Noise machine watch: Did Krugman screw up?


Concerning our most valuable player: As you may know, Paul Krugman published a blog post on Sunday—a post about 9/11.

The post has generated a large amount of pushback and controversy. On Monday, Krugman published this second post, amplifying what he had said.

Did Krugman do something wrong? In this post, Digby says the pushback is the same old crap from the usual “hypocritical phonies.” Without necessarily disagreeing, we had a somewhat different reaction, based on the fact that Krugman is, by light-years, the liberal world’s most valuable player.

Krugman has been a giant on policy. It’s hard to imagine how little we all would know if not for his columns of the past dozen years. But his political judgment isn’t always as strong, and some of what he said in that initial post didn’t really make much sense. He did a major amount of mind-reading—the sort of thing the lowest pundits will do. And to be honest, his mind-reading didn’t really make sense. Here’s where the mind-reading ended:

“The memory of 9/11 has been irrevocably poisoned; it has become an occasion for shame. And in its heart, the nation knows it.”

Really? “The nation” knows that? That’s what “the nation” thinks? In all candor, that strikes us as wildly improbable. Almost surely, “the nation” doesn’t perceive these events in the way Krugman imagines. Nor will the nation really know what he means in some of the aggressive claims he tosses off in that post.

We're not saying those claims are wrong. We're saying a major player can't afford to be casual when he makes claims of that type.

Simply put, Krugman has been a journalistic giant over the past dozen years. For that very reason, others are eager to bring him down—and the aftermath of Sunday’s post has been a bit of a blow to progressive interests. As Digby notes, the noise machine will always be trying to take Krugman down, and they won’t be especially honest about it. (On Monday night, Bill O’Reilly kept conflating Krugman’s post with something Chris Hedges said.) But this makes it especially bad when Krugman seems to help them out, tossing off casual, unexplained comments which may make him sound weird to average voters. (Or to mewling mainstream "journalists.")

Progressive interests were harmed a bit by that post, and parts of it didn’t make much sense. Because he’s such an important player, we do think Krugman screwed up a tad.

Our side has very few valuable players. We need to save those we have.


  1. Paul Krugman has degrees and high levels of education on economics, but how does that qualify him as an expert on political process or international relations? This society tends to accept an expert on one subject to be worthy as an oracle on any subject.

    Actually, I often find his pronouncements on politics to be somewhat more believeable and logical that ones he makes on politics, but still... Should we not be looking to people for advice on the topics on which they have training, education and actual expertise? Why ask for advise on war policy from a guy who lives in an ivory tower in Princeton studying economic formulas? How does his economic expertise qualify him to judge, for instance, whether or not going to war in Libya was a good idea?

  2. Correction, that should have read, "Actually, I often find his pronouncements on politics to be somewhat more believeable and logical that ones he makes on economics"

  3. It's hard to see how Krugman could directly challenge the standard press corp post-9/11 narrative in a short blog post without some shortcomings.

    Are progressive interests harmed by Krugman hammering war hawks for their misguided (at best) actions in the wake of 9/11? I don't think so. Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan remain very unpopular.

    Sadly, PK didn't manage to name any pundits who were complicit in the "hijacking of the atrocity" and only names three politicians that are essentially retired...

  4. "...comments make him sound weird to average voters."
    Whoever average voters are, they don't read Krugman's blog in great numbers. Most average voters heard about the post through the filter of an angry rightwing polemic.
    Krugman could have provided reams of sound documentary evidence to undergird his claim, but "real americans" would be just as misled by O'Reilly et al. Bob, I would love to be able to agree with you, but your solution is always that we should shut up, lest we behave like republicans. Krugman is shrill by MSM definition. He can't change that without going on Fox and Friends and apologizing for everything he's ever said and donating his Nobel prize money to the RNC. It's interesting to observe that no critics (other than you) criticized the merits of the post, just the timing.

  5. I love Krugman, but he's been a tribal liberal for at least as long as he's been at the NYT. Nothing new here. He hasn't exactly deviated in recent months or years.

