Is the AFR “the most left-wing, anti-business business newspaper this side of Havana”? Fox news values come to Australia

Assertiveness 2.gif

One of the things that I’ve always liked about economic journalism is that it was putatively about some reality ‘out there’. Political journalists and commentators often disappear into the endlessly self referential whirlpool of spin in which ‘the perception is reality’. So it doesn’t really matter how outrageous something is they like to appear bi-partisan and so try to be even handed in the brick-bats and plaudits they hand out.

By contrast, at least in theory, economic journalists should be able to tell it more like it is, because reporting on the economy is a more ‘objective’ exercise. In any event one economic journalist spat the dummy a few years ago. I’m not that close to the US to know how accurate what he says is, but he shows every sign of having basic scientific ethics including immediately acknowledging errors, letting on to some of the weaknesses of his own arguments and so on.

His diagnosis of American politics is that one side is essentially revolutionary. He argues that the Republicans do not accept the legitimacy of political contest as it has been known for many years. Assuming he’s not lying it seems to me he comes up with a lot of good evidence for that proposition in his column. Then again, I’m not there, so maybe I’m wrong. I do know that when I follow up his critics I don’t get the feeling that they’re being straight with me.

In any event the economic journalist is Paul Krugman.

The response of the right is of course the smear. Krugman puts out two columns a week and they’re pretty aggressive. Occasionally surprisingly rarely so it seems to me he gets facts wrong. Often this is because the sources he’s quoting (often not partisan sources but news sources). But of course the inevitable attack dogs begin the well known process which all adolescents instinctively come to understand whether they must do so for attack or defence of reading all things tendentiously.

Thus in the hands of the “Krugman Truth Squad“ Krugman becomes “America’s Looniest Liberal Pundit”. The method is straightforward and well rehearsed. One nit-picks away crying wolf all the time. Rather than try to respond to the arguments being put one finds fault of any kind. In the process there no effort goes into really being reasonable (to build one’s credibility). Rather one is simply outrageous and extreme and one plays on the instinct of the onlooker to situate themselves somewhere in the middle of this barney which has after all got too complex to sort out easily without spending a lot of time.

Then you’ve done it! You’ve redefined reason in your own extreme image and the hapless onlooker’s reason brings him right over to your side all the while they’re peaceably thinking they’re just trying to be moderate and reasonable. Paul Krugman and some hack from a right wing think tank are seen as appropriate adversaries.

Thus the Krugman truth squad beat up a complicated story of corrections chasing corrections which have little bearing on Krugman’s credibility since it seems clear he tried to correct the record and can be seen to do so from time to time.

Anyway, this is attack dog stuff, and people are welcome to join partisan organisations dedicated to perpetrating it. Anyway, I came across this editorial in The Australian. It comments on a column by John Durie whom I know a little. He’s a professional journalist and seems like a nice guy. John had apparently written up some environmental issues to do with the development of the Gorgon gas field and I must say by way of introduction that I’m sympathetic to The Australian’s disagreement with Durie.

Durie put ecology above economics and fell for an environmental report that damned the Gorgon project for its threat to the flatback turtle and its potential to release greenhouse gases

Now without reading Durie’s column I’m inherently suspicious. If you can’t turn a gas project generating $2 billion per annum in revenue into a win for the flatback turtle and the gas I’d be very surprised. So no complaints about the editorial for making the points. Unfortunately it makes the points in a supposedly humorous way, but the humour is pretty puerile. It’s attack dog smear journalism. “Writing yesterday’s Chanticleer column in what may be the most left-wing, anti-business business newspaper this side of Havana.”

Well there you go, the AFR is a left wing rag excelled only in Havana. Whatever. . .

Like Paul Krugman says in his latest column.

So what should we do about all this? I won’t offer the Democrats advice right now, except to say that tough talk on national security and affirmations of personal faith won’t help: the other side will smear you anyway.

But I would like to offer some advice to my fellow pundits: face reality. There are some commentators who long for the bipartisan days of yore, and flock eagerly to any politician who looks “centrist.” But there isn’t any center in modern American politics.

That’s what some people would like for Australia.

This entry was posted in Politics - national. Bookmark the permalink.
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
19 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Patrick
Patrick
15 years ago

Accepting that the comment is excessive, unhelpful and not my kind of debating line, is it not also arguably true? I mean, how many ‘business newspapers’ are there this side of Havana? I guess the answer might depend on whether or not you go via South America ;)

Ken Parish
Admin
Ken Parish(@ken-parish)
15 years ago

The other point worth making is that, although the “Havana” comment is certainly the kind of over the top absurd hyperbole that you just shouldn’t see in a newspaper that bills itself as a journal of record, the actual analysis of the Chanticleer column on Barrow Island looks pretty spot on to me. The editorial itself isn’t an example of the undermining by dubiously relevant nitpicks strategy that Nicholas highlights in relation to Krugman. Instead it makes a series of substantive points which I think are basically correct.

SJ
SJ
15 years ago

I’m not sure that it’s correct to describe Krugman as an “economic journalist”. It’s true that he writes opinion pieces for the NYT, but his primary occupation is Professor of Economics at Princeton.

SJ
SJ
15 years ago

Nicholas: Thanks for the response. I wasn’t trying the (as Ken describes it) “dubiously relevent nitpick strategy”, BTW. I just didn’t think that the description of Krugman as being an “economic journalist” did him justice.

Terry McCrann and Ross Gittins, to me, fall into the “economic journalist” category. They are both adequately qualified, Terry in economics, and Ross in accounting, but they’re not quite in the same league as Paul. :)

Homer Paxton
Homer Paxton
15 years ago

nonsense nicholas you have gruen into the job!

