Krugman, Others Slam Newsweek's Ferguson

Tuesday, 21 Aug 2012 04:58 PM

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Newsweek’s eyebrow-raising cover story on President Barack Obama headlined, “Hit the Road, Barack: Why We Need a New President," is coming under fire from “liberal bloggers” questioning conclusions reached and facts presented.

Author and historian Niall Ferguson has been savaged in postings by Nobel Prize-winning economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, in a lengthy fact check by the Atlantic magazine, Andrew Sullivan and writers from Slate, Salon, and Mother Jones among others.

In a post of his own on The Daily Beast, Ferguson attributes the ire to “liberal bloggers.”

“My critics have three things in common,” he wrote. “First, they wholly fail to respond to the central arguments of the piece. Second, they claim to be engaged in ‘fact checking,’ whereas in nearly all cases they are merely offering alternative (often silly or skewed) interpretations of the facts. Third, they adopt a tone of outrage that would be appropriate only if I had argued that, say, women’s bodies can somehow prevent pregnancies in case of ‘legitimate rape.’

“Their approach is highly effective, and I must remember it if I ever decide to organize an intellectual witch hunt. What makes it so irksome is that it simultaneously dodges the central thesis of my piece and at the same time seeks to brand me as a liar. The icing on the cake has been the attempt by some bloggers to demand that I be sacked not just by Newsweek but also by Harvard University, where I am a tenured professor. It is especially piquant to read these demands from people who would presumably defend academic freedom in the last ditch—provided it is the freedom to publish opinions in line with their own ideology.”

Krugman wrote in a blog post that “there are multiple errors and misrepresentations” in the Newsweek cover story and cited the line that the CBO and the Joint Committee on Taxation now estimate that the president’s healthcare law “will have a net cost of close to $1.2 trillion over the 2012–22 period.”

“Readers are no doubt meant to interpret this as saying that CBO found that the Act will increase the deficit. But anyone who actually read, or even skimmed, the CBO report knows that it found that the ACA would reduce, not increase, the deficit — because the insurance subsidies were fully paid for,” Krugman wrote.

The Atlantic magazine did a lengthy fact check of Ferguson’s piece and wrote that rather than make a “straightforward case against the current administration, Ferguson delves into a fantasy world of incorrect and tendentious facts. He simply gets things wrong, again and again and again.”
The article then examines a dozen “of the more factually challenged sections of Ferguson's piece.” The sections deal with such things as private sector job creation, household income, the numbers of citizens paying taxes and the stimulus.

“In the world as Ferguson describes it, Obama is a big-spending, weak-kneed liberal who can't get the economy turned around. Think Jimmy Carter on steroids,” the fact check concludes. “But the world is not as Ferguson describes it. A fact-checked version of the world Ferguson describes reveals a completely different narrative -- a muddy picture of the past four years, where Obama has sometimes cast himself as a stimulator, a deficit hawk, a health care liberal and conservative reformer all at once. And it's a world where the economy is getting better, albeit slowly.

“It would have been worthwhile for Ferguson to explain why Obama doesn't deserve re-election in the real world we actually live in. Instead, we got an exercise in Ferguson's specialty -- counterfactual history.”

Ferguson’s lengthy rebuttal characterized the criticisms of his article as “a storm of nit-picking and vilification.”

“I could, of course, go on,” he concluded. “By tonight there will doubtless be more. The art of the modern witch hunt is to get as many like-minded bloggers as possible to repeat and preferably exaggerate the claims until finally it becomes received opinion that you are on the brink of being fired and indeed deported in chains.

“I don’t usually waste time on this kind of thing. In the Internet age, you can spend one week writing a piece and the next three responding to criticism, most of it (as we have seen) worthless.

“But there comes a point when you have to ask yourself: has the American public sphere so degenerated that it is now impossible to make the case for a change of president without being set upon in cyberspace by a suspiciously well-organized gang of the current incumbent’s most ideologically committed supporters?”

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