  6. BTW, Krugman didn't screw up. He didn't go far enough. Chris Hedges is far more on the money. Forget liberal vs conservative silliness, or the latest indiscretion of Rachel or Charles Blow or anyone else who no one outside of the liberal world listens to or cares about.

    We the People stood by as our nation caused the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of innocents as a result of 9/11. We either stood by, or cheered on the slaughter.

  7. Paul Krugman is a hero, a national treasure. We have a scholar who could easily turn into another Thomas Friedman, just pursue the money, become a billionaire and just be another corporate lap dog. Instead, Krugman often sticks up for ordinary working Americans and the interests of ordinary workers. His blog nailing the fake heroes of 9/11 was spot on. Let's stop this pettifogging and nitpicking of Krugman while totally ignoring the guts and courage it took to write such a blog. The right wing scum are going batshot crazy over Krugman's comments. We should be celebrating that there is anyone on the NYTimes, anyone anywhere who is willing to speak truth to power. Paul Krugman hit a home run but we're still going to whine and carp over his timing, his batting style or his running style while ignoring his home run. The man is brilliant and I value his comments very much, we should be supporting him while he is under such severe attack by the right wing and by the criminals who brought us wars and economic ruin for most Americans but fabulous wealth for the top 5%. I am sure that some very powerful people are working overtime to have Krugman removed from the NYT and maybe even Princeton University.

  8. Amen, Anonymous.

    Caution gets you nowhere in this world, especially in a climate such as ours. Caution gets you triangulation. It gets you welfare "reform" and financial deregulation. It gets you, "don't handcount all of the ballots in Florida, just these select counties." It gets you a Democratic Party that signs on to the Iraq War. And so forth.

    We're better off backing Krugman here than prissily picking nits. This is an important moment, and Krugman told the truth as he saw it.

  9. This situation is very difficult for the progressive world. Krugman does more critical and important work than any mainstream journalist working today. But he has always been much better than preaching to the choir than in persuading other people to adopt his policy solutions. That is a useful, and even admirable service, but it is not a recipe for winning elections.

    Let's be frank: the fact that the liberal and progressive community has to look to an economist, rather than a politician as its main spokesperson is sad. There is a very strong case to be made that that the last Administration politicized a horrible event for political purpose, but Krugman was tasteless in doing it on 9/11 itself and especially in claiming to mind-read the national mood. Saying those things may have sent a thrill up the leg of progressives, to borrow one of Bob's phrases, but doing it on 9/11 shows just how decrepit the movement has become, how much it has bought into losing tactics.

    More generally, I cannot name one single columnist or politician who is out there speaking to non-politically engaged Americans--many of whom vote Republican and have a strong religious capacity for empathy--in clear direct terms about any issue of importance to the future of our country. Until the progressive community can do that, and find some way to fund it, there is no hope of countering the narrative that the conservative movement has constructed.

    The sad part is that the community is not even trying. After all, it is so much easier to condemn people for their so called ignorance, than to understand their thinking and and to explain how your proposals might help them, as Rick Ungar found out when he posted a similar point as Bob's, on the Mother Jones site.

  10. So Krugman should keep his mouth shut because Bill O’Reilly might interpret his words disingenuously?

  11. Here's the sad part, Chris. Hundreds of thousands are dead in Iraq, a climate catastrophe is unfolding, and the poverty rate is skyrocketing. To name three.

    What do we liberals do? Hold a colloquy on a blog post.

  12. Amen Geoff! And "tribal" my ass. He was saying what he believed. I happened to think him correct...although, like Geoff, I think CH even more eloquent. Most of the people dumping on Krugman (most...not all) will dump on him no matter what he says. The game now is 'damn Krugman.....get the liberals (or, whatever one calls us) to turn on our own. That is the battle now. Make em, ala Dick Durbin, ask for 'forgiveness'.

