Times vs. Times, Part II (B)

Times vs. Times, Part II (B)

Times vs. Times, Part II (B)

A mostly political Weblog.
Aug. 26 2002 3:46 AM

Times vs. Times, Part II (B)

Would the recent embarrassments have happened if Bill Keller had been editor?

Times v. Times, Part II (b): Several alert kf readers have pointed out that Bill Keller's Saturday NYT op-ed  on Iraq contains what seems to be a second indirect swipe at the NYT's news coverage under Howell Raines, who was picked over Keller for the NYT editor's job. Keller writes:

The last time America dispatched soldiers in the cause of "regime change," less than a year ago in Afghanistan, the opposition was mostly limited to the people who are reflexively against the American use of power. There were pundits who whispered "quagmire" and allies whose applause for the effort was one-handed, but the outright opposition came from isolationists ...

Gee, what "pundits" jumped to use the word "quagmire" after a few days of initial setbacks in Afghan? Could Keller have been referring to Timesman R.W. Apple's now-embarrassing "news analysis," which led the special "Nation Challenged" section on October 31, 2001? Apple's first sentence:

Like an unwelcome specter from an unhappy past, the ominous word "quagmire" has begun to haunt conversations among government officials and students of foreign policy, both here and abroad.


P.S.  Apple's piece will still be embarrassing even if Afghanistan does turn into a quagmire. That's because it consisted of Washington-dinner-party huffings about immediate American military prospects -- misgivings that were quickly proven wrong. Here's a sampling:

Despite the insistence of President Bush and members of his cabinet that all is well, the war in Afghanistan has gone less smoothly than many had hoped. Not that anyone expected a lightning campaign without setbacks ...But signs of progress are sparse. A week ago, the Pentagon said the military capacity of Taliban leaders in Afghanistan had been "eviscerated" by allied bombing raids; now ranking officials describe those leaders as "tough characters" who remain full of fight. The sole known commando sortie into enemy territory produced minimal results and ample evidence that American intelligence about the Taliban is thin.

The Northern Alliance, whose generals bragged for weeks that it was about to capture the pivotal city of Mazar-i-Sharif, has failed to do so.

Mazar-i-Sharif was captured within 10 days.  A week after that, with the Taliban on the run across Afghanistan, the NYT "Week in Review" ran an article entitled: "Surprise. War Works After All."  ... Link: If it's worth $2.95 to you to see Apple make a fool of himself, click here. Update: It's free here. [Thanks to reader J.A.C.] ... 12:26 A.M.


Saturday, August 24, 2002


Felix Salmon says Paul Kedrosky's  wrong about stock analysts being worth listening to. ... (Does this mean I  was right? I'm not sure. ...) 12:33 A.M.


Friday, August 23, 2002

The three Republican foreign policy luminaries who have been identified in the press as skeptics — Mr. Scowcroft, Lawrence Eagleburger and Henry Kissinger — spend much of their time courting well-paying clients who would rather not rock boats in the Middle East.

I say "identified as skeptics," but in the case of Dr. Kissinger that should be "misidentified." The über-realist's recent commentary in The Washington Post, which some have construed as cautionary, seems to me to be as forceful an endorsement as Mr. Bush could want of a pre-emptive military ouster in Iraq — and sooner rather than later

Gee, who or what would have done that misidentifying? It wouldn't have been the news pages of the NYT, would it? (And not just once.) ... P.S.: Keller's piece seems extremely sensible. But why require Bush himself to "make the case" for the war? He's too inarticulate to convince the people that need convincing (e.g. skeptics, Democrats). Powell, as a skeptic himself, and an articulate one, would be far more effective. ...[Thanks to kf reader Brian.S.] 10:50 P.M.


Thursday, August 22, 2002

The NYT's Kurt Eichenwald reports on Enron executive Michael Kopper's plea bargain  and leads with this conclusion:

Indeed, to legal experts, the breakthrough from the Kopper plea and the detailed allegations submitted in court records filed today demonstrate how wrongheaded much of the criticism of the investigation's pace has been ...

