Thursday, October 10, 2013

Jolted Joe

Revised and enlarged 10/11/13
From Politico.
As reported in ThinkProgress, former representative Joe Scarborough conversing on the television with English-accent Serious Person Niall Ferguson:
Scarborough then recalled a conversation he had with a Times editor following his televised debate with Krugman earlier this year. [jump]
"I actually won't tell you which public editor it was but one of the public editors of the New York Times told me off the record after my debate that their biggest nightmare was his column every week," Scarborough said.
Public editor? What's a public editor? Are there private editors who do all the work while the public editors represent at openings and cocktail parties? No, at the Times it's a real expression:
 The public editor works outside of the reporting and editing structure of the newspaper and receives and answers questions or comments from readers and the public, principally about news and other coverage in The Times.
There's only one at a time, and at the time of the Scarborough-Krugman "debate" it was the current one, Margaret Sullivan. If it was "one of the public editors" does that mean it might be one of the four previous incumbents? If I say "I won't tell you which of the representatives in the House of the Florida 1st District, but one of the 1st District representatives is an idiot,"  am I expressing myself correctly? In any case it was not Sullivan:
Also, what kind of nightmare would that be? Political? Sexual? Trying to scream but no sound comes out? Is it a nightmare for the legal staff because he libels people, or for the corrections staff because he makes constant mistakes like Dr. William Kristol, or for David Brooks because it's just too hard to read? Wouldn't we know about this? It's true that Krugman had a public spat with the first public editor at the Times, Daniel Okrent, in 2005; readers can judge how nightmarish it was for Okrent or for the Times as an institution.

Because you know what I think? I think Joe's making it up off the top of his head, perhaps building off a conversation with Okrent, though it's hard for me to accept that the latter could be so unprofessional. For example, in the way he waited until he was no longer public editor to say, in 2006,
“The general rolling over on the part of the American press allowed the war to happen. I do believe that is true, and I think the press is extremely chastened by that. I think we all know how bad it was.”
the Times did "a lousy job on WMD," and, while it was "not consciously evil," it was "bad journalism, even very bad journalism.": 
It would have been so graceless and indecorous to say such stuff while he was in the paper's employment (although some might say that it was his job as public editor to do so). Why, it might have interfered with the government in its ability to start wars! And then Okrent was so busy at the time defending the Times from charges that their timidity effectively worked for the Bush reelection campaign in 2004! As to how unfit Okrent was and remains to criticize Krugman, see Brad DeLong.

Come to think of it, Okrent was a terrible public editor. It wasn't obvious at the time, because he was the first one, and everybody knew the Times wasn't going to hire some firebrand People's Tribune anyway; there's a reason they call her the Gray Lady. But to feud with Paul Krugman at a time when David Brooks was publishing columns that Okrent apparently knew to be ridiculously false! To waste time attacking any opinion columnist at all when you were completely disregarding lies published as news on the front page by Judith Miller and Michael Gordon that would actually contribute to the loss of thousands of lives!

Maybe that was Okrent's nightmare, come to think of it. The one where you're at a cocktail party and naked, and Paul Krugman is there with all his cool friends pointing at you.

More, focusing on Ferguson, at the always genial Inverse Square.
While the New York Times slept, Krgthulu waited, silently. Image via Magonia.

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