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Hoisted from Comments: Media Crashed-and-Burned Watch (Washington Post/Wall Street Journal Edition)

Why Is Ex-New York Times Ombudsman Dan Okrent on the Unbalanced Wingnut List

Time to hoist this from archives:

Grasping Reality with Both Hands: Economist Brad DeLong's Fair, Balanced, and Reality-Based Semi-Daily Journal: There is a certain horrifying fascination in watching the right wing's minions and useful idiots in the press attempt to attack Paul Krugman on matters of economic substance. The Mickey Kauses, the Andrew Sullivans, the Donald Luskins, the Danny Okrents--all seem unarmed men in a battle of wits, or perhaps an air assault by a circular firing squad of flying attack monkeys....

Danny Okrent wrote, demonstrating to even his closest friends that he was grossly unfit to be New York Times ombudsman:

13 Things I Meant to Write About but Never Did - New York Times: 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.... [S]ome 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... the chance to respond.... I decided to impersonate an opinion columnist...

Paul Krugman responded:

Paul Krugman I: In Daniel Okrent's parting shot as public editor of The New York Times, he levied a harsh charge against me: he said that I have "a disturbing habit of shaping, slicing and selectively citing numbers in a fashion that pleases his acolytes but leaves him open to substantive assaults." He offered no examples...

And in reply Danny Okrent did come up with an example--but his example was wrong:

Paul Krugman II: When I asked Daniel Okrent for the specifics behind his final attack, he offered two examples of what he claimed was improper use of numbers. This was the first time I heard from him, or anyone else, about either alleged problem. Let me start with the example that, I think, sheds most light on what is going on: Mr. Okrent's claim that I engaged in "blending, without explanation, numbers from the household survey and the establishment survey -- apples and oranges -- apparently in order to make a more vivid political point about Bush (5/25/04)."... I pointed out that his specific attacks -- especially the blatantly wrong characterization of my 5/25/04 column -- were unfair. I asked him to do what he would have expected me to do, and admit that he had been in error. He refused. Let me repeat that Mr. Okrent never raised these issues as public editor. He now says that he didn't because he "experienced your best-defense-is-a-good-offense approach, and found it futile to deal with it."...

To see that Okrent's example is wrong, consider this: Four months before Okrent wrote, the Bush Administration in its 2004 Economic Report of the President did the same calculation as Krugman using the same census and establishment survey sources. You can see it on p. 94:

The Labor Market: Nonfarm payroll employment fell an average of 50,000 workers per month in the first seven months of 2003, before increasing 35,000 in August, 99,000 in September, and an average of 48,000 per month in the fourth quarter.... In the fourth quarter, the unemployment rate averaged 5.9 percent.... Because the labor force is constantly expanding, employment must be growing moderately just to keep the unemployment rate steady. For example, if the labor force is growing at the same rate as the population (about 1 percent per year), employment would have to rise 110,000 a month just to keep the unemployment rate stable, and larger job gains would be necessary (and are expected) to induce a downward trend in the unemployment rate...

The only difference between the Bush Administration and Krugman is that the Bush Administration assumed 1% per year as the rate of adult non-elderly population growth, and hence concluded that nonfarm payroll employment had to grow at 1/12 of a percent per month--110,000, that is--in order to keep labor market conditions stable. But growth is more like 1.25% per year. With payroll employment of 130 million, that's Krugman's number of about 140K per month.


As I said, a certain horrifying fascination.

As one might expect, this made Paul Krugman just the weeniest, teeniest bit irritated:

Paul Krugman III: Okrent is lying to cover his mistake when he accused me of blending data from the household and establishment surveys. He now claims that he was only referring to my estimate of how many payroll jobs the economy needs to add per month [to keep labor market conditions from deteriorating], which for some reason he thinks is based on the household survey. But that's not what he said to me: he claimed that the basic numbers I gave on job growth were mix-and-match. In fact, in our correspondence, when I said that it was all payroll data, he declared that "your insistence that you relied only on one set of numbers is very puzzling. I don't see how the math works any other way; maybe you could further enlighten me." In other words, [Okrent] screwed up completely...

That's what raises Okrent's attack to one of the top ten wingnuttiest: to accuse Paul Krugman of lying in order to blacken Bush's reputation, and lying by doing the exact same calculation that the Bush administration had done four months before. That's wingnutty in the extreme.