In our view, Krugman goes over the line!


Press corps gets airbrushed away: Has our political system “been so degraded by misinformation and disinformation that it can no longer function?”

That’s the question with which Paul Krugman started yesterday’s column. Plainly, we’d say the answer is yes.

We'd say our system has been disabled that way for a rather long time.

In our view, misinformation and disinformation were thoroughly clogging the system at least by the start of the Clinton-Gore years. By the end of those years, the disinformation drowned us. In that sense, Krugman was raising a very good question. If anything, he was raising this question a bit late in the game.

Krugman started his column with a very important question. But we found his column troubling because of a rather dramatic bit of airbrushing.

This is the way Krugman’s column began. Can you see who’s missing?
KRUGMAN (8/16/13): We all know how democracy is supposed to work. Politicians are supposed to campaign on the issues, and an informed public is supposed to cast its votes based on those issues, with some allowance for the politicians’ perceived character and competence.

We also all know that the reality falls far short of the ideal. Voters are often misinformed, and politicians aren’t reliably truthful. Still, we like to imagine that voters generally get it right in the end, and that politicians are eventually held accountable for what they do.

But is even this modified, more realistic vision of democracy in action still relevant? Or has our political system been so degraded by misinformation and disinformation that it can no longer function?
As he continues, Krugman correctly suggests that our system has been degraded by misinformation to the point of breakdown. But can you see who’s been airbrushed out of the tableau he’s painting?

In the passage we have posted, Krugman portrays a troubling dance between politicians and voters. Not a word is included about a third group—our badly degraded press corps.

Remarkably, the press corps doesn’t exist in this column. It’s airbrushing all the way down!

The passage which follows is about as close as Krugman gets to talking about the press corps. He has already noted the fact that many voters believe, incorrectly, that the federal deficit has been growing in the past several years:
KRUGMAN: Republicans made a lot of political hay over a supposedly runaway deficit early in the Obama administration, and they have maintained the same rhetoric even as the deficit has plunged. Thus Eric Cantor, the second-ranking Republican in the House, declared on Fox News that we have a “growing deficit,” while Senator Rand Paul told Bloomberg Businessweek that we’re running “a trillion-dollar deficit every year.”

Do people like Mr. Cantor or Mr. Paul know that what they’re saying isn’t true? Do they care? Probably not. In Stephen Colbert’s famous formulation, claims about runaway deficits may not be true, but they have truthiness, and that’s all that matters.

Still, aren’t there umpires for this sort of thing—trusted, nonpartisan authorities who can and will call out purveyors of falsehood? Once upon a time, I think, there were. But these days the partisan divide runs very deep, and even those who try to play umpire seem afraid to call out falsehood. Incredibly, the fact-checking site PolitiFact rated Mr. Cantor’s flatly false statement as “half true.”
Krugman notes Cantor making a misstatement. Weirdly, he asks if we don’t have “umpires” to address this sort of thing.

We once had umpires, Krugman says. But today, even they seem afraid.

If your child is in eighth grade, she may have a civics text which addresses this very issue. But almost surely, her civics textbook doesn’t talk about “umpires,” except perhaps in a secondary reference.

Almost surely, her civics text skips the euphemism. It uses the real term: “press corps.”

Traditionally, the press corps is supposed to address misstatements by politicians! This is a very basic part of the way our system is supposed to work.

Traditionally, even eighth graders have been entrusted with this basic knowledge. America’s press corps, the so-called “fourth estate,” has always played a key role in their civics texts.

Yesterday, Krugman wiped this group off the face of the earth. Below, you see the only time the press corps was cited by name:
KRUGMAN (continuing directly): Now, Washington still does have some “wise men,” people who are treated with special deference by the news media. But when it comes to the issue of the deficit, the supposed wise men turn out to be part of the problem. People like Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, the co-chairmen of President Obama’s deficit commission, did a lot to feed public anxiety about the deficit when it was high. Their report was ominously titled “The Moment of Truth.” So have they changed their tune as the deficit has come down? No—so it’s no surprise that the narrative of runaway deficits remains even though the budget reality has completely changed.

Put it all together, and it’s a discouraging picture. We have an ill-informed or misinformed electorate, politicians who gleefully add to the misinformation and watchdogs who are afraid to bark. And to the extent that there are widely respected, not-too-partisan players, they seem to be fostering, not fixing, the public’s false impressions.

