Campaign watch: The Times attempts to report on the pope!


Krugman lets fuzzy meet voodoo:
On a journalistic basis, how hopeless—how utterly hopeless—is the New York Times?

Just consider the news report which tops this morning's front page. It concerns the exciting new fight between Donald Trump and the pope.

Even by standards of the Times, the report is journalistically hapless. In the top right hand corner of page one, Patrick Healy starts in the manner shown below, although it may not have been his fault.

Hard copy headline included:

In his most audacious attack yet on a revered public figure, Donald J. Trump veered into risky political territory on Thursday as he denounced Pope Francis, seeking to galvanize Republicans who worry about border security and appeal to evangelical voters who regard Francis as too liberal.

After the pontiff’s remarkable contention that Mr. Trump “is not Christian” in proposing deportations and a wall with Mexico, the candidate said Francis’ criticisms were “disgraceful” and “unbelievable,” and he contended that the Mexican government had hoodwinked the pope into criticizing him.
The full report runs 1433 words. Incredibly, you've already seen Healy's only attempt to quote what Pope Francis actually said!

Good God, but the Times is a joke! Healy's report runs on and on as various people speculate about the possible political effects of the exciting new fight.

But in the course of all that typing, the Times report makes no attempt to report with the pope actually said. You've seen Healy's only quotation from the pope—a three-word phrase, dropped into the middle of a Times paraphrase.

On line, the Times offers this 1221-word report by Jim Yardley.
It includes a more detailed, though blatantly incomplete, account of what the pope said. There is no attempt to report the original question to which the pope was responding.

That said, Yardley's report didn't appear in the Times hard-copy editions, whether on Thursday or Friday. In hard copy today, the Times led the front page with the thrilling new fight, but it didn't make the most basic attempt to report what the pope really said.

Go ahead—just look around! Our intellectual and journalistic traditions lie in rubble. For another example of what we mean, consider Paul Krugman's new column, which features two colorful phrases from our political wars.

"Voodoo" appears in Krugman's headline. It's worth reviewing the political history of that word, a history which dates to 1980.

During the 1980 Republican primaries, Candidate Bush accused Candidate Reagan of "voodoo economics." But uh-oh! Reagan won the nomination, and he took Bush as his veep.

Bush retracted his colorful charge. "Voodoo" was going mainstream.

Jump ahead 36 years to the present day. Every Republican candidate now practices "voodoo economics" as a matter of course. The term appears in Krugman's headline today because Krugman says that one of the Democratic candidates is now playing that GOP game.

Krugman lists some reasons why he opposes this latest fine mess. In this, the first of his complaints, another colorful phrase appears, a blast from the gruesome past:
KRUGMAN (2/18/16): [A]s the economists warn, fuzzy math from the left would make it impossible to effectively criticize conservative voodoo.
Ah yes, "fuzzy math!" That colorful phrase dates to October 3, 2000, when Candidate Bush accused Candidate Gore of employing "fuzzy math" during their history-changing first debate.

In fact, Candidate Gore was accurately describing Candidate Bush's prescription drug proposal, a relatively new proposal which Bush was mis-describing.

Repeat—Bush was wrong, and Gore was right! But so what? Fleeing his opponent's accurate claims, Bush unloaded this pleasing bomb:
BUSH (10/3/00): Look, this is a man, he's got great numbers. He talks about numbers. I'm beginning to think not only did he invent the Internet, but he invented the calculator. It's fuzzy math! It's the scaring, trying to scare people in the voting booth.
Bush was wrong, and Gore was right. At one point, Gore even said this to Jim Lehrer, completely correctly:

"I mean, it's just, it's just clear. You can go to the [Bush] Web site and look."

Bush was wrong and Gore was right. But by now, our discourse was almost pure narrative. As a result, Bush played the press corps' beloved "invented the Internet" card, then uttered the colorful phrase, "fuzzy math." On four more occasions that night, Bush decried the way Gore was using "the Washington fuzzy math."

Gore had been right, and Bush had been wrong. But the nation's "journalists" would bust their ascots avoiding that fact in the days of punditry which followed.

People are dead all over the world because they were willing to do that.

"Voodoo economics" dates to 1980. "Fuzzy math" became a rhetorical weapon twenty years later. In each case, we're looking at ways our journalistic and intellectual traditions have melted away in what Plato once called "the wickedness of the times." This morning, Krugman alleges another chapter in this long-running tale.

