The Perils of “Balance”

I love Paul Krugman. Unlike most economists (apologies to certain of my academic colleagues), he writes clearly–as if he is actually interested in communicating, rather than impressing–and more often than not, he hits that proverbial nail squarely on the head.

Even for Krugman, though, “The Crazies and the Con Man” was exceptional. Krugman’s subject was the GOP effort to get Paul Ryan to accept the Speaker’s gavel. You really need to click through and read the entire column, but I’ll share a few of the gems:

What makes Mr. Ryan so special? The answer, basically, is that he’s the best con man they’ve got. His success in hoodwinking the news media and self-proclaimed centrists in general is the basis of his stature within his party. Unfortunately, at least from his point of view, it would be hard to sustain the con game from the speaker’s chair.

To understand Mr. Ryan’s role in our political-media ecosystem, you need to know two things. First, the modern Republican Party is a post-policy enterprise, which doesn’t do real solutions to real problems. Second, pundits and the news media really, really don’t want to face up to that awkward reality….

After offering several examples of the GOP’s lack of policy seriousness (where is that alternate health plan??), Krugman hones in on the real problem:

Most of the news media, and most pundits, still worship at the church of “balance.” They are committed to portraying the two big parties as equally reasonable. This creates a powerful demand for serious, honest Republicans who can be held up as proof that the party does too include reasonable people making useful proposals….

But Mr. Ryan has been very good at gaming the system, at producing glossy documents that look sophisticated if you don’t understand the issues…He is to fiscal policy what Carly Fiorina was to corporate management: brilliant at self-promotion, hopeless at actually doing the job. But his act has been good enough for media work.

Krugman attributes Ryan’s reluctance to take the Speaker position to a recognition that his  “con” wouldn’t survive the additional scrutiny.

Predictions aside, however, the Ryan phenomenon tells us a lot about what’s really happening in American politics. In brief, crazies have taken over the Republican Party, but the media don’t want to recognize this reality. The combination of these two facts has created an opportunity, indeed a need, for political con men. And Mr. Ryan has risen to the challenge.

I hate to sound like a broken record, but this analysis–like so many others–points to the  American media’s major contribution to the cluster-f**k that is our current national legislative branch. Until the media and those of us who depend upon it for essential information understand and appreciate the difference between balance and accuracy, we will continue to be disappointed by con men.

And wonder why our government doesn’t work anymore.


  1. Krugman is correct. Ryan scams the public and the media enables it. The “media” used to be actual news organizations that practiced real journalism. What passes for news these days is nothing more than corporate sponsored punditry. I miss the idea that news media were journalists that are supposed to provide the truth and would question statements made by politicians for the sake of truth, not the “gotcha” moment.

    An example of this local media malaise is Indiana’s push to add LGBT language to the state Civil Rights law. No reasonable person could deny that LGBT must be added to the law, but no one in the media has even bothered to question our politicians about that law. Indiana’s Civil Rights law is horrible for anyone and everyone, but that law is not challenged by the press. A good reporter would ask both Democrats and Republicans why the law makes it difficult for anyone to make themselves whole after experiencing discrimination. But all of the media in Indianapolis and the rest of the state is more concerned about marketing and money, not the truth.

  2. Teresa Kendall; our local media cannot be relied on for “truth, justice and the American way” for the most part. The Indianapolis Star, our only daily newspaper, is owned and operated by Gannett Corporation who supplies us with little in-depth local news but does provide a daily Reader’s Digest version of USA Today for national and international news as an advertisement supplement to subscribe to the “real thing”. The local WISH TV Channel 8, lost is long-time contract with CBS over money issues; CBS is now part of CW network which used to be the local privately owned and operated WTTV Channel 4. Money is the goal of the media game.

    In my comments to Sheila’s blog “Why Haven’t We Heard About This?” of 10/10/15, I referred to an article amazingly in the Indianapolis Star by Maureen Groppe of the Star Washington Bureau, Gannet Corporation. This was a very informative article about Indiana’s lack of support for Planned Parenthood, Medicaid and women’s health care in general.

    Indianapolis Star reporter Stephanie Wang has written two in-depth, informative articles regarding Indiana’s infamous RFRA and the “fix” and the overall lack of protection for LGBTs in this entire state.

    Note; they are both women, not surprising that they would author articles on these vital issues, the surprise is that they were published in the Indianapolis Star. Token support or the fact that the Star/Gannett cannot be accused of never reporting “the other side” of these issues?

    Ryan is a puffed up, pissant, little, little man with too much power who, if elected to Speaker of the House, will be beyond his capabilities and Congress will be in deeper doo-doo. Years ago promoting someone to positions beyond their level of capabilities was called the “Peter Principle”. We are seeing much of this today with the Republican lineup of presidential nominee hopefuls. We cannot and should not expect the truth and/or actual solutions to problems to come from their campaign platforms…”where is their alternate health care proposal” is an excellent example.

  3. “Balance” is code for conservatively slanted talk radio and press. Nothing at all to do with sustaining a real discussion.

