Paul Krugman Tip-Toes Around Facts to Jam Wisconsin Debate into Leftist Narrative

March 7th, 2011 2:30 PM

In a short video on the New York Times's website, Brian Stelter, the paper's media reporter, comments on the "interesting" trend of cable news reporters "taking sides" in the Wisconsin budget battle - with Fox News on the right and MSNBC on the left, of course - and supposedly twisting facts to fit partisan narratives.

Asked about commentators "looking for a certain narrative on the way in" - even when the facts don't support it - Stelter singled out Bill O'Reilly and Ed Schultz as indicative of the trend. But he needn't look so far from home. The Times's own partisan pugilist, Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman, has consistently twisted facts in an effort to fit the Wisconsin debate into a leftist narrative.

Some such efforts have reached near-comic levels of absurdity. Krugman has accused Wisconsin Republicans and Gov. Scott Walker of trying to "make Wisconsin — and eventually, America — less of a functioning democracy and more of a Third World-style oligarchy." Got that? Democratically-elected officials carrying out a legislative agenda through legal channels constitutes an effort to make the state - and eventually the entire country - look like Egypt.

Some of Krugman's less hysterical claims still don't pass the smell test. He alleged in a February 24 column that a provision in Walker's budget repair bill to sell state power plants without a formal bidding process was evidence that the governor was bought and paid for by Koch Industries.

But the power plants in question are in such disrepair and have such poor records of compliance with environmental regulations that their value may even be in the red. The head of Wisconsin's Sierra Club chapter put it this way: "How the governor thinks he can put lipstick on that pig and sell huge financial and environmental liabilities to someone else, good luck."

Rather than make an attempt to examine the facts, however, Krugman opted to opine on the Vast Koch Conspiracy. A flat denial from Koch Industries was further evidence that they were behind the push to reform public sector union laws and looking for handouts in the form of cheap acquisitions of state power plants, by Krugman's telling. "Indeed, there are enough suspicious minds out there that Koch Industries…felt compelled to issue a denial that it’s interested in purchasing any of those power plants," he wrote.

Powerline's John Hinderaker had this to say:

The idea that Koch Industries is supporting Governor Walker in order to get access to some broken-down, environmentally inadequate, unprofitable heating and cooling plants for Wisconsin's universities and prisons is so silly that it could be believed only by the likes of [ThinkProgress blogger] Lee Fang and Paul Krugman.

In fairness, whether Krugman actually believed it is a wholly different question from whether he thought it worthy of print space in his Thursday column.

Another Krugman column from late last month took a different approach, and tried to link all sorts of problems at the state level with conservative fiscal policy:

And in low-tax, low-spending Texas, the kids are not all right. The high school graduation rate, at just 61.3 percent, puts Texas 43rd out of 50 in state rankings. Nationally, the state ranks fifth in child poverty; it leads in the percentage of children without health insurance. And only 78 percent of Texas children are in excellent or very good health, significantly below the national average.

At first glance those statistics are striking. But Krugman's facile statistical analysis purported to show a causal effect between low taxes and low spending without actually making that connection. He failed to consider a host of other factors that could reasonably contribute to those statistics, such as Texas's massive immigrant population, high poverty rate relative to other states, or high percentages of black and hispanic residents (both groups tend to fare worse in high school graduation rates and health indicators).

But Krugman had no interest in delving deeper into those statistics, since on their face they support his political stance (Iowahawk's examination of education statistics in Wisconsin and Texas reveals that they actually contradict Krugman's claims). He went into the column with an agenda, and the facts took a back seat.

All of this is to say that the trend Stelter highlighted can be seen in his proverbial backyard. The Times may want to get its own house in order before criticizing commentators at Fox or MSNBC for subordinating the facts to an agenda.