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Daily Howler: Okrent didn't get anything right. But so what! Manjoo kiss-kissed him
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WHEN OKRENT DIDN’T GET ONE THING RIGHT! Okrent didn’t get anything right. But so what! Manjoo kiss-kissed him: // link // print // previous // next //

WHEN LIBERALS ATTACKED: Yesterday, due to scheduling problems, we had to rush or miss posting completely. So let’s toss in a few last points about why “TV liberals” take gas.

In the course of the past week, we received several e-mails espousing something like the following notion: We liberals are just too smart to make effective advocates. In the past few years, this self-flattering notion has been widely advanced to explain liberal failure at doing talk radio. Here was one of our e-mails:

E-MAIL: Why liberals lose the spin wars:

“A liberal is a man too broad-minded to take his own side in a quarrel.”
Robert Frost

For an example, take a look at the Clarence Thomas hearings. While the
Republicans on the committee were prosecutors, sending out investigators to dig up things on Anita Hill, then making up things to attack her, the Democrats were bombarded with unsolicited witnesses confirming Thomas' proclivities in college and law school and harassment at the office and the Democrats wouldn't even listen. Liberals want to be seen as open-minded and bend over backwards to appear so. Thus, they overcompensate, while conservatives are advocates who want to win over all else. As a result, and as illustrated by the Thomas hearings, you have a prosecutor and a judge with no defense attorney. With this arrangement, it is amazing that liberals would EVER win...

We don’t buy it. As we incomparably told the mailer, we remember a time when liberals were in the street every day, yelling, “Hey hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?” Those liberals were not “bending over backwards to appear open-minded,” nor were they “too broad-minded to take their own side in a quarrel.” They were actually trying to win. As a result, they had no trouble framing a short, concise message, and they were more than willing to shout it in public. Whatever you may think of their stance, those liberals actually cared about the topic in question; they actually cared about the outcome of the day’s political battles. But as we’ve watched “TV liberals” for the past dozen years, we have rarely seen any sign that they actually care very much about outcomes. In the present day, most of them wouldn’t enact the Bush agenda themselves, but they show no sign of actually caring about whether or not the agenda wins. And there’s nothing you can do to make them mad; they proved that in their acquiescence to the two-year press corps war that finally brought Candidate Bush to the White House. What kind of “liberal” would put up with that? Simple—the kind who isn’t a liberal at all, the kind of “liberal” we currently see taking gas all over TV.

To all appearance, they simply don’t care—except about their “brilliant life-styles,” their dinner parties, their bloated salaries, their kitchen renovations, their fast muscle cars, the square footage of their neighbors’ McMansions, their Hollywood scripts, their endless string of pointless novels, and of course, their face-time on TV. In short, simply put, these people aren’t liberals! There’s nothing wrong with that, of course—until they make their way on TV, pretending to speak for that side.

One more example—by our bumper-sticker linguistic standards, Dr. King was a liberal. But he didn’t over-compensate and bend over backwards to appear open-minded. He framed a very sophisticated message—and then he took it to the streets, where he eventually died as a part of his struggle. In the process, of course, he also won; we should all thank God for his work every day. But Dr. King quite visibly cared. Just as visibly, today’s “TV liberals” just don’t seem to care. Simple explanation—they aren’t really liberals. As we’ve noted before, they’re the Washington Generals. They’re just paid to play libs on TV.

More next week on how we’d frame a simple ur-message for modern street-fighting liberals. Why haven’t “TV liberals” framed such a message? Simple—they don’t really care.

NOTES ON A VERY SOPHISTICATED MESSAGE: Howard Dean just “hates” Republicans. Dr. King always asserted the dignity of Sheriff Bull Connor. And one more thing—Dr. King won.

WHEN OKRENT DIDN’T GET ONE THING RIGHT: People who actually care about outcomes are likely to understand one simple point—when your strongest advocates get cold-cocked, you have to stand up and defend them. But careerist fops in the fiery “liberal press” took a powder on the Dan Okrent matter, no one more than Farhad Manjoo at the fiery liberal magazine, Salon.

Try to believe the utter nonsense he wrote about this disgraceful matter.
We’ll walk you through Manjoo’s “War Room” piece, in which he takes Okrent’s side from the start, although he seems to concede a key fact—every claim Okrent made was wrong. Okrent was totally wrong.