  13. Somerby's only attack on Krugman is that his statement "At its heart, the nation knows it" would not be backed up by opinion polling. But 9/11 rightfully *is* an occasion for shame and it's about time someone said so.

    Krugman is not a cheerleader for progressives. He's not a "player" one some hypothetical team. He's got no obligation to say only things that further the "progressive interest." He's allowed to say things that are true regardless of their effects on the next election.

    Now, I agree with Somerby that in fact Americans may well be far more witless, deluded, self-pitying, and in many cases simply evil than Krugman assumes. And yes, even in its heart of hearts, "the nation" may not actually realize that 9/11 has become an occasion for shame. It's not a defect that Krugman gives the nation far more credit for moral clarity than it deserves.

  14. many of whom vote Republican and have a strong religious capacity for empathy

    We've got ourselves another mind reader here!

    After all, it is so much easier to condemn people for their so called ignorance, than to understand their thinking and and to explain how your proposals might help them. . .

    Too bad nobody tried that. Too bad bad nobody has been trying that for generations. If only someone had put their arm around the shoulders of these poor misguided souls and tried to explain how liberals just want to help them. Imagine what a world we would live in today!

  15. We sometimes forget that not everyone will react the same way we do.

    It's like someone burning an American flag at an anti-war protest. It's legal. It's constitutionally protected speech. It's a way to express your feelings about the war.

    But lots of people will have a strong negative emotional reaction to the sight of someone burning the flag. Once that happens you can forget about facts and logic - you already lost the argument.

    While I generally agree with the point that Krugman was trying to make about the tragedy being hijacked, September 11th is not “an occasion for shame.”

    September 11th is about honoring the innocent victims of the worst terrorist attack in our nation’s history. It’s a day of mourning and remembrance, not a day of shame.

    Many people do not agree with me. If you're one of them, don't wonder "what's the matter with Kansas?" when we lose elections.

  16. If Krugman is wrong -- if Americans don't feel even secretly ashamed about aggressive war, torture, and assassination by presidential whim -- then nothing Somersby, or Krugman, or any liberal says makes any difference. Liberalism in America is dead, and can't be revived.

    That may be true. But I'm glad Krugman said it. Maybe if enough Americans get their noses shoved in this dung, we won't do it again.

    At the very least we'll know whether the Republic is well and truly gone.

    -- Carl

  17. There's another side to this: you can't have an MVP and not use him. It's like having Gale Sayers or Jim Brown or Earl Campbell or Adrian Peterson and not giving them the ball because you're afraid they'll get injured. Sometimes -- and this is where liberals fail spectacularly -- you have to push the envelope. Krugman is trying to do that. It's somewhat risky, and there will be short term costs, but the potential for a long term payoff, in changing the direction of our dysfunctional discourse, is high. But we won't see that payoff if we don't dig in and fight it out. Wagging your finger at Krugman, as you do here to an extent, hurts the chances of getting that done.

    When the conservatives go out on a ledge and get criticism for it (a rare event, I know), they almost always stick it out, and more importantly, stick together. When someone on the left does the same, they get attacked for it from the left and the right, the right because they disagree, the left because they're afraid of what "ordinary people might think." How do you change the minds of "ordinary people" if you aren't willing to engage them, to speak out forcefully and stick to your opinions?

    Liberals live in a box of fear, and are always eager to attack the first person who tries to lift the lid. And so we lose. Over and over again.

  18. Krugman's post has a sad irony in that he makes use of the event to forward his own, not directly related, political arguments. He is using 9/11 to criticize warmongering, but that didn't start, and it won't end, with what happened ten years ago.

    He lost an opportunity to discuss the event itself through his political lens. Like maybe commenting on the shock and disbelief that followed the crime. It seems that most Americans should have known how badly our nation have been treating many peoples in the Middle East for decades. Shouldn't we Americans have been aware that we were in an obvious position to feel the repercussions of these policies, even if one agreed with them? Why the surprise? Why so few discussions about the wisdom or effectiveness of our forign strategy in the region in the years preceeding the event?