Gee, who could have engaged in such wrongheaded criticism? Could it have been Eichenwald's NYT colleague, Stephen Labaton, who -- in what now appears to be a stunningly uninformed "news analysis"  three weeks ago -- wrote:

And, as Democrats and talk show hosts are beginning to ask, despite all the impressive cases that have been filed against executives at companies ranging from Adelphia to ImClone and Rite-Aid, why has Enron escaped charges by the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission?


Honorable mention goes to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, whom Labaton generously quoted fuming:

"There hasn't been anyone in handcuffs from Enron, and we don't know the reason why ...  The people of Enron have just as much of a right to know how that investigation is going and whether those people will be brought to justice, and why it's taken eight months ... "

"[Attorney General] Ashcroft and his aides struggled to answer the question, " Labaton wrote back then. One aide, deputy A.G. Larry Thompson, was quoted offering what (after Ashcroft's struggling) seemed to be a highly-suspect excuse: "Some cases are more complex than others."

But Eichenwald now reports that

[t]he investigation of Enron is taking time, lawyers said, because the case is suffused with complexity.

"The allegations at WorldCom and Adelphia are addition and subtraction," said Robert A. Mintz, a former federal prosecutor who is now a partner with McCarter & English. "Enron is calculus."


In other words, Thompson was right. ... Isn't that something Labaton, in the course of his "analysis," could have confirmed three weeks ago? 1:25 A.M.

Automobile's Robert Cumberford, the best automotive design columnist in the country -- he's also the only automotive design columnist in the country, but he's pretty good! -- reams the new Porsche SUV, the subject of a WSJ front-page piece on Wednesday (sub required).

Perhaps the most startling design aspect of this giant vehicle is the utter banality of the overall shape. ...The taillights could come from any of a dozen nondescript vehicles. .. and the surface development is unexceptional but goes slightly wrong behind the rear-quarter window ... [I]t is hard for me to work up much enthusiasm over an ugly Porsche that weights three and a third times as much as my first 356 coupe, that has no redeeming individual style, and that seems both incredibly cynical and desperately late to market ....

I've never known exactly what "surface development" is -- but the Porsche "Cayenne" SUV really shocks with its un-sexiness. Unfortunately, Cumberford's column is not online, as far as I can tell. ...[So it's not enough to snipe at the NYT's copy. Now you're going after their advertisers too--ed. Cumberford said it, not me. Give him points for going after his own publication's potential advertiser.] 12:46 A.M.


Some hints are less subtle than others:

Iraqi Official Affirms Death of Abu Nidal; Suicide Hinted

..."Yes, he committed suicide," the Iraqi deputy prime minister, Tariq Aziz, said in Baghdad.

(from NYT, 8/21) 12:23 A.M.


Tuesday, August 20, 2002

Kausfiles goes the extra mile and actually calls budget god Robert Reischauer about Paul Krugman's assertion that the projected long-term deficits aren't due to "runaway spending." Reischauer says:

"I certainly don't want to let the tax cuts off the hook, but there's no question at all that the increased trajectory of probable spending will be a significant contributor to the changed budget outlook."

But is that just because entitlements like Medicare have started to grow again, or is it also because Congress has lost its discipline in controlling "discretionary spending," which had until recent years been governed by various "caps" and restrictive rules set up in the Bush I and Clinton budget deals?

"Discretionary spending in the last three years has grown far faster than caps suggested it should."

Reischauer refers to a "very rapid increase in discretionary spending, " which in "the last two or three years" has grown about 7.6 percent before inflation. Even if it were to only rise at a far lower rate from here on out, this recent burst of spending, added to the baseline over 10 years, "makes a big difference," Reischauer says.

