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The Moore Manoever

Just a clarificatory word, since some people don't seem to get this. When a liberal media personality such as myself responds to attacks on Michael Moore by saying: "Look at what the president is doing!" we are not constructing a "two wrongs make a right" or a "fight fire with fire" argument.

Rather, this is what's going on. I believe that it is very important to have a national conversation about the massive dishonesty of the president of the United States and the administration he leads. Nevertheless, one cannot write columns with headlines like: "Don't you see, the president is a liar!" week after week or else people will think you are a crank. Paul Krugman in particular experiences this problem. Others among us only have limited opportunities to appear on the broadcast media, and do not get to choose the appointed topics for discussion. In either case, it is convenient to take criticism of Moore's film either as a jumping-off point for your column or as a pretext to go on the radio or what have you. One's access to the media stream is limited, and topic-selection is not entirely under one's control. When one does gain such access, however, one would be foolish not to attempt to steer the conversation to what one regards as the crucial issues of the day. The fact that an uninformed viewer may leave Fahrenheit 9-11 thinking that Bush invaded Afghanistan to build a pipleine is regrettable. I hope that few people who did not already believes this have been caused to believe it by the film. The fact that an uninformed citizen may leave a Bush speech believing that Iraq was a major backer of al-Qaeda, that contemporary Afghanistan is a democracy, that lawsuits are the leading cause of health care inflation, that the current budget tragectory is sustainable, that the current job market is strong, and that the institution of marriage is threatened by gays and lesbians is an outrage. Given the opportunity to shift the conversation from Topic A to Topic B, I would be remiss not to do so.

UPDATE: Couple of unclear sentences up there on Paul Krugman. I don't think he's a crank. A lot of people accusing him of being a crank, however, because he doesn't adopt the sort of "balanced" tone that you see from a Kristof or a Friedman. Under the circumstances, he does well to vary up his tune when he gets the chance. His column on Moore was, I thought, a good way of doing that. So I've got no problem with Paul Krugman, either in general, or on that column in particular. Some of my more vociferous commenters, however, are probably going to be very unhappy with what Krugman has to say once the Kerry administration is in power...it's worth remembering, he really isn't very liberal.

July 7, 2004 | Permalink

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» Two Wrongs Makes a Right from Seeing the Forest
Another way of making my point: who has standing to protest against Moore's movie? I don't see how any Republican can; during the worst days of Gingrich the Republicans won the House and the Senate, and no major Republicans (except Jeffords) stood up a... [Read More]

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What is it about the left and President Bush? It is assumed that he lied to us. Matt Yglesias writes, “I believe that it is very important to have a national conversation about the massive dishonesty of the president of [Read More]

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Comments

Actually, one of Krugman's larger problems is that he lies about people who may be in fact liars, which greatly diminishes the effectiveness of the charge. He also engages in character assasinations of third parties while pursuing his quarry. When I've raised this issue in the past (and no, I'm not going to go through it all again, so Krugman defenders can reduce themselves to asserting that words don't have meanings) I have had Krugman groupies respond by saying, "Well, he isn't as bad as Ann Coulter!", thereby damning Krugman far more harshly than any charge I've made.

Posted by: Will Allen | Jul 7, 2004 11:18:09 AM

Paul Krugman isn't a crank, because he's been right almost everytime he's critisized the Bush administration, and his critiques have not been about petty subjects either. Perhaps if a few other op-ed columnists had dared to speak a bit of truth to power, Krugman wouldn't have to do so much of it himself. Gandalf the Grey wasn't exactly popular either as I recall, but he was right too and hardly a crank.

Posted by: David W. | Jul 7, 2004 11:21:17 AM

I have no problem with people who hesitate to call Bush a liar for what they see as tactical reasons -- or even self-promotional ones.

But I do wish people like Kristof would admit that there is a double standard -- that Bush is a bigger liar than Gore ever was. (And it is interesting that few people outside the left call Maureen Dowd a crank after she labeled Gore a liar week after week.)

You can only be shrill if you're a liberal.

Posted by: Carl | Jul 7, 2004 11:31:42 AM

"Actually, one of Krugman's larger problems is that he lies about people who may be in fact liars"

Actually, I've never seen any convincing evidence that Krugman has lied in any of his columns, ever.

Posted by: JP | Jul 7, 2004 11:31:49 AM

Politicians lie? Stop the presses!

Posted by: Captain Obvious | Jul 7, 2004 11:33:07 AM

The fact that an uninformed viewer may leave Fahrenheit 9-11 thinking that Bush invaded Afghanistan to build a pipleine is regrettable.

Because the real reason is that God told him to do it. Or something. I mean, we really don't know why Bush does anything, except when it comes to financially rewarding his people.

Really, why did we invade Afghanistan? Probably because public opinion forced it. He would rather have gone into Iraq, even then. But public opinion alone doesn't seem to be enough. Just like with Homeland Security, he won't do what the public clamors for without taking a profit (in that case, union busting). So to make him go in there's got to be a little sumthin-sumthin for his boys. And that would be...?

