Paul Krugman turns his thoughts to The National Security Council document "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq" and asks, implores, journalists not let the Bush administration get away with "fuzzy math and fuzzy facts" yet again:
Bullet Points Over Baghdad, by Paul Krugman, Victory in Iraq Commentary, NY Times: The overthrow of Saddam Hussein was supposed to provide the world with a demonstration of American power. It didn't work out that way. But the Bush administration has come up with the next best thing: a demonstration of American PowerPoint. Bullets haven't subdued the insurgents in Iraq, but the administration hopes that bullet points will subdue the critics at home. The National Security Council document released this week under the grandiose title "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq" is neither an analytical report nor a policy statement. It's simply the same old talking points - "victory in Iraq is a vital U.S. interest"; "failure is not an option" - repackaged in the style of a slide presentation for a business meeting. It's an embarrassing piece of work. Yet it's also an important test for the news media. The Bush administration has lost none of its confidence that it can get away with fuzzy math and fuzzy facts - that it won't be called to account for obvious efforts to mislead the public. It's up to journalists to prove that confidence wrong.
Krugman gives several examples of misleading statements in the document. One involves an increase in Iraqi oil production where, conveniently, the baseline for assessing progress is a time that includes the invasion when oil production was shut down. When compared to prewar levels, the conclusion is quite different:
...we're not supposed to understand that the real story of Iraq's oil industry is one of unexpected failure: ...Iraqi production has rarely matched its prewar level, and has been on a downward trend for the past year.
He also looks at the security situation in Iraq, specifically the situation in Najaf and Samara, and shows that statements in the document regarding the degree of control of those cities do not accord with reports from other sources. For example, the document says that Samara is under the control of the Iraqi government, but:
...there, too, it's stretching things to say that the city is under Iraqi government control: according to The Associated Press, only 100 of the city's 700 policemen show up for work on most days.
Krugman concludes with:
There's a lot more like that in the document. Refuting some of the upbeat assertions about Iraq requires specialized knowledge, but many of them can be quickly debunked by anyone with an Internet connection. The point isn't just that the administration is trying, yet again, to deceive the public. It's the fact that this attempt at deception shows such contempt - contempt for the public, and especially contempt for the news media. And why not? The truth is that the level of misrepresentation in this new document is no worse than that in a typical speech by President Bush or Vice President Dick Cheney. Yet for much of the past five years, many major news organizations failed to provide the public with effective fact-checking.
So Mr. Bush's new public relations offensive on Iraq is a test. Are the news media still too cowed, too addicted to articles that contain little more than dueling quotes to tell the public when the administration is saying things that aren't true? Or has the worm finally turned? There have been encouraging signs, notably a thorough front-page fact-checking article - which even included charts showing the stagnation of oil production and electricity generation! - in USA Today. But the next few days will tell.
I too hope that the worm has finally turned. For more on this, see Krugman's Money Talks: Denial and Deception.