To illustrate how lack of "discretionary" restraint  can add up over time, Reischauer has estimated what would happen if instead of rising at the expected inflation rate (of about 2 or 3 percent) discretionary spending rose at the expected rate of GDP growth (about 5 percent). Over 10 years, this extra spending would increase the deficit by $1.2 trillion, only a little less than the impact of Bush's tax cut.

Upshot (this is me, not Reischauer)Bush has every reason to want to restrain this sort of spending increase, through veto threats, impolitic refusals to spend money, etc.. It's also pretty clear that the tax cut itself, whatever its other defects or virtues, helps in this task, because Congressional (and executive branch) spenders now know that the money is not there to spend. Whether the tax cut is ultimately a good or bad thing in long-run deficit-cutting terms depends on a) how much it restrains spending (versus the spending that would otherwise happen if we still had the prospect of multi-trillion-dollar surpluses) and b) whether and when taxes get raised again, if necessary. My guess is that the tax cut will ultimately prove to have been  not such a bad thing-- it's easier to raise taxes than it is to cut spending, and it's even easier to cancel a tax cut for the top 1 percent that's been passed but hasn't taken effect yet (but that has served in the meantime to restrain spending). Even if you disagree, Krugman's wrong about the importance of "runaway spending." 12:03 P.M.

Today's smarterkrugman.com: Paul Krugman says

The federal budget is now deep in deficit, and everyone except the administration thinks it will remain there — not because of runaway spending.

If you called up Robert Reischauer, the trusted god of budget numbers, and asked him if "runaway spending" was, in part, to blame for the deficits, would he say "no." I don't think so. I think he'd say, along with the author of this WaPo story, that the bipartisan breakdown in spending discipline that's followed the end of the spending rules ("PAYGO," etc.) imposed by the Bush I and Clinton budget deals has quite a bit to do with the prospect of permanent deficits. [Why don't you call him?-ed. It's 4 A.M. there!] ... P.S.: Krugman criticizes Bush's "fake populism," characterized by photo ops and attacks on "cultural elitism." I'd argue cultural populism is preferable to (and more effective than) the economistic populism Krugman seems to favor because Americans believe in social equality, not economic equality. Economic populists, by elevating the importance of money, can actually reinforce the socially inegalitarian implications of the economy's income distribution -- which would be unequal even if the U.S. somehow turned into Sweden overnight. ...[Reader H.P. writes: "You argue that cultural populism is preferable to economic populism, but does that include the hypocrisy inherent in 'fake' cultural populism?" Who's for "fake" populism, of which Bush's father driving a big rig truck in New Hampshire is probably the best example? But even fake populism can be the tribute snobbery pays to social equality. And the current President Bush doesn't seem to be faking it when he gives the impression he doesn't think he's any better than the rest of us. This isn't an unimportant virtue, and it's a big reason Bush was elected. (I'm not saying Gore is a snob -- he's too insecure for that!)]  ...P.P.S.: Does Krugman really think it's a sensible government expenditure to have a whole separate, costly, and not-very-good system of Veterans' health care? If not, why blast Bush for trying to save money by suspending "marketing activities to enroll new veterans" in that white-elephant system? 12:56 A.M..

The National Post's Paul Kedrosky explains what I don't understand about stock analysts: ... I don't understand enough to know if this is in fact what I don't understand. ...12:43 A.M..

Last week's Robert Reich hypocrisy story  isn't quite as bad as it initially looked, but it's not good. Live by cheap theater, die by cheap theater! .... 12:31 A.M.


