Further aspects of the Ezra Klein con!


Chait and Krugman swallow the apple in defense of the guild: Yesterday morning, Ezra Klein published the world’s most ridiculous column in the hard-copy Washington Post.

The column appeared at the top of page one of the Post’s Business section. See our earlier post.

Yesterday morning was the first time we had seen the column. The day before, we had spent a chunk of time on the pointless column Ezra published in Saturday’s hard-copy Post. (In fairness, “pointless” is better than completely insane.)

Back to Sunday’s column, the one which was completely ridiculous:

As part of the peculiar new tradition by which newspapers give away their content even before it can be purchased, Klein’s hard-copy Sunday column appeared on-line on Friday afternoon. When it appeared, Jonathan Chait lightly challenged its premise, while failing to say that Klein had written the world’s most ridiculous column.

To read Chait’s reaction to Klein, click here. You will see that Chait massively understates the lunacy of what Ezra wrote. He describes one small part of the lunacy, completely ignores all the rest.

Having been subjected to a wet-noodle challenge, Klein offered a post in which he manfully noted that his original column was wrong.

On Sunday morning, Paul Krugman got into the act. In this post, he cited the back and forth between Chait and Klein—but he too failed to describe the complete insanity of Klein’s original column. Even worse, Krugman complimented Klein at two different places for “manning up” about the fact that he had been wrong.

“Props to Ezra,” he fawningly said. Krugman praised Klein for correcting himself, failed to ask why any liberal would have published such manifest nonsense in the first place.

Our view? Klein’s original column was so absurd that it was almost surely a con—a pile of bullshit he composed to please hard-copy Business readers and kiss the ass of Republicans. (A column by Ezra appears every Sunday in the hard-copy Business section.) Because the column was so absurd, it’s very hard to believe that Ezra could have believed what he wrote.

Chait and Krugman don’t seem to want to go there. They are members of a club; Ezra is in the club too. Professional courtesy seems to have these tyros covering for their ambitious young friend. If you doubt that, once again:

Review the way Chait understates the sheer absurdity of what Ezra wrote. In his challenge, Chait almost wholly ignores the vast sweep of Ezra’s ridiculous claims.

We’ll return to our original question from earlier today:

Does anyone think that Ezra Klein really believed what he wrote in that column? We will continue to guess that he was just casting himself in the role of Very Serious Boy, typing a column which would be pleasing to the Post’s Sunday Business readers.

To that original question, we’ll now add two more:

Does anyone think that Jonathan Chait wasn’t pulling his punches when he critiqued Klein’s column? Does anyone think that Krugman told you what he really thinks?

The swells will always take care of the swells! In the process, you the rubes get disregarded. People like Klein will get nudged away from their “mistakes”—in this case, from a “mistake” which was so absurd that it can’t have been done in good faith.

Klein wrote the world’s most ridiculous column. Anyone with an average IQ can see the sheer lunacy in what he wrote. Obviously, Chait saw how absurd that column was. Your follow-up question is therefore this:

Why didn’t Jonathan Chait just come out and say so? Why did he choose to tiptoe around, covering up for his friend?

A similar situation within a different guild: Later this week, we expect to do a final post about the widely misunderstood boob song of Seth MacFarlane. We’ll review the way other comedians leapt to poor MacFarlane’s defense.

How far did Penn Gillette take the nonsense? On CNN, he said The Onion shouldn’t have apologized for dropping that C-bomb on 9-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis! And yes, that is what he said.

The guild will always protect the guild! If you doubt that, just read Chait’s soft-soap reaction to Klein.

Klein lives to con you another day. On the bright side, some day he'll cover for Chait!


  1. Even Krugman has gone bad. We're lost.

  2. Well nobody will accuse TDH of the sin of acknowledging a change of opinion. Three months of apologia dedicated to the immaculate ignorance of Susan Rice showed that.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. I agree with Somerby's important distinction. Most of my posts are pointless, but I doubt many of them are "completely" insane.

    The first time I read the sentence I thought he had said "inane." I'm so glad he actually said "insane" -- much easier to deny, if not refute.

