Part 2—Why is it left to Paul Krugman: For decades, we have lived in a time when pretty much anything goes.
Disinformation is all around us. News orgs agree not to notice.
Last Friday, Paul Krugman discussed this problem in a column for perhaps the ten millionth time. On February 3, in his previous column, The Krugster had done the same thing.
Last Friday’s column had the word “lies” right there in its headline. As he started, Krugman referred to “the latest falsehood in the ever-mendacious campaign against health reform:”
KRUGMAN (2/7/14): Health, Work, LiesKrugman was discussing a new instant claim—the claim that millions of people are going to lose their jobs because of Obamacare.
On Wednesday, Douglas Elmendorf, the director of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, said the obvious: losing your job and choosing to work less aren’t the same thing. If you lose your job, you suffer immense personal and financial hardship. If, on the other hand, you choose to work less and spend more time with your family, “we don’t sympathize. We say congratulations.”
And now you know everything you need to know about the latest falsehood in the ever-mendacious campaign against health reform.
This instant claim had instantly been derived from a new CBO report. The claim was bogus—false!—like so many others before it.
For Krugman’s full treatment of this matter, you should read his full column. This is the part where the rubber started hitting the road:
KRUGMAN: It has always been clear that health reform will induce some Americans to work less. Some people will, for example, retire earlier because they no longer need to keep working to keep their health insurance...According to Krugman, “not a word of [Rep. Eric Cantor’s] claim was true.” And Cantor is a very high-ranking American office holder.
The budget office has now increased its estimate of the size of these effects. It believes that health reform will reduce the number of hours worked in the economy by between 1.5 percent and 2 percent, which it unhelpfully noted “represents a decline in the number of full-time-equivalent workers of about 2.0 million.”
Why was this unhelpful? Because politicians and, I’m sorry to say, all too many news organizations immediately seized on the 2 million number and utterly misrepresented its meaning. For example, Representative Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, quickly posted this on his Twitter account: “Under Obamacare, millions of hardworking Americans will lose their jobs and those who keep them will see their hours and wages reduced.”
Not a word of this claim was true. The budget office report didn’t say that people will lose their jobs. It declared explicitly that the predicted fall in hours worked will come “almost entirely because workers will choose to supply less labor” (emphasis added). And as we’ve already seen, Mr. Elmendorf did his best the next day to explain that voluntary reductions in work hours are nothing like involuntary job loss.
“False claims” of this type are amazingly common in this era, a period in which anything goes. Krugman called the roll of the claims:
KRUGMAN: So was Mr. Cantor being dishonest? Or was he just ignorant of the policy basics and unwilling to actually read the report before trumpeting his misrepresentation of what it said? It doesn’t matte—because even if it was ignorance, it was willful ignorance. Remember, the campaign against health reform has, at every stage, grabbed hold of any and every argument it could find against insuring the uninsured, with truth and logic never entering into the matter.In his previous column, Krugman had described one of those “supposed horror stories about ordinary Americans facing huge rate increases.” That story had “collapsed under scrutiny,” like others before it.
Think about it. We had the nonexistent death panels. We had false claims that the Affordable Care Act will cause the deficit to balloon. We had supposed horror stories about ordinary Americans facing huge rate increases, stories that collapsed under scrutiny. And now we have a fairly innocuous technical estimate misrepresented as a tale of massive economic damage.
As with Cantor’s bogus claim, so with that bogus story. It too had come from a high-ranking American pol.
We’ll look at that story tomorrow. For today, let’s consider two different aspects of Krugman’s column:
First, we’ll lodge a complaint we’ve lodged before. In the passage we’ve posted above, Krugman attributed the most recent false claim to a high-ranking pol and, he was “sorry to say,” to “all too many news organizations.”
The high-ranking politician got named. The news organizations did not. Which news orgs advanced this latest “false claim?” And shouldn’t Times readers be told?
In fairness, Krugman only gets 800 words. This brings us to our second question:
Why is it always left to Krugman to report and discuss these “false claims?” Cantor is a very major political figure. But so, to a slightly lesser extent, is Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers.
Last month, McMorris Rodgers delivered the official Republican response to the State of the Union address. As she did, she told the latest “horror story about ordinary Americans facing huge rate increases” due to Obamacare.
As Krugman explained on February 3, McMorris Rodgers’ story had “collapsed under scrutiny,” like many other horror stories before it.
Cantor is the House majority leader. McMorris Rodgers was delivering the official GOP response to the State of the Union. If they’re telling stories that collapse under scrutiny; if they’re stating “the latest falsehoods” in an “ever-mendacious campaign;” then why is it left to Krugman to explain these facts, in an opinion column no less?
Tomorrow, we’ll revisit McMorris Rodgers’ story, the one which “collapsed under scrutiny.” We’ll also start exploring a question which occurred to us on the train Friday morning:
Has the New York Times challenged these high-profile false claims in the course of its news reporting?
Those false claims came from very high-ranking officials in very high-profile settings. Has the Times challenged their claims as part of its news reporting?
As we sat on the train reading Krugman’s column, we didn’t know if the paper had done so.
We certainly didn’t assume that the Times had addressed those high-profile misstatements. We’ll guess that you don’t feel real confident either.
That may tell us something right there about an age in which anything goes. Tomorrow, we’ll start to take a look at the record.
Tomorrow: Let’s take a look at the record!