The Consistently Specious Rhetoric of The New York Times Op-Ed Page

The New York Times' top columnists often play fast and loose with evidence, disallowing good and honest clash. Very sad.

A good rhetorician loves good argumentative clash and is frustrated at intelligent pundits who deceptively misrepresent the truth to create straw man arguments.

This is, parenthetically, one of the reasons that I like The Washington Post's and dislike The New York Times' op-ed pages.

The former typically sports liberals and conservatives who clash in fair interpretation of reality. The latter typically sports liberals, at least, who apparently feel no compunction in changing facts ever so slightly or misrepresenting an opponent’s argument to make easier a challenge or criticism.

This is not a comprehensive overview with evidence of columnist Paul Krugman or columns by Charles Blow, but it is a critique of columns yesterday and today which are synecdoche of these two authors’ prose.

Yesterday, Krugman focused on Mitt Romney in a column titled, “Romney Isn’t Concerned.” Four points are illustrative, if not exhaustive:

1. He quotes Romney as saying, “I’m not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there.” Romney’s next line was, “If it needs repair, I'll fix it.” That is a significant point of reassurance. Why does Krugman leave it out? Because it makes his attack more difficult to sustain.

2. Krugman wrote, “Still, I believe Mr. Romney when he says he isn’t concerned about the poor...” That is literally what Romney said, but he meant it in the sense that mitigating governmental policies makes unnecessary active concern; he didn’t mean he doesn’t care. If I say I’m not concerned about Iran’s nuclear program because Israel will destroy it if necessary, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t concern me.

3. Romney’s saying that current programs are inefficient – right or wrong – leads to Krugman’s apotheosis in non sequitur: “So Mr. Romney’s position seems to be that we need not worry about the poor thanks to programs that he insists, falsely, don’t actually help the needy, and which he intends, in any case, to destroy.” Where is evidence of Romney making these points?

4. Krugman depicts Romney and Republicans’ support for “tax breaks” for the highly taxed well-to-do as “tax cuts.” The consistent argument by liberals like him -- that whatever the taxing percentage was previously must be reasonable because it simply existed as such and that any decrease would be an undeserved windfall for the wealthy -- is transparently fatuous. Mutatis mutandis, if income taxes approached 90% for the wealthy during the Eisenhower Administration, one could argue that anything below that would be an undeserved windfall for the rich.

5. Krugman disagrees with Romney about the effectiveness of governmental “safety nets,” so he calls Romney’s sentiments not “incorrect,” but a “whopper.”

Yesterday's column in the Times by Charles Blow at least quoted Romney fully regarding his position regarding worrying about the poor. However, just to take one fatuous misrepresentation from that article, Blow states, “This is the same man who bragged last month that he liked to fire people at a time when nearly 13 million people are out of work.”

Let me just say that this little act of rhetorical legerdemain leaves out significant aspects of the following quote: ”I like being able to fire people who provide services to me. If someone doesn't give me the good service I need, I'm going to go get somebody else to provide that service to me."

These mini-deceptions which pervade Krugman and some others’ columns in The New York Times would be cute and clever if the writers were teenagers. For serious pundits, it is unforgivable, especially as serial disinformation.

The New York Times, apparently mystified by Paul Krugman’s intelligence and Blow’s provocativeness, doesn’t want sincere, honest clash.

It is almost unspeakable that the country’s newspaper of record could be so irresponsible.


Red Maryland

The Premier blog of conservative and Republican politics and ideas in the Free State, named one of Maryland's best political blogs by the Washington Post

Professor Vatz teaches Media Criticism at Towson University and is author of The Only Authentic book of Persuasion (Kendall Hunt, 2012)

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

JDStuts February 06, 2012 at 04:20 PM
This is the problem with tenure. Unlike in the free market Vatz has no motivation to improve the quality of his product (education) since he's exempt from the consequences of normal market forces. It is just a variation in socialism. Here is a job. It doesn't matter how well or poorly you do it since we will not remove you. Know one person who would have a huge problem with Vatz' arrangement? Mitt Romney.
Bruce Vail February 06, 2012 at 04:32 PM
This broadside from Dr. Vatz is quite dishonest. The dear Dr. knows perfectly well that the NYT, the WashPost and many other newspapers hire "liberal" columnists and "conservative" columnists (in more or less equal number) in the hope of giving their op-ed pages balance and broad reader appeal. Op-Ed page columnists of all idealogical stripes are given broad license to shape and interpret the facts in support of their own arguments. Paul Krugman and Charles Blow are no more or less guilty of this than the NYT's more conservative writers. If Dr. Vatz wants to attack Krugman because of Krugman's contempt for the Republican Party leadership, let him do so directly, and not dishonestly cloak in discussion of the NYT editorial policy.
SteveK February 07, 2012 at 12:01 PM
Let's keep the "Op" in Op Ed.
Eric Dymond February 07, 2012 at 02:49 PM
Interesting that only Vatz knows what Mittens actually meant, even when it's at odds with what he said.
John Egan February 08, 2012 at 02:00 AM
Congratulations to Dr. Vatz for a well constructed critique of the intentional distortions of the facts as often represented in the New York Times Op Ed and specifically the distortions of truth that has become a staple of Paul Krugman's opinions. Some of the comments to Dr. Vatz's article attacked him on political grounds and completely missed the point of his post. The unfortunate result of these intentional misrepresentations is that way too many readers, unwilling to make the effort to allow a deeper understanding of the issues, simply accept what they read as the truth and thus misinformed, their opinions (based on misrepresentations) solidify and they proceed as if they are in possession of the "truth".


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