Howzzat again?

Help me out here, folks. I’m obviously missing something.

Mickey Kaus has been singing lead, with Glenn Reynolds and Andrew Sullivan doing harmony and various Volokh Conspirators providing vocal riffs, in a bloggic chorus the burden of which is that Howell Raines is destroying the New York Times by pushing a left-wing agenda, and in the service of that agenda “spiking” columns, twisting news stories, burying leads, and committing other heinous offenses against journalistic integrity. Paul Krugman’s columns are offered as a case in point.

This week the Washington Post ran a profile of Krugman by Howard Kurtz. The profile is by no means a friendly one. Lawrence Kudlow — a conservative economist of no professional reputation who has never held an academic appointment — is allowed to say of Krugman, a Clark Medal winner who has had tenure at three of the leading five economics departments and might one day win the Nobel Prize for his work on trade theory, “His economic credentials have kind of evaporated,” and no real economist is heard giving that remark the raspberry it so richly deserves. Andrew Sullivan, who must have been looking in the mirror as he spoke, is quoted on Krugman’s “extreme partisanship, self-righteousness and moral condescension toward his opponents, who are obviously evil to him.”

Kurtz pauses in his hatchet work for a single item of actual news: During the 2000 campaign, Krugman was forbidden to use the word “lying” to describe George W. Bush’s behavior in his column. The author of this ukase: Howell Raines.

Now this account hardly seems consistent with the picture of Raines as a left-wing fanatic madly rigging everything in his paper against Republicans. Instead, it suggests that he does what editors get paid to do: decide the tone of what goes into the newspaper, whether it’s about George W. Bush or Augusta National.

I was thinking of blogging the item and needling Mickey about it, but the moment passed. I was pretty sure that, of what seemed like his only options — a decorous silence, or an admission that here was at least one datum inconsistent with his thesis — Kaus would prefer decorum to contrition.

As part of what seems to be a divine master plan to cure my of my delusions of omniscience, Mickey found a third thing to do: cite the article as evidence for his thesis that Raines edits with a heavy hand, as if the argument all along had been about journalistic independence from editorial blue-penciling rather than about political bias. Item here, as the P.P.S. under January 23.

Okay, I’m stumped. I disagree with Mickey about 98% of the time (the other 2% he stumbles onto the truth), but he’s no one’s fool, and he doesn’t take his readers for fools either. So what he says must make some twisted sort of sense. But I’m damned if it can work it out.

Remember when I went off on Chris Suellentrop for ragging on Harry Potter, only to discover that I’d totally missed his satiric point? This must be another one of those, and I’m going to look and feel like a doofus when someone tells me just what it is I’m missing.

Tell you what: straighten me out on this in a private email and then keep quiet about it so I can pretend to have figured it out for myself, and I’ll send your favorite charity fifty bucks. That’s fair, isn’t it?

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com