Monday, August 24, 2009

Jealous, Much?

I appreciate as much as anyone Joe Klein's ongoing effort to rehabilitate himself, having stumbled around on the job for quite a few years of the Bush Administration. But you don't need to read the last half of Primary Colors to know that when Klein has an axe to grind, he'll grind it right down to the handle. I mean, there have been plenty of times in my life where I could have been stuck with the label, "Doesn't play well with others," but by some reports Klein gives it new meaning.

Before today I had completely forgotten Dan Okrent, let alone the rant he posted when leaving his post at the New York Times. Klein? Not so much. After bragging,
Here's how it should work: I'm a columnist and I have a right to my opinions but, in the words of Daniel Patrick Moynihan, I don't have a right to my own facts. And so every column I write is checked assiduously by Time Magazine researchers.
He eagerly recounts Okrent's column:
Several years ago, the first New York Times ombudsman, Dan Okrent, created a stir by pointing out factual errors in the columns of Paul Krugman and Maureen Dowd.
Well, actually, the facts are a bit different. Okrent wrote:
Op-Ed columnist Paul Krugman has the disturbing habit of shaping, slicing and selectively citing numbers in a fashion that pleases his acolytes but leaves him open to substantive assaults. Maureen Dowd was still writing that Alberto R. Gonzales "called the Geneva Conventions 'quaint' " nearly two months after a correction in the news pages noted that Gonzales had specifically applied the term to Geneva provisions about commissary privileges, athletic uniforms and scientific instruments. Before his retirement in January, William Safire vexed me with his chronic assertion of clear links between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, based on evidence only he seemed to possess.

No one deserves the personal vituperation that regularly comes Dowd's way, and some of Krugman's enemies are every bit as ideological (and consequently unfair) as he is. But that doesn't mean that their boss, publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr., shouldn't hold his columnists to higher standards.

I didn't give Krugman, Dowd or Safire the chance to respond before writing the last two paragraphs. I decided to impersonate an opinion columnist.
I would say Okrent behaved like a child, but that would be to insult my four-year-old.

What's missing from Okrents ad hominem abusive against Krugman? Any substance. He calls Krugman names and insults his work, but fails to identify or even hint at any actual error, misstatement or misrepresentation. For Dowd, he at least identifies one instance where she took a quote out of context. So in relation to mistakes, when Klein says "We all make them, by the way - being human and all that" and admits that he himself has actually made one, after adopting by reference Okrent's missive in relation to Krugman he needs to double that count.

Also, it's important to note that Krugman does not claim infallibility, and runs corrections in his columns. I doubt that Krugman would object to more strenuous fact-checking by an editorial staff, were one available. Klein seems to bristle at any suggestion that he's less than perfect, or that he should take personal ownership of the one mistake he admits to having made.

Good grief, the point of the editorial is to argue that editorials need to be factually accurate, and that newspapers should take responsibility for their inaccuracies. Klein and Time could have at least done themselves the favor of fact-checking what really does come across as a jealous, mean spirited opening. I wonder, has the Okrent column been sitting on Klein's desk for going on five years, just in case the opportunity arose to take a potshot at Krugman?


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  2. Maureen Dowd gets this rap that she quotes people out of context or even selectively edits quotes to mean the opposite of what the person actually said and I get disgusted with it.

    Gonzales was clearly disdainful of the Geneva Convention and the slow water torture revelations of just how badly we violated the human rights of the prisoners as well as our own national moral standards shows this. To nitpick the quote is to miss the bigger issue that Gonzales meant far more than what a narrow limming of his words would infer.

    He was using small examples to discredit the entire structure and he went on to sign off on procedures that made a mockery of international law. His professional acts show that Dowd was right in her assessment.

  3. Even if we accept that as true, it's not justification for her being wrong in her quotation. There's a difference between accurately representing somebody's views and inaccurately quoting that person.

  4. I mean, there have been plenty of times in my life where I could have been stuck with the label, "Doesn't play well with others,"

    No WAI.

  5. Leave it to my friends to find the core truths in my comments. ;-)


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