Day By Day© by Chris Muir.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

The NY Times is squished

I grew up watching Monty Python's Flying Circus, and always enjoyed the moment in the opening credits when the big foot came down with that squishing sound. I saw that big foot and I heard the squish when I read this Donald Luskin column lambasting both the dishonest Paul Krugman and the craven Daniel Okrent. Luskin opens by pointing out that Okrent, in his last act at the NY Times, in a minor act of courage, finally acknowledged that Krugman lies:

According to the New York Times itself, what we’ve been carefully documenting for more than two years is true:
Op-Ed columnist Paul Krugman has the disturbing habit of shaping, slicing and selectively citing numbers in a fashion that pleases his acolytes but leaves him open to substantive assaults. ... some of Krugman’s enemies are every bit as ideological (and consequently unfair) as he is. But that doesn’t mean that their boss, publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr., shouldn’t hold his columnists to higher standards.
Thus wrote New York Times “pubic editor” Daniel Okrent in his column last week, his final one before resigning his post. There it is, right in the newspaper of record.
While congratulating Okrent on finally doing the right thing, and calling Krugman the liar he is, Luskin then points out, at length, the moral cowardice that has characterized Okrent during his 18 month stint as "the public editor."
Okrent wasn’t always afraid of pressure. When I first met him in early 2004 he was full of the burning zeal of the reformer, and eager for intellectual allies. His first words to me were, “You’re much better looking than Paul Krugman.” He told me that the Times didn’t deserve to be called the “newspaper of record” and vowed, “When I’m done with this assignment, I want everyone to know that.” (Okrent later wrote on this theme.) We had a long discussion on accuracy and fairness on the op-ed page, which led a month later to the Times’s new policy on columnist corrections. This was all very hopeful, as well as flattering. But I knew it wouldn’t last. Okrent ended our meeting by announcing that a limo was picking him up to take him to a dinner party with Times publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger, Jr., and executive editor Bill Keller. I wondered how long Okrent could maintain his independence as a reformer if he was getting sucked into the glittery social world of Times management. The pressure had begun. And the pressure built as Times staff fought Okrent in his role as “readers’ representative.” For example, financial reporter David Cay Johnston went so far as to organize other reporters into what Okrent called a “lynch mob” — and accused Okrent of conflict of interest because of a board position, according to a story in the Wall Street Journal. And as for the Times’s columnist-correction policy, the paper’s columnists and their boss, editorial-page editor Gail Collins, stonewalled it from the beginning. When corrections to Krugman’s columns were made, they were snuck into the text of subsequent columns, hidden in the form of what Okrent has called a “rowback.” Or they were appended to subsequent columns without the designation “correction,” with the original erroneous columns remaining uncorrected in the Times’s web archive. And that’s only when corrections were made at all. For the most part, corrections were not made. Why? It appears that as Okrent went to Gail Collins for corrections, she quickly learned she could get away with stonewalling him. I faired no better. When I couldn’t get Collins to even acknowledge my e-mails, I sent corrections to her under a false name, but she didn’t respond to those either. I learned that at one point Okrent went directly to Krugman himself for corrections, but the whole exercise soon proved worthless. Okrent apparently gave up on Collins and Krugman, and I gave up sending them corrections as well. In an odd turn of events, Okrent wrote in a December 2004 column that “judging by the shrinking volume of complaints I receive from readers, columnists’ errors have become much less frequent.” Was that statement the product of self-delusion or sheer gall?
Will this have any fallout for Krugman? I doubt it. The NY Times audience eats him up, as evidence by the fact that every one of his dishonest anti-Bush tirades rockets up the chart of NY Times most-emailed articles. Nevertheless, it is something, and that's not nothing.