Monday, August 19, 2002

Did the New York Times, as charged by Charles Krauthammer and the Weekly Standard, inaccurately classify Henry Kissinger as one of those "warning [President Bush] against going to war with Iraq?" The answer is yes, at least judging from the Kissinger op-ed piece cited by the Times--Kissinger'scrabbed, confusing article generally supports a pre-emptive war. But the Times' critics themselves inaccurately describe Kissinger's position, because Kissinger adds more qualifications than they let on. It's not true, as the Standard claims, that "Kissinger's only qualm was how Bush sells his strategy to allies" -- or, as Krauthammer implies, that Kissinger's only note of dissent concerned "the difficulties and the importance of the post-war settlement."  Those are certainly two of Kissinger's caveats. But, more significantly, Kissinger also says the U.S. should seek a new international inspection system before resorting to military action, a war-delaying protocol the Bush administration has pooh-poohed.  The key Kissinger sentences:

It is necessary to propose a stringent inspection system that achieves substantial transparency of Iraqi institutions. Since the consequences of simply letting the diplomacy run into the ground are so serious, a time limit should be set. The case for military intervention will then have been made in the context of seeking a common approach.

It's also possible, as Todd Purdum and Patrick Tyler's initial NYT story argued, that those in the administration who oppose the war --e.g. at the State department -- have decided to make a fuss about the shape of a post-war settlement as a means of delaying the entire project (just the way those who oppose welfare reform make a fuss about lack of child-care funding!).  If that's true, then Kissinger was serving the anti-war cause more than it might seem on the surface. ... P.S.: Purdum and Tyler did at least seemingly try to present Kissinger's position in all its lugubrious complexity. They failed, lumping Kissinger with Brent Scowcroft as someone who says "that the administration has not shown that Iraq poses an urgent threat to the United States." That's more or less the opposite of what Kissinger says in his op-ed. But then the Times's editors can't be expected to demand too much precision -- they've got a war to stop (and a story to hype)! ... And, of course, Kissinger was crudely, without qualification, listed as an anti-war voice in subsequent NYT stories. . .. P.P.S.: Not that we should care all that much what Kissinger thinks! ... Piece now: Thanks to kf reader L.V.O. for that Kissinger piece link. How does the Houston Chronicle get to post it but not WaPo?. ... Backfill: John Judis, guest-blogging on Josh Marshall's Talking Points Memo the day Kissinger's op-ed was published, interpreted it as so heavily qualified that it amounted to a dissent from Bush policy (couched in language designed to let Kissinger "remain a player in the Republican party"). But on Meet the Press on Sunday,  Kissinger basically said the same things he says in the op-ed -- qualified support for an Iraq strke, as weapons-control measure more than a "regime change" -- while giving less detail (e.g. no discussions of trying out a new inspection system first). He explicitly disagreed with Scowcroft's outright opposition to a war, making it very hard to justify the NYT's overall treatment. ... .   1:17 P.M.


Saturday, August 17, 2002

Where's the NYT editorial following up on Nina Bernstein's front-page scare story on the rise of "child-only" welfare cases? (See somewhat extended comments below.) Could it be that the NYT's editorial board, too, realizes how bogus the story was? ...  11:15 P.M.

Doesn't today's NYT scoop  -- revealing that U.S. advisers secretly helped Saddam Hussein more than we'd known in Iraq's 1981-88 war with Iran -- rather aggressively hide the difference between Iraq's use of chemical weapons against Iran's military, which arguably we knew about and then somewhat hypocritically condemned, and Iraq's gassing of civilians (its own civilians) at Halabja, which there's no evidence we knew about. While national security adviser Condoleezza Rice mentioned both  sorts of chemical attacks as grounds for pursuing "regime change" in Iraq, the civilian attacks would seem to be the more important part of that case. By lumping both uses together as "Iraq's use of gas" or "use of chemical weapons," the NYT's Patrick Tyler manages to obscure this distinction until a brief mention in the 17th graf -- thereby giving the impression that his story has undermined more of the case for "regime change" than it really has. ... Fence-straddling disclaimer: I'm not necessarily in favor of attacking Iraq. But I'm against the NYT distorting a story as part of what looks to almost everyone (not just kf) like a coordinated anti-war campaign. ... The American people need both the convenient and the inconvenient truths about Iraq from their newspapers, but it turns out there are powerful forces standing in their way! ... 10:59 P.M.