So what should we be doing? Keep pounding away at the truth, I guess, and hope it breaks through. But it’s hard not to wonder how this system is supposed to work.
Krugman does note that “the news media” treat certain people with deference. But that is his only direct references to the media or the press corps. Just like that, he returns to euphemism in that passage, which closes his column. This time, he refers to “watchdogs” who don't want to bark.

What ever happened to the familiar old moniker, “journalists?”

Go ahead—read Krugman’s whole column. We have complained, for years, about his failure to name the names of major journalists who have performed extremely poorly.

This column goes much farther. Go ahead—read it in full. The airbrushing here is so vast that it comes uncomfortably close to creating its own act of disinformation. Krugman is telling a three-part story, but he’s mentioning only two parts.

No one makes Krugman, or anyone else, write about this topic. But if you raise the question he raises, you simply can’t airbrush the press corps away. For decades, they have played a leading role in the process which is under review. They’ve done so for at least twenty years.

In comments, many of Krugman’s readers speak with great frankness about the press corps’ role in the mess this column is describing. They speak of “reporters” and “the press.” They even name scribes by name!

The commenters are more frank than the columnist. On the down side, none of them seem to have noticed the way Krugman airbrushed this sector.

This column comes quite close to being deceptive. As a matter of fact, we’d say it goes over that line.

Go ahead—read it again! This is an act of vast airbrushing. It’s an example of the problem Krugman is talking about.

For whom do those umpires work: For the record, the “umpires” known as Politifact are part of the mainstream press corps.

The site is run by the Tampa Bay Times. It won a Pulitzer Prize in 2009, exactly ten years after Maureen Dowd was sadly handed her prize.

The breakdown of the mainstream press corps has been a giant problem for decades. Another huge problem: the way the guild will airbrush this problem away.


  1. With a functioning press, a politician could call out a rival politician for being untruthful and that story would be covered by the press who would supply corroboration with reference to external sources and be an arbiter of the dispute. People told the truth because it would be embarrassing to be caught in a lie, much the way Sarah Palin was shamed for her ignorance. Along with the fact-checking done by the press, shame for being caught in a lie has disappeared. Al Franken wrote a book called Bill O'Reilly is a Big Fat Liar, and Bill O'Reilly's stock went up with his target audience because he was being persecuted by the left. If the general public does not care when partisans lie, because the lies fit their preferred narratives, what good will it do for the press to tell the truth? The truth is already out there for anyone who wants to look for it -- we are not passively dependent on the press to tell us what is correct. I think the problem goes beyond the absence of the press corps to a public that does not want to know because it might contradict preferred beliefs. I don't know what we can do about that.

    1. whateverblahblahblahAugust 17, 2013 at 7:27 PM

      well one thing we could do is elect bob somerby president. thats right, presisdent of the united freakin states of america. re-start the know nothins under some other name. got a bad start back in the day but the mics are totally disorganized now and we could take them all out with a real leader like bob. o'reilly, hannity, dowd, collins, welch, o'donnell jesus freaking christ my head is gonna explode if i have to use one more apostorphe in a name. dont we have any more real americans left?

    2. Well, the name of the books (yes, Franken wrote more than one) whose title you conflate are "Rush Limbaugh Is a Big, Fat Idiot" and the one that featured O'Reilly on the cover was "LIES! And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them."

      As far as the effect on the "stock" of either guy, I doubt it had much effect either way. The people who loved them didn't love them any more or less, and the people who loathed them didn't loathe them any more or less.

      But Franken is now U.S. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn.

  2. And of course a Democrat like Senator Mary Landrieu mixing up the terms debt and deficit isn't worth mentioning either:

    If Krugman could be as unbiased as you demand in this post, he'd fire himself for being one of the largest spreaders of misinformation.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Excellent column!

    Krugman is so knowledgeable and so smart. He could do a wonderful job of informing his readers if he weren't such a partisan. In this column, what he ought to have mentioned is that many people confuse the national debt with the federal deficit. All the Republican falsehoods he quotes would be correct if the word "debt" were substituted for the word "deficit".

    Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu made a similar mistake in the opposite direction. She wrongly proclaimed: "For the past six to seven years the federal government had been continuously driving the federal debt down and reducing it, not increasing it."

    Another half-truth from Krugman is that "the deficit has plunged." It is correct that the deficit is a lot lower than it was, but that doesn't mean that the deficit is OK. It's still enormous by historical standards. Also, the ten-year federal budget says that the deficit is expected to rise.

    Ironically one government action that helped bring the deficit down is the sequester -- a policy the President fought tooth and nail.

