Krugman: How will the press handle Campaign 2012?


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 Elections

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.
Oof. 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.

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.

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”.
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.

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.

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?


  1. Nor did Bush cmake claims about privatization of Social Security in 2000. That came after, not during but after, his reelection in 2004.

  2. Bush claimed, during the campaign, even though these quotes are from shortly after he was elected, that his tax cuts actually favored the poor.

    "My tax relief plan is a fair one, lowering the rate for all taxpayers. The typical family of four with two children will get $1,600 in tax relief. And the greatest benefits, the largest percentage reductions, will go to those who need them most. My plan is pro-growth. It gives our economy a jump-start by leaving more money in the hands of those who have earned it." Feb 17, 2001

    "The President's tax plan provides relief for every income taxpayer; however, it gives the lowest income families the greatest percentage reduction. Indeed, higher income individuals will pay a higher share of income taxes after this plan takes effect. (See Chart 2–2.)" Feb. 28, 2001

    His campaign made basically that same claim on his website and on TV ads I happened to see in Wisconsin.

    The Bush tax cuts of 2003 were partly an acceleration of the cuts of 2001 which were being phased in, with the added benefit, mostly for the wealthy, of lower tax rates on dividends.

    Here's what Bush said about them

    "The tax relief is for everyone who pays income taxes -- and it will help our economy immediately: 92 million Americans will keep, this year, an average of almost $1,000 more of their own money. A family of four with an income of $40,000 would see their federal income taxes fall from $1,178 to $45 per year. (Applause.) Our plan will improve the bottom line for more than 23 million small businesses." Jan. 28, 2003

    "When you hear the debate about this kind of class warfare, rhetoric about, oh, this is for the rich, only for the rich -- I want you to think about the Joe Kempers of the world. I certainly will. A fellow who worked for our government, and now a fellow who we trust with that $3,500, because it's his money. And when he invests it, it's going to have a positive effect. All the Joe Kempers of the world taking that extra money and investing it will mean somebody else is likely to find a job, and that's important for our fellow Americans to understand." Feb 12, 2003

    Franken wrote on page 290 of "Lying Liars" that "during the campaign, Bush held quite a few of these Tax Family Events to deflect criticism that his plan was a giant giveaway to the wealthy."

  3. After checking my own archives, I found no reference from Bush about privatizing Social Security during his first campaign, although he did propose ERSA, a catchall of employer-employee retirement accounts.
    He didn't propose privatizing retirement accounts as an alternative to Social Security until 2004, as Jayhawk noted.

    I clearly remember him boasting that his tax plan would raise all boats.

    Among other things, he said he was reducing the lowest marginal rates, and doubling the child credit. Fine for poor families, but not much good for people already getting Earned Income Tax Credit, or retirees on fixed income.

    What he didn't mention was that the very wealthy would keep trading up to bigger and better yachts, while the working class would have to hang onto the same old dinghies.

    The tax plan was successful in pulling vast amounts of money out of consumption and moving it into high-stakes gambling.
    Sort of like what the Romans did when they captured slaves to do all the work while the formerly employed citizens lived on welfare bread and circuses.

  4. How in the world can Krugman disagree with the assertion that private SS accounts would strengthen the system's finances? The current SS system has only the SS Trust Fund, worth around $2 trillion. That seems like a lot of money, but it's quite small relative to the Unfunded Liability of $25 trillion. The Unfunded Liability measures the weakness of the SS system's finances. A private company with the same obligations as SS would be required to hold assets $25 trillion greater than the $2 trillion Trust Fund. According to non-government accounting, the SS system is short by $25 trillion.

    Under Bush's proposal, some of that Unfunded Liability would become funded by the private accouts. The Unfunded Liability would be that much lower, so the system's finances would be that much stronger.

  5. Afair, Bush implied that he would go after Social Security once he was elected but didn't focus on the issue like many Republicans wanted him to do. But he did go after Social Security shortly after he was re-elected in 2004 (but his efforts came up a bit short).

    Just like Bush hinted at the arguments justifying the tax cuts that Krugman refers to in his post. The media and the party made the explicit arguments about supply side economics while Bush was able to simply imply them.

    So they are indeed lies. I think that's a good word because it describes the scam.

    My problem with Krugman is he thinks the lies only go one way . . . from the Republican's mouths to our ears. He ignores the Democrats' complicity in these lies. The Democrat lies are slightly different than Republican lies--they pretend that they really are opposing tax cuts or "protecting" Social Security. The Democrats have the same goals as the Republicans they just pretend to have no other choice but to enact right-wing "reforms." They Democrats get to mouth liberal platitudes but their job is to enact right wing policy.

    This is Krugman's role--to tell lies about the Democrats. He's able to give accurate rebuttals to the Republicans, and to call the Republicans out for their "lies", but in doing this he is merely running interference for the Democrats.

    TL;DR: Lies is the right frame, but Krugman needs to focus on Democrat lies as well as Republican lies.

  6. With all the talk of lies, it's amazing Krugman skipped over 2008 when he HIMSELF was the subject of lies...

    strange, that.

