(Reuters/Tim Shaffer)

The Wall Street Journal's absurd Paul Krugman hypocrisy: No one is better at "character assassination" than them

The Wall Street Journal accuses Krugman of "character assassination" -- funny, given their long history of it


Heather Digby Parton
May 18, 2015 2:00PM (UTC)

So according to the Wall Street Journal, former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan got his feelings hurt last week because Paul Krugman criticized him on his blog. And the Journal is just livid about it. You see, the act of criticism is now tantamount to censorship:

To the list of questions the left has sought to place off limits to open debate—global warming, same-sex marriage, campaign finance, abortion—add a startling new topic: monetary reform. And what a scalp has just been claimed.

Alan Greenspan, who was chairman of the Federal Reserve for nearly two decades, has pulled out of a conference this summer on monetary reform. He did so May 8, two days after the New York Times published a blog post by Paul Krugman labeling Mr. Greenspan the Fed’s “worst ex-chairman ever.”

Mr. Krugman was set off by word that Mr. Greenspan had been billed as one of the speakers for a counter-conference that is set to take place in Jackson Hole, Wyo., in late August, as the Federal Reserve holds its annual retreat there. Mr. Greenspan declined to comment on why he has withdrawn, but the conference’s sponsor, the American Principles Project, confirmed to me that he did so in the wake of Mr. Krugman’s attack.

The humanity! Je suis Alan Greenspan.

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Apparently the most shocking thing about Krugman's attack was the terribly personal nature of it. In fact, it was nothing short of character assassination: Krugman "derided the former Fed chairman for worrying about inflation, for generally trusting markets, and for voicing opinions on the central bank he once led," wrote the author of the piece, Seth Lipsky.

But it wasn't just Greenspan whose honor he so crudely besmirched:

Mr. Krugman also attacked the American Principles Project, whose chairman is a conservative Catholic, Sean Fieler. “The group,” he writes, “combines social conservatism—it’s anti-gay-marriage, anti-abortion rights, and pro-‘religious liberty’—with goldbug economic doctrine.”

Adds Mr. Krugman: “The second half of this agenda may be appealing to Greenspan, a former Ayn Rand intimate—as Paul Samuelson remarked, ‘You can take the boy out of the cult but you can’t take the cult out of the boy.’ But the anti-gay stuff? And helping these people attack his former colleagues?”

Somebody pass the smelling salts, stat. What could be more insulting than putting the term "religious liberty" in quotes? (Why he might as well have accused the Catholic church of once harboring pedophile priests!) Belittling Alan Greenspan for attacking his former colleagues when he was just going to ... attack his former colleagues is obviously beyond the pale.

The good news is that the right wing is fighting for civic decency, particularly the columnists and editorialists of the Wall Street Journal, which goes out of its way to take the high road. Here's a perfect example from one of their columnists last week:

I wonder if any aspirant for the presidency except Hillary Clinton could survive such a book. I suspect she can because the Clintons are unique in the annals of American politics: They are protected from charges of corruption by their reputation for corruption. It’s not news anymore. They’re like . . . Bonnie and Clyde go on a spree, hold up a bunch of banks, it causes a sensation, there’s a trial, and they’re acquitted. They walk out of the courthouse, get in a car, rob a bank, get hauled in, complain they’re being picked on—“Why are you always following us?”—and again, not guilty. They rob the next bank and no one cares. “That’s just Bonnie and Clyde doing what Bonnie and Clyde do. No one else cares, why should I?”

That's Peggy Noonan ,of course, another civility cop who routinely smears the reputations of Democratic politicians with all the finesse of a 15th century House of Borgia hit man, and then whines whenever someone on the other side decides to fight fire with fire. This has literally been going on for decades. Indeed, the Wall Street Journal has pretty much defined the genre of high end character assassination for decades now. Famously, they targeted former Clinton aide Vince Foster several times, in "a string of highly critical editorials in the Wall Street Journal in June and July 1993," as the Washington Post put it, which " left Foster even more 'distraught.'"

Suffering from clinical depression, Foster killed himself shortly thereafter. And then the right wing media, the congress and much of the mainstream political press which blindly followed them as if they were Pied Pipers, spent years and many millions of dollars torturing the family with absurd allegations and investigations into his death, some even suggesting that Hillary Clinton murdered him. (That included, among others, Rush Limbaugh, who has continued to make this insinuation in the years since. That would be the same Rush Limbaugh who Weekly Standard editor William Kristol once described as “almost a Wall Street Journal editorial page of the airwaves.")