Manjoo begins his drama with this overview, in which the two players are drawn:

MANJOO (pgh 1): Daniel Okrent, who just finished up his one-year stint as public editor of the New York Times, must have realized that leveling blistering attacks against several of the paper's Op-Ed columnists in his May 22 swan song would result in some bruised egos, not to mention a few forked-tongue replies. But Okrent clearly wasn't prepared for the pugilism of economics columnist Paul Krugman, who responded to Okrent's criticisms with an angry letter, in the Times last Sunday, and with several outraged e-mails demanding a retraction and an apology.
Note the way the players are framed. According to Manjoo, Okrent’s blistering attacks against Krugman resulted in “a few forked-tongue replies”—forked-tongue replies which Krugman delivered in “several outraged e-mails.” A “forked-tongue” reply, of course, is dishonest; but Manjoo never attempts to claim that anything Krugman said was wrong (more on that below). Meanwhile, Manjoo has no way of knowing if Krugman’s e-mails to Okrent were “outraged;” on that point, he simply cuts-and-pastes from Okrent’s reply to Krugman, in which Okrent persistently tries to make Krugman sound like some kind of intemperate kook. (Okrent: “[H]e began bombarding me with outraged demands for retraction and apology.”) Poor Okrent! According to Manjoo, “Okrent clearly wasn't prepared for the pugilism” of Krugman. Kiss kiss kiss kiss kiss kiss kiss! In Manjoo’s framing, Krugman is an outraged pugilist—and oh yes, his outraged replies were “forked-tongued.” But then, the portrait of Poor Victim Okrent continues in paragraph 2:
MANJOO (pgh 2): It took Okrent, who may have been expecting to retire in peace, a few days to shoot back at Krugman, and then Krugman shot back again at Okrent, and then the two went back and forth one more time. The pair's entire fight—over whether or not Krugman, in his columns, routinely plays fast and loose with economics data—is now up on the Web, and it's a doozy. Though we give the win to Krugman, who seems to have more of the facts on his side, Okrent gets points for style. Krugman attracts more than his fair share of detractors, but we haven't seen anyone get to him with the panache Okrent displays here.
Poor Okrent! Why was his reply so slow? It couldn’t be that the consummate foppist didn’t know what he was talking about! No, it had to be because the poor guy had been “expecting to retire in peace!” And Manjoo blows more kisses in Okrent’s ear; yes, the facts cut against him, we’re told, but so what? Okrent was just so stylish! He just had so much more panache! Meanwhile, note a major slip-slide by Manjoo—a slip-slide which starts in this paragraph. Krugman “seems to have more of the facts on his side,” we’re told. In fact, as we will see, Manjoo never cites a single claim by Okrent which actually turned out to be accurate. But remember, it’s all about his brilliant panache. The warm sponge-bath continues:
MANJOO (3): Here's the blow-by-blow: It began with Okrent's one-sentence war cry. "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," he wrote on May 22. Okrent gave no examples of what he meant, and he deliberately didn't go to Krugman for comment before publication. (Okrent's justification: "I decided to impersonate an opinion columnist.") It was a cheeky thing to do; you might even say he was baiting Krugman.
Note the remarkable way Manjoo thinks. Okrent savagely attacks a colleague, in print, without presenting a bit of evidence. But this isn’t irresponsible or McCarthyistic; no, it’s “a cheeky thing to do!” Indeed, Okrent is cleverly “baiting Krugman,” apparently showing more of that pleasing panache. In paragraph 4, we see that Okrent’s brilliant ploy worked. And we start to learn something that Manjoo works hard to obscure; we start to learn that Darling Okrent was wrong in every word that he said:
MANJOO (4): And Krugman took the bait. He demanded that Okrent cite the specific columns in which he spotted Krugman "shaping, slicing and selectively citing" data. Okrent responded with a few citations of alleged Krugman mendacity; the most substantive involved a column published on May 24, 2004, in which Krugman used national employment data to argue that the Bush economy wasn't doing as well as the White House was saying at the time. According to Okrent, Krugman sinned by drawing his numbers from two different measures of employment—the establishment survey and the household survey, each of which provides a different picture of jobs creation in the U.S.—without telling his readers what he was doing. Okrent says Krugman mixed and matched numbers from the two surveys "apparently in order to make a more vivid political point about Bush."

(5) Reading Krugman's column, though, it's hard to see how Okrent concluded this. All the numbers cited in the column appear to be from just one employment measure—the establishment survey. As Krugman points out in a response to Okrent, he even urged readers to go to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Web site and look up the numbers he used in the column; the numbers are all from the establishment survey.