    *Not strange, the liar was Obama, and we know boats must not be rocked*

  7. Refresh our memory willyjsimmons . . . .

    Was this regarding the TARP and the bailouts?

  8. From the New York Times (Dec. 18, 1999): Mr. Bush says, his plan, which would cost $480 billion over five years, focuses ''on low- and moderate-income families,'' and provides the ''greatest help for those most in need.'' (link:

    That seems to be pretty clearly what Krugman has in mind.

    More generally, it is hard to understand why you are disagreeing with Krugman here. Yes, you are right that politicians can easily deceive by saying things that are technically accurate. But they also sometimes lie outright. Bush did plenty of that, as did Cheney (whose baldfaced lie, during his debate with John Edwards, saying that he had never seen Edwards on Capitol Hill, was one of the most brazen things I have ever seen on television).

    Even if you disagree with Krugman, I think you are extraordinarily wrong to call him a "rube" about politics. What makes the better political sense: calling out the other side when they are downright lying, or tiptoeing around that fact? Put me down with pointing out the lie. (And bear in mind that accusing Gingrich, Romney, or whomever of lying does NOT mean that one is insulting ordinary Republicans.)

  9. David in Cal: I don't think you understand how Social Security actually works. Yes, there is a Trust Fund. And, yes, the obligations of Social Security exceed what is in the Trust Fund. But you can call it an "Unfunded Liability" only if you ignore the fact that the government is taking in an awful lot of money through payroll taxes. To risk stating the obvious, THAT'S THE FUNDING.

    Social Security is not a private company, so why should we apply "non-government accounting" to it? When government hasn't yet collected the taxes for future years, do we say that it will be unable to pay for the military budget? Obviously not. Why think that only Social Security needs the special "non-government accounting"?

  10. David in Cal:

    It was previously pointed out to you that the $25 trillion figure you [previously] linked to was actually "non-government accounting" for Medicare spending, and that, in any case, SS is a "pay as you go" system. Normally, there would be no surplus at all, because benefits are tied to the wages of current earners, but baby-boomer retirement created particular stresses on the system. Demanding that "uncovered liabilities" be covered far into the future for a "pay as you go" system (so people like you could turn around and insist that the surplus is an accounting fiction anyway) is absurd.

    Since you're now repeating those discredited claims, previously pointed out to be false, kindly explain why it is anyone here should take you seriously, rather than a bald-faced liar *intentionally* promoting falsehoods.

  11. Anonymous, you are correct about the $25 trillion figure. The SS unfunded liability was $21.4 trillion in mid-2011. It's probably around $22 trillion today, since the shortfall grows at $1.2 trillion a year.

    You are correct that SS is a pay-as-you-go program. That's exactly what it means to have weak finances. Plans with strong finances pay promised benefits. Plans with weak finances, not so much.

    Consider someone working today. If SS were fully funded, s/he could count on getting his/her promised benefits when s/he retired. His/her contributions would be saved and accumulated bu Social Secuity. Then, that money would be used to pay his/her benefits.

    However, SS is pay-as-you-go. So, his/her benefits will have to come from assessments on future workers. Furthermore, those benefits will be at the discretion of Congress and the President. Because of demographic factors, it's almost certain that today's working person's benefits will be less generous than mine are.

    BTW SS benefits were effectively cut a few years ago, when they raised the retirement age. Benefits were also effectively cut, when they made SS 50% taxable. The government has cut benefits before and they'll cut them again. OTOH the pensions I earned from my employers are fully funded. They will be paid to me in full.

  12. David in Cal:

    It's one thing to say that you dislike the "pay as you go" design of SS, and prefer a pension-type plan -- which SS is NOT and was never intended to be -- but it's quite another to insist that because your pension model isn't being followed, scheduled benefits are "unfunded".

    SS is an income transfer program. Unlike a company, which can go out of business or experience other stresses, SS assumes, quite reasonably, that the government will continue for the foreseeable future and that there will be workers to contribute to the fund (with contribution levels to be adjusted as needed). If you find those assumptions too optimistic, it's rather a marvel that you think a privately funded pension (invested in what? Treasuries?) is going to remain sound after the U.S. dissolves and nobody's working.

    Worse still, you're applying pension accounting to what is not a pension system, and then announcing that, by accounting standards which are entirely inapplicable, SS is insolvent. This is ridiculous, and you know it's ridiculous. OTOH, if you want the government to guarantee you a pension, by all means, write your congressman.

  13. I think Bob has part of this one wrong.
    Bush implied his tax cuts would primarily benefit the middle class over and over during the 2000 campaign. From the Bush 2000 campaign brochure, the very first thing I found on google:
    "The Governor’s tax cut will reduce tax rates for every taxpayer, double the child tax credit, slash the marriage penalty, expand deductions for charitable giving, make the research and development tax credit permanent and end the death tax. The biggest percentage reductions go to those in the lower tax brackets because they often face higher marginal tax rates than the wealthy."

    The Center for American Progress has two more quotes from the 2000 campaign:
    "[B]y far the vast majority of my tax cuts go to the bottom end of the spectrum." [Source: George W. Bush, 2/15/00]

    "Governor Bush's income tax cuts will benefit all Americans, but they are especially focused on low and moderate income families."

