October 28, 2002
Why Don't These People Use Google?

Ramesh Ponnuru is upset that The American Prospect jumped to the conclusion that he was lying when he claimed that Walter Mondale was "a major advocate of President Bush's position on Social Security . . . He's in favor of private accounts for Social Security and raising the retirement age":

The Corner: October 27, 2002 - November 02, 2002 Archives: ...Both on CNN yesterday and on NRO today, I wrote that Walter Mondale had supported private accounts for Social Security and an increase in the retirement age. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Mondale served on a commission that supported both policies, but he himself signed a vigorous dissent from the report, which you can read at the bottom of this link. I was working off a misleading AP story (as cited in my NRO article) and a too-cursory glance at the commission's report (using a link that neither mentioned nor included the dissent).... I learned about my mistake by reading the American Prospect's weblog. I thank TAP for the correction, although not for the accusation that I have "lied, pure and simple." TAP, in fact, knows that I was not lying in the sense of intentionally spreading a falsehood, since in the very next sentence it suggests that I should have done more research instead of "reading the RNC talking points." Which means that their characteristically overheated rhetoric is more dishonest than anything I wrote.

As Ponnuru knows well, you have to sign on to more than partial privatization and raising the retirement age in order to support "President Bush's position on Social Security." You have to sign on to a major funding gap that ends up reducing baby-boomer benefits as well. Ponnuru's failure to do his homework can explain his belief that Mondale had endorsed the CSIS majority report, and its call for partial privatization. It can't justify his claim that Mondale was a supporter of the Bush plan, let alone "a major supporter."

Moreover--and here's the part I really don't understand--the homework is so easy to do. Ponnuru has every incentive not to burn his credibility--it is, after all, the only thing he has to sell. It would have been child's play for Ponnuru to check up. The "I feel lucky" button on a simple Google search for "Mondale Social Security Privatization" takes you to:

http://www.workdayminnesota.org/permanent/site_archives/2001/aug2001/0820mondale.htm: Mondale condemns Social Security privatization | By Michael Kuchta

ST. PAUL — If Americans begin doubting the solvency of Social Security, they are falling into the trap of those who want to privatize the best program the government ever created, former Vice President Walter Mondale told the Minnesota AFL-CIO State Retirees Council Monday.

Social Security is solvent as long as the government lives up to its financial and moral promise to finance the Treasury bonds that make up the bulk of the Social Security trust fund, Mondale said. “U.S. Treasury Bonds are the most trustworthy investment in the world,” he said.

“The way to defeat Social Security is to is to the American people that there is nothing there. That it's a worthless, corrupt promise. But the bonds have value. They are IOUs, but they are not worthless. Private investment funds would carve money out of the trust fund and destroy Social Security.”

Mondale's presentation to the union retirees preceded the start of the Minnesota AFL-CIO's annual convention in St. Paul.

Sound like a strong supporter of President Bush on Social Security to you? I didn't think so.

For some reason, The American Prospect is forgiving toward Ponnuru ("happens to the best of us. Such is the curse of Lexis-Nexis," they say). But it doesn't happen to the best of us--for the best of us use Google, the best distributed anthology-intelligence database yet devised.

So I urge the Prospect to stick to its guns: Surely Ponnuru had no clue whether his claim that Mondale was a "major supporter" of Bush's Social Security plan or not. Surely Ponnuru had not undertaken the trivial--thirty second--check to see whether his claim was accurate. Surely this counts as "malice" and "reckless disregard" for the truth.

I look forward to a world in which people as clueless as Ponnuru in how to use the internet are mocked without mercy. I look forward to a world in which no self-appointed (or other-appointed) pundit dares open his mouth without first consulting Google.

Eschaton draws a useful distinction: "The most generous interpretation is that Ponnuru made a very strong claim that he had no justification in making. I suppose this makes him not a liar per se, but simply someone who 'makes shit up.' I know this doesn't disqualify you from your key to the pundit green room, but it shouldn't stop others from pointing it out either."

Posted by DeLong at October 28, 2002 02:52 PM | Trackback

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Mocked, yes, but not without mercy. The quality of mercy is not strained, and all that.

Posted by: Paul on October 28, 2002 05:42 PM

Josh Marshall talks a bit about this on talking points. In the context of a Gringich bash; Turns out that Mondale signed onto a dissenting opinion from the one issued by the commission in question. So not only was it not really privitization, but Mondale was explicitly against it. So once again, republicans are either horribly sloppy at research, or are outright liars.

