Politics & Policy

Running From Cover

Seen the U.K. version of Krugman's book? The Times has. They don't like it.

His many lies didn’t do it. Nor did his ties to Enron, his long-standing complicity in anti-Semitism, or his slanderous smears of his critics. No, it took a simple picture for the New York Times to finally distance itself from America’s most dangerous liberal pundit, Paul Krugman.

The picture in question is on the cover of the U.K./Australia version of Krugman’s best-selling book, The Great Unraveling. It’s a photomontage showing the face of President George W. Bush with huge Frankenstein sutures across his mouth and brow, and the word “Enron” stitched into his forehead. Vice President Dick Cheney’s face sports a Hitleresque mustache; the words “Got oil?” are scrawled on his forehead.

It is a hateful, shocking, and disturbing image. How different from the U.S. edition’s sedate cover, which sets the book’s title against a simple red rectangle with a folded corner.

Yet the U.K. cover is, in truth, more faithful to the hateful, shocking, and disturbing spirit of Paul Krugman’s book. Remember, this tome is much more than just a compilation of three years of Krugman’s Bush-bashing Times op-eds. According to the book’s introduction, Krugman draws his columns together to chronicle the rise of the Bush administration as a “revolutionary power,” a “radical political movement” that he likens to the “totalitarian regimes of the 1930s,” and which, he says, seeks an America “possibly — in which elections are only a formality.”

Now, thanks to the U.K. edition, we can tell this book by its cover. It reveals Krugman for what he really is — hateful, shocking, and disturbing. The U.K. cover strips away the fake veneer of respectability loaned to Krugman by the prestigious aura of the New York Times.

But — finally! — it’s become too much for the Gray Lady. Consider what it means for the prideful New York Times — America’s newspaper of record — to have run a story about the book cover yesterday, prominently featured in the Sunday “Week in Review” section, in which a Republican spokesman criticizes Paul Krugman this strongly:

Christine Iverson, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee, said the cover showed that Mr. Krugman’s attacks on the administration had descended into “hate speech.”

“It is obvious that his feelings have clouded his objectivity and his ability to discuss the issues in a rational way,” she said. “The fact that they are using a much different cover here in the United States is proof that his tactics are offensive to mainstream Americans.”

What can the Times say to that, except to plead ignorance?

Catherine J. Mathis, a spokeswoman for The New York Times, said, “The newspaper has no relationship to the British publisher — we were never even shown the cover.”

Okay — the Times has good, clean plausible deniability on this, and they’re not afraid to use it. But what does America’s most dangerous liberal pundit say in his own defense? Are we to believe that he had no knowledge of his own book cover? According to the Times story, “Mr. Krugman, for his part, said he did not remember seeing the cover until prepublication copies were sent to reviewers. ‘I think it was intended to be ironic,’ he said.”

“Ironic”? Hardly. It’s the U.S. version — which sets Krugman’s crackpot partisanship in a respectable frame — that’s ironic. The U.K. version is entirely consonant with Krugman’s actual message. But be that as it may, Krugman’s statement is not much of a denial, is it?

And that “I don’t remember” defense sounds strangely familiar: It was the phrase we heard so often in Bill Clinton’s grand jury testimony about Monica Lewinsky. (And come to think of it, Clinton accused Lewinsky of being a stalker. Must be a Democrat thing.)

Krugman Truth Squad member Robert Musil smells a rat. Writing on his Man Without Qualities blog, Musil says, “Herr Doktorprofessor’s response seems crafted to meet an expected revelation that he was, in fact, sent a copy of the cover long before … ” Musil’s suspicions seem confirmed by something else Krugman says in the Times story:

“It is a marketing thing, not a statement,” he said. “I should have taken a look at that and said, ‘What are you doing marketing me as if I am Michael Moore? This is silly.’”

“Incivility is one thing,” he said, but the book cover “may be undignified, which would be a reason to object.”

Great to see the best-selling “angry liberals” breaking ranks like this, isn’t it? (Krugman seemed proud to be in their number just weeks ago.) But it’s stomach-turning to see Krugman try to weasel out of responsibility for his Moore-ish cover by acting as though its only flaw is its potential to hurt his own marketing image. But this may be a smoking gun. Musil points out:

But how could Herr Doktorprofessor have “taken a look at the book cover” and said anything if he didn’t receive and review a copy of the book cover in advance? And how could he have said “What are you doing marketing me as if I am Michael Moore? This is silly,” unless he has some right to disapprove it? He sure makes it sound as though he did receive an advance copy of the cover, didn’t object to it and was therefore deemed to have approved it under his contract, but had a reason to object to the cover under his contract because the cover is “undignified.”

Some corroboration of Musil’s suspicions comes from Krugman’s U.S. publisher, W. W. Norton. A front-page story in the New York Sun on Thursday said Norton “was made aware of the British company’s marketing plan” and quoted Norton president and chairman Drake McFeely as saying “they would absolutely keep us informed.”

Further corroboration comes from an unexpected quarter. “Bobby,” the sycophantic keeper of the flame at the online shrine known as the Unofficial Krugman Archive, bragged:

I’ve actually known about it since May, 2003. This is because, even back in May, there was a picture of the U.K. cover was [sic] on amazon.co.uk … However, I didn’t say anything about the U.K. cover since I figured Luskin et al. would figure it out and smear Krugman with it soon enough. (By the way, I think that their failure to notice it sooner says a lot about their incompetence).

But perhaps it says even more about Krugman’s complicity in this horrific book cover. To the best of my knowledge, pre-publication copies in the U.S. were sent to reviewers no earlier than August — so perhaps Krugman could have seen the picture as much as three months earlier. Are we to believe that “Bobby” knew about it, and Krugman’s publisher knew about it — and Krugman didn’t? No, wait … Krugman simply “did not remember.”

How is it that Krugman’s awareness of the cover has been restored just now? We have new Krugman Truth Squad member Steven Kirchner to thank for that (I’d say he’s got KTS Rookie of the Year pretty much locked up). Kirchner is a young Australian economist. He saw the cover in a Sydney bookstore window, and talked about it on his blog, Institutional Economics, on November 18. Ex officio KTS member Stephen Prather alerted me to it by e-mail, and I immediately posted it on my blog, The Conspiracy to Keep You Poor and Stupid.

From there it was only a short time until it was a scandale on the web — and it went beyond the usual Krugman Truth Squad suspects. Even the anonymous ultra-leftist known as “Atrios” commented on it critically on his Eschaton blog. What could even he say, other than “Now This is Shrill!” On Thursday it broke into print, with Josh Gersten’s front-page story for the New York Sun. So what else could the Times do but put some distance between itself and Krugman?

Just five days from the first Truth Squad sighting to a mea culpa in the Sunday New York Times. Not bad, huh? It says a lot about our media-saturated world that a mere picture would cause so much embarrassment, considering how many, and significantly, more substantive sins weigh on Krugman’s conscience. But I’m not complaining. We’ve finally got ‘em on the run. Makes me proud of the power of the web — and of the Truth Squad.

– Donald Luskin is chief investment officer of Trend Macrolytics LLC, an independent economics and investment-research firm. He welcomes your comments at don@trendmacro.com.

Members of the National Review editorial and operational teams are included under the umbrella “NR Staff.”

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