Politics & Policy

All Sexed Up and Nowhere to Go

Seen Krugman's version of the Blair/Kelly "scandal"?

Paul Krugman wrote in his New York Times column Tuesday that House Majority Leader Tom DeLay “reveals a powerful contempt for the public.” Krugman’s in a snit over something DeLay said last week, addressing a group of college Republicans in Washington:

To gauge just how out of touch the Democrat leadership is on the war on terror, just close your eyes and try to imagine Ted Kennedy landing that Navy jet on the deck of that aircraft carrier.

Never mind that Krugman took two words out of what DeLay really said, without an ellipsis (that kind of slop is S.O.P. at the “newspaper of record” nowadays). What counts is that what DeLay said was actually pretty funny. It reminded me of that scene in Duck Soup where Groucho Marx is proposing marriage to Margaret Dumont: “I can see you in the kitchen bending over a hot stove, and I can’t see the stove.” But Krugman’s not in any mood to laugh at gags about America’s only senator who’s visible from space.

No, everything is going wrong at once for America’s most dangerous liberal pundit. The economy is recovering, despite Krugman’s warnings of a “fiscal train wreck,” and we’re steadily winning the war on terrorism, despite the mud Krugman keeps throwing at our commander-in-chief. Why, oh why won’t the world listen? There can only be one explanation …

Krugman complained that DeLay has “contempt for the public,” but in the very next sentence he turned around and admitted that “it’s possible that he’s right.”

According to Krugman, people are much more sensible in Britain. He can’t figure out why President Bush remains so popular, while in Britain the media-driven scandal over “sexed-up” intelligence about weapons of mass destruction has triggered a “catastrophic loss of public trust” in Prime Minister Tony Blair. Krugman said, “For the first time since Mr. Blair took office in 1997, the hapless Tories are leading in the polls.”

Not so fast. It’s not “the first time.” Ex officio Krugman Truth Squad member James Sherk, senior fellow for economics at the Evangel Society, pointed out this archive of British polls stretching back over a decade, showing that the Tories had as much as an 8 percentage-point lead over Labour in the autumn of 2000. And not only is it not “the first time,” it’s pretty close to just not. According to a column Sunday in London’s Guardian, “Opinion polls still put Labour either just behind, just ahead or neck-and-neck with the Tories. Every government since 1945 has experienced much worse slides. If Tony Blair is in difficulties, his predecessors would have embraced his difficulties with joy.”

Krugman attributed Blair’s troubles (such as they are) to

the death of Dr. David Kelly, a W.M.D. specialist who became a pawn in a vicious war between the Blair government and the BBC over claims of politicized intelligence. According to news reports, someone in the Blair government leaked Dr. Kelly’s name as the likely source of a critical BBC report, apparently provoking his suicide. … After attributing the report to Dr. Kelly, officials questioned whether the BBC had accurately reported what Dr. Kelly said. … But this attack has backfired badly. The broadcaster apparently has evidence, including a tape, that Dr. Kelly made the key allegations it reported. … More information may emerge as a judicial inquiry proceeds, but at this point the BBC seems largely in the clear, while the government looks like a villain.

Krugman Truth Squad senior member Andrew Sullivan — who has taken the lead this year in exposing the BBC’s egregiously biased reporting of the Iraq war and has followed the David Kelly story intensely — was stunned yesterday by Krugman’s version of events. Sullivan wrote on his Daily Dish blog, “But this is Krugman of course. Did we expect a fair account?” Nope. So let’s fact-check it.

Is it true that “someone in the Blair government leaked Dr. Kelly’s name … apparently provoking his suicide”? According to a July 23 story by Warren Hoge in Krugman’s own newspaper, the New York Times, “Prime Minister Tony Blair has denied that he approved making public the name of a weapons inspector, David Kelly.” Yes, this only “shifted the focus to two of the prime minister’s most trusted aides.” But that hardly means he was thrown to the wolves, “provoking his suicide.” According to a Times story by Hoge and Judith Miller — filed on July 18, the day of Kelly’s death — Kelly was dealt with fairly, and knew what he was getting into:

A ministry spokesman said Dr. Kelly had at no point been threatened with suspension or dismissal as a result of his admission that he had spoken to [BBC reporter] Mr. Gilligan, a technical violation of civil service rules. The ministry said he had been given five days to consider the consequences of going public before the disclosure was announced and that he had been told he might end up being called to testify before Parliament.

The July 18 Times story also noted that

In an e-mail message to a reporter sent hours before he left for his walk, Dr. Kelly gave no indication that he was depressed. He … referred to “many dark actors playing games.”

Is it true that “officials questioned whether the BBC had accurately reported what Dr. Kelly said”? Yeah, and then some: Kelly himself questioned it! According to another Times story by Hoge, filed on July 19, Kelly told the Defence Ministry “he could deny that he had made the claim at the center of the report.”