    1. DAinCA chimes in as if to illustrate Krugman's point about truthiness. Is the deficit "enormous by historical standard"? It stands at under 6% now; the CBO projects it will go under 5% this year.

      1983 - 5.9%
      1984 - 4.7
      1985 - 5.0
      1991 - 4.5
      1992 - 4.6

      So, no, the deficit as a percentage of GDP is almost enormous by historical standards. Well, let's say typical for an economy coming out of recession. Of course, the deficit has been much lower during boom times, notably the internet bubble of Clinton's second term, when the budget was technically in surplus, and during the mortgage bubble in the 2000s.

    2. "Deficits don't matter" - Dick Cheney (who DinC voted for twice)

    3. deadrat -- I presume you cherry-picked these five years because they had particularly high deficits. Yet, none had a higher ratio of deficit to GNP than the current year. I think you just proved my point.

    4. DAinCA,

      No, I picked years coming off recessions, when tax receipts are down and expenditures for things like unemployment are high, making the deficits larger. For these years, the deficits as a percentage of GDP are about what we're seeing now and pretty much the same as the CBO projects for later in the year. Today the deficit stands at 5.7%, which is in fact, contrary to your claim, lower than the percentage for one of the years, 1983.

      Note that in particular, this year's deficit is not "enormous" in historical terms.

      So, in short, I didn't prove your point. Quite the opposite.

      Just to satisfy my idle curiosity, tell me how you managed to rid yourself for the capacity to recognize cognitive dissonance. I assume you have or your head would have exploded by now.

    5. deadrat -- We're not just coming off recession. The recession ended over 4 years ago.


      You should be comparing 2013 to four years after the last recession ended, say 2005 or 2006. The deficit/GDP ratios during those years were 2.9% and 1.9%, respectively -- far lower than the current 5.7%.


    6. DAinCA,

      I'm not in the habit of taking suggestions for comparisons from ignoramuses. Sorry.

      You want to redirect this conversation to the definition of a recession? Il Dunce's recession lasted longer, saw a steeper decline in GDP, and resulted in higher unemployment than any economic downturn since the one that followed the end of World War II. Unemployment is still high. If you want to say that the recovery from that "recession" has been slow, fine. If you want to say that the deficit has remained higher than usual, longer than usual, fine. Of course, all that means is that it takes longer to recover from what was really a long depression than it does from a short recession.

      But that doesn't sound dire enough, does it? You need the deficit to be "enormous" enough to be dangerous so you can parrot the failed economic policies of the people you support. Ironically, the very policies shredded by the guy you think is so smart.

      But the deficit, which is projected to drop below 5% this year, is not "enormous." Historically it's not unprecedented. In fact, it's probably not even surprisingly high.

      But it is truthier to exaggerate it.

    7. I think I understand you, deadrat. Anything good that happens is due to Obama. Anything bad that happens is Bush's fault.

      Blaming Bush for today's mediocre economy is quite a stretch. Obama is in his 5th year as President. Throughout he had one or both houses of Congress with him. He has had the opportunity to undo the Bush tax cuts and to replace every other Bush policy.

    8. Sorry DinC. Some of us said it would take a generation before we got out of the economic mess of the GWB years.

      It's OK if you want to admit those with "Bush derangement syndrome" were correct as usual.


    9. BTW, you are so correct about those awful Bush Tax Cuts (let me guess, you supported them?).

      One of many mistakes on the economy under Obama. The most important one was not imprisoning the bankers whose fraud crashed the world's economy.


    10. DAinCA,

      You think a lot of things that aren't so. As a public service, I try to point out as many as possible. It a tiring job, but at least nobody really has to do it.

      I think Obama is responsible for the NSA hoovering private data it thinks is information, an expanded drone war that has and will continue to have blowback, an unconstitutional policy of killing US citizen "enemy combatants" without due process, and the refusal to stop repugnant practices at Gitmo. These are bad things.

      But since January 2011, Obama has had to deal with a House that refuses to govern, and a Senate minority that demands 60 votes for just about everything. In your truthy world, that means he gets to undo every Bush policy. In the real world, not so much.

      Il Dunce got Medicare Part D passed, put two losing and unbudgeted wars on the country's credit card, passed tax cuts that deprived the government of needed funds, concentrating wealth at the stratospheric upper end of the society, and oversaw the near meltdown of the US financial system. After Obama's first two years, his opponents in Congress have successfully blocked most of his economic policies. And remember that like all new Presidents, his first year was spent on his predecessor's budget.

