Politics & Policy

Smearly Obvious

CNN can teach Krugman a thing or two about integrity.

In his column last Friday, titled “Smear Without Fear,” Paul Krugman discussed the matter of the yawning boy who stood behind President Bush during a speech he recently gave in Florida. This “event” was caught on video and shown last week as a gag on David Letterman’s Late Show. Makes sense for Letterman. But why would Krugman even bother to mention such a thing? And what’s with all the “smear” stuff?

Well, there’s a little more to the story. CNN ran the Letterman clip last Tuesday during its morning news show. Host Daryn Kagan followed the clip, saying, “We’re being told by the White House that the kid, as funny as he was, was edited into that video, which would explain why the people around him weren’t really reacting.” Later, during another show, CNN reran the tape, with anchor Kyra Phillips saying, “We’re told that the kid was there at that event, but not necessarily standing behind the president.” Late in the afternoon CNN called Letterman’s office with a correction. Letterman said on his Tuesday show, “CNN has just phoned and . . . the anchorwoman misspoke. They never got a comment from the White House. It was a CNN mistake.”

As the Associated Press summed it up, “The truth was: The White House never complained, and the footage was real.”

Okay. Story over. Right? Wrong. Krugman had an angle.

Now, as a rule, Krugman will only cite the AP as an authority when the AP’s take agrees with his. This was the case last Tuesday when he wrote in his column that “an Associated Press news analysis noted that . . . personal attacks were ’standard operating procedure’ for this administration.” But in the case of the yawning boy, Krugman wrote, “here’s the really interesting part: CNN . . . told Mr. Letterman that Ms. Kagan ‘misspoke,’ that the White House was not the source of the false claim. (So who was? And if the claim didn’t come from the White House, why did CNN run with it without checking?)”

“Without checking”? This is Krugman talking — he of the infinitude of unchecked unfacts, he of the newspaper that admits it does no fact-checking. He must be joking. Of course, the yawning-boy story is not about fact-checking. It’s about something so alien to Krugman that he didn’t recognize it when it was right in front of his face: This was a correction. That’s right: CNN had the guts to do what Krugman and the rest of the Times columnists can scarcely bear to imagine — it admitted a mistake in public, and apologized for it.

But Krugman wasn’t through with CNN. In the words of Krugman Truth Squad member Matthew Hoy, “Krugman claims that the Bush administration somehow ‘got’ to CNN . . . a New York Times columnist has called several of the network’s journalists liars.”

As is all too often the case, Krugman’s the one who is actually lying, and he’s willing to shamelessly distort quotations to do it.

Last Tuesday Krugman wrote that

other journalists apparently remain ready to be used. On CNN, Wolf Blitzer told his viewers that unnamed officials were saying that Mr. Clarke “wants to make a few bucks, and that [in] his own personal life, they’re also suggesting that there are some weird aspects in his life as well.

Wolf Blitzer shot back the same day, saying on air:

Last Wednesday, while I was debriefing our senior White House correspondent, John King, I asked him if White House officials were suggesting there were some weird aspects to Richard Clarke’s life . . . I was not referring to anything charged by so-called unnamed White House officials as alleged today by New York Times columnist Paul Krugman. I was simply seeking to flesh out what Bush National Security Council spokesman Jim Wilkinson had said on this program two days earlier.

In his Friday column, Krugman replied to Blitzer:

. . . here’s a fuller quote, just to remove any ambiguity: “What administration officials have been saying since the weekend, basically, that Richard Clarke from their vantage point was a disgruntled former government official, angry because he didn’t get a certain promotion. He’s got a hot new book out now that he wants to promote. He wants to make a few bucks, and that his own personal life, they’re also suggesting there are some weird aspects in his life.”

Stung by my column, Mr. Blitzer sought to justify his words, saying that his statement was actually a question.

First, note that at no point here does Krugman assert that anything about Clarke’s personal life has been made public as the result of anything that may have been referred to by Blitzer. Rather than excoriate him for having been “used,” Krugman if anything should congratulate Blitzer on not passing on smears from the administration.

Second, it’s a stunning bit of hypocrisy for Krugman to offer the “fuller quote, just to remove any ambiguity.” Tom Maguire on the Just One Minute blog points out that the “fuller quote” left out the final sentence of what Krugman falsely characterized as Blitzer’s “statement.” The sentence makes it perfectly clear that Blitzer was indeed asking a question of CNN White House correspondent John King. This is how Blitzer finished: “Is that the sense that you’re getting, speaking to a wide range of officials?”

That’s a question. Not a statement, as Krugman claims. And don’t kid yourself that Krugman didn’t know the whole context. He didn’t even have to go to the transcript of Blitzer’s March 24 show to get the entire quote. It was posted on the site of ultra-liberal blogger “Atrios.” Krugman is an admitted Atrios reader.

And here’s King’s answer (which neither Krugman nor Atrios dared to reproduce): “None of the senior officials I have spoken to here talked about Mr. Clarke’s personal life in any way.”

The “Guidelines on Integrity” for the New York Times state that quotes must assure that “the intent of the subject has been preserved.” But I have not the slightest hope that this egregious distortion of Blitzer’s intent will ever be acknowledged or corrected, even under the new columnist corrections policy announced two weeks ago by editorial-page editor Gail Collins.

No, Krugman will continue to smear the Bush administration, CNN, and whomever else he wishes. He’ll do so without fear, all while claiming it’s they who are doing the smearing.

– 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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