    He should have wrote about 9/11 itself, on its anniversary. What it was, and why it happened.

  19. myiq...

    One only wonders the advice you'd have offered MLK, Jr. And I don't mean the domesticated version of MLK who makes an occasional appearance on The Howler.

    As for the anti-war flag burners: Well, the anti war movement helped bring an end to the atrocious Vietnam war, and spooked the powers that be enough to keep them from rampaging through Central America in the 1980s. Yes, "lots of people had negative emotional reactions" to what the anti-Vietnam protesters did. They had negative emotional reactions to MLK. And so forth. So what? You take a strong stand, you upset people. They produced just results! Our society is much more civilized as a result.

    Why is it that so many of us liberals and lefties fail to grasp this? Geez, the Tea Partier, God bless 'em for this: They don't spend their days on blogs fretting about how their advocacy and strong language might offend the delicate sensibilties of their opponents. They organize, get out in the street, raise a little hell...and shape the outcome of an election! Maybe two elections!

    Good Lord, when did it become a problem to put a stake in the ground, take a strong stand, and show a little passion? So you misfire now and what? I may disagree with the Tea Party folk, but I do admire their moxie. Kind of wish we had a little of that on our own side, as we did in decades gone by.

  20. I think that, after laying out the case that Paul Krugman's journalism is something worth a thought or two, Bob Somerby simply said that Dr. Krugman perhaps did a sub-standard job of explaining what he meant in this 9/11 piece such that non-liberal Americans might have understood the value of the Liberal Conscience's analysis.

    I'm not sure why that sort of criticism would be controversial to anyone actually interested in advancing the left's agenda.

    After all, the goal is to persuade our fellow Americans toward our way of thinking about things, isn't it, fellow movement liberals?

  21. "September 11th is about honoring the innocent victims of the worst terrorist attack in our nation’s history. It’s a day of mourning and remembrance, not a day of shame."

    Are we talking about the same country? I'm too lazy to link, but Greenwald did a pretty good job demolishing this and you really shouldn't need to read his piece anyway. 9/11 is constantly politicized. Yet strangely, even some of our liberals think it is inappropriate for Krugman to point this out.

    Bob Somerby is often condescending to rightwingers without realizing it. Everyone knows that 9/11 ceremonies are in part an exercise in patriotic self-praise. And everyone knows we invaded Iraq in response to 9/11. For most people how one feels about those speeches and the Iraq War will determine how one feels about Krugman's column. The exceptions will be the oh-so-sensitive liberals who apparently can stomach the speeches, but are horrified by what Krugman wrote.

  22. "I'm not sure why that sort of criticism would be controversial to anyone actually interested in advancing the left's agenda."

    Perhaps you could read the comments above yours and find out.

    Here's one problem. Right after 9/11 all of the oh-so-sensitive people shouted down anyone who warned America not to respond to 9/11 in a stupid way. People fell over each other demonstrating their patriotism, their loathing for mass murder committed by our enemies, and got very angry at anyone who said that 9/11 didn't occur in a vacuum. In short, they treated Americans as small children who were too sensitive to listen to anything that might upset them, they allowed the bullies and the jingoists to set the tone and the parameters of the debate and ten years later there are hundreds of thousands of people dead.

  23. Geoff:

    On Christmas be sure to tell people they should be ashamed of celebrating the birth of Jesus because of all the horrible things that have been done in his name. Let me know how that works out for you.

  24. People who want to bask in popular sentiments always have virtually unlimited outlets to turn to. On this issue, not a single dissenting point of view is tolerated.

    Krugman laments, among other things, exactly the role this phenomenon has played. Among other things, none good, this phenomenon is exactly what landed us in Iraq.

  25. Take a look at the National hero Rudy G was ten years ago; and the way his stock has fallen. Look at his humiliating defeat in the 2008 primary, and the confused manner in which he comported himself, unaware that people had long since noticed the tacky way he had exploited 9-11.

