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January 30, 2006

Paul Krugman: A False Balance.

I was all prepared to be really nice about Paul Krugman today. Really, honest, it’s true. He’s writing about the Abramoff scandal. That Abramoff’s a scumbag is true, a self-confessed crook, it’s true, that the money he was directing went to Republicans, also true.

So Krugman pointing and shouting "Neener, neener" to those in the press who tried to make it look as if Democrats were also getting their wallets filled by Abramoff is fine. Praiseworthy even, the Good Professor happily correcting errors of fact (something he is more reluctant to do in his own columns but perhaps he’ll get round to it one day).

But for all my good intentions I’m afraid he lost me right here:

For one thing, the public is led to believe that the Abramoff affair is just Washington business as usual, which it isn't.

My apologies but it is, this is exactly Washington business as usual. K Street did exist before the Republicans rode into town you know. Not only did the street exist, not only were the buildings there, they had lobbyists in them. Servicing the Democratic run Congress of the time. Remember, DeLay’s "K Street Project" was to take it over, not invent it.

That no Democrat wallets got filled by Abramoff may be true but that doesn’t mean that such Democrat wallets are not hanging loosely out there, waiting to be filled.

And the wallets don’t have to be filled with cash either. That’s not the major driving force, it’s help at election time. Cash is good for the advertising and the organising but any large scale structure that can be co-opted is also good.

Ever wonder why no Democrat will say "Boo" to a teacher’s union? When they campaign aggressively for Democrats at election time? Seen any politician ever take a pot shot at the AARP? The largest advocacy organisation in the country? No, me neither.

Yes, it’s true, that Abramoff was a creature of the Republican Party and that it was within that party that he spread the money. And yes, that’s a scandal.

But it is also Washington business as usual. The real scandal is that legislation, The Republic itself if you wish, is bought and sold by special interest groups. NOW, AARP, AFL/CIO, NAACP, some will like to point to these as the danger. Big Oil, Big Business, tobacco companies, (moving right out to the wingnutsphere we get the Jooos and the Masons as well of course) will be pointed to by others.

But who is doing the buying and selling isn’t the scandal. It’s what is being bought and sold. Hey, I’m just a foreigner, no skin off my nose about all of this but you Americans might want to take note. If they’re buying and selling the legislators and the laws, isn’t it actually you that’s getting bought and sold?


"How does one report the facts," asked Rob Corddry on "The Daily Show," "when the facts themselves are biased?" He explained to Jon Stewart, who played straight man, that "facts in Iraq have an anti-Bush agenda," and therefore can't be reported.

Mr. Corddry's parody of journalists who believe they must be "balanced" even when the truth isn't balanced continues, alas, to ring true. The most recent example is the peculiar determination of some news organizations to cast the scandal surrounding Jack Abramoff as "bipartisan."

Let's review who Mr. Abramoff is and what he did.

Here's how a 2004 Washington Post article described Mr. Abramoff's background: "Abramoff's conservative-movement credentials date back more than two decades to his days as a national leader of the College Republicans." In the 1990's, reports the article, he found his "niche" as a lobbyist "with entree to the conservatives who were taking control of Congress. He enjoys a close bond with [Tom] DeLay."

Mr. Abramoff hit the jackpot after Republicans took control of the White House as well as Congress. He persuaded several Indian tribes with gambling interests that they needed to pay vast sums for his services and those of Michael Scanlon, a former DeLay aide. From the same Washington Post article: "Under Abramoff's guidance, the four tribes ... have also become major political donors. They have loosened their traditional ties to the Democratic Party, giving Republicans two-thirds of the $2.9 million they have donated to federal candidates since 2001, records show."

So Mr. Abramoff is a movement conservative whose lobbying career was based on his connections with other movement conservatives. His big coup was persuading gullible Indian tribes to hire him as an adviser; his advice was to give less money to Democrats and more to Republicans. There's nothing bipartisan about this tale, which is all about the use and abuse of Republican connections.

Yet over the past few weeks a number of journalists, ranging from The Washington Post's ombudsman to the "Today" show's Katie Couric, have declared that Mr. Abramoff gave money to both parties. In each case the journalists or their news organization, when challenged, grudgingly conceded that Mr. Abramoff himself hasn't given a penny to Democrats. But in each case they claimed that this is only a technical point, because Mr. Abramoff's clients — those Indian tribes — gave money to Democrats as well as Republicans, money the news organizations say he "directed" to Democrats.

But the tribes were already giving money to Democrats before Mr. Abramoff entered the picture; he persuaded them to reduce those Democratic donations, while giving much more money to Republicans. A study commissioned by The American Prospect shows that the tribes' donations to Democrats fell by 9 percent after they hired Mr. Abramoff, while their contributions to Republicans more than doubled. So in any normal sense of the word "directed," Mr. Abramoff directed funds away from Democrats, not toward them.

