We want to wrap up the first three installments of our How to Use the Power of the Media to Subtly Manipulate People series with something really special. So we’re going to take a look at an opinion piece by Nobel Prize winning-economist Paul Krugman, which is an absolutely classic example of how to smear your opponent in the basest and most sensationalist way possible while pretending to be some sort of principled, highbrow intellectual whom everyone respects. It ran in The New York Times under the title “The Pastrami Principle“ … and is a work of pure magic.
Mr Krugman’s act begins with an account of a recent Twitter tiff involving Jeb Bush, Bill de Blasio, guns and a pastrami sandwich, which we don’t need to bother with as it’s just a set up for the smear-job Krugman is about to perform on Senator Sanders. The gist of the set-up is that the Republicans are crass and horrible for talking about who is and isn’t a “real American.”
The point of this little warm-up anecdote is to get us to the part where “Mr. de Blasio’s riposte, celebrating a characteristically New York delicacy, was a declaration that we’re also Americans — that everyone counts.”
Which sets Mr Krugman up for his shift … “Which is why it’s disturbing to see Palinesque attempts to delegitimize large groups of voters surfacing among some Democrats,” he laments.
Mr Krugman follows this up by condescendingly noting that “quite a few people seem confused about the current state of the Democratic nomination race,” but that, of course, to a Nobel Prize winning-economist like him, “the essentials are simple: Hillary Clinton has a large lead in both pledged delegates and the popular vote …” and a Sanders victory is “highly unlikely.”
Then the magic act begins in earnest … you have to watch his hands closely now.
First, Krugman claims that “the Sanders campaign is arguing that superdelegates … should give [Sanders] the nomination even if he loses the popular vote.” Which is of course untrue, but that doesn’t matter … because this is show biz, folks! (As evidence of this claim the Nobel Prize-winning Mr Krugman is presumably relying on a made-up story on Politico.com which got dutifully “echo chambered” by MSNBC and a handful of other dependable corporatist media outlets.)
And now Krugman the Magician is off to the races …
“But how can the [Sanders] campaign make the case that the party should defy the apparent will of its voters?” a momentarily baffled Krugman wonders, and then answers his own question thus: “By insisting that many of those voters shouldn’t count.”
The fact that the Sanders campaign has never insisted that southern voters “shouldn’t count” is not a problem at all for Mr Krugman, who simply asserts that they have with all the panache of any good stage magician. He chases this crafty move with a direct quote from the Sanders campaign pointing out that the Deep South is a “pretty conservative part of the country.”
And here comes the real magic … because now Krugman reveals, right before the eyes of his mesmerized audience, that “Mrs. Clinton didn’t win big in the South on the strength of conservative voters; she won by getting an overwhelming majority of black voters.”
Aha! Brilliant … Mr Krugman has just conjured “Sanders’ racism” out of thin air!
To reinforce the illusion, Krugman goes on to accuse Sanders of being “deliberately misleading” and denounces his non-existent “effort to delegitimize a big part of the Democratic electorate” (an effort which Mr Krugman just invented) as “a cynical ploy.”
“Can you imagine Democratic Party insiders deciding to deny the nomination to the candidate who won the most votes, on the grounds that African-American voters don’t count as much as whites?” Mr Krugman asks his readers, feigning shock at the outlandishness of a proposition no one in Sanders’ campaign has ever even hinted at.
You have to admire the audacity of these Nobel Prize winners!
Krugman wraps up his hit-job by scolding Mr Sanders and his campaign for the alleged racism Mr Krugman himself has just pulled out of a hat in order to smear them with. “We’re all real Americans,” Krugman crows, “[a]nd African-Americans are very definitely real Democrats, deserving respect,” he asserts, as if anyone had suggested otherwise.
What we’ve just witnessed is a veritable master class in slimy, manipulative smear tactics dressed up as insightful political commentary, and we’ve come to expect no less from Mr Krugman, and The New York Times, which, remember, was the paper that tricked the world into believing that Saddam Hussein had secret “weapons of mass destruction” back in 2003, so that the United States military could illegally invade Iraq after New York and Washington were attacked by a bunch of Saudis.
In terms of subtly manipulative smear tactics … it just does not get any better than this.
* A slightly edited version of Krugman the Magician appeared in Counterpunch on April 19, 2016, apparently submitted by one of our employees, CJ Hopkins, without our knowledge or permission.