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A Startling Admission

Daniel Okrent is stepping down as “public editor” of the New York Times. He seems like a pretty good guy; after all, he apparently invented rotisserie league fantasy baseball. (My team has tailed off after a red-hot start.) In his farewell column, he itemizes “13 Things I Meant to Write About but Never Did”. The most interesting is number two:

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.

He’s wrong about Safire, of course; there were amply documented links between Saddam’s Iraq and al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, which we’ve written about many times. The interesting one, to me, is Okrent’s comment about Krugman, which suggests that Krugman may be as insufferable in the flesh as he is in print.
I’m puzzled, though, by Okrent’s statement that Krugman’s “enemies are every bit as ideological (and consequently unfair) as he is.” This is a non sequitur; the fact that Krugman’s enemies–us, for example–are ideological does not make us unfair. That’s a separate question. If we don’t “shape, slice and selectively cite” numbers as Krugman does, we aren’t unfair. Or inaccurate. To my knowledge, Krugman’s principal critics–most notably, Donald Luskin–have been scrupulously accurate in their criticisms, and have not engaged in the statistical sleight-of-hand to which Krugman is addicted.
I had thought to add a comment on Maureen Dowd, but, frankly, I think we are past the point where that would serve any purpose.

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