That’s pretty much wrong: Paul Krugman gets it right today—after he gets it wrong.
In the bottom two-thirds of his column, Krugman makes some basic, important claims about health care—claims we assume are correct. But a lot of people won’t read that far, because of the way he started.
Early on, Krugman discusses Monday’s night’s Republican debate. In the following passage, he describes the way the audience reacted at certain points. To be honest, his account is pretty much wrong. This pretty much isn’t what happened:
KRUGMAN (9/16/11): I’m referring, as you might guess, to what happened during Monday’s G.O.P. presidential debate. CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked Representative Ron Paul what we should do if a 30-year-old man who chose not to purchase health insurance suddenly found himself in need of six months of intensive care. Mr. Paul replied, “That’s what freedom is all about—taking your own risks.” Mr. Blitzer pressed him again, asking whether “society should just let him die.”From that account, a reader would think “the crowd erupted with cheers” when Blitzer asked Candidate Paul if “society should just let him die.”
And the crowd erupted with cheers and shouts of “Yeah!”
But that basically isn’t what happened. Krugman builds a very strong negative judgment out of that claim. But his basic factual claim strikes us as pretty much wrong.
You can watch the tape for yourself. For Blitzer’s full exchange with Paul, click here, move ahead to roughly 6:45. The full exchange takes roughly two minutes.
Question: Does the crowd “erupt with cheers” when Blitzer asks that question? Actually, no, it doesn’t. (And Paul’s response to the question is “no.”) There are several shouts of “yeah” at that point, but we’d have to say it’s quite unfair to say that “the crowd erupted.”
Krugman makes a specific factual claim in that passage. We’d pretty much say that it’s wrong.
In fact, the crowd does applaud as a group at three separate points in that two-minute discussion. Below, you see the first point at which it applauds after Blitzer asks his question.
What follows comes straight from the Nexis transcript. We would regard it as accurate:
BLITZER (9/12/11): But Congressman, are you saying that society should just let him die?A few people do shout “yeah” when Blitzer asks that question. But the audience doesn’t act as a group until a bit later. As a group, the audience applauds when Paul pictures the man getting care.
PAUL: No. I practiced medicine before we had Medicaid, in the early 1960s, when I got out of medical school. I practiced at Santa Rosa Hospital in San Antonio, and the churches took care of them. We never turned anybody away from the hospitals.
As he continues this morning’s column, Krugman says that Paul was dealing in “fantasy” at that point. For the most part, we assume that’s correct. “People who can’t afford essential medical care often fail to get it, and always have—and sometimes they die as a result,” Krugman writes.
We would assume that is accurate. We would assume that the charity model just can’t cut it in a large, sprawling, transitory, medically over-priced society like ours. Krugman goes on to make important points about medical care—but many people won’t be listening, because of the way he began. Because of snarky remarks about the cheers of that crowd which are marbled through the rest of his text.
More and more, the liberal world seems to be desperate for the demon. With respect to this particular incident, we were struck by Digby’s need for the demon, a need she seemed to express in this post. Here’s the way she started:
DIGBY (9/15/11): Facts without contextDigby links to this blog post by Erik Wemple, from which she offers a quote. But we’d have to say Wemple was basically right in what he wrote in his post. For ourselves, we don’t think it would be accurate or fair to say that the audience “cheered for the death of the uninsured.”
I think it's great that newspapers have found the resources to employ fact checkers. But strangely, they often seem to have such a skeptical attitude that they become rather thick literalists and fail to take context into consideration.
For instance, the Washington Post is "debunking" the idea that the Tea Partiers "cheered" for the death of the uninsured during the debate the other night:
Of course, if you take enough “context into consideration,” you can pretty much make any claim you like! The mainstream press corps has been proving that point for years. In the past dozen years, progressive interests have been badly harmed by that very loose approach to “consideration of context.”
Did that audience cheer for the death of the uninsured? As she continues, Digby gets busy “considering context,” letting that unpleasant claim stand. She doesn’t mention the fact that the crowd applauded when Paul seemed to say that the uninsured man would get treated.
That part of the context just couldn’t stand! But then, it never does at such moments.
On balance, did Paul advance a “fantasy?” We would assume he did. But increasingly, the liberal world seems to be desperate for the demon, as tribal groups often are.
At such times, it isn't enough for the other team to be wrong. The other team has to be evil.
That said, here’s the good news:
If we “consider the context” enough—and leave other shit out—we can get any outcome we want! Whether it’s “racial resentment” or “cheering for death,” we can reach a judgment that is sufficiently ugly.
As usual, we thought Rachel Maddow was worst on this topic, in this play from her Tuesday night program. Note her effortless move from “some audience members” to “the audience—exclamation point.”
In our view, Chris Matthews ran a close second—but then, Chris has been repurposed. Brother Matthews in the business of pleasing us pseudo-libs now.
He has been picking and choosing his “context” for lo, these many bad years.