And oh yes! Out on page one, the journalistically hapless Times forgot to quote what the pope really said! What's the only surprise in that front-page mess?

It wasn't written by Amy Chozick! Crackers, imagine that!

Another statement from that debate: Also from Gore that fateful night, as he addressed Jim Lehrer:
GORE (10/3/00): Let me just say, Jim, you haven't heard the governor deny these numbers. He's called them "phony," he's called them "fuzzy." But the fact remains.
In truth, the concept of fact no longer remained. This was the campaign in which the press corps made our new culture abundantly clear:

Facts play almost no role in our discourse. It's narrative all the way down.


  1. Pope Bob says today's scribes are "not journalists."

  2. Bob does not really clarify here what The Times got right and wrong. It's possible that they are just over covering it, but why not just say so and move on?

    1. And you would probably like to know whether Tony Soprano was killed in that last episode as well, I suppose.

    2. It would also help if Bob would explain to us lizard brain readers what the hell Krugman is talking about.

      To help, Krugman is taking issue with one economist's "analysis" of Bernie Sander's various plans, in which this economist boldly predicts a 5 percent per year increase in GDP -- per capita!! -- should all of Bernie's proposals become enacted in law.

      Good grief, do you need a degree in economics to see that this is, as Uncle Drum has said, the same "voodoo economics" that tax-cutting Republicans have engaged in for going on 40 years?

      How odd for Bob "We're becoming just like them" Somerby to pick two words out of Krugman's response, then claim Krugman was reviving a 16-year-old smear on his old pal Al.

    3. Well, you could click on the link and read Krugman's column.

    4. I tend to think Somerby was not accusing Krugman of reviving a smear, or even intending to discuss the Krugman article in depth, but rather noting how a term related to a past case of media misconduct, letting a falsehood stand, has since become a part of the political lexicon.

    5. Everybody knows what every Howler reader hears when they read Somerby.

  3. Bob is complaining that the Times has an article which does not fully quote what the Pope said (which if they did, it would require it to be in Spanish).

    But while he makes that complaint, the bulk of his post is about a Krugman column in which he himself does not report what Krugman says.

    What an incomprehensible piece of hypocritical senile rubble.

    But he does manage to get back to the core of his complaint as a blogger. Fifteen plus years ago, his college roommate lost the Presidency to a guy who got fewer votes.

    1. Boxcar Bob's Greatest Hits.

      Easier than writing new songs.

    2. "As a young man, Plato withdrew from public life after the rise of so-called "Thirty Tyrants." In the work which lies ahead, we're taking a similar course."

      Bob in his Boxcar, this morning.

      Bob, of course, didn't do this as a young man.

      And it is not clear who his 30 tyrants are.

      It seems they are mainly a bunch of women writers who are better educated, published, and/or compensated than Bob is.

    3. Click on the link to Krugman's column. Get in the habit of reading it every Monday and Friday.

    4. As a rule I don't trust our corporate media to do the right thing. Somerby's critique is basically accurate.

    5. AnonymousFebruary 19, 2016 at 3:51 PM

      The pope was speaking, by all accounts in Italian, not Spanish. And truly, OBVIOUSLY, Bob is not proposing they quote him in the original language. Really, DUH. We have these things now called "translations."

      If the Times did an article about the kerfuffle without bothering to include what the Pope actually said, you know, in that new-fangled concept of "translation" we have now, shame on them.

      Also, this is the Internet. Ever heard of that, you know, that thing Al Gore didn't claim he'd invented?

      If the Times were competent, it would have at least included a link to a fuller account of what Francis said (in translation, of course) just as Bob's passing reference to Krugman included a link to the Krugman blog post in question.

      I'm frequently one of Bob's harshest critics, but in this case, he's right and you're just an idiot crank.

    6. gyrfalcon you are an idiot crank and mistaken to boot. I watched the video of the interview on the plane. The Pope responded in Spanish.

      The Time online account does contain a link to a fuller account of what the Pope said.
      And if Bob gave a shit, instead of being a hypocrite, he would have included a link as well. That task fell instead to one of his commenters. Anon. @ 1:43 a.m. below.

      IT is pretty obvious that even without the full quote, the Times version criticized by Bob is accurate if abbreviated: Trump suggested the Pope had done the bidding of the people sending us rapists and, when asked about that and other Trump policies, the Pope said such a person "is not a Christian."

    7. It would seem, since gyrfalcon only disagreed with the first part of what @ 3:51 said, he must not object to the bulk of the observation made by an "idiot crank."

