Paul Krugman on the state of journalism
Jonathan Chait and Robert Waldmann, in slightly different ways, highlight a crucial dynamic in American political debate: the extent to which public figures are punished for actually knowing what they’re talking about.
It goes like this: Person A says “Black is white” — perhaps out of ignorance, although more often out of a deliberate effort to obfuscate. Person B says, “No, black isn’t white — here are the facts.”
And Person B is considered to have lost the exchange — you see, he came across as arrogant and condescending.
I had, I have to admit, hoped that the nation’s experience with George W. Bush — who got within hanging-chad distance of the White House precisely because Al Gore was punished for actually knowing stuff — would have cured our discourse of this malady. But no. Why not?
Chait professes himself puzzled by the right’s intellectual insecurity. Me, not so much. Here’s how I see it: in our current political culture, the background noise is overwhelmingly one of conservative platitudes. People who have strong feelings about politics but are intellectually incurious tend to pick up those platitudes, and repeat them in the belief that this makes them sound smart. (Ezra Klein once described Dick Armey thus: “He’s like a stupid person’s idea of what a thoughtful person sounds like.”)
Inevitably, then, such people react with rage when they’re shown up on their facts or basic logic — it’s an attack on their sense of self-worth.
The truly sad thing, though, is the way much news reporting goes along with the condescension meme. That’s Waldmann’s point. You really, really might have expected that the Bush experience would give reporters pause — that they might at least ask themselves, “Isn’t it my job to ask whether a politician is right, as opposed to how he comes across?”
But NOOOO! [/Belushi]
And, in parallel, this post by Steve Benen:
ABC’s "This Week" held its usual roundtable discussion this morning, with Elizabeth Vargas hosting a panel of Cokie Roberts, Sam Donaldson, George Will, and Paul Krugman.
The last topic of conversation was introduced by Vargas this way:
"[O]f course, this weekend, we have a brand-new White House social secretary appointed to replace Desiree Rogers, a close friend of the Obamas who is exiting after a bumpy tenure, I would say. Cokie, you spoke with her. She — she was highly criticized after the Obamas’ first state dinner in which she arrived, looking absolutely gorgeous, but in what some people later said was far too fancy a dress, but most importantly, that was the state dinner that was crashed by the Salahis, who walked in without an invitation when the social secretary’s office didn’t have people manning the security sites."
This led to a surprisingly long chat about Desiree Rogers.
Krugman sat silently while the discussion went on (and on), before eventually interjecting:
"Can I say that 20 million Americans unemployed, the fact that we’re worrying about the status of the White House social secretary….
Donaldson responded, "Paul, welcome to Washington."
Look, I realize that not every discussion on a show like this is going to be substantive, sophisticated, and policy focused. Not every post I write for this site is going to highlight critically important issues, either. There’s nothing wrong with including heavier and lighter subjects in the same public affairs forum.
But this panel discussion covered exactly four subjects this morning: health care reform, Charlie Rangel’s ethics problem, David Paterson’s latest troubles, and the fate of the former White House social secretary (and where she’s from, what her clothes looked like, what her next job is likely to be, etc.), which hardly seems relevant to anyone who doesn’t actually attend social events at the White House.
In this same discussion, there was nothing about the jobs bill that passed the Senate this week, nothing about the incredibly important Zazi guilty plea this week (and the fact that it makes Republican talking points look ridiculous), nothing about Jim Bunning single-handedly delaying unemployment insurance for those who need it.
I wonder, who was the target audience for the discussion of Desiree Rogers, who most Americans have never heard of, and whose White House position has nothing to do with public policy? The general public or the D.C. cocktail circuit crowd?
Krugman no doubt annoyed the show’s producers by mentioning the inanity of the subject matter, but he’s right to remind his colleagues of what matters. For Donaldson to "welcome" him "to Washington" was insulting — to Krugman and the rest of us.