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But that wasn't the only lurid story the Wall Street Journal editorial page pimped during that era. There were many. This testimony from the floor of the House in 1994 recounts one specific incident of outrageous speculation:

A Wall Street Journal editorial in March chastised the "respectable press'' for showing "little-to-no appetite for publishing anything about sex and violence'' in Whitewater-related matters.

It proceeded to report that while working on a story for the New Republic about incestuous relationships between business leaders and politicos in Arkansas, writer L.J. Davis opened the door to his Little Rock hotel room and remembered next awakening face down on the floor with a hefty bump on his head and "significant'' pages of his notes missing. The implication was that some sinister elements had tired to quash Davis' piece.

But Davis soon admitted drinking at least four martinis that night. No pages were missing from his notebook, and he had no idea how he ended up on the floor. "I certainly wasn't about to conclude that somebody cracked me on the head,'' Davis said at the time.

The Journal concluded that Arkansas was “a congenitally violent place, full of colorful characters with stories to tell, axes to grind, and secrets of their own to protect.” They scolded their fellows in the media saying “the respectable press is spending too much time adjudicating what the reader has a right to know, and too little time with the old spirit of ‘stop the presses.’”

They listened and learned and eagerly gobbled up any tale that some obscure Arkansas con-man offered up and repeated it as if it were a recently unearthed Dead Sea scroll. This went on for years. As one sensational story after another was debunked by congressional investigations and special prosecutors, they would drop it and move on to yet another one.

The Journal wasn't the only publication to traffic in these gothic melodramas, but it was one of the most proficient. In addition to the editorial and op-ed pages daily evisceration of everything Clinton, their star "investigative reporter" James B Stewart was obsessed with Whitewater and evidently spent hours trolling the backwoods of Arkansas for dirt. He wrote a book called "Blood Sport" in which he made the bold claim that Mrs Clinton was a criminal and would be indicted. Bob Somerby recounted his strange role a while back:

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Published by Simon and Shuster in 1996 to the accompaniment of a multimedia publicity campaign, Stewart's book "Blood Sport" claims to be the inside story of "the president and first lady as they really are.” Set forth as a sweeping narrative, it includes dramatized scenes and imaginary dialog purporting to represent the innermost thoughts of individuals whom the author had in some cases never met, much less interviewed.

"Scenes that Mr. Stewart could never have observed first hand," complained New York Times reviewer Michiko Kakutani, "are recounted from an omniscient viewpoint. Mr. Stewart rarely identifies the sources for such scenes not does he take into account the subjectivity and often self-serving nature of memory. The reader never knows whether the quotes Mr. Stewart puts into the mouth of an individual...are from a first or second hand source.”

Arkansas writer Gene Lyons wrote a seminal piece for Harper's, later turned into a book called "Fools for Scandal" in which he exposed the naivete of the political press, particularly the gullible Stewart's "expose".

LYONS (1996): But then came Stewart’s big book tour. For a while, you couldn’t turn on a TV talk show without seeing Mr. Pulitzer Prize. Nightline, Washington Week in Review, Charlie Rose, National Public Radio—the man was everywhere. And just about everywhere he went, Stewart made the same pitch. Blood Sport uncovered no big crimes in Whitewater, just a lot of deceit, bad character, and political opportunism. But surely, Ted Koppel urged during Stewart’s March 11, 1996 Nightline appearance, there was something. “What is it you would say,” Koppel asked, “if you were obliged, in fifteen or thirty seconds, to summarize what is troublesome about Whitewater and what will come back to haunt the Clintons?”

According to Somerby Stewart replied, "It is a crime to submit a false financial document." He accused Hillary Rodham Clinton of filing a false financial statement to renew a Whitewater loan in 1987 and added that the First Lady's guilt was "a question for a prosecutor and a jury to decide."

(As anyone who's read "The Hunting of the President" by Lyons and Joe Conason knows, Stewart made a truly embarrassing error by failing to check the second page of the document she supposedly falsified. And needless to say the First Lady was never indicted.)

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The Wall Street Journal clutching its pearls about Paul Krugman crucifying poor Alan Greenspan by complaining about his policies and questioning the company he keeps is really rich. Yes, those hit jobs on the Clintons from the 90s were a long time ago. But between Peggy Noonan and her tag team partner Karl "Bush's Brain" Rove, you can be sure they're getting ready to take another stab at it. After all, all they have to do is pick up a sharp shard from the remains of the journalistic glass house that's lying at their feet.


Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

MORE FROM Heather Digby Parton

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Media Criticism Paul Krugman The Wall Street Journal Wsj

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