  5. So Nobel laureate, tenured Princeton professor, and NYT columnist Paul Krugman is "fawning" to 28-year-old UCLA grad Ezra Klein.

    1. Yep, obviously Krugman knows his career will go nowhere unless he sucks up to the powerful Klein.

    2. Reasonable Reader: I'm having a hard time finding the word "fawning" in Bob's summary.

      Unreasonable Reader: It's in there.

    3. Actual reader: "Even worse, Krugman complimented Klein at two different places for “manning up” about the fact that he had been wrong.

      “'Props to Ezra,' he fawningly said. Krugman praised Klein for correcting himself, failed to ask why any liberal would have published such manifest nonsense in the first place."

    4. Bob's point is that there are guild rules which require decorum even when that decorum masks the real level of failure. The commenter above takes that incontrovertible point and latches onto a single word and against the entire thrust of the criticism claims that Bob is saying Krugman is kissing up to power. That is a vastly different picture than the one Bob painted. A.K.A. strawman.

    5. Bob's point since he has discovered the brilliant Megan McArdle is that the media is populated by young, elite, ambitious "mandarin" class in service to a ruling class to keep the working class down.

      Bob's point is that this "mandarin" class also forms "guilds" to protect its members in order to advance their own careers. As evidence of this, he points to a perfectly reasonable, adult discussion between Klein and Chait that apparently causes Klein to rethink his position. For which Krugman "fawningly" compliments Klein, for which he must now face the Wrath of Somerby for Krugman's alleged failure to chastise Klein severely for a position Klein no longer held.

    6. And Anonymous 3:46's point was that "fawning" appeared nowhere in Bob's summary. Wrong!

  6. Bob Somerby:

    You write

    "How far did Penn Gillette take the nonsense? On CNN, he said The Onion shouldn’t have apologized for dropping that C-bomb on 9-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis! And yes, that is what he said."

    I believe that the most appropriate response to this would take the form of a joke like this:

    "Q: How many Bob Somerbys does it take to screw in a light bulb?"

    "A: That's not funny."

    In other words, it's not a "guild" thing, it's a "fundamental characteristics of humor and its relationship to prevailing community standards with respect to tolerance of shock and offense" thing.

    Of all the different kinds of people, one would expect fellow movement liberals to know and appreciate these fundamental characteristics, since we've some history of inculcating the value of personal, intellectual freedom as a defense against social orthodoxies that deter progress. We're not the Church Ladies of the world. To the extent that we've found it politically useful to assume that role...well, that's probably an indication of movement liberalism's decadence, isn't it?

    It's perfectly fine for humorists to perform self-aware imitations of that which is horrifyingly crass and offensive to most decent people. Whether those imitations are or could be confused with actual crassness and wrongness by said decent folk shouldn't preclude their performance. In a free society --in the sort of society liberals fight for-- the establishment of perpetual public safety from either little girls being called ugly names or vicarious offense on little girls' behalf is not the highest value.

    A long time ago, there was a somewhat famous punk-rock band whose name happened to be "The Dead Kennedys." I seem to remember many good, decent people being appalled by the very idea that there could be individuals who could even conceive of such an offensive, horrible thing. I would tell those folks to just be happy that they lived in such a great country as ours, and that the continued existence jokes so shocking to their senses of decency meant that America was still far from the point of irreversible national decline.

    When the appropriately appalled would remind me that it was not merely they who'd find this sort of thing reckless and hurtful, but surely the innocent members of the Kennedy family would suffer grave emotional harm, should a marquee with the offending band's name become known to them, I'd simply say "Yes, that is an unfortunate possibility. Of course, if we lived in a nation in which people's feelings were prioritized so highly as to become the sole determiner of the value of speech, we'd run the risk of becoming a culture in which the value of safety from offense outweighed creativity and honesty, and in which potential social risks were seldom taken. Also, we wouldn't be America anymore." You see, I was more worried about the obvious problems that attend my fellow liberals' encouragement of folks leaping to sanction speech whenever they felt (justifiably) offended on behalf of a joke's subject.