John Podhoretz makes a good Vulgar Marxist point  about the Anybody But Gore movement:

It should be noted that political professionals have a profound personal interest in dislodging Gore. If there is a serious contest for the nomination in 2004, hundreds of millions of dollars will be spread around different consultants, pollsters, media buyers and the like.

I say let a hundred consultants bloom!... P.S.: It's becoming CW that Gore's populism can't have been all bad because (as Podhoretz puts it) "it was only when Gore seized on populism that his campaign began to surge in the summer of 2000," after the convention. My impression was that Gore's convention speeech helped him a lot-- but mainly because it was well-delivered, introducing Gore as a sane, vigorous successor to Clinton, and not because of its invocation of dark "powerful forces ... standing in your way."  ....2:30 P.M.


Friday, August 16, 2002

I join my fellow substance-starved bloggers in linking Virginia Postrel's useful counter  to bogus anti-globalization rhetoric about how the "gaps in income between the poorest and richest countries have continued to widen." Postrel notes that, if you look at individuals, not countries, inequality has gone down while prosperity has gone up. But it seems to me Postrel has missed the main rhetorical chance, which is to point out that, even on a country vs. country comparison (which is hardly illegitimate), developing countries like China and India have quite obviously closed the gap with the U.S. and Europe. ... The big problem, as Postrel points out, is the very "poorest" countries, which is to say African countries, whose economies have retrogressed because they haven't been able to participate effectively in globalization . ... P.S.:  Has Postrel also given away too much when she concedes that income inequality is growing within the "rapidly advancing" nations like China and India (even as their general standard of living rises)? It's pretty clear that free trade makes for money inequality in the developed world, as unskilled jobs go overseas. But what about the countries that get the unskilled jobs? Is the Chinese "Gini coefficient" really rising? More geeky stats, please! ...Update: Postrel says, yes, Chinese incomes are growing more unequal. The geeky stats are here, at least one that shows the income share of the top Chinese quintile rising and that of the bottom quintile falling. But India, which is also prospering but isn't starting from a Communist income distribution, doesn't show this inequality trend..  ... 1:51 A.M.

As alert reader D.D. suggests, the final item in the middle column of this edition of The Oniondoes bear an alarming resemblance to the questionable  prediction, by certain Microsoft-employed Web journalists, that the introduction of Windows XP would spark the U.S. economy's revival in October, 2001. [But the U.S. economy did revive in October, 2001--ed. Excellent point!] 1:30 A.M.

Krugman Errata Est: The NYT printed a correction  of an op-ed piece on Wednesday -- and not of a particularly clear-cut error either. So where's the correction of Paul Krugman's Bush/Ranger error? The answer can't be that (as some kf readers have suggested) the Times never prints corrections to op-ed pieces... P.S.: Oh yes -- the Krugman error was also defamatory, not just to inarguably "public" figures like Bush, but also to arguably non-public partners in the Ranger owners group. I'm not saying the NYT would lose a libel suit --I would hope they'd win on the "public figure" issue, for starters -- and I'm against lawsuits in this sort of situation in general. But they do sometimes provide rightly-aggrieved parties with useful leverage when demanding corrections.. ... P.P.S.: Krugman's column today is good. (His "comparative advantage" is as a sophisticated economist, not a sloppier version of Joe Conason!) But I can't believe that his checklist -- of the four reasons the U.S. economy might not be like Japan's -- is complete. What about the most obvious candidate --

5. We have an efficient banking sector, and are unencumbered by the corporate backscratching and error-hiding of Japanese "business groups" (keiretsu). ..

Omission of this factor would allow Krugman to paint the U.S. economy as in worse shape than it really is, making President Bush look worse than he really is. Is there some of the Bad Krugman even in the Good Krugman? ... Krugman, who knows a lot more about Japan than I do, may have a persuasive answer on this point; if so I'd love to hear it. ...1:06 A.M.