      When you understand that last paragraph, maybe you can proceed to read my mind.

    11. Obama has affected the economy an many significant ways.

      Obama had a chance to let the entire Bush tax cut die when it expired. Instead Obama chose to renew most of those tax cuts. Obama got a radical health reform bill passed, which he claimed was good for the economy. He got his $.8 trillion stimulus passed. His EPA says they're going to promulgate global warming rules, without needing Congressional approval. His administrative agencies have promulgated an enormous number of new regulations. These also didn't need Congressional approval. The Fed is printing money at a rate of over $1 trillion/year. The Obama Administration also gave lots of money to selected businesses.

      Obama hasn't attempted to make Social Security and Medicare more solvent. The Republicans didn't stop him, because he never started.

      Obama has made a whole bunch of economic steps and decisions, it seems to me. So, deadrat, what are all the other economic steps President Obama would have taken, if it weren't for those wascally wepublicans?

    12. DAinCA,

      The main topic, or at least the one I'm trying to stick to, isn't about whether or not Obama has had significant effects on the economy.

      No, the topic at hand is whether the current deficit is really "enormous" or whether, in keeping with the tradition of TDH, that's merely narrative you tell yourself so that you can maintain positions otherwise untenable in the light of the facts.

      And no, surprise, it's the latter.

      I will note in passing that Social Security isn't insolvent, and the so-called "radical" health insurance reform -- the Republican plan originally proposed and backed by Newt Gingrich -- is slated to shore up Medicare, which is in trouble, partly because of the cost of Part D.

      Oh, what the hell. Every comment you make is such a target-rich environment. As for the "enormous" (there's that word again) number of regulations. At least for Obama's first term:

      Obama’s White House approved 613 federal rules during the first 33 months of his term, 4.7 percent fewer than the 643 cleared by President George W. Bush’s administration in the same time frame, according to an Office of Management and Budget statistical database reviewed by Bloomberg.

      Yes, heading to 2014 when the ACA goes into effect, HHS will have to issue numerous regulations. That's by design and has to happen to implement a far-reaching new law.

      Rmoney claimed during the campaign that the "enormous" number of regulations cost the economy $1.7T. A truthy factoid that he pulled out of the same place you get your truthy factoids. And like Rmoney, you don't really have any facts. And I'm guessing that really doesn't matter to you.

      That's the point: you've got your narrative. What more do you need?

  4. But it’s hard not to wonder how this system is supposed to work.

    It's not hard not to wonder that, it's hard not to already conclude that it failed. Krugman's strange avoidance of the J word makes him sound like a hostage trying to deliver a coded message.

  5. Not sure when we had an unbiased press Corp who met its responsibility. With what I have heard about Cronkite's efforts in undermining LBJ, one person I thought had some integrity has been discredited. It does appear we now have only propaganda outlets. Not sure how this gets corrected. Telling the truth draws the wrath of the outlets.

    1. My memory is that the New York Times of the 1950's was pretty down-the-middle politically and very accurate. OTOH, maybe I think so because we didn't have blogs like this one to point out all the errors.

    2. whateverblahblahblahAugust 17, 2013 at 6:44 PM

      from 3-12-13

      bob somerby said,

      "Walter and David were once in charge. Today, crazy, store-bought, dishonest people run vast swathes of the discourse. Beyond that, people like Collins write twice-weekly columns in our best-known newspapers.

      "No one is there to protect us now—to protect us from our own flawed judgment. The rules have changed in the past forty years."

    3. whateverblahblahblahAugust 17, 2013 at 6:52 PM

      but forget the comments section if you go to the above column. some troll named weary or weirdo obviously skipped his daily thorazine injection.

  6. Frequently Howler will protest that there is no editing for even the most glaring of solecisms committed by the cream of the commentariat.

    Maybe Krugman's column is an indication that such editing does exist, just not the kind Howler cries for.

    1. Really, that's the best you can do?

      Krugman (8/15/2013): "You probably won’t be surprised to hear that voters are poorly informed about the deficit. But you may be surprised by just how misinformed."

      How can you look at that and say "*Maybe* Krugman's column..."? (emphasis mine)

      It's completely obvious that Krugman knows the state of misinformation running unchecked through media channels (in this case, about deficit reduction), but won't say why that's so.

      TDH seems to call for acknowledgment that this media log-rolling is pro forma, and continues to render our journalists useless.

  7. Although Dr. K was indeed more than cautious in using words like "press corps" or "journalists" it seems his commentators had not doubt what he was talking about!