Posted by: Social Scientist | Jul 7, 2004 11:35:38 AM

Krugman's problem isn't that he lies. It is that he has a fixation, an obsession, a literary addiction that he just can't shake loose: he *always* criticizes Bush in his columns. Even a column about, say, anti-Semitism among the Malaysian political elite, ends with Krugman saying "it's Bush's fault". That's not healthy.

Bush really is a shitty president, but Krugman ought to write about something else once in a while. For his own good.

Posted by: Joel | Jul 7, 2004 11:38:39 AM

Frustrated that the Nobel in economics may elude him while his contemporaries Stiglitz and Mundell (inter alia) get to pose with the gold, Krugman is campaigning for the Nobel Peace Prize

Posted by: next big thing | Jul 7, 2004 11:48:45 AM

Joel, you have a valid point there. Krugman's obsession manifests itself in a lot of bizarre behavior

Posted by: Will Allen | Jul 7, 2004 11:55:50 AM

Thank God Will Allen hasn't raised his two or three two-year-old accusations against Krugman again here, because he's done so hundreds of times on Brad DeLong. One of these days his head is going to explode.

Now I'm a big "two wrongs make a right" guy. So let me explain.

First of all, Moore is probably less dishonest than Bush himself, as Matt has said, and much less dishonest than the Republican surrogates who kept the Clinton impeachment going. He's got a few howlers in there (statistics, dates) and a few stretches (Afghan pipeline). But he doesn't have any equivalent of the lesbian Hitlery killing Vince Foster, or the Mena airport, or the Clinton Death List. And a LOT of that stuff wasn't just seen in marginal sources, but percolated up to Safire, the WSJ, Newt Gingrich, Pat Robertson, etc. Newt Gingrich was the biggest single player in the debasing of American political discourse, and that was over a decade ago and ended up with Gingrich as Secretary of State.

As I've said, though, Moore's film IS impressionistic and insinuating. It does not make a logical, factual argument the way a Chomsky film world (the ZNET people have denounced it). To me this is a good thing, though; it reaches people who wouldn't otherwise be reached, and whom the Republicans have been flimflamming for decades.

One way I can make my point is by saying that there is such a thing as "prevailing community standards" or "the way the game is played". Moore is WELL within the norm in this respect. Standards have been so low that nothing purely verbal could really violate them; the only escalation possible would be to start physically attacking the opposition.

A better way of doing this would be ask: who has standing? I don't see how any Republican can; during the worst days of Gingrich the Republicans won the House and the Senate, and no major Republicans (except Jeffords) stood up and said "This has to stop". Not all of them played the game, but none of them visibly opted out.

The same goes for media people who have helped the Republican slime operations along, or who have sat quietly and watched. That's almost all of them, especially on the SCL NYT, Wapo, and CNN.

As for the nice, high-minded liberals who've been slamming Moore: maybe some of them are as good as they think they are. But there's a predefeated anti-populist streak in the Democratic Party, and I hate that. High-mindedness had NOT WORKED. Mondale, Dukakis, and Gore all stated their intention of speaking the truth to America and treating Americans as adults, and that was a bigtime losing strategy. The impressionistic Boston Harbor Morning in American Willie Horton strategy has been entirely triumphant. (Clinton was just a speedbump and gave away half the farm).

This uproar about civility, polarization, and "lies" started when Democrats started playing the game that the Republicans have been playing for ten years or more. It's really too late for the bought, intimidated referees to say anything. And frankly, I think that the high-minded liberals should be ever-so-politely elbowed out of the way.

Posted by: Zizka | Jul 7, 2004 12:14:20 PM

Actually, Zizka, I've read enough Krugman in the past three months to know that he still engages in character assasinations, and yes, it is well understood by all who are familiar with you that the acquisition of power is all that matters. Hope the effort doesn't make your head explode.

Posted by: Will Allen | Jul 7, 2004 12:52:20 PM

Krugman is at times too hasty to score points on the GOP and occasionally makes sloppy mistakes (the Dowdified quote from George Nethercutt about progress in Iraq being more important than deaths of American soldiers comes to mind).

HOWEVER:

I just got finished reading THE RIGHT NATION: CONSERVATIVE POWER IN AMERICA by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge, a book that tries to be painstakingly fair to the modern conservative movement. After I put it down, I picked up my copy of THE GREAT UNRAVELLING and re-read the first couple of chapters.

My conclusion is that Krugman's argument (that the contemporary radical right-wing is a revolutionary power that has no respect for established rules when they get in the way of achieving their goals) is shrill, but perfectly teneable.

For God's sake, these people will run ads comparing Democrats to Hitler and not even have the decency to apologize for it.

Posted by: Brad Reed | Jul 7, 2004 12:52:35 PM

For what it is worth, Michael Ledeen is attacking Krugman in the comment section of one of Dan Drezner's posts (civility) today. I went all grovelly in the presence of such celebrity. But maybe soon Bill O'Reilly will be flaming Eric Alterman over at Drum's.

