Paul Krugman gets it, brilliantly and bravely, about the crisis of the republic in Bush II. He doesn’t get it about the Web remedy at all. Professor Krugman and I had a long public gab last night before a roaring SRO echt-Cambridge crowd in Harvard Square. Of course he was scathing, as in his New York Times column and his book, The Great Unraveling, about the revolutionary radicalism of the Bush imperial permanent-emergency state. He was just as scathing about the dereliction of the institutional media, including the Times. But he does not seem to have noticed the force of free minds and voices on the Web, powering a broad push-back recovery of understanding and, not least, the Dean campaign.
Krugman was a riot on Big Media’s docility. “If Bush said the earth is flat, of course Fox News would say ‘yes, the earth is flat, and anyone who says different is unpatriotic.’ And mainstream media would have stories with the headline: ‘Shape of Earth: Views Differ.’…and would at most report that some Democrats say that it’s round.” There’s “something deeply dysfunctional,” he observed, with established media facing “something we’ve not seen before, an epidemic of lying about policy.” Three years of Times columnizing have been “a story of radicalization” for the liberal (but not too liberal) economist who was hired by Howell Raines in 1999 to explain trade policy, globalization and the Internet bubble. He has become instead the irrepressible child watching the Bush parade, speaking truth to heedless power. He’s a reminder that to see what’s going on inside the Beltway it often helps to stand at some distance. In Princeton, New Jersey in Krugman’s case. But he tends to dismiss the Web as “a chaos of blogs out there.”
I said: “There’s a lot of plain-spoken American wisdom to be had–free–on the Web every day, more than in the press.”
He persisted that the bloggers aren’t newspapers, don’t have the resources to do original reporting, are “just concerned individuals.” The main value of the Internet, he argued, is the quick access to the international press–he mentioned the Independent and The Guardian from London, and the Toronto Globe and Mail.
I hung in: “You can see on the Web the instinct to do what you admit the press doesn’t do anymore, which is to say: Mr. President, you’re bare-ass naked. Your numbers don’t add up. That’s an important service of journalism, too.”
The soundtrack is here in three bites. Part One is Krugman 101 and his whistle-blowing on court journalism. Part Two includes our set-to about the Web and another argument that seemed to divide the crowd evenly as to whether Krugman in 2000 should have treated Ralph Nader, another Jeremiah, more attentively. “His rottenness detectors were better than mine,” Krugman conceded. Part Three is Q & A, in which Krugman was asked if we’ve experienced a “plutocratic coup d’etat? It’s more nearly “a plutocratic, theocratic, militaristic coup d’etat,” he said.