Culture watch: We’re all Cokie Roberts now!


As Dylan asked, How does it feel: This is the way Paul Krugman starts today’s column:
KRUGMAN (2/3/12): If you’re an American down on your luck, Mitt Romney has a message for you: He doesn’t feel your pain. Earlier this week, Mr. Romney told a startled CNN interviewer, “I’m not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there.”
That highlighted statement is technically accurate. Our praise will have to end there.

Romney actually did say those words. Then too, this is the technically accurate, comical way he was “quoted” by Ed Kilgore:

“I’m not concerned about the very poor... We will hear from the Democrat party, the plight of the poor... You can focus on the very poor, that’s not my focus... The middle income Americans, they’re the folks that are really struggling right now and they need someone that can help get this economy going for them.”

We guess that’s “technically accurate” too, although if you know the rules of quotation, we’d have to call it a misquotation. (Ellipses can’t be used if they obscure the overall meaning.) What would you think if someone “quoted” Romney’s statement like this?

I'm not concerned about the very rich, they're doing just fine. I'm concerned about the very heart of the America, the 90, 95 percent of Americans who right now are struggling...You can choose where to focus. You can focus on the rich. That's not my focus...My focus is on middle-income Americans, retirees living on Social Security, people who cannot find work, folks who have kids that are getting ready to go to college. These are the people who've been most badly hurt during the Obama years.

That would be just as “technically accurate” as Kilgore’s presentation.

In a similar vein, what would you think about a pro-Romney column which started out like this?
ANTIKRUGMAN: If you’re an American who’s raking in millions, Mitt Romney has a message for you: He doesn’t think you need his help. Earlier this week, Mr. Romney told a startled CNN interviewer, “I’m not concerned about the very rich, they’re doing just fine.”
That would be technically accurate. You could vamp forward from there.

Krugman’s opening paragraph is technically accurate, but we’d have to call it misleading. In paragraph 5, he covers his tracks. Having reviewed a lot of “technical accuracy” down through the years, we think this makes it worse:
KRUGMAN: Also, given this whopper about how safety-net programs actually work, how credible was Mr. Romney’s assertion, after expressing his lack of concern about the poor, that if the safety net needs a repair, “I’ll fix it”?
After expressing his lack of concern? You mean, about half a second after?

Krugman granted himself a bit more technical accuracy there. But this is what pundits often do. Before they’re done, they cover their keisters in this way, giving themselves the defense of “technical accuracy” even as they expand their stretch.

For our money, this was the week when pseudo-quotation began to define the “liberal” project, just as it has defined mainstream “journalism” for much of the past twenty years. By now, tape of Rmney’s remark about “liking to fire people" has become liberal wallpaper. By way of contrast, this is what liberal bloggers said less than a month ago, when the remark was made:

Matt Yglesias: [S]ome progressive groups are pretending to believe that this is a video clip of Romney saying that he enjoys firing people. In context, what he's clearly saying is that the problem with the health insurance market is that it's too difficult for an unhappy customer to fire his insurance company. This is not at all what he's being attacked for saying.

Steve Benen: In fairness, the context makes an enormous difference.

Kevin Drum: Of course, this is wildly out of context.

James Fallows: Obviously Mitt Romney did not mean that he enjoys the process of telling people "you're gone!" when he made his infamous "I like being able to fire people" remark in New Hampshire.

Greg Sargent: Let me go on record saying it would be misleading and unfair to clip the video in question in order to quote Romney this way: “I like being able to fire people.”

Josh Marshall: He wasn't talking about employees. And it's been taken out of context.

Pema Levy, TPM: in fairness to Mitt, the line seems to have been taken out of context.

Back then, the statement was “out of context.” Today, it defines our world.

Again, a basic statement:

Candidate Romney’s tax proposals are crazy on their face. His conduct at Bain was very unattractive. But so what? Four weeks after Reuters described that conduct at Bain in a very detailed report, the liberal world has let it go. We never saw anyone describe the conduct Reuters explained with such care.

We simply don't know how to do it! To all appearances, we don't understand the types of conduct which would make the public's blood boil. We simply don't understand.

In his column today, Krugman finally gets around to explaining what's wrong with Romney's absurd proposals. But that is not the current focus of liberal punditry. Rather clearly, that focus has been on the joy of pseudo-quotation. Then, we drag out Professors Dyson and Heldman. They tell us that everyone's racist.

