Has The New York Times unleashed a pissing match between Paul Krugman, its op-ed columnist and cheerleader for globalization, and Green Party candidate Ralph Nader? That’s what some wags were asking last week, after reading Krugman’s July 23 diatribe against Nader.
It seems the economist has been reading too much Maureen Dowd.
Reversing a formulation in a recent Times cartoon that called George W.’s candidacy a “cause without a rebel,” Krugman opened fire by declaring Nader a “rebel without a life.” It gets better. Invoking Nader’s recently disclosed $4 million in assets, most of which is spent on advocacy, Krugman described an imaginary personality disorder that afflicts people who do not spend their wealth to make themselves comfortable. “Those who renounce small pleasures,” he wrote, “may be all the more susceptible to monomania.”
Krugman went on to paint Nader as, if not quite a Commie, then at least a deranged Ahab whose frugal lifestyle has distorted his compass over the years, turning a practical consumer activist into a wild-eyed foe of corporate America and globalization.
But he’s not the only one engaged in ad hominem. On July 19, The Voice, a Connecticut paper that is not part of Village Voice Media, published a satirical column by Nader in which he derided Krugman and fellow Timesman Thomas Friedman.
“Imagine the following,” Nader wrote. “The New York Times announced today that it was replacing [Friedman and Krugman] with the two leading bilingual writers from the Beijing Daily. A Times spokesman explained that the move was necessary to meet the global competition. The two . . . Chinese columnists pledged to . . . write four columns a week, if desired, for $25 a column. Media analysts estimated that the Times would reduce its costs by over 95%.”
The candidate went on to mock Krugman’s “goodbye column,” in which the celebrity economist crowned himself a “totally unique commodity.” Upon returning to his post at MIT, Nader wrote, Krugman would begin studying the means by which the monopoly model of university appointments could be protected from global competition.
Nader missed a salient point: in the fall, the real Krugman will be teaching at Princeton. In April, Krugman told the Times Princeton would let him teach half his MIT workload for the same salary, which he placed at $150,000 to $200,000 a year. His professor wife gets five figures from Princeton, and then there’s the Times contract. Contrast this to the multinational habit of paying minimum wages to Third World workers—which Krugman calls good for the natives—and soon, you’ll be humming a few bars of Nader’s complaint.
Krugman denies engaging in a pissing match. “I wasn’t aware of Nader’s piece when I wrote mine,” he explained in an e-mail. “I still haven’t seen it, though friends have told me about it.” He dismissed the unread column as a “cheap shot” and went on to defend academia as a highly competitive industry that, despite the rewards heaped on stars, is by no means a monopoly. He claimed that at least 17 of the 51 faculty members in Princeton’s economics department are “foreign-born.”
Krugman has been zapped before. In 1997, after advancing the good-for-the-natives argument in a Times op-ed, he was flooded with hate mail. He parlayed the hate into a Slate piece (“In Praise of Cheap Labor”) that no doubt helped him land his job at the Times. In a January 23 column, he again denounced his critics, broad-brushing them into a cartoon clown he calls “Seattle Man.” Too simpleminded to understand the benefits of Third World industrialization, “Seattle Man” chants his mantra ad nauseam: Globalization equals exploitation.
Though the Times grants him autonomy, Krugman is not the paper’s lone Nader-hater; his sentiments match the company line. Shortly after Nader accepted the Green Party nomination in June, the Times published a scathing editorial, branding the once high-minded advocate a spoiler whose “self-indulgent,” “irresponsible” campaign could be “especially harmful” to Al Gore. In a letter to the editor published July 4, Nader called the Times stance on third parties “most remarkable in its disdain” for competition.
The Times has rained on his campaign ever since, relegating most Nader coverage to the national desk, where he is depicted as a fringe candidate who “rails” against unfair labor practices. Anthony Lewis took a swipe on July 8, and the kiss-off came last Friday, in the form of a sneering Public Lives piece. Its subject, the New York coordinator for Nader’s campaign, was mocked as a (1) vegetarian (2) makeup-shunning (3) cat lover who (4) works on St. Marks Place (5) for a closet millionaire who (6) we all know can’t win anyway. Nothing but cheap shots.
Traditionally, the Times has been allergic to third party candidates. But with the conventions upon us and Nader rising in the polls, look for Times writers to outdo Houdini as they justify the paper’s decision to bury the candidate 10 feet in the ground.
‘Talk’ Writer’s Block
When Talk debuted last August, I praised Tina Brown for including a darkly poetic narrative about a trailer park in Virginia. Its author, Eddie Dean, was one of the “new writing voices” that Brown said she was “especially excited about.” I bought the hype, fawning over Brown’s decision to sign Dean for my own reasons—because he is a writer’s writer who cut his teeth at the Washington City Paper, publishing features about fiddlers’ conventions and dying beer joints in Southeast D.C. Former City Paper editor Jack Shafer, who discovered Dean, called him “the real thing . . . Americana without artifice.”
But even then, skeptics wondered if Brown would make the best use of Dean—and now, a year later, Talk has published only two of his stories, while churning out mountains of puff. Meanwhile, Dean has turned in a profile of bluegrass singer Ralph Stanley, a report on the moonshiners of Franklin County, Virginia, and a memoir about driving an ice-cream truck. In each case, Talk bought the story, paid the full fee, and then sat on it.
So is Dean on the outs at Talk? Editorial director Bob Wallace calls Dean a “great writer” whom “I’d like to see writing many stories for us in the years to come.” Asked why Dean’s stories were held, he says it’s “just mix,” that instinct editors use to decide the contents of a particular issue. He says Talk held the moonshiners story because they were scooped by the Times, which ran a similar piece March 23.
But one source says Talk had the moonshiners story “before anyone else.” It was fact-checked and art-ready, and “if they had run it in a timely fashion, they would not have been scooped.” Wallace now concedes Talk could have published it first.
Dean did not respond to a request for comment. But he’s not changing his style to please anyone: Last Friday, he had a piece in The Wall Street Journal about . . . a dying beer joint in Southeast D.C.