classified material was under discussion. And the bill that emerged from the closed meeting did not contain the extra funding.

Let’s call in the Krugman Truth Squad and take these graphs apart one phrase at a time.

Last Thursday a House subcommittee met to finalize next year’s homeland security appropriation.

Yes, believe it or not, “a House subcommittee” is not identified by name — and this is the lead in a column in America’s newspaper of record (you’d flunk high-school journalism class for pulling such a boneheaded move). But why leave out such a simple and critical piece of information? One less fact to fact-check? Nah, can’t be that — Krugman’s columns aren’t fact-checked to begin with. Must be to establish a sinister, mysterious mood. … “It was a dark and stormy night … and bloodthirsty Republicans were prowling the halls of Congress … ”

Or maybe it’s because Krugman just has no idea what the facts are — and by setting his story up so that it contains no facts, he can’t technically be “wrong.”

Next up from Krugman:

The ranking Democrat announced that he would introduce an amendment adding roughly $1 billion for areas like port security and border security that, according to just about every expert, have been severely neglected since Sept. 11.

The “ranking Democrat” doesn’t get named any more than his subcommittee did. He’s Martin Olav Sabo, Democrat of Minnesota, but there’s no record that I can find of Sabo’s amendment. It’s so unimportant to Sabo that the only thing remotely related to it on his website is a press release of June 6 in which he crows that “Minnesota will receive $26,690,000 for first responder preparedness and to help ease the state’s costs of enhanced security during elevated threat levels.”

Krugman Truth Squad member Tom Maguire of the Just One Minute blog pointed out that E. J. Dionne, Jr., the liberal columnist in the Washington Post, had a substantially different version of this story. (Don’t you just love it when liberal pundits contradict each other over what ought to be basic fact.) According to Dionne, it was David Obey, Democrat of Wisconsin, who announced he would introduce an amendment. But according to the Appropriations Committee’s website, Obey isn’t even a member of the subcommittee.

“Just about every expert” is another anonymous phrase. But it only takes a moment or two of web-surfing to find proof that port and border security has hardly been “severely neglected.” The first story I found was in, of all places, the New York Times — and it ran the very same day that un-named subcommittee met. According to the Times story, “The Bush administration has decided to place teams of American inspectors at major seaports in Muslim nations and other smaller, strategically located foreign ports to prevent terrorists from using cargo containers to smuggle chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons into the United States … [Homeland Security Secretary] Ridge is also expected to announce the distribution of $170 million in federal grants to strengthen port security around the country, most of it directed to state and local governments, and $30 million for research and development on cargo security.”

Back to Krugman:

He proposed to pay for the additions by slightly scaling back tax cuts for people making more than $1 million per year.

Yeah, right. The House and Senate just agreed on historic tax reform (after an equally historic battle on the subject). Now we are supposed to believe that a congressman would seriously act as though an appropriations subcommittee is a place where that just-enacted bill is going to be revised to the tune of a lousy $1 billion? No, even congressmen — even Democratic congressmen — aren’t that stupid. To be that stupid you have to be an economics professor — or an economics columnist for the New York Times. (Or maybe both.)

According to Dionne, who’s not that stupid, Obey’s move was just a political stunt — an “experiment” as Dionne put it. He had tried the same “experiment” a couple days earlier in the Subcommittee on Military Construction, trying to trade off a tax-increase against improved barracks for soldiers.

The subcommittee’s chairman promptly closed the meeting to the public, citing national security — though no classified material was under discussion.

“The subcommittee’s chairman” isn’t named. He’s Harold Rogers, Republican of Kentucky. And how did Krugman know that “no classified material was under discussion” if the meeting was closed to the public? An Associated Press story reported that “Democrats said sensitive information was not discussed during the closed-door session, though Rogers said it was.”

Krugman repeated the Democratic side of the dispute as a fact. The idea was to create the impression that Rogers closed the doors to the public so that he wouldn’t be seen doing anything so unseemly as arguing against taxing the rich.

But the same AP story quoted — you guessed it — David Obey, offering an entirely different explanation: “They just don’t want a public airing, any more than necessary, of the incompetence of some agencies.”

Back again to Krugman:

And the bill that emerged from the closed meeting did not contain the extra funding.

Well, at least this sentence appears to be a fact. But Krugman omitted to mention that the bill — even though “the ranking Democrat’s” particular $1 billion didn’t make it into the bill — nevertheless appropriated more than $1 billion above the administration’s request.

In the absence of any other Times coverage of the homeland security appropriation bill, Krugman went on to claim that

according to Fred Kaplan in Slate, the administration’s latest budget proposal for homeland security actually contains less money than was spent last year.

Astonishingly, Krugman’s cited-source contradicted Krugman. In a June 6 Slate column, Fred Kaplan wrote that the

department is requesting $36.1 billion for next year, which looks at first glance like a $2.4 billion increase over this year’s $33.7 billion. This boost would be slight enough under the circumstances, but in fact it’s not a boost at all. Congress doled out an additional $3.9 billion to DHS earlier this year, putting its total 2003 budget at $37.6 billion. So the request for the coming fiscal year amounts to a $1.5 billion reduction. (This charge may be a bit unfair; there’s bound to be an FY04 supplemental request later on. Still, the department’s budget isn’t exactly soaring.)

Even Kaplan and the fact-checkers at left-leaning Slate had the integrity to qualify the claim with “may be a bit unfair,” and to effectively nullify it with the “isn’t exactly soaring” rephrase. But the newspaper of record left all that out.

If this really is the Times’s new paradigm for handling political news, I want the old paradigm back. I’d rather have seen this appropriations bill covered on the paper’s Washington page — yes, even with Jayson Blair’s byline. Anything but Paul Krugman’s bias and vagueness and untruthfulness dressed up as news.

It was bad enough when his lies were disguised as opinion.

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