(Professor Heldman seems to have failed her long, pathetic try-out as a blond pundit at Fox. Her tone is quite different now with Big Ed. These hustlers are very pleasing, but they aren't especially honest.)

Bottom line, and it's been a large surprise for us: We liberals just aren’t very smart. We have been handed opponents whose proposals are simply bizarre—but we don’t know how to argue such matters. Beyond that, we know the public doesn’t trust us—and in truth, we've earned their distrust. (Did you watch Rachel's week-and-a-half of dick jokes?)

But even if the public did trust us, we simply aren’t smart enough to argue these policy matters.

We're all Cokie Roberts now! As Dylan asked, "How does it feel?"


  1. It is easy to make a sound bite of, "I like to fire people", or, "I don't care about the poor". It is more difficult to explain how Romney's conduct at Bain was bad, or, why his policy proposals are crazy. Unfortunately, sound bites rule.

  2. "Bottom line, and it's been a large surprise for us: We liberals just aren’t very smart. We have been handed opponents whose proposals are simply bizarre—but we don’t know how to argue such matters."

    So it's Bob's view that politicians win elections by being "smart"? -- in the sense of accurately portraying the malfeasance, bizarre policy prescriptions and dishonesty of the opposition?

    No one disputes that folks posing as liberals routinely fail to make a compelling case against Republicans -- in no small part because they share much the same goals as Republicans -- but does Bob have *any* evidence that such a strategy is a winning one? Does the side that wins routinely promote a detailed and accurate policy critique of the opposition?

    Would the electoral success of Republicans, and the decades long failure of liberals, in this respect account, for example, for the loss of Al Gore in 2000 -- or at least the closeness of an election which shouldn't have been close at all?

    Or put even more bluntly, what kinds of campaigns succeed in a media controlled by self-interested corporate entities, and what kind of media analysis ignores the pipelines, filters and transmission mediums?

    1. Do we have to just give in to the current media climate? Is it impossible to believe that we can bring back media anti-competitive laws and equal access rules that helped the public political discussions not so long ago?

      Yes, the Fairness Doctrine and the Equal-time Rule worked well.

      Repeal the Telecommunications Act of 1996!

    2. Bob was not talking about campaign strategy. To my knowledge, the Obama campaign hasn't participated in the hyping of these Romney soundbites. What is being discussed here is the participation of media figures and blogs, particularly "liberal" ones, in the proliferation of these cropped quotes.

      You ask "what kinds of campaigns succeed in a media controlled by self-interested corporate entities, and what kind of media analysis ignores the pipelines, filters and transmission mediums?"

      One thing I can certainly say is that we who don't work directly for campaigns ought to strive to create an intellectual environment where smearing is not rewarded and sound policy proposals are.

  3. It is not a journalists' job to aid a politician in running a successful campaign Their job should be to report facts & information that would enlighten those of us who are interested in knowing There are very few journalists around anymore

  4. Sad day when Krugman does something that cheap

  5. "It is not a journalists' job to aid a politician in running a successful campaign Their job should be to report facts & information that would enlighten those of us who are interested in knowing"

    Maybe it's me but taking quotes out of context isn't customarily considered "enlightening" or "information" or "factual"

  6. What Krugman did wasn't cheap at all. He did put the quotation back in context and then provided an even broader context to understand the rest of what Romney said. He argued convincingly that Romney doesn't, in fact, think that the safety net works very well and doesn't really have any intention of fixing it. In effect, Krugman showed that the original quotation actually does express Romney's view. Given that, there is no reason not to use it in criticizing Romney.

    Somerby is to be commended for holding even Krugman, whom he clearly admires, to the highest standards. But this is not one of Somerby's finer moments. If he were to read this post as if it had been written by someone else, it seems likely to me that he would be much more sympathetic to Krugman than to the criticism.

    Here's an example: he writes, "In his column today, Krugman finally gets around to explaining what's wrong with Romney's absurd proposals." The column is only about 800 words long. How impatient do you have to be to complain about Krugman's *finally* explaining something? Somerby also says that Krugman "covers his tracks" by making a statement that is "technically accurate." But Krugman's point is both "technically accurate" and just plain accurate. You don't have to agree with Krugman, of course, but a halfway charitable reading of his column would make clear that what he has written is really worth taking seriously.

    I don't normally take the time to comment, but the posts bashing Krugman in this unfair and unhelpful way have been showing up increasingly often here. Let's not forget the important difference between being committed to the truth and simply being a contrarian.