    One would expect (and I do expect this of you) a humorist of your capacities to respect public defenses of that sort of intellectual freedom, Bob Somerby. One would also expect that sort of thing of you as a liberal.

    1. One one level, humor is judged by whether it gets laughs. But not all jokes that get laughs are comedy. The literary equivalent would be comparing Twilight (amazing sales) to War and Peace (actual literature).

      In evaluating the Onion joke, ask yourself this - did the C-word add or detract from the intended humor? Personally, I think it detracted. It's like using the N-word as a punch line. Sure, you'll find people who laugh at it but is it comedy? Does it demonstrate the skill of the comedian's ability to walk on that line of impropriety and still deliver the goods? I would have to say no.

      In the case of the Onion joke, the writer could have gotten more out of the joke by using a less loaded word. For example - the b-word. Not nearly as offensive but plays at the same self-referential ironic twist.

      The nuance that people miss in that analysis is the same one that causes them to miss the real criticism of McFarlane. In the Onion joke, you can take away the shock value and there would still be a joke there. There would still be satire. The biggest issue with the Onion joke is that the satire is completely overwhelmed by the word-choice. So it failed.

      The MacFarlane jokes, however, are different. Take away the shock value and there's no joke underneath the surface. There's nothing else there. It lives almost completely upon its ability to revel in being offensive.

      That's not comedy. That's a form of sadism. People who laugh, especially people who are not the target, are engaging in a form of schadenfreude. Again - this is not comedy. It's something but it's not comedy.

    2. So everybody must judge "comedy" by whether you "personally" judge the use of certain words to add or detract from it?

      Good grief, fella. Go read Stuart's post again. He's not saying you shouldn't be offended. He's saying that America is strong because we value free speech so much that we put up with speech that is offensive rather than let the Somerbys of their world impose their standards of proper speech while clutching his pearls and getting the vapors.

      Realize again that Somerby said he checked out of the Oscar show right after the "boobs" number very early into it. He also walked out of "Django Unchained" 20 minutes into that, but spent several days commenting here about how horrible it was.

      Yes, Bob has a perfect right to do everything he can to advance the perfect world he envisions in which nobody is offended.

      But others are also free to imagine how that world would be so lacking in creativity and the risk-taking and envelope-pushing necessary to feed it.

    3. Well said. And after all the back and forth about Seth McFarlane I'm glad someone pointed out the obvious - he wasn't funny. I'm not attacking the 1st amendment by pointing out that he's an unfunny jerk, am I ?
      One other point re the Onion. The joke was aimed at a 9 year old girl and that makes it different, just as it did when that conservative jerk Rush Limbaugh made fun of a 13 year old Chelsea Clinton. I know a lot of asshats who hide behind the idea that somehow criticizing them is either attacking their rights or a sign of my hangups. Aargh.

    4. No, you see the issue here is who is the arbiter of funny?

      I actually thought the "Boob Song" was damned funny. Call me immature, whatever. You found it unfunny. Great. Not only an unfunny song, but one sung by an "unfunny jerk." Terrific.

      But you know what? I still don't have to agree with you. So where does that leave us? Clutching our pearls as we get another case of vapors?

      As for the joke aimed at the 9-year-old girl, Penn Gillette was saying that The Onion SHOULD NEVER HAVE APOLOGIZED for it. And he is damned right. To me, that has nothing to do with whether the "joke" was offensive or not, but whether the Onion, which has always been extremely cutting edge, should now get into the habit of apologizing for pushing the boundaries too far.

    5. Clutching my pearls ? Well, I kinda knew this would turn into an ad hominem attack. Look, you're right, there is no arbiter of funny but it is not an infringement on anybody's rights to point out when someone is not funny or when they rely on "pushing the boundaries" to make up for their lack of originality. In fact, that is funny, the idea that Seth McFarlane or Penn Gilette or even the Onion are cutting edge. Personally I frequently find the Onion to be very funny, but their "joke", such as it is, about Quvenzhané Wallis was a dud and I do find it offensive when a 9 year old girl is grist for sophomoric stupidity pretending to be "cutting edge". I'm glad they had the sense to apologize. Sheesh, grow up.