True, some Democrats who received tribal donations before Mr. Abramoff's entrance continued to receive donations after his arrival. How, exactly, does this implicate them in Mr. Abramoff's machinations? Bear in mind that no Democrat has been indicted or is rumored to be facing indictment in the Abramoff scandal, nor has any Democrat been credibly accused of doing Mr. Abramoff questionable favors.

There have been both bipartisan and purely Democratic scandals in the past. Based on everything we know so far, however, the Abramoff affair is a purely Republican scandal.

Why does the insistence of some journalists on calling this one-party scandal bipartisan matter? For one thing, the public is led to believe that the Abramoff affair is just Washington business as usual, which it isn't. The scale of the scandals now coming to light, of which the Abramoff affair is just a part, dwarfs anything in living memory.

More important, this kind of misreporting makes the public feel helpless. Voters who are told, falsely, that both parties were drawn into Mr. Abramoff's web are likely to become passive and shrug their shoulders instead of demanding reform.

So the reluctance of some journalists to report facts that, in this case, happen to have an anti-Republican agenda is a serious matter. It's not a stretch to say that these journalists are acting as enablers for the rampant corruption that has emerged in Washington over the last decade.

January 30, 2006 in Politics | Permalink


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So you haven't been able to discern that the Republican K street project was/is substantially different, and massively more corrupt, than the politics as usual that I have followed for the last thirty years? From where do you get your news? Cable?

Posted by: deke | Jan 30, 2006 4:07:41 PM

Krugman, as well as Dean and many of the talking heads, are playing with semanics. this is unusal for Krugman-usualuly he just balatently lies of cites sources for his lies that cannot be checked. Anyway, It is (maybe, probably) true that Abramoff gave none of his personal (would be in italics, if I knew how)donations to Demorats, he certainly arranged for his clients to make huge donations to them for which the clients received those recepients' influence on various bills, regulations, etc. Typical Krugman hype.

Posted by: MikeinAppalachia | Jan 30, 2006 4:14:24 PM

40 of 45 members of the Democrat Senate Caucus took money from Abramoff related sources.

Sen.Max Baucus (D-MT) received at least $22,500
Sen.Evan Bayh (D-IN) received at least $6,500
Sen.Joseph Biden (D-DE) received at least $1,250
Sen.Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) received at least $2,000
Sen.Barbara Boxer (D-CA) received at least $20,250
Sen.Maria Cantwell (D-WA) received at least $21,765
Sen.Tom Carper (D-DE) received at least $7,500
Sen.Hillary Clinton (D-NY) received at least $12,950
Sen.Kent Conrad (D-ND) received at least $8,000
Sen.Jon Corzine (D-NJ) received at least $7,500
Sen.Chris Dodd (D-CT) received at least $14,792
Sen.Byron Dorgan (D-ND) received at least $79,300 (Number 2 Recipient)
Sen.Dick Durbin (D-IL) received at least$14,000
Sen.Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) received at least $2,000
Sen.Russ Feingold (D-WI) received at least $1,250
Sen.Tom Harkin (D-IA) received at least $45,750
Sen.Daniel Inouye (D-HI) received at least $9,000
Sen.Jim Jeffords (I-VT) received at least $2,000
Sen.Tim Johnson (D-SD) received at least $14,250
Sen.Ted Kennedy (D-MA) received at least $3,300
Sen.John Kerry (D-MA) received at least $98,550 (Number 1 Recipient)
Sen.Mary Landrieu (D-LA) received at least $28,000
Sen.Pat Leahy (D-VT) received at least $4,000
Sen.Carl Levin (D-MI) received at least $6,000
Sen.Joe Lieberman (D-CT) received at least $29,830
Sen.Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) received at least $14,891
Sen.Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) received at least $10,550
Sen.Patty Murray (D-WA) received at least $78,991 (Number 3 Recipient)
Sen.Bill Nelson (D-FL) received at least $20,168
Sen.Ben Nelson (D-NE) received at least $5,200
Sen.Barack Obama (D-IL) received at least $7,500
Sen.Mark Pryor (D-AR) received at least $2,300
Sen.Jack Reed (D-RI) received at least $3,500
Sen.Harry Reid (D-NV) received at least $68,941 (Number 4 Recipient)
Sen.John Rockefeller (D-WV) received at least $4,000
Sen.Ken Salazar (D-CO) received at least $4,500
Sen.Paul Sarbanes (D-MD) received at least $4,300
Sen.Chuck Schumer (D-NY) received at least $29,550
Sen.Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) received at least $6,250


Posted by: -keith in mtn. view | Jan 30, 2006 6:43:37 PM