Krugman lets fuzzy meet voodoo: On a journalistic basis, how hopeless—how utterly hopeless—is the New York Times?
Just consider the news report which tops this morning's front page. It concerns the exciting new fight between Donald Trump and the pope.
Even by standards of the Times, the report is journalistically hapless. In the top right hand corner of page one, Patrick Healy starts in the manner shown below, although it may not have been his fault.
Hard copy headline included:
HEALY (2/19/16): TRUMP FIRES BACK AT SHARP REBUKE BY POPE FRANCISThe full report runs 1433 words. Incredibly, you've already seen Healy's only attempt to quote what Pope Francis actually said!
In his most audacious attack yet on a revered public figure, Donald J. Trump veered into risky political territory on Thursday as he denounced Pope Francis, seeking to galvanize Republicans who worry about border security and appeal to evangelical voters who regard Francis as too liberal.
After the pontiff’s remarkable contention that Mr. Trump “is not Christian” in proposing deportations and a wall with Mexico, the candidate said Francis’ criticisms were “disgraceful” and “unbelievable,” and he contended that the Mexican government had hoodwinked the pope into criticizing him.
Good God, but the Times is a joke! Healy's report runs on and on as various people speculate about the possible political effects of the exciting new fight.
But in the course of all that typing, the Times report makes no attempt to report with the pope actually said. You've seen Healy's only quotation from the pope—a three-word phrase, dropped into the middle of a Times paraphrase.
On line, the Times offers this 1221-word report by Jim Yardley. It includes a more detailed, though blatantly incomplete, account of what the pope said. There is no attempt to report the original question to which the pope was responding.
That said, Yardley's report didn't appear in the Times hard-copy editions, whether on Thursday or Friday. In hard copy today, the Times led the front page with the thrilling new fight, but it didn't make the most basic attempt to report what the pope really said.
Go ahead—just look around! Our intellectual and journalistic traditions lie in rubble. For another example of what we mean, consider Paul Krugman's new column, which features two colorful phrases from our political wars.
"Voodoo" appears in Krugman's headline. It's worth reviewing the political history of that word, a history which dates to 1980.
During the 1980 Republican primaries, Candidate Bush accused Candidate Reagan of "voodoo economics." But uh-oh! Reagan won the nomination, and he took Bush as his veep.
Bush retracted his colorful charge. "Voodoo" was going mainstream.
Jump ahead 36 years to the present day. Every Republican candidate now practices "voodoo economics" as a matter of course. The term appears in Krugman's headline today because Krugman says that one of the Democratic candidates is now playing that GOP game.
Krugman lists some reasons why he opposes this latest fine mess. In this, the first of his complaints, another colorful phrase appears, a blast from the gruesome past:
KRUGMAN (2/18/16): [A]s the economists warn, fuzzy math from the left would make it impossible to effectively criticize conservative voodoo.Ah yes, "fuzzy math!" That colorful phrase dates to October 3, 2000, when Candidate Bush accused Candidate Gore of employing "fuzzy math" during their history-changing first debate.
In fact, Candidate Gore was accurately describing Candidate Bush's prescription drug proposal, a relatively new proposal which Bush was mis-describing.
Repeat—Bush was wrong, and Gore was right! But so what? Fleeing his opponent's accurate claims, Bush unloaded this pleasing bomb:
BUSH (10/3/00): Look, this is a man, he's got great numbers. He talks about numbers. I'm beginning to think not only did he invent the Internet, but he invented the calculator. It's fuzzy math! It's the scaring, trying to scare people in the voting booth.Bush was wrong, and Gore was right. At one point, Gore even said this to Jim Lehrer, completely correctly:
"I mean, it's just, it's just clear. You can go to the [Bush] Web site and look."
Bush was wrong and Gore was right. But by now, our discourse was almost pure narrative. As a result, Bush played the press corps' beloved "invented the Internet" card, then uttered the colorful phrase, "fuzzy math." On four more occasions that night, Bush decried the way Gore was using "the Washington fuzzy math."
Gore had been right, and Bush had been wrong. But the nation's "journalists" would bust their ascots avoiding that fact in the days of punditry which followed.
People are dead all over the world because they were willing to do that.
"Voodoo economics" dates to 1980. "Fuzzy math" became a rhetorical weapon twenty years later. In each case, we're looking at ways our journalistic and intellectual traditions have melted away in what Plato once called "the wickedness of the times." This morning, Krugman alleges another chapter in this long-running tale.
And oh yes! Out on page one, the journalistically hapless Times forgot to quote what the pope really said! What's the only surprise in that front-page mess?
It wasn't written by Amy Chozick! Crackers, imagine that!
Another statement from that debate: Also from Gore that fateful night, as he addressed Jim Lehrer:
GORE (10/3/00): Let me just say, Jim, you haven't heard the governor deny these numbers. He's called them "phony," he's called them "fuzzy." But the fact remains.In truth, the concept of fact no longer remained. This was the campaign in which the press corps made our new culture abundantly clear:
Facts play almost no role in our discourse. It's narrative all the way down.