Getting toasty back East: Doris Kearns Goodwin's lawyer, Michael Nussbaum, quoted by Alex Beam  regarding the LAT's discovery of new Goodwin borrowings in a second book, responds in calm and lawyerly fashion by calling the Times story "junk journalism." Nussbaum adds:

Any time you put passages together side by side, yes, the inference will come forward that because the passages resemble one another there must be something wrong with the scholarship.

If this is all a smart lawyer like Nussbaum can come up with, then his client's case really is falling apart. Many of the passages don't just "resemble" on another -- they track on another, in structure and language, with only a handful of words changed. ... 12:48 A.M.

Punditry happens: Michael Barone notes that the Republicans cynical new Social Security gambit -- accusing Democrats of wanting to "privatize" Social Security if the Democrats in question had endorsed Clintonesque plans for collective government investment of some Social Security funds in stocks -- will backfire, because even if the trick works it salts the earth against the individual-account "privatization" schemes President Bush says he wants to pass. That's true -- but, as kf frequently argues, Bush's privatization plan is dead, dead, dead anyway. If Republicans are now tacitly admitting it, that's more significantly a sign of their deeper problem, which is that they are now a party with no compelling domestic agenda other than the defensive one of stopping Democrats from doing the misguided things Democrats tend to do when they are in power (like overspend, pander to seniors, placate teacher and government employee unions, and subsidize a debilitating culture of poverty with no-strings welfare checks!). The appeal of this defensive virtue -- powerful as it is for some of us! -- is doomed to fade as memories of the liberal disasters of the past fade. Meanwhile, Democrats at least promise to solve one of the great remaining unsolved problems of American government, the provision of universal health insurance. ... That's why I've always felt Democrats are destined to retake the House any year now. If it's not this year, that will only be because a) 9/11 has focused attention on foreign policy, b) gerrymandering has protected GOP incumbents or c) Republicans find some way to remind voters why they worry about the Democrats. ...I do think there's one obvious issue Republicans might use to  accomplish c). ... (Psst! elfare-way!) ... 12:36 A.M.



Drudge Report--80 % true. Close enough! Instapundit--All-powerful hit king. Joshua Marshall--Escapee from American Prospect. Salon--Better click fast! Andrew Sullivan--He asks, he tells. He sells! Washington Monthly--Includes "Tilting at Windmills" Lucianne.com--Stirs the drink. Virginia Postrel--Friend of the future! Peggy Noonan--Gold in every column. Matt Miller--Savvy rad-centrism. WaPo--Waking from post-Bradlee snooze. The Liberal Death Star--Registration required.  NY Observer--Read it before the good writers are all hired away. New Republic--Left on welfare, right on warfare!  Jim Pinkerton--Quality ideas come from quantity ideas. Tom Tomorrow--Everyone's favorite leftish cartoonists' blog.  Ann "Too Far" Coulter--Sometimes it's just far enough. Bull Moose--National Greatness Central. John Ellis--Forget that Florida business! The cuz knows politics, and he has, ah, sources. "The Note"--How the pros start their day. Romenesko's MediaNews--O.K. they actually start it here. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities--Money Liberal Central.. Steve Chapman--Ornery-but-lovable libertarian. Rich Galen--Sophisticated GOP insider. Man Without Qualities--Seems to know a lot about white collar crime. Hmmm. Overlawyered.com--Daily horror stories. Eugene Volokh --Smart, packin' prof, and not Instapundit! Eve Tushnet--Queer, Catholic, conservative and not Andrew Sullivan! WSJ's Best of the Web--James Taranto's excellent obsessions. Walter Shapiro--Politics and (don't laugh) neoliberal humor! Eric Alterman -- Always annoying, occasionally right. Joe Conason -- Bush-bashing, free most days.  Nonzero--Bob Wright explains it all. [More tk.]