Neighborhood just going to hell.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Jul 7, 2004 12:59:09 PM

I do think that Krugman goes a bit into Michael Moore land when he veers away from his one area of true expertise, in economics. But where, exactly, has he been wrong in the past 3-4 years on Bush's economic policies? I'm willing to be proven wrong, but as far as I can remember, Krugman has been right on the facts pretty much every single time he's criticized the administration on economics.

Posted by: Haggai | Jul 7, 2004 1:00:52 PM

"ended up with Gingrich as Secretary of State"

Uh, Zizka, I don't think that happened . . . yet.

:(

Posted by: rea | Jul 7, 2004 1:01:15 PM

Clarificatory has to one of the least clear words I've encountered today.

Posted by: Kriston | Jul 7, 2004 1:08:35 PM

Brad, what you call a sloppy mistake is just character assasination, pure and simple, and when Limbaugh starts being toted for a Nobel Prize, then I'll make the same effort to denounce Limbaugh.

Posted by: Will Allen | Jul 7, 2004 1:09:50 PM

It is incredibly arrogant to suggest that you are:

a. more credible than Paul Krugman

b. have a better reputation than Paul Krugman

c. no more about how to advance the progressive agenda than Paul Krugman

d. are a comparable player in the media than Paul Krugman

I think I'm done with this blog...

Posted by: Anon | Jul 7, 2004 1:10:54 PM

Krugman had a sort of period in which every column read like every other one a few months ago, and I was kinda getting sick of him then, not because I thought he was lying, but because I felt like I knew what it said before I read it. Lately, though, he's been getting better. I still think his best work were his longer, more instructive columns back in Slate, but he's interesting again.

I think that you can "read" F:9/11 literally, as saying that Bush is a Saudi puppet and such. Alternatively, you can "read" it as a kind of cinematic kamikaze, which discredits itself with the breadth of its own assertions (Bush is a Saudi puppet? Come oooon!), using its own lack of credibility to attack the Bush administration which uses many similar tactics to F:9/11 (innuendo between Al Qaeda and Saddam, etc), a kind of "you won't accept this crap that I'm saying, so you shouldn't accept the Bush administration's either."

I doubt Moore intended the second interpretation, but then again, I actually got into a debate in the comments of Alas, a Blog because I misunderstood the irony of Lucia's argument that gay marraige has reduced illegitimacy in the Netherlands. (I thought she meant her argument seriously, when really it was just a parody using similar tactics but opposite conclusions of an anti-gay marraige article) So it is possible.

Posted by: Julian Elson | Jul 7, 2004 1:14:03 PM

One thing I've learned from the net: When a post begins with "Actually" you can count on unsupported assertions to follow.

Another thing: Even net writers who went to Harvard cannot spell. Matthew, it's "maneuver," not "manoever," and "trajectory," not "tragectory."

Posted by: Kyle | Jul 7, 2004 1:17:25 PM


Will, I play the game that's being played. If you don't like it, get off the court.

I have no idea why, of all the media people who do not meet your very high standards, it is Krugman whom you have chosen to specialize in attacking. Krugman is the smartest of the bunch, he's more honest and accurate than the vast majority of them, and he presents a strong center-left point of view which is otherwise almost unrepresented in the major media (even though a high proportion of Americans agree with it).

I guess it's better to have you stalking Krugman on the internet than to have you wandering around Princeton, a roll of duct tape in your pocket, trying to find his home address.

Posted by: Zizka | Jul 7, 2004 1:20:23 PM

Secretary of State, Speaker of the House -- picky, picky. I'm a big-picture guy.

Posted by: Zizka | Jul 7, 2004 1:27:55 PM

A clarificatory comment.

Actually, Farenheit 9/11 does not imply that the U.S. invaded Afghanistan for the purpose of installing a pipeline. The film concedes that it may have been necessary to go after bin Laden and his thugs, and that most people were in favor of that action. In fact, the film suggests a certain urgency for going after Al Qaeda in Afghanistan--even if Michael Moore himself has not always publicly supported the invasion. What Moore points out, rightly in my view, is that the people who were carrying out the policy at the highest levels were more interested in building the pipeline than fighting terrorism, as their 2 month delay on military action, their timetable for building the pipeline, and their installment of Unocal employees (like Hamid Kharzai) to the highest levels of the interim government suggests. An uninformed viewer should not walk away with any other impression unless they've been pre-emptively told what to think by the talking heads on the sunday morning talk shows.

Posted by: anonymous | Jul 7, 2004 1:28:19 PM

Gosh, Zizka, by your standards, I should be seeking a restraining order against you. Once again, you prove to be a source of ironic amusement, if in an unintended fashion, and in your usual thuggishly pedestrian manner.

Posted by: Will Allen | Jul 7, 2004 1:30:57 PM


Will, the Nobel nomination committee is in Stockholm. This is a political site here. So is DeLong's, mostly. Rush Limbaugh is not a nonentity to us the way he is to you and the Nobel committee.

Now that we have understood the specific nature of your delusion, perhaps we are at the beginning of the long road toward a cure.

"Pedestrian" -- what the fuck do you want me to do, ride a bicycle?

Posted by: Zizka | Jul 7, 2004 1:41:58 PM

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