    8. "Vatican City, Feb 18, 2016 / 11:00 am (CNA).- In his hour-long inflight news conference on his way from Juarez to Rome, Pope Francis touched on a wide range of hot-button topics, including immigration, pedophilia, the spread of the Zika virus and his meeting with Patriarch Kirill.

      In the 60 minute interview, the Pope answered 12 questions posed in English, Spanish and Italian while on his overnight flight from Mexico’s Ciudad Juarez to Rome."

  4. There is and always has been a rich tradition of Catholic bashing in this free country of ours.

    My God, listen to right wing hate radio for the last couple of days.

    1. It is so easy to describe conservative radio in a knee jerk liberal fashion without trying to understandthe real Americans to whom it appeals.

      This is perhaps costing Democrats votes.

    2. Our sarcasm/humor indicator must not be working.

    3. One of the reasons a middle aged man gave up comedy was his true fan base had no sense of humor.

    4. Sure, many ideologues can never be won over. That's not the point, Liberals/progressives are in direct competition with conservatives for the hearts and minds, not to mention the votes of people who are decidedly neither liberal or conservative non-ideologues.

      When you indulge in loathing, belittle or denigrate wide groups of people, even entire regions of the country, there are political costs and consequences.

    5. @5:08, sorry, my sarcasm sensor was malfunctioning.

    6. If your sensor had been working you would not apologize.

  5. Umpire Bill Klem was discussing whether a certain pitch was a ball or a strike. He said, "It ain't nothin' till I call it." The Times thinks they're the world's umpire. What the Pope actually said means nothin' till the Times chooses their narrative.

    1. Excuse me, but the pope's words were reported practically as soon as they left his mouth. And so was Trump's reaction. Then it was cussed and discussed all day and night long.

      And this was well before the NYT chose any "narrative."

      Such is the world in the 21st Century. You should consider joining it sometime.

    2. He has Bob to keep him company in the old one.

      I started comments on this topic yesterday.

      @ 1:54 I copied and pasted Pope: Trump "Not Christian" That was the headline from the BBC.

    3. Whether or not the Times fully quoted both of them, the lead sentence of their article was a 3-part narrative:
      1. audacious attack
      2. on a revered public figure,
      3. risky political territory

      The actual quote from Trump came in the 2nd paragraph, and was two words “disgraceful” and “unbelievable”.

    4. Note also this sentence later in the article

      Mr. Trump’s attack on Francis reflected a political calculation that criticizing the pope would not hurt him with conservatives and might even improve his standing in South Carolina and in the Southern-dominated Super Tuesday contests

      The Times say who made this alleged political calculation or how they know that Trump's comments were based on a political calculation. The weasel word "reflected" probably means that the Times was reporting their guess as if it were a fact.

    5. Correction: "The Times doesn't say..."

    6. Did anybody report that Trump said the same Mexican government officials that are sending us their rapists are also putting awful thoughts in our dear Pontiff's pointy hat covered head?

      Those Mexicans are so dammn smart! No wonder they will pay for that wall when all is said and done.

    7. I think our high end media does see itself as taste makers and arbiters of the public record. Such is their arrogance. Maybe Somerby is right, money and power can corrupt.

      The "reflected" weasel word example is interesting. I happened upon comments from a CNN reporter a couple days ago regarding the Jeb Bush candidacy. Several times she repeated in covering the campaign how much "the public" loved Jeb Bush and how "the public" was troubled over his poor poll showings. It was clear given her angst that she was speaking mainly for herself. They pretend to speak for the public.

    8. I happened on your comment. I happaened to note you did not name the reporter or the time or date. I happen to think you are making this up. Neither of us seems to offer proof.

    9. Did anyone report that Cruz also wants to build a wall so is presumably not Christian as well, along with millions of other so-called Christians?

    10. @9:29 Don't know her name, I rely very little on that style of corporate media, but I would recognize her if I saw her again. She has that same Ann Coulter-like long stringy hair and what looks to be a bad dye job. She was hurting for Jeb as she claimed we all do.

  6. In the preceding post, Somerby takes a statement from Bernie Sanders and distorts it in the opening headline.

    He then recites a litany of test scores to disprove something Sanders never said.

    He then tells us it doesn't matter what Sanders said because he, Bob Somerby, know what everyone knows.

    And what they know is that everyone hears something even more different in what Sandars said than the distortion Bob gave to it.

