Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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The Columnist as Statesman

A blogger in the Big Apple recently discovered that Paul Krugman has made a remarkable admission:

George Stephanopoulos: "What would you consider a bottom line victory?" (at -03.23):

Paul Krugman: "In a way, since I have my own goals on healthcare, I can’t say what my final, what’s the least I’ll accept, because that then becomes a negotiating point.”

Our blogger comments:

The amazing thing about Krugman’s statement is the extent to which he expressly sees himself as a policy maker with a role negotiating the final shape of any new healthcare bill. He is afraid to say what he wants because that would be used to negotiate against him. . . . Instead of seeing that it is his role to explain what is going on, he obviously believes he was put on this earth to influence the shape of the healthcare bill. He has completely thrown out the window any pretense that he is an objective commentator on the debate.

In other words, when one reads Krugman’s column, one should recognize that he does not think it is his job to help we the people understand the issues so that we may make informed decisions about them. On the contrary, he regards it as his job to shape what he says and does not say, in order to move debate in the direction he thinks it ought to go.

I wonder if Krugman reflects a larger defect in the New York Times. The Times became a great and influential newspaper because it sought to provide information to the people, to help create an informed citizenry. It did that job so well, that the Times started have a good deal of influence in setting the agenda for the Union as a whole. As time passed, the newspaper grew self conscious about that role, and, as a result, started paying too much attention to agenda setting (asking whether a story was worthy of being in the public discussion, and working too hard to decide which facts the people ought to have before them), rather than sticking with the basics. The result has been that the Times has grown weaker as a newspaper, and, at the same time, is becoming less influential. Once the curtain is down, it can’t be put back up.

Discussions - 11 Comments

Um, Paul Krugman is an OPINION columnist, not a reporter.

Even so, he is paid to provide analysis of the issues about which he writes, to help readers understand the issues--that's what he's paid to do. By his own admission, he's not giving his opinion.

Ok, the link to the interview isn't working....Paul Krugman is an opinion columnist for the NYT, but he is also a professor of economics at Princeton. Which hat was he wearing in the interview? If he was speaking from his position as an economist at Princeton, then he may actually be in the position of having a legitimate (albeit advisory, I suspect) role in the policy-making process, and he is right not to show his hand.

He is paid by the New York times so that they can claim to have a nobel prize winner on board. He uses his column and comments from it to brain storm new book ideas. He is so prolific and forthright about his political opinions that the accusation of not being objective must be some sort of joke. He might as well reply to stephanapolous that he could try reading The Conscience of a Liberal, or any of the dozen updates and variations of the age of diminished expectations. In some sense poor old stephanapolous even when he was Bill Clinton's communications director was more objective. In point of fact Krugman attacks the entire notion of objectivity, and in a more interesting paper actually charts objectivity as a foward indicator of income discrepancy and the collapse of the middle class(objectivity is only possible for Krugman when consensus/bipartizanship is present...and he argues that movement conservatives ruined the 50-60's legacy and influenced income inequality.

It is pretty much an objective and often repeated goal of Krugman's to decrease income inequality.

Krugman isn't exactly a stateman but he has stopped being an economist in the older sense and redefined the term, by focusing on Urban Economics, transportation, clumping, geographic economics/sociology, peak oil, rootedness. He has a nobel, a soap box at the Times, and he essentially has the bias one would expect if Rawls took to writting his philosophy as an economic sketch for sale in airports and coffee tables.

One thing about Krugman is that once you are that open about your normative judgements, you have no pretense at objectivity, but this is a view of objectivity that Krugman doesn't believe exists appart consensus on normative judgements.

In some sense Krugman agrees with you on the New York times, but he would say that the problem rests in the vanishing of the middle class(meaning that the spread in the apperance of biased selection increases as less common experiences dominate and urban life becomes more variated from rural life, which also develops out of industrial specialization(different occupations/knowledge/outlooks) localized in different urban areas... Krugman essentially started out a liberal, activist, and built his economics and his sociology together.

It is hard to know what sort of leverage and influence Krugman has, he probably has a big head because he has a relatively coherent explanation for the present(or at least always makes this claim) and basically goes around talking his books.

He has goals but won't tell us what they are. He prefers to manipulate rather than give good faith explanations. Is the idea that he is acting this way in his capacity as a scholar rather than a journalist a defense or a condemnation?

It's neither a defense nor a condemnation because I couldn't access the interview either through the link or on the ABC News website so I don't know the context from which the selected quotation is drawn. I will maintain, however, that opinion columnists are paid to give their opinion based on their interpretations of the facts. Reporters are paid to provide "objective" explanations.

sto, I didn't say anything about Krugman's objectivity, but do note that he would not give his honest opinion of what a "bottom line victory" would be lest knowing too much about his beliefs influence someone.

The "objective" aspect of the news is hard to discern, sometimes. That there can be some confusion on the matter does not diminish the truth of Krugman being paid to exhibit his bias and to do a good job at it if he can. Honestly, don't we prefer a guy like him trying to be persuasive on the editorial page to an "objective" reporter trying to manipulate us more subtly on the front page? Walter Cronkite as newscaster was a great example of what the blogger in the post was actually writing about.

Maybe the NYT is doing badly because of Krugman on the editorial page, but I suspect there are other factors involved.

Columnists are free to express their opinions openly, even as "news reporters" often express theirs covertly, but that doesn't relieve the former of the responsibility of making true statements and valid arguments. They are not legally bound to do so, of course, but if they claim to be journalists than they are obliged to defend their positions with reasoned argument and not avoid the issue by refusing to take a stand, as Paul Krugman evidently is doing in order to support Obama's identical strategy. Again, no coercion can be justified but neither can any obfuscation.

This morning's headline, Senate poised to make history with Sotomayor vote (AP) . What does that say?

I do not say that Krugman is not so puffed up that he can just pronounce national healthcare good, based on his credentials, and think all of us will take his word for it. It is funny, amusing, that he thinks we all take him so seriously that what his "bottom line" is on the subject is even interesting to us. Richard Reeb's comment tweaks my thinking that no one on the Obama side of the healthcare debate ever really discusses the expected extent of the the thing. Obfuscation, yes, but have they not thought that far out? Or is what they see far out in the future such a narrow vision, as in that we are being lead into some kind of a box, that they would rather we did not know? Maybe the box seems glorious to them?

Really, they are proposing a dream, and dreams do not really have bottom lines. We are asking Krugman & co. to take a stand on a dream and that is shaky ground.

So sad that I'm joining the party so late. This is a fantastic post, although I hate to see NLT deal in such absolutes as this objective-reporting v. policy-making dichotomy.

Still, kudos.

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