There’s an old saying in public relations: If you have something really embarrassing to admit in public, do it on a Friday afternoon. Better yet, do it on a Friday before a three-day weekend. Best of all, do it on a Friday before a three-day weekend during a horrific natural disaster. Then nobody will notice.
Paul Krugman had it all in his favor on the afternoon of September 2, the Friday before Labor Day when the nation’s eyes were glued to the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina. With much to be embarrassed about, the New York Times columnist finally confessed to a string of falsehoods whereby he claimed that Al Gore had won the media recounts of the 2000 Florida presidential election.
Yes, America’s most dangerous liberal pundit admitted in public that the consortium led by the Miami Herald had not found Gore to be the winner, as he had falsely claimed in no less than three prior columns. This confession stands as the third correction of a falsehood Krugman first told in his August 19 column, in which he made it sound as though the media consortium had unambiguously given the election to Gore. The first correction — an unofficial one — came when he backtracked in his August 22 column, claiming that the consortium had named Gore the winner under two out of three full statewide recount methods. The second correction — this one official — was appended to Krugman’s column of August 26. It acknowledged that his August 22 two-out-of-three claim had been made without admitting prior error.
Now we have a third correction, a correction of a correction if you will. Following the publication of iron-clad smoking-gun proof in this column — direct testimony we obtained from Mark Seibel, the former managing editor of the Miami Herald who ran their recount project — Krugman has had to admit that the Herald consortium only found Gore the winner under two out of four methods. In other words, the consortium didn’t find Gore to be the winner at all.
On the afternoon of September 2, Krugman posted an admission to that effect on the Times website, in the area reserved for letters to the editor. It’s a sweet victory for the Krugman Truth Squad to have squeezed three corrections out of Krugman from a single falsehood.
But there’s a big problem.
Krugman’s admission was never published in the print edition of the Times, so the majority of Times readers have never seen it. And archival versions of the three prior Krugman columns bearing his falsehoods about the consortium’s results remain uncorrected to this day on the Times’s own website and in the Lexis-Nexis and ProQuest databases. So generations of future readers of the “newspaper of record” will see uncorrected falsehoods, even when those falsehoods have been admitted to by their author.
Admitted errors willfully uncorrected are nothing less than willful lies. And those lies are no longer just Krugman’s responsibility. No, those lies are being told with the acquiescence of the Times’s “public editor” Byron Calame, who claims to be the “readers’ representative,” and editorial page editor Gail Collins, who has publicly committed to watch-dogging the Times’s columnists.
The Times’s official policy on corrections for columnists, promulgated in March 2004 by Collins, states that columnists “are expected to correct every error. Anyone who refused to fulfill this critical obligation would not be a columnist for The New York Times very long.” Furthermore, Collins states that
we now encourage a uniform approach, with the correction made at the bottom of the piece. … There are several reasons, some of them practical. The columnists are widely syndicated and it is important that their corrections run within the columns to maximize the chance that they will be seen by all their readers, everywhere.
On the face of it, “public editor” Calame would seem to agree. In an entry to his web journal on September 2, shortly before Krugman’s admission appeared on the Times’s website, Calame called Krugman’s original August 19 statement about the recount a “sweeping assertion” and a “sloppy generalization.” Calame said he “urged” Krugman and Collins “to run a formal correction to clear up the whole tangle,” saying that he thinks “the value to readers of having corrections appended promptly to articles” is “quite significant.”
Ten days have now gone by and . . . nothing. Look at the Times’s archived version of the August 19 column that started it all. (You can view the abstract at no charge.) You’ll see the original correction still there — still falsely claiming that the Herald consortium found Gore the winner under two out of three methods.
At press time, Collins had not responded to my requests for comment on these matters. And Calame told me only that “I intend to deal with them in the ways that I believe will best benefit the readers of The Times.” That Orwellian locution would appear to mean he will do absolutely nothing, and that he doesn’t wish to be bothered while he’s doing it.
And so Krugman and the editorial page of the Times continue to run wild, now building a rotten mountain of lies about the Bush administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina and exploiting the tragedy to further their own Angry Left agenda.
For example, in his column Friday, Krugman claimed that FEMA “had become a highly professional organization during the Clinton years, but under Mr. Bush it reverted to its former status as a ‘turkey farm,’ a source of patronage jobs.” And in his column Monday, he said FEMA “earned universal praise during the Clinton years.” Huh? As Investors Business Daily pointed out,
Bill Clinton’s choice to be Southwest Regional FEMA director in 1993 was … Raymond “Buddy” Young, a former Arkansas state trooper, [who] got his choice assignment after leading efforts to discredit other state troopers in the infamous Troopergate scandal. If a storm like Katrina struck the Big Easy back then, Young would’ve been in charge.
A week ago, Krugman claimed that “federal officials had access to resources that could have made all the difference, but were never mobilized.” His example? The U.S.S. Bataan. Huh? As the Q&O blog pointed out, a September 1 bulletin from the U.S. Navy proves that Bataan was “flying medical-evacuation and search-and-rescue missions in Louisiana” as early as the morning of August 31. Pretty fast mobilization, and certainly better than “never.” Especially considering that, as the Neuro-Conservative blog pointed out, just three days before — on Sunday, August 28 — the risks were generally thought, in fact, to be so remote that the word “Katrina” appeared only once in the New York Times (in an “NFL Roundup” from the Associated Press wire).
Perhaps those of us with more moderate views than the Times shouldn’t worry. What credibility can the Times hope to have about the politics of Hurricane Katrina or anything else when it doesn’t have the integrity to run an official correction of a falsehood about which no one — including Paul Krugman — disagrees anymore?
– 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.