Posted by: Dennis O'Dea on October 28, 2002 06:59 PM

Completely (and then some) agree with you. This type of stuff doesn't "happens to the best of us. Such is the curse of Lexis-Nexis." The best of us do their homework before spouting off. Why wasn't on TV instead of Pnnuru? What did he do that any intermittently breathing adult couldn't? Nat'l Review pays him, I'm betting CNN paid him as well. Anybody could flub this up for free. But he gets the luxury of being paid for sloppy work. (It, I suppose, says something that TAP is willing to give him a pass on this- culture of journalism and all Get it first, then get it right).
1) as you show, it's not hard to get it right.
2) it's not like his job was in the way of him getting it right.

Posted by: Brendan on October 28, 2002 08:17 PM

>>For some reason, The American Prospect is forgiving toward Ponnuru ("happens to the best of us. Such is the curse of Lexis-Nexis," they say). <<

I daresay that the reason has a lot to do with internal politics between the American Prospect (boring, unpopular) and its weblog (interesting, popular)

Posted by: Daniel Davies on October 28, 2002 11:37 PM

Is Ponnuru Internet clueless or talking points savvy? It's far easier to spread a slander and appologize afterwards than to admit you are knowingly slandering on behalf of an agenda. Until you can look at a log of Ponnuru's web surfing pre-CNN appearance, you won't know if he bothered to do any searching at all or was just working straight from the RNC script. In either case it's not a flattering picture.

Posted by: Dave Roberts on October 29, 2002 10:49 AM

I have no sympathy for Ponnuru, but could the people in this forum please hold their idol Krugman to the same standard, for the dreck he writes in the NYT? For instance, Krugman mischaracterized the timing and details of Bush's Texas Rangers partnership, all in an attempt to show it in the worst possible light, when a minimal amount of research would have given Krugman the facts. Krugman then admits to the errors on his website, but not in his NYT column. The irony, of course, is that the facts of the Rangers' partnership don't really require a whole lot of embellishment to paint Bush in a bad light, but when Pugnacious Paul has an axe to grind, get out of the way. Krugman did appear to do some work in attempting to verify the Thomas White e-mail allegation, but when the main source has recently had a piece on the Enron affair undergo a major retraction by Dow Jones, as a cursory investigation would have revealed, Krugman should have at least noted it. Ponnuru's sloppiness is in the area of policy wonkery, Krugman's is in the area of allegations of criminal wrongdoing. Which sloppiness is worse? And how did those in this forum react those oh-so-short few years ago when their preferred President was the target of all sorts of sloppy accusations of criminal activity? Paging Mr. Pot...Paging Mr. Pot......please pick up the white courtesy phone to talk to Mr. Kettle.....

Posted by: Will Allen on October 29, 2002 12:19 PM

I fail to see how this is a correction, Will.

Posted by: Jason McCullough on October 29, 2002 04:26 PM

Krugman gets paid by the NYT to write a column. He then uses that platform to make pseudo allegations of illegality (go read the original column) without bothering to check newspaper accounts of the timing of the transaction, or to make a phone call to any parties involved. He then further insinuates, without evidence, on his website that they are lying about the original agreement ("I'd like to see the contract") and makes the intellectually disingenuous argument that awarding a partner who has made a small financial contribution but a giant political one is unusual. Jason, Bush's payoff came AFTER he his political contribution helped increase the value of the franchise by hundreds of millions of dollars, so it is perfectly reasonable to say that Bush's partners got their money's worth by giving an extra 10% share. This IS quite standard in the world of private lobbyists of all sorts, and Krugman knows it, but because he wishes to paint Bush's acquisition of wealth via state action as being unusual, due to his hatred of all things Bush, he can't help himself from embellishment. A pretty good working definition of a hack. The irony is that the 100% legal use of eminent domain for purposes such as this IS a moral, political, and economic travesty, (by the way, this atrocity was made possible by Arlington County approving it in a majority vote, so I can assume you think it legitimate, right?) so a simple, non-embellished, recitation of the facts should suffice, but Krugman the axe-grinder can't take any chances. Finally, it must be noted that Krugman has no fundamental objection to private citizens using the state to forcibly take property from other private citizens, for purely personal gain, (and, as I noted, the Arlington County baseball park thuggery WAS approved by the voters), he simply wants those doing the taking to be the kind of people Krugman approves of. Krugman disapproves of Bush, so his illegitimate use of state power is beyond the pale, and thus a target for Krugman's embellishment.

Posted by: Will Allen on October 29, 2002 06:31 PM
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