    There are plenty of other examples, showing Krugman's comments are hardly outlandish. Does he (or anybody else) know what "The Nation" is thinking? No, but given the journalistic norm, this is pretty small time hyperbole.

  26. Jayhawk asked: "Paul Krugman has degrees and high levels of education on economics, but how does that qualify him as an expert on political process or international relations?"

    Krugman is professor of economics AND international affairs at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public & International Affairs at PU. He's not "just" a Nobel Prize winning economist.
    Bravo to Paul Krugman for his blog exposing fakes, phonies and frauds like Bush, Giuliani and Kerik, isn't he still in jail? Krugman's timing of his comment is just fine, it's a decade after 9/11/01. When would he be permitted to make his comments? The right wing crazies would assail Krugman no matter when he would make his comments.

  27. Back in the early months of his presidency, Obama had a chance to answer "I don't really have all the details, so I'm not going to comment on that" when asked about the arrest of Henry Louis Gates. The result was very distracting, and of course, that "controversy" is what the press wanted to report on. It really didn't matter. He hadn't made the issues raised by that arrest a centerpiece of any major initiative he was undertaking at the moment. I don't think that ended well, even if he was saying what many people might have been thinking.

    I am going to hazard a guess that the Times people were asking their writers and bloggers to issue pieces relating to 9-11 on the 10th anniversary and Krugman dashed this off, knew it would be controversial, shut off the comments and there you have it. He isn't a politician, so its difficult to say that he has a legislative initiative going on at the moment, but this is going to be a major distraction whether people want it to be or not. When he does mention the names of people who were false heros, he mentions the names of people who no longer hold office; one of whom, is in jail, I believe. The other two aren't going to be anywhere near any office anytime soon. Sure, many have been thinking that for quite some time, but I'm not certain if that is the argument we need to be having right now.

  28. My only problem with what he said is that it reduced accountability to the evil GOP alone when if memory serves some 110 democratic members of congress gave the green light to the Cowboy Crusader and his band of murderous thugs. 110 who were almost instantly rehabilitated into the good graces of tribal dems. America’s continuing descent is very much the bipartisan affair. Doesn’t mean the 3, how should I put it, f@ckers he named don’t deserve the greatest heapings of scorn but...

    And I agree that Hedges > Krugman. At this moment we need radical change, not guys who preach a good game for months but at the end of the day say this center-right administration’s jobs or HCR bills are better than nothing.

  29. Sorry, Krugman is right and you're showing an uncharacteristically timid streak. After all, it's not as if he's accusing the Great Unwashed of Racism or anything, as you might say he's speaking Truth to Power. And he did say it all at the time, so why not commemorate it?

    Is your capacity for screwing up equal to Krugmans?

  30. Geoff--

    I agree with you. All of those things are the real tragedy.

    But the question is, how do you convince people of that. I don't think you do it by poking them in the eye. I am not urging complete gentleness, just a sense of discretion and persuasive technique.

  31. @jaytingle September 14, 2011 1:03 PM
    Sorry, months late, but I found a link to this post and I'm just hoping you get a blogger notification for replies or something, but...
    "Bob, I would love to be able to agree with you, but your solution is always that we should shut up, lest we behave like republicans."

    Well, only in part. There's one part "Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muss man schweigen" - of what one cannot speak, one must pass over in silence - and one part "if your silence permits another to create a perverse narrative, then make it clear this is a topic of which no sane person can speak." That's why Bob keeps repeating phrases like "we don't know, and neither does the author."

    There are some things that cannot be spoken of with certainty - not without lying, or indulging in debasement of language and thought. Avoid this at all costs. When attacked in this method, do not respond in kind - point out that your attacker speaks of unknowables as facts and return to fact. When "the devil has a pitchfork with your name on it," is met with "my name is on no such pitchfork," you lend credence to the existence of the pitchfork and the devil both, and have only called into question the existence of your name. How can you win a game like that, a game which exists entirely within the imagination of an unscrupulous opponent?