We start with the latest kiss-kiss to Okrent, the man whose “cheeky” presentation got Krugman to “take the bait.” (Incredibly, this is how Manjoo describes a writer’s request for evidence in support of a nasty, unsupported assertion.) But uh-oh! When Manjoo looks at Okrent’s “most substantive citation,” it turns out that the public ed was all wet; “it’s hard to see how Okrent concluded” that Krugman erred, Manjoo says. But so what! Just like that, Manjoo proceeds with several blatant, inaccurate statements, all of which favor Okrent:
MANJOO (6): Many of Okrent's other specific criticisms—many of which were first brought to him by readers that he says "generally align themselves politically with Prof. Krugman, but feel he does himself and his cause no good when he heeds the roaring approval of his acolytes and dismisses his critics as ideologically motivated"—seem similarly weak. But that's not to say Okrent is the clear loser in this fight. Okrent's got a gift for the lethal personal attack, and he wields it handily in this fight: "For a man who leads with his chin twice a week, he acts awfully surprised when someone takes a pop at it," Okrent writes of Krugman. Or: "Prof. Krugman would likely be more willing to contribute to the Frist for President campaign than to acknowledge the possibility of error."
How slick these “liberals” be! “Many of Okrent’s other specific criticisms seem similarly weak,” Manjoo says. But where in the world did he get the word “many?” In fact, Okrent only offered four specific criticisms, and Manjoo never cites even one that actually turned out to be accurate. But so what? Manjoo quickly spins “few” (pgh 4) up to “many,” and he adds another embellished claim. Let’s look at his first statement again, flipping the part that we highlight:
MANJOO, REPEATED: Many of Okrent's other specific criticisms—many of which were first brought to him by readers that he says "generally align themselves politically with Prof. Krugman, but feel he does himself and his cause no good when he heeds the roaring approval of his acolytes and dismisses his critics as ideologically motivated"—seem similarly weak.
According to this sentence, Okrent lodged “many specific criticisms” (untrue). And not only that; Manjoo quotes Okrent about where these criticisms came from; “many of” them came from liberals who can’t stand Krugman’s faking, we’re told. Of course, Manjoo has no way of knowing if Okrent’s claim about this is true, and even here, Manjoo embellishes what Okrent actually said. In his post, Okrent never claims that any of the four specific criticisms came from Krugman-hatin’ liberals—he merely said that he has such readers, who have sent him complaints in the past. (Once again, Manjoo has no way of knowing if this is true. Only a fool would fail to wonder.) Meanwhile, Manjoo spins the numbers again; “many” of Okrent’s specific criticisms came from these liberal readers, he says. But there were only four such criticisms to start with, a point which Manjoo has already obscured; how “many” of these four could have come from Krug-hatin’ liberals. MANJOO, REPEATED is full of misstatements—and they all make Okrent look good.

In short, we are seeing a fiery young liberal dissembling with just about every breath—and every liberty is being taken to play kiss-kiss with Great Okrent. Indeed, as Manjoo continues, Okrent is brilliant again—and once again, Krugman is played as the loud, over-bearing fellow who simply won’t shut the f*ck up:

MANJOO (7): Okrent predicts that Krugman won't rest until he gets the last word, and he's right. Krugman, in the final entry, writes that Okrent was dead-wrong on everything, "and now he's not enough of a mensch to admit his error."
The over-bearing Krugman is at it again—he “won’t rest until he gets in the last word,” just as brilliant Okrent predicted. Once again, this is Manjoo’s way of describing a perfectly appropriate response (by Krugman) to a nasty, unsupported attack (by Okrent). What could make a fiery young liberal have such an odd reaction?

As he closes, Manjoo tells us who the real mensch is. By the way, do we have to tell you that a nasty ethnic stereotype is floating around in this stupid, kiss-kissing column—in which Okrent, the mensch, has shown so much panache, while Krugman, the you-know-what, just won’t stop disturbing vacation?

MANJOO (8): To which we just have one thing to add: Dan, you've always seemed like such a mensch to us—but you're not gonna let an econ nerd get away with that one, are you?
Kiss kiss kiss kiss kiss kiss kiss! Finally, the bath is complete.

Some day, when Manjoo is employed at the Times, remember this stupid plu-pandering column. And remember the background to all this kiss-kissing. Manjoo never cites a single claim by Darling Okrent that actually turned out to be accurate! But so what? He inflates the number of claims that were made; he implies that some of the claims were accurate; and he says that “many” of these (four) claims came from liberals who can’t stand Krugman. The use of “many” is again an inflation, and Manjoo has no way of knowing if any of Okrent’s claims came from libs. Meanwhile, from beginning to end, Okrent is portrayed as the suave, cagy player, and Krugman as the loudmouth “non-mensch.” Yes, an ugly old stereotype is threading its way all through this stupidity, surfacing in the warm sponge-bath of Manjoo’s undisguised pandering. Everything Okrent said was wrong—but Manjoo kiss-kisses from beginning to end! Kiss kiss kiss kiss kiss kiss kiss! With “liberals” like this representing your case, can’t you see the actual reason why you keep “losing the spin wars?”

CHAIRMAN JACK SPEAKS: As always, we turn to the sayings of Chairman Jack, who explained why some fiery liberals won’t tell the truth about the New York Times’ foppist values. Why would a fiery young liberal play kiss-kiss with Okrent? Chairman Jack seemed to explain:

SHAFER (4/8/05): I started writing press criticism at Washington City Paper back in 1986, because as editor I couldn't get anybody else to do it. Writers were frightened that if they penned something scathing about the Washington Post or the New York Times they'd screw themselves out of a future job.
Kiss kiss kiss kiss kiss kiss kiss! When you see Manjoo’s by-line in the Times, just remember his pandering column. Remember how a fiery young liberal reacted when Okrent didn’t get one thing right.