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.