Incidentally, the same July 19 Times included one of those “phantom corrections” that the paper is becoming famous for. The following paragraph about the pre-suicide “e-mail message to a reporter” showed up, inserted smack in the middle of the story, entirely out of context with anything else. See the little nugget of information that was added this time through (I’ve marked it in boldface, in case you might miss it). You think the constables would be interested in this?

In an e-mail message to a reporter for The New York Times shortly before he left on his walk Thursday, Dr. Kelly discussed his appearance before the committee and referred to “many dark actors playing games.”

What about Krugman’s claim that “The broadcaster apparently has evidence, including a tape, that Dr. Kelly made the key allegations it reported”? At first, according to the July 18 story, the BBC wouldn’t even say whether or not Kelly was their source. Krugman Truth Squad member Sylvain Galineau, who blogs at ChicagoBoyz, pointed out a story in The Economist revealing that the BBC had actually denied to the Defence Ministry that Kelly was the source before his name was publicly revealed. Then, according to yet another Times story by Hoge, this one filed on July 20, “The BBC said today that Dr. David Kelly, the British weapons expert who committed suicide last week, was the source … ” The tape would surface three days later.

I’ll get to the matter of the BBC’s tape in a moment. But first, the July 20 story contained yet another “phantom correction” about the pre-suicide e-mail, slipping in another bit of critical yet previously omitted information (again, marked in boldface):

In another [e-mail], sent to a reporter for The New York Times, Judith Miller, he discussed how his testimony had gone: “… many dark actors playing games.”

Let’s review the bidding: Not only did the July 18 story fail to mention that the reporter getting the e-mail was a Times reporter, but the July 19 story correcting that oversight failed to mention that the reporter was Judith Miller — the very author of the July 18 story! And yes, it’s that Judith Miller, the Times’s controversial WMD expert, the one charged with “compromised reporting” in the media brouhaha about Saddam’s aluminum tubes and those biological weapons trailers. In a July 21 story, a feature on Kelly’s life and times written under Miller’s sole byline, the pre-suicide e-mail to her is mysteriously anonymized again, reduced to a mere sentence fragment, and hidden in the very last line of the story:

… he had been under enormous pressure, but in e-mails sent hours before his death, he gave no hint of that, telling an associate, for instance, that he looked forward to returning to Iraq.

We’ll leave the matter of Miller’s peculiar disclosures about the pre-suicide e-mails to truth squads at Scotland Yard. Now, back to that exonerating tape Krugman claimed the BBC has. The July 23 Times story said,

The BBC disclosed today that it had a tape recording of a conversation between Dr. Kelly and a second BBC correspondent in which the scientist discussed his concern about government efforts to highlight certain portions of its dossier. The network did not release the text but said it would … support its claim that its original report was correct.

And that’s where the Times left it, and so did Krugman. But according to a July 24 story in the British newspaper the Independent — yes, the same very-left-leaning Independent that is currently the home of rabid anti-war Mideast correspondent Robert Fisk (scroll down to “Fisk“):

The Government will tell the inquiry into the death of David Kelly that a tape recording of him — which was purported to be the BBC’s “smoking gun” — actually supports Downing Street’s case against the BBC … “We think the tape helps us and not the BBC,” a government source said yesterday.

Okay, so much for the tape. Time for Plan B at the BBC. Now, according to the Independent, the BBC is saying instead that the “contemporaneous notes are good and we believe that we have found some quite strong circumstantial, corroborative evidence.” Let me guess … a blue dress, perhaps?

And how about Krugman’s claim that “the BBC seems largely in the clear, while the government looks like a villain”? Krugman Truth Squad member Tom Maguire took care of that one on his Just One Minute blog. He did an online survey of British newspapers, and found no shortage of opinion — — even from the Left — that the BBC is anything but “in the clear.”

That said, a poll released Monday by the Weber Shandwick public relations firm “showed 54% of respondents saying they trust the BBC more than the government over claims about Iraq and weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Only a fifth (21%) said they had greater faith in the government.” I’m surprised that Krugman didn’t cite this. But if he had, I’m sure he would have left out the fact that the same poll showed that

A majority of those questioned (51%) said that they trusted television and radio news less now than they did a year ago. While the trust placed in radio is significantly less than the confidence enjoyed by television news. The latest row over WMD has been focused on reports on BBC Radio 4′s Today Programme.

And despite the BBC’s dominance in Britain, only 44 percent of respondents “said they trusted the BBC most.”

It’s not like Krugman to miss that poll. He must be slipping. But it’s just like him to miss another poll released Monday, this one from the Democratic Leadership Council. Based on the results of their poll of likely voters, the DLC admitted that the “Party is currently in its weakest position since the dawn of the New Deal.” The DLC elaborated that

The ability of the Democratic Party to reach the growing segments of the electorate, and particularly married voters with kids at home, is hurt by current perceptions that Democrats stand for big government, want to raise taxes too high, are too liberal, and are beholden to special interest groups. These perceptions, which relegated Democrats to the sidelines in the 1980s, once again put the party at a disadvantage …

If that’s true, then Paul Krugman may just turn out to be George Bush’s secret weapon in 2004.


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