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

–Richard E. Vatz

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.”

Today’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 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.

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

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