Politics & Policy

America’S Looniest Liberal Pundit

Congratulations, Paul. You've earned it.

It’s official. Paul Krugman is getting a demotion.

For three years this column has designated him “America’s most dangerous liberal pundit.” But we’re ripping those chevrons off his shoulders. Krugman’s getting busted down to the rank of “America’s looniest liberal pundit.” And it’s all thanks to Krugman’s own New York Times.

Times “public editor” Byron Calame has how officially blown the whistle on Krugman’s lie in his August 19 column about the 2000 Florida presidential election — that “Two different news media consortiums reviewed Florida’s ballots; both found that a full manual recount would have given the election to Mr. Gore.” And Calame has lowered the boom on Times editorial page editor Gail Collins for refusing to make Krugman officially correct that lie, thus violating the rules of her own columnist corrections policy. It’s right there in black and white in the print edition of Sunday’s Times, in Calame’s biweekly column:

in the opinion section of The Times, the corrections policy of Gail Collins, the editor of the editorial page, is not being fully enforced. As I have written on my Web journal, Paul Krugman has not been required to correct, in the paper, recent acknowledged factual errors in his column about the 2000 election in Florida.

The Times has long been a trailblazer in its commitment to correcting errors. This is no time to let those standards slip – even when well-known … columnists are involved.

Calame has spoken truth to power, and done it in print — and thus forever enshrined the truth in the Times’s searchable archives and in databases such as Lexis/Nexis. In doing so Calame has courageously risen to the challenge we put to him in this column last week. In fact, shortly following each of four previous National Review Online columns uncovering the facts about the media recount and documenting Krugman’s failure to honestly correct himself (August 24, August 31, September 13, and September 21), Calame has responded with increasingly public and increasingly stern rebukes to Krugman (August 26, September 2, September 16, and September 25).

Calame’s responsiveness, persistence, and courage has earned him senior membership in the Krugman Truth Squad. But don’t expect to see him wearing one of our official t-shirts in the hallowed halls of the Gray Lady of 43rd Street. We sent him one, but he told us he would have to return it because “accepting it would reflect a bias on my part against Mr. Krugman.”

The other factor behind Krugman’s demotion from “most dangerous” to merely “looniest” is the Times’s decision to no longer make Krugman’s columns available for free on the web. With the launch last week of “TimesSelect,” you now have to pay a fee of $49.95 per year to read Krugman online, along with Thomas Friedman, Maureen Dowd, Frank Rich, and the rest of the Timesop-ed pundits. So the scope of Krugman’s audience has collapsed. This is supply-side economics — so obvious that even an Ivy League economics professor like Krugman should understand it: When you put a tax on readership, you get fewer readers.

Why has the Times done it? It’s simple. The New York Times Company desperately needs the money. Last week the company shocked Wall Street with earnings that came in at only a third of what analysts had expected — and expectations for the rest of the year were guided lower, too — thanks to declining circulation and ad revenues. And the company announced the second round of painful layoffs this year — 500 employees this time, including 45 in the news room. Executive editor Bill Keller told the survivors, “I wish I could tell you relief was in sight.”

According to Editor & Publisher, Times executives think TimesSelect “is critical to the survival of Times journalism. … a way must be found to make the digital operation more profitable.” Martin Nisenholtz, president of New York Times Digital, told E&P that “He’s looking for significant numbers. … it needs to be in the hundreds of thousands in the early years, and even more over the long term.”

Papering over the desperation, though, is typical Timesian boastfulness. E&P says Nisenholtz is counting on “1.5 million to 2 million readers who are devoted to the New York Times … With them, he claims, their willingness to fork over ‘the equivalent to buying a few martinis’ for an annual subscription could be expected.”

But maybe there’s a reason beyond mere money. Maybe the Times has decided that it needs to call a halt to the way its mostly Leftist columnists are regularly chewed up and spit out by conservatives in the increasingly influential blogosphere. According to E&P, “Gail Collins says that everyone involved in this decision understands that there … will be fewer mentions and links in the blogosphere.”

The Times’s blogospheric chill has already begun. “Bobby,” the keeper of the online Krugman shrine known as the Unofficial Paul Krugman Archive (which for many years has posted free of charge all of Krugman’s columns and articles from the Times and elsewhere), has been ordered by the Times to cease and desist. The order came from Krugman himself in an e-mail to Bobby, posted on the site: “they have apparently become aware of your site (I think too many bloggers gave the link) … stop providing the colum [sic] for free. Yuk.”

The price the Times will pay in order to hide from its critics in the age of online opinion journalism will be the loss of influence. And the Angry Left — whose hateful agenda has been given undeserved credibility thanks to fellow-traveling Times pundits like Krugman, Dowd, and Rich — knows it all too well. The most vile of the Angry Left bloggers, Markos Moulitsas, said as much on his Daily Kos blog this week:

You want your dose of Peggy Noonan … or John Fund, or James Taranto? You’ve got them [on the Wall Street Journal’s free OpinionJournal.com]. No pesky paywall between their opinion content and the people they hope to influence.

The New York Times, on the other hand, is the textbook definition of stupid … Suddenly, overnight, Brooks and Friendman [sic] and Krugman and Herbert have been ripped out of the national debate … So the Wall Street Journal works hard to be a top influencer in the national debate. And the New York Times works hard to become a provincial paper. Wish granted.

He’s right. Already, just a week after the launch of TimesSelect, Krugman’s columns — which typically top the Times’s list of “most e-mailed articles” — have fallen to the bottom. As Krugman Truth Squad member Robert Musil observed on his Man Without Qualities blog, last Friday Krugman’s column ranked 23rd out of a field of 25.

Overall, the pack is led by a hot story on a dog virus, and Herr Doktorprofessor [i.e., Krugman] is being hammered by everything from “Where’s the Party? Scottsdale!” to “Need Answers? Ask Anybody” … [the latter concerning how] on-line psychics are cleaning up. But at the moment relatively few paying TimesSelect customers seem to be looking to Herr Doktorprofessor to answer their questions (or at least e-mailing those answers). On the other hand, Herr Doktorprofessor admits that he has never been very good with predictions. So on-line psychics may have an edge on him.

And as to that desperately needed money that TimesSelect is supposed to be generating for the Times Company, it’s not exactly rolling in. BusinessWeek, reporting on the launch of TimesSelect, asked “Is Paul Krugman worth $49.95?” The answer, evidently, is “no.” As Krugman Truth Squad founding member Mickey Kaus put it on his KausFiles blog,

Q.: Does the NYT have the subscriber totals for the triumphant first days of TimesSelect, its new pay-for-columnists feature?

A: Of course it does.

Q.: If those numbers were any good, wouldn’t the NYT be telling us about them?

A: Of course it would!

Q: Have you seen them telling us about any numbers?

A.: Not yet. … this would almost certainly be the NYT’s best week in terms of the sheer number of subscriptions. After all, they’re giving it the full publicity rollout on the site. … It’s all downhill from here!

With Paul Krugman’s lies exposed by the Times’s own “public editor,” with TimesSelect hiding his columns behind a wall of fees, and with the Times Company faltering financially, one thing is for sure: The opinions of America’s looniest liberal pundit are worth exactly what his online readers have been paying for them all these years — nothing. Even Times loyalists, it seems, would rather have a few martinis, instead.

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

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