    1. I think most people have no doubt who Krugman was talking about and I don't think he was trying to hide who he was talking about. He said, "We have … watchdogs who are afraid to bark." That's not quite as direct as saying, "The press sucks," but it's pretty close.

      Somerby wants Krugman to come out and trash, by name, every reporter who was ever mean to his friend Al Gore. It's not going to happen.

      Did the press screw over Gore and saddle the country with a president who may have dealt it some blows from which it will never recover? Yes. But the column by Krugman cited here wasn't meant to address that.

      If Somerby wants to hate Krugman for not fighting the battles he wants Krugman to fight, he's perfectly free to do that. But to accuse Krugman of being dishonest or morally wayward for not fighting those battles, when he's fighting others that are equally worthwhile, is pointless.

    2. ifIdontgocrazyi'lllosemymindAugust 18, 2013 at 3:34 PM

      what a shame. u sound like a sensible personn, yet u fail to grasp the rudimentary sense a tdh reader should be expected to bring to the table.

      "Somerby wants Krugman to come out and trash, by name, every reporter who was ever mean to his friend Al Gore. It's not going to happen."

      >>> no. he just needs him to condemn the practice of employing witches (and warlocks) who are obviously such by their unearthly svengali-like influence over their fellows. [dowd of course, but any americans with irish bcatholic heritage.]

      you can be a witch or whatever if youre not also evil, but by defintion the ameriocans of irish catholic heritage also suffer from 'death in life' and so, again by definition, they are zombies and so they cant care about anything of this life.

      i mean "duh!" all krugman need do is issue a blanket condemnation on the further employmment of zombie-withches, period, end of controversy. he doesnt even have to say the word "irsh" if hes not the man somerby is. the people who count will understand the implications.

    3. whateverblahblahblahAugust 18, 2013 at 3:37 PM

      i forgot. the above comment from ifidontcrazyilllosemymind is really me whateverblahblahblah, to be clear.

  8. Everyone knows that part of the deal with getting a NYT column is that you don't trash the NYT product, right? If PK just named non-NYT names, then it becomes a corporate brand war, not a general media criticism. So, back in the real world, what are PK's options?

    PK made his point. TDH gets it. We all get it. But, no, PK's not willing to give up a premier pulpit for economic preaching to lay into Dowd, Collins or any MSNBC hosts or anyone else in media. And he shouldn't.

  9. deadrat wrote: No, the topic at hand is whether the current deficit is really "enormous"

    I just happened to come across the following. It doesn't address the 2013 deficit, but it's somewhat relevant.

    The Congressional Budget Office last week released updated historical budget data for the federal government, reporting a deficit of $1.087 trillion in fiscal 2012.

    2012 marked the fourth straight year—and the only four years in the history of the nation–when the federal government’s deficit topped $1 trillion.

    Last year’s $1.087 trillion deficit was even greater in inflation-adjusted dollars than the peak World War II deficit of fiscal 1943—which was $54.554 billion in 1943 dollars and $723.8714 billion in 2012 dollars, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics online inflation calculator.

  10. DAinCA,

    So you "just happened" to be reading another right-wing website to confirm your narrative. It "doesn't address" the point, namely the size of the current deficit, but you think it's "somewhat relevant" because it gives you outdated information. Go figure.

    Here's a hint. When a site is full of anti-Obama screeds and links to Newsmax, the Scaife-backed propaganda mill, you need to be careful not to believe what you read.

    Here's one of WZ's news items:
    San Diego Poll: Only 14% Want Filthy Filner [the mayor accused of sexual harassment] To Stay In Office, 81% Think He Should Go…

    And here's their comment:

    Safe to say that 14% are all Democrats.

    Ha ha ha ha ha ha. But you know what's even funnier? The site lied to your face, and you swallowed it whole. Yes, recent years' deficits may have topped that of 1943 in constant dollars, but the 1943 deficit was 28% of GDP.

    Don't you get tired of being manipulated? Here's a challenge for you: WZ says that the delays in implementing the ACA are unconstitutional. If you think that's true, can you confirm that from an unbiased source?

  11. Unfortunately, seems to me that Krugman sometimes adds to the disinformation himself, seemingly for partisan reasons.

    He has claimed that the Obama tax cuts, the ones Obama calls "tax increases" will reduce inequality. He should know better, yet he catapaults the propaganda anyway.

    There's no umpire to call Krugman on that, except obscure bloggers.