Gaby
Gaby
15 years ago

Francophile too, Nicholas. Very interesting post.

I’m a big fan. Amazing how much PK manages to compress into a column, of quite complex material.

There is an interesting article on his “unofficial” site that describes his process in writing an op-ed piece.

Aside from being a poor arguing gambit, the “Havana” line is pretty piss weak. How didn’t it get edited out?

My view is that invariably Chomsky gets similar treatment. Eg review of his latest in last week’s Observer. As Rodney Rude once declaimed, “Hey usher, this bastard’s got nits!”

Is there a word for such “non-reviews”? If not someone should neologize….

neville
neville
15 years ago

There can be no doubt that the AFR writer is at the extreme end of left wing politics. But what must be even more worrying is the admission by Don Voelte, Woodside’s CEO, that his chairman – Charles Goode – hounds him on the subject of greenhouse impacts. And we know that Goode is tight with Howard. Thanks God The Oz is here to finger these trends. The AFR and Howard are clearly conspiring for some sort of Green revolution.

Patrick
Patrick
15 years ago

My goodness, I think Krugman has just been more viciously damned by well-meaning association than ever (ok, hardly ever) he has been condemned by NRO.

Never mind that Krugman, who is at least occasionally just partisan and consequently idiot,* but doubtlessly less so than his critics, is at least a recognised and decorated expert in economics. Whereas the review you refer to is not a review of Chomsky’s work on language.

But the wordphrase is ‘attacks ad hominem.’**

* Didn’t he expound the view that Bush’s tax cuts were economic suicide? Even that tax cuts inevitably increased deficits?

**Apologies to the latin scholars, but the phrase is received into English, hence my inability to conjugate to the plural, or even to know if I ought, need not distress you.

Gaby
Gaby
15 years ago

Nicholas, “Foxing” is not bad but too “brand name” or proprietary. “Sophistry” is too genteel, “eristics” too recondite. Need a label redolent of ordure. Something “onomatopoeic” preferably.

Or alternatively, how about “fellatious”?

I’ve thought about the role and responsibility of our media in our democracy a bit lately. And yes government regulation is a danger, but fragrantly biased reporting in a highly concentrated market has its own dangers. A very thorny issue but very interesting and deserving of deep consideration given how Western democracies are evolving. Paul Ginsborg in his short book on Berlusconi raises some relevant issues given Italy’s recent political and electoral experience with the “la Forzo di Silvio”.

I haven’t seen the Krugman interview. Damn. Good comeback there. No “l’esprit de l’escalier” for the great Paul. And skirting along the precipice of defamation too…

Patrick, who or what is NRO?

And PK didn’t argue that the tax cuts were “suicide”. Just the wrong cuts (to Bush’s rich base rather than to those with a greater propensity to consume) to kick start the sluggish economy. And also presented and sold dishonestly.

Also, Nicholas’s point is not even close to an argument ad hominem. Perhaps an argument ad ignorantum given the way that our eco journo wrote his post.

Patrick
Patrick
15 years ago

I didn’t mean that Nicholas’ point was ad hominem! I meant that you didn’t need a new word because there already was one (or a couple).

NRO is National Review Online.

Well, the sluggish economy was kick-started, wasn’t it? And I’m pretty sure that, back in the days when anyone read him (ie pre-TimesSelect) he did argue that they would increase the deficit in the long-term, something probably never achieved by tax cuts.

Gaby
Gaby
15 years ago

Parick, sorry I was unclear.

I didn’t mean that Nicholas was arguing ad hominem. Or ad ignorantiam for that matter.

Rather, the “nit picking” mode of arguing he was inveighing against I don’t think is an ad hominem argument as I understand.

But it could possibly be stretched to an ad ignorantiam. But I’m not too sure about this. Hence, my suggestion that we need a new label for this increasingly common style of essentially tendentious reasoning.

Patrick
Patrick
15 years ago

Ah, ok – I hadn’t misunderstood you that way. The Observer piece, if it is the one I read recently, was ad hominem – substantially right, but ad hominem all the same.

I was going more on that, since that was the specific piece you mentioned.

I still think it is abit rich to compare poor Krugman to Chomsky, though!

Patrick
Patrick
15 years ago

I would have thought that your second paragraph provides the rebuttal to your first – the reasonably response to mostly ludicruous Chomsky’s latest insane onanism might not the reasonable response to mostly intelligent Krugman’s latest reasonably inoffensive partisanry.

Gaby
Gaby
15 years ago

Nicholas, I agree that a bit of ad hominem doesn’t go astray, and done well it does enliven an analytical essay. Some ad hominem arguments are also not necessarily fallacious.

But the criticism of the political analyst Chomsky doesn’t get much beyond the ad hominem or worse. And given that his major theses have a fairly broad sweep, one wouldn’t have to engage with him seriously at the detail level, but just critique the general ideas. In fact, the reverse tends to occur and critics cavil at Chomsky’s interpretation of this or that passage in the NYT or the Washington Post, almost as this would be a reductio ad absurdum of his ideas.

So if his ideas are so deplorable or vacuous then this shouldn’t be too hard to do. I could understand a defence of a charge of sloth if to rebut Chomsky one would have to go through his exhaustive (and exhausting) footnoted material.

To gloss Nicholas on liberty, eternal vigilance of the “guards or watchers” in particular. “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes”. And this can be a very liberal interpretation of Chomsky’s entire political project.