We’ll disagree with two frameworks: In a new blog post, Paul Krugman wonders how the press corps will deal with Campaign 2012. We’ll disagree with one framework found right at the start of his post:
KRUGMAN (12/5/11): Lies, Damned Lies, And ElectionsOof. Professional communicators almost never “lie;” this includes major politicians. For that reason, framing such discussions in terms of “lies” is typically counter-productive, though it may send thrills up partisan legs.
As we wait to see whether the GOP nominates the guy who claims that his health plan was nothing like Obamacare, oh no, or the guy who claims that Freddie Mac paid him $1.6 million as a historian, one thing is obvious: this election is going to pose a major challenge to the news media. How will they handle the lies problem?
I’m not optimistic.
More on that point tomorrow. As he continues, Krugman creates a second framework with which we disagree:
KRUGMAN (continuing directly): Back in 2000, George W. Bush made a discovery of enormous consequence: you could base a whole political campaign on claims that were flatly untrue, like the claim that your big tax cuts for the wealthy went to the middle class, or the claim that diverting Social Security funds into private accounts would strengthen the system’s finances, and reporting would never point this out. That’s when I formulated my doctrine that if Bush said the earth was flat, headlines would read Views Differ on Shape of Planet.Did Candidate Bush ever claim that his “big tax cuts for the wealthy went to the middle class?” We would like to see the quote. Candidates rarely make such stupid claims. It’s easy to thoroughly mislead the public by making claims which are technically accurate. All big pols understand this.
All indications are, however, that Campaign 2012 will make Campaign 2000 look like a model of truthfulness. And all indications are that the press won’t know what to do—or, worse, that they will know what to do, which is act as stenographers and refuse to tell readers and listeners when candidates lie. Because to do otherwise when the parties aren’t equally at fault—and they won’t be—would be “biased”.
For now, let's put that debate to the side. New question: Is it likely that Campaign 2012 “will make Campaign 2000 look like a model of truthfulness?” We would think that’s highly unlikely. But then, Krugman fails to say where the bulk of the “lies” came from during that earlier contest.
There is no question that the twenty months of Campaign 2000 were defined by endless gross distortions. But those gross distortions—those “lies”—didn’t mainly come from the candidates. They mainly came from the mainstream press corps—from Krugman’s cohort, including some colleagues at Krugman’s own newspaper.
We assume that Krugman knows this. It’s disappointing to see that even this most valuable player is willing to play this familiar game, in which major journalists “lie” to the public about the way their colleagues behaved in the bad old days of the wars against Clinton, then Gore.
Will candidates “lie” during Campaign 2012? More specifically, will the Republican candidates “lie” about Obama? Presumably, yes, they will—or they will engage in acts of gross deception. When they do, the press corps may well behave in the way Krugman describes. But during Campaign 2000, the press corps didn’t “act as stenographers and refuse to tell readers and listeners when candidates lie.” The press corps did something quite different back then: They acted as stenographers by reciting the RNC’s “lies.”
For twenty straight months, the press corps recited those “lies,” as a group. We assume that Krugman knows that. As he refuses to say so, who's doing the “lying” now?
More on “lies" and "lying” tomorrow. On policy, Krugman is our side’s most valuable player, by far. We've long described him as a hero.
On politics, which he came to quite late in life, he can be a bit of a rube.
The “lies” of Campaign 2000: On Sunday, one of Krugman’s honored colleagues did a bit of reciting.
His litany came straight from the RNC. They created their script in December 1999. This is clear in eleven months of press relases, starting on December 1 of that year.
Twelve years later, Krugman’s colleague still has their story down cold. But then, Panchito clowned for Bush all through Campaign 2000. We assume that Krugman knows this:
BRUNI (12/4/11): Couple [Gingrich’s] showy scholarship with his grandiose streak and you get pomposity on a scale that would make a French monarch blanch. Last week, in an electronic book published by Politico and Random House, it was revealed that he had compared the attempts to retool his initially beleaguered campaign with the founding of Wal-Mart by Sam Walton and of McDonald’s by Ray Kroc.Questions:
In a Fox News interview he one-upped any of Al Gore’s long-ago claims about “Love Story,” Love Canal or the invention of the Internet.
“I helped Ronald Reagan and Jack Kemp develop supply-side economics,” he boasted.
Did Gore ever make any stupid, inaccurate or “grandiose” claims about that famous trio of topics?
If not, was it a “lie” when Frank Bruni typed what he did?
How about when Krugman pretended that this sort of thing never happened? How long will players like Krugman let this polite fiction live?