    Please, this sad old man has no close family. Could somebody in Baltimore get him some help.

    1. He also quoted what Sanders did say, which is pretty clear. And he refuted Sanders with facts -- test scores. Did you even read his post?

    2. Do you have your head up Bob's ascot?

      1) His headline distorts what Sanders said regardless of whether he later quotes him accurately. This is a standard Somerby critique of the press.

      2) Sanders never said any country outscored the US. The rendention of test scores is meaningless and does nothing to invalidate
      any point made by Sanders.

      3) He then engages in both mind reading (everybody knows and everyone hears) in which he justifies attacking Sanders because of his interpretation of what others might hear Sanders saying even though what Sanders said "isn't necessarily "wrong.""

      Let's dwell on that last point. If many people listening to Al Gore in 1999 thought they heard him say he invented the internet, even when he did not, then the fault lies with Gore, under Bob's recent reasoning.

    3. So, you think Sanders intention was to praise US schools by making that contrast with Sweden and Denmark?

      Sanders, like Obama before him, doesn't understand that US schools are doing fine. He doesn't know what the real problems with education are -- because he is a single issue candidate and out of his depth when it comes to other matters that he has had no previous involvement with. We saw with Obama what it is like when you elect someone without much experience. Education issues matter to me. That's why I will be voting for Hillary.

    4. Everyone knows what your comment means. Everybody hears the bitterness of the die hard Clinton supporters who continue to repel Democrats away getting involved with her campaign.

      Democrats hear the anti-Obama, anti-progressive agitprop which has been shouted, peddled, sold and yelled for eight years.

      Democrats hears that our President is no good. Out here in Democrat land, many people hear that in your comment and want nothing to do with your candidate.

  7. Millions are dead because of old Jim Lehrer. Professors may let him get away with it.
    Bob Somerby sure won't.

  8. Cicero, Every time I read what you say I think of you as " Le republican cocksucker".

  9. Translation of papal interview.

    Relevant part:

    Phil Pullella, Reuters: Today, you spoke very eloquently about the problems of immigration. On the other side of the border, there is a very tough electoral battle. One of the candidates for the White House, Republican Donald Trump, in an interview recently said that you are a political man and he even said that you are a pawn, an instrument of the Mexican government for migration politics. Trump said that if he’s elected, he wants to build 2,500 kilometers of wall along the border. He wants to deport 11 million illegal immigrants, separating families, etcetera. I would like to ask you, what do you think of these accusations against you and if a North American Catholic can vote for a person like this?

    Pope Francis: Thank God he said I was a politician because Aristotle defined the human person as 'animal politicus.' At least I am a human person. As to whether I am a pawn, well, maybe, I don't know. I'll leave that up to your judgment and that of the people. And then, a person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not in the Gospel. As far as what you said about whether I would advise to vote or not to vote, I am not going to get involved in that. I say only that this man is not Christian if he has said things like that. We must see if he said things in that way and in this I give the benefit of the doubt.

    1. Thanks. Based on your link, we can say this:

      First, virtually the only "journalists" to publish the full question and answer involving Donald Trump and the Pope was the Vatican's own news agency. They are the only one's who meet Bob's standard as "useful" journalists, and they are the public affairs office of a state and a religion.

      Second, though abbreviated, the New york Times got it about right. The Pope said Trump is not Christian.

  10. The brilliant Ted Cruz:

    1. Makes his appeal to the Bundy ranch criminals.

    In a controversial new TV ad aiming to sway conservative caucus-goers in Nevada but likely to backfire with mainstream voters, Presidential hopeful Ted Cruz (R-TX) vows to sell-off or give away the state’s national parks, national forests, national monuments, and other public lands.

    “If you trust me with your vote,” says Cruz in the ad, “I will fight day and night to return full control of Nevada’s lands to its rightful owners, its citizens.”

    2. Proposes Duck Dynasty guy Phil Robertson as UN Ambassador.

    Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz made an unusual suggestion for U.N. ambassador at a rally on Friday: "Duck Dynasty" star Phil Robertson.

    "How much would you pay to see the Russian ambassador's face when Phil says, 'What is wrong with you people?'" Cruz joked to an applauding crowd in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

    "You know there's a reason he terrifies the mainstream media. He says the things you're not supposed to say," Cruz said at Friday's rally. "He actually remembers who we are as Americans and just speaks it with a joy, not with an anger, not with a hatred, with a joy in who we are."