  4. “What makes Mr. Ryan so special? The answer, basically, is that he’s the best con man they’ve got.”

    Krugman entirely destroys his credibility by defaming Rep. Ryan, and you destroy your own reputation and any point you would make by citing to this party hack masquerading as the “press” who writes the most frequently debunked and laughed-at articles?

    Speaking of laughed-at, I can’t wait for tonight.

  5. Gopper reminds of someone defending Bernie Madoff just prior to the revelation the he was a thief.

    That Paul Ryan is a con man seems both intuitively and analytically obvious. Like his cohorts his con is to attack real policy but never offer a viable alternative which puts him right at the center of the Republican con. He’s a perfect fit to follow Boehner doing what Republicans are committed to – destroying American democracy in the service of oligarchy, their golden goose.

    I hope he is chosen. He will be consumed by the same flames as his predecessor and we will be no worse off through next year when the GOP will get discarded. It turns out that with an exceptional President we can get along without a functional Congress at least temporarily.

    Now that the Great Enlightenment is underway our mantra should be to (continue to) bring on the clowns. He’s perfect.

    When people say that journalism is dead they forget Paul Krugman, a master at all aspects of it. It’s true that journalism has declined evidenced by Cal Thomas and Star Parker but discrimination people can avoid those potholes.

  6. “Like his cohorts his con is to attack real policy but never offer a viable alternative”

    The “alternative” is for the evil people to stop proposing their evil ideas. Your phony demand for an “alternative” to whatever bad idea your side proposes is a deceptive way of getting movement, interest or action on a subject in which someone may not want to act upon, at all.

    A simple “no” to your side followed by silence is sufficient.

  7. But..but…he uses PowerPoint! That has to mean he’s better than other speaker candidates, right? He’s so young, modern, and conservatively dreamy….

  8. Clearly Gopper has completely fallen for the conservative viral infection of all we really need is business and hierarchy. Let the rulers rule through economics and those enslaved will be happy.

    Not me. I demand freedom. I accept that law under which all are equal is the only source and democracy is all that’s necessary for its maintenance. My freedom comes from those that I hire and fire, not those who have figured out how to lock up their and my share of life’s resources.

    Vote! Vote! Vote!

    That’s what freedom feels like.

  9. Gopper’s goal is to spread hate, fear and pain. Like the current GOP, nothing else is offered or expected.

  10. Pete and Nancy, I agree with you both. When David Brooks describes the Republican caucus as ” jaw-dropping incompetent” and “too ill-educated to undertand” Republicans have a major problem. Let’s hope for the sake of everyone, including the Republican Party, that Republicans nominate Ted Cruz or Donald Trump in 2016 and are resoundingly defeated so Republicans can begin their trek back to the center.

    I disagree with Brooks only in that he traces the downfall of the Republican Party back to Rush Limbaugh. Ronald Reagan’s, “Government is not the solution; it is the problem,” was the beginning of Republican hysteria. It has now reached its logical conclusion.

  11. It takes courage to embrace freedom and democracy. The courage to let go of control and accept on principle that the majority will not always give any individual what they want but will represent the middle of the road where most solutions are to be found.

    It’s a long way from perfect but nothing better has been found.

  12. Sandy, I for one agree. Ronnie preceded Rush. He began the Dark Ages with one of the stupidest remarks ever about government being the problem and not the solution. Perhaps people who thought that remark was serious were Rush’s first fans.

    However he was preceded by one of the most iconic conservatives ever, Archie Bunker.

    Also between Ronnie and Rush, Rupert bought Fox and changed the notion of journalism forever. He found that brand marketing opinions was less expensive and more lucrative than reporting news.

    So the Dark Ages will be reported as a 30+ year period in America’s history.

    Of course our recovery from it will take at least that long.

  13. The McMega-Media today just reports and slants in many cases to reflect their audience. All about the ratings and selling commercials. I had heard critiques of Ryan’s economic plans before. I do have a big problem with Columnists and self proclaimed pundits and experts engaging in using words like crazies, etc.

    I can recall Conservative William Buckley on TV, I might have disagreed with him, but he did not engage is talking over or shouting down his guests. Intelligent comments and questions and answers were the rule not the exception.

    Morton Downey, Jr. and others brought trash talk TV into our culture. Fox, MSNBC and CNN are not as extreme as Downey. Chris Matthews of MSNBC is one who asks guests questions and when they try to respond talks over them.

  14. Why should Republicans propose substantive solutions to the real problems of the day? Why should they when the present series of pretenses are working so well (e.g., majorities in both the House and Senate), hoodwinked women (who are treated like dirt by the GOP etc.)? Krugman and others who write objectively just have to keep pounding away as the Republican Party nears Whig status of 1854.

  15. Krugman is, well, Krugman. Every time he opens his mouth he flattens some pretender with a massive blow of knowledge and wisdom. He reminds me of Kenneth Galbraith who had some burning insights on a lot of issues. There Kurgman will leave his brand on history as did Galbraith!

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