    [Source: Bush-Cheney 2000 – Taxes website]

  14. Anonymous, it's not a question of whether or not I like SS being pay-as-you-go. IMHO, that's the a reasonable option. I agree with you that SS isn't really insurance, although many politicians from FDR to Al Gore so represented it.

    All I meant to address was Krugman's claim that diverting Social Security funds into private accounts would strengthen the system’s finances. That claim raises the question of how Krugman measures the "financial strength of the SS system's finances". What does he mean by this term?

    I would measure "strength" by the adequacy of the assets available to pay projected benefits. That's the insurance definition. I spent 40+ years doing that very comparison. If Krugman has some other definition, I'd like to have him tell us what it is.

  15. Anonymous, it was absolutely true that Bush's tax cuts gave bigger reductions in income tax to the lower earners, as a percentage of income tax paid. In fact, for many lowish earners, the reduction was 100%; they used to pay some income tax and now pay none.

    Of course, for people paying very little income tax, even a 100% tax reduction wasn't that big a dollar reduction.

  16. David in Cal, your question where is the ' "financial strength of the SS system's finances...'

    It's pay as you go, so the answer is the same as where is the financial strength of the U.S. dollar, or the U.S. treasury (banking system):

    It's the power to tax and to print money.

    From the looks of this thread, you seem to be disingenious on this subject.

    I'm afraid it has seriously damaged all your credibility. You may switch screen names, but we'll be able to tell it's you, like we can tell all the distortions put forth about Social Security.

  17. "David in Cal said...
    Anonymous, it was absolutely true that Bush's tax cuts gave bigger reductions in income tax to the lower earners, as a percentage of income tax paid. In fact, for many lowish earners, the reduction was 100%; they used to pay some income tax and now pay none.

    Of course, for people paying very little income tax, even a 100% tax reduction wasn't that big a dollar reduction."

    Nicely put. Except for the quotes above stating that lower income people will get most of the benefits, not necessarily on a percentage basis -- clearly deceptive promotion by Bush.

  18. More Gingrich lies: today he claimed that Obama was killing off manufacturing jobs for three straight years, according to John Aravosis, who checked Politifact, and guess what? Newtie was LYING. Will the media tell you this? No. Will other Democrats tell you this? No. Do liberals even KNOW these facts to wield them? /crickets/

    Barack Obama: Increase of 157,368 manufacturing jobs per year in office

    George W. Bush: Decrease of 434,143 manufacturing jobs per year in office

    Bill Clinton: Increase of 37,143 manufacturing jobs per year in office

    George H.W. Bush: Decrease of 336,000 manufacturing jobs per year in office

    Ronald Reagan: Increase of 1,429 manufacturing jobs per year in office

    Jimmy Carter: Increase of 15,333 manufacturing jobs per year in office

  19. Of Al and Internet:

    By the end of the 2000 Campaign, the "Al said he invented the Internet" had been nervously debunked in many liberal quarters, Alex Cockburn being the embarrassing (and oft sighted by TDH) exception.

    Coupla things:
    I happen to notice Marc Cooper's Facebook Page the other day. There was a link about the invention of the internet, which actually goes back to the fifties. Journalist Cooper plugged it and said "Bring Al Gore." Cooper, who seems to be way to West Coast to have ever fallen under the DH radar, is one of the most stupid, enabling "leftists" who ever licked the bathroom floor to elect George Bush, his work is so laughably bad that no one paid ANY attention to him after 2000, yet he continued to publish his nonsense in the LA Weekly and was handed picked by Ariana to take down Hillary.
    Anyway, Cooper is also a major ass kisser of Christopher Hitchens. I wonder if anyone else noticed in Hitchens's last Slate piece, where he mentioned that Gore had never claimed he invented the internet...that the link to you to (drum roll please)...The Daily Howler." (!).
    It's a weird world.

  20. 85% of the Bush tax cuts went to the middle class (less than 200k/250k earners). Bush told the truth and Krugman lied. Krugman always lies.

  21. @anonymous

    "85% of the Bush tax cuts went to the middle class (less than 200k/250k earners). Bush told the truth and Krugman lied. Krugman always lies."

    To start with, your claim is inaccurate. If we're talking about the first round of Bush tax cuts, those earning over $1 million received about 15%, and the top 1% in aggregate (inclusive of the millionaires) received about 24%. (

    The bottom 99% obviously received more, but the bottom 99% is also, obviously, a vastly larger group. On an individual basis, it goes as follows (

    * The one-fifth of households in the middle of the income spectrum will receive an average tax cut of $647.

    * The top one percent of households will receive tax cuts averaging almost $35,000 — or 54 times as much as that received on average by those in the middle of the income spectrum.

    * Households with incomes above $1 million will receive tax cuts averaging about $123,600. The tax cuts for millionaires will cause their after-tax income to jump by 6.4 percent, nearly three times the percentage increase received by the middle fifth.

    If it's a lie to assert that the Bush tax cuts when overwhelmingly to wealthier Americans, based on this data, then I'll guess you'll also want to argue that the fact that the richest 400 households own about the same wealth as the bottom 90% of the country means we're all equal.