  7. Wow, I read the same Krugman column you did, and had the exact opposite impression. Krugman explained exactly why Romney's statement made no sense in the context of his own campaign, since Romney's own policy proposals undermine the very safety net he lauds as adequate for the needs of the poor. If anything is misleading, it's Romney stating 'we have a safety net there' while simultaneously knowing his proposals would gut important parts of that safety net.

  8. Really, Bob, you're simply being perverse. There's nothing about Romney's "safety net" comment that does anything to contradict "I'm not concerned about the poor." In fact, it underlines and reinforces it.

    And btw, Jon Stewart spent most of his show the other night taking apart just what Bain Capital does in a great deal of detail and why a lot of it is so loathesome.

  9. Haven't been on the site in a while. Nice to see Howler's still up to the same ole hairsplitting.

    1. Not only that, bro.

      At a time when the U.S. media is ginning up a bombing campaign on Iran, on exactly the pattern it used for promoting the invasion of Iraq, Our Dear Howler hasn't heard or seen a thing about it -- rehashing Gore 2000, or criticizing a remarkably concise and informative Krugman column is so much more important.

    2. Anonymous, what Somerby's saying is that the "liberal" media's failure to address basic, clear-cut bizarre tax proposals and how a destructive entity like Bain harms large numbers of people is directly linked to its inability to challenge or stop aiding the "ginned up bombing campaign" against Iran, or the previous "invasion of Iraq."

      Don't you see that? Can't you see that? If the media can't even address certain obvious problems and issues, or even ask basic questions--"How are you going to lower the deficit if your policies will massively and only increase the deficit?"--why do you expect that they will be any better on even more grave issues like wars, ginned up or otherwise?

    3. Pharaon:

      When candidates of both parties run vacuous and deceitful compaigns, it's not surprising that the Dowd/Parker/Milbank class of journalist prospers. The discussion is bound to settle on the number of suit buttons or the family dog when anything the candidate says can be assumed, usually correctly, to be meaningless.

      Consider what Obama was saying in 2007-8 on civil liberties, trade, the war on terror, health care, telecom immunity, the limits of executive power and government transparency. Subjecting any of his stated positions to scrutiny at the time would have been a waste of time, since Mr. Obama reneged on all of it. The "promise" he did keep -- military escalation in Afghanistan -- was the one thing most Democrats hoped and assumed was just election-year blather.

      Small wonder journalists regard national campaigns as idiotic side-shows unworthy of serious analysis. How sustain a mature political culture when both parties are bought and paid for, and nothing said in the political arena, by either party, can be believed?

      Until news coverage reflects reality, we have no hope American political candidates will be subject to meaningful scrutiny.

  10. Presumably Bob considers Romney's tax cut proposals crazy because of the enormous deficits. By that standard, Obama's various spending proposals are also crazy.

    It would be nice if we could enact some combination of spending cuts and tax increases. However, that seems to be impossible. When that approach has been tried, the spending cuts failed to materialize. Increases in taxes led to even greater increases in government spending.

    Tax cuts are a blunt tool. However, IMHO we will see appropriate cuts in governement spending only in the face of some fiscal crisis.

    1. By "appropriate cuts", can one assume you mean big cuts to military spending and corporate welfare, and ending tax preferences for the very rich?

      You couldn't possibly mean cuts to "entitlements" since, after all, SS is a pay-as-you-go program and adds nothing to the deficit -- unless you're holding out the hope that the U.S. government will selectively default on the T-bonds in the SS trust fund -- and a rich industrial society which can't manage to provide healthcare to its aged citizens, at prices they can afford, is really beyond shame.

      So, David in Cal, welcome abroad! Glad to see you're finally supporting the cuts where we need them!

  11. It would be nice if we tried some combination of tax increases and spending cuts...says D in C but alas when it has been tried it did not......wait, what is that? Why is that the 90s calling?
    Why, I believe it is when tax increases and spending cuts (plus actual GDP growth) led the CBO to forecast that by 2012, the national debt would be paid to zero!

    Oh, David, David. Super Bowl got you off your game? A pathetic effort even by your low standards.

  12. Boo hoo. Romney lies about Obama every time he opens his mouth and we are supposed to worry about his stupidity being taken out of context. What happened to this guy?

  13. Oh no, we're not supposed to worry about anything a Republican says being taken out of context. Only when Obama says it.

    Which is "how we got here."