    6. [for Anonymous 2 up] Professional actresses were showing up for the Oscars, the culmination of their year's work. "Funny" shouldn't be heavily insulting and at their expense, whether it flies okay on late night Comedy Central.

      Perhaps you think it okay to tell a sand nigger joke at Palestinian peace talks, but most would think it insulting and inappropriate at a professional event, even if it might be cute on a talk show. "You did a really fab job. By the way, nice tits." Truly grungy.

  7. "Look, you're right, there is no arbiter of funny"

    Followed immediately by:

    "but it is not an infringement on anybody's rights to point out when someone is not funny"

    Sounds like you've pretty much set yourself up at the judge of what's funny.

    Gee, I hope you won't think it's "ad hominem" if I call you a hypocrite. If you do, then I am soooo sorry. Doesn't that show my good sense?

    1. Ok, I'll fix it for you:
      There is no ultimate arbiter of funny. Taste is personal. My pointing out that I think Mr. McFarlane is not funny is not some terrifying trampling on the 1st amendment. Arguing about the merits of these things is part of how we define our popular culture. Now to me trying to turn Seth MaFarlane's boring and predictable humor into some kind of important evidence of the greatness of our free country as Stuart did earlier - now that is funny. You are of course entitled to your opinion.

    2. Oh, I see. McFarlane is "boring and predictable" but of course, you do not set yourself as the ultimate arbiter of funny. You talk out of both sides of your mouth often?

      As for what Stuart wrote, you should re-read it. He clearly said that our long-standing toleration of speech and humor that even large swaths of the population might find offensive is evidence of the nation's greatness.

      You disagree with that? Fine. But what ever happened to, and I paraphrase, "I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

      You and Somerby really have some bug up your hindquarters about McFarlane, and that's OK. But as Stuart points out, Somerby should know better as both a stand-up comic and a "liberal" and take a much broader view before he cites McFarlane as evidence of the decline and fall of American culture.

    3. Jeez, Please take note of the verb I used . I said I THINK that McFarlane is boring and predictable.

      You are correct that I somewhat misrepresented what Stuart said upstream.

      What I think both you and Stuart are doing is conflating two things: everyone's RIGHT to express themselves as they see fit and the actual content of that expression. I'll reiterate, in case it's not clear, the RIGHT to express ourselves is a great thing. That being said, if our culture were awash in a neo Nazi worldview, that would be a bad thing. If it were awash in simplistic, backward thinking, repressive ideas that would be a bad thing. This is why it is appropriate to push back hard against such nasty regressive mouthpieces like Rush Limbaugh. If supposed "liberals" who I THINK are also guilty of retrograde attitudes toward women ... heck toward people ... also get their share of microphone time, then I would indeed be talking out of both sides of mouth if I didn't comment on it just because this time the speaker was somehow on my "team" or hip and "cutting edge", whatever that means. Let's not hide behind the 1st amendment when judging the content of what's being expressed.

    4. What you say you wrote: "I said I THINK that McFarlane is boring and predictable."

      What you actually wrote: "Now to me trying to turn Seth MaFarlane's boring and predictable humor into some kind of important evidence of the greatness of our free country as Stuart did earlier - now that is funny."

  8. His name is Jillette with "J."

  9. This is Ezra's MO. It isn't an oopsy. Check him on Bush's health plan- maybe SOTU in the second term. "Maybe it could work!" Gets hammered by people with actual expertise. Slinks away. Ezra on pseudo smart pseudo wonky Republicans- where does he always fall? He is wallpaper for the bad guys. He papers over the holes they drunkenly punch in the drywall of our nation.

    1. Goodness gracious! You mean Klein is in the habit of re-thinking his position when presented with evidence?

      How can we possibly survive in a world filled with such pundits.

    2. I mean someone failing consistently in their supposed area of expertise failing upward, my learned cucumber.