This Is Your Brain on Conservatism

Bret StephensYesterday, Paul Krugman wrote, The Undeserving Rich. This is a favorite issue around here. Conservatives try to argue that the poor are not deserving and the rich are. In fact, Krugman wrote a blog post about this last week that I discussed, The Rich Versus the Upper Class. (This is quite typical; if you read Krugman’s blog, you don’t really need to read his columns, although I still do.)

Anyway, in the column, he called Bret Stephens of The Wall Street Journal to task for just outright lying about the recent economic progress of the poor in this country, Obama’s Envy Problem. Quoting from the Census Bureau, Stephens claimed that the incomes of the bottom fifth of earners have gone up 186% since 1979. This, of course, is wrong. That is not inflation adjusted. If you adjust for inflation (which Krugman points out, the Census Bureau did in the exact same table Stephens got the 186% number from), the bottom fifth of earners have seen their pay go down.

That’s embarrassing. Really embarrassing. In fact, when that error is fixed, Stephens’ article has nothing. It is the linchpin of the whole article. He criticized Obama for talking about inequality. Basically, he was saying, “Sure, the rich are getting richer, but so are the poor!” Except, of course, they’re not. But hey, we all make mistakes. Live and learn. Yet Stephens’ article went uncorrected.

So Krugman upped the ante. Later yesterday, he called out Stephens in a blog post, Department of Corrections, and Not. Apparently, Stephens had complained to the New York Times that since he had written his original article, Stephens had put out another article on how one really ought to use inflation adjusted numbers when looking at such issues. This is one of the most chickshit things I have ever seen in my life. All Stephens would have to do is add an update, “The 186% number is not inflation adjusted. The number is actually blah blah blah.”

It has now been almost two days since Krugman’s column first came out (they come out the night before about 7:00 pm west coast time). And still, there is no correction. Forget about Stephens. What does this say about The Wall Street Journal? Have they no shame? Well, historically, The Journal’s editorial page in fact has had no shame. But I don’t see how Stephens and company live with themselves. When I find out about an error I’ve made, I’m a wreck until I correct it. But conservative “journalist” either just take down embarrassing article or pretend they aren’t wrong, which is pretty much the same thing.

Even worse than this shameful and totally indefensible conduct on the part of conservatives is the effect that this has on other conservatives. People will go on writing articles about the fact that there is no economic inequality problem and they will quote from Stephens’ article. Now, they are conservatives, so maybe they’d just do the same thing Stephens did and pick a convenient number to make their points. But one thing is clear: the conservative movement will never become fact-based if their premiere publications can’t even be bothered to correct their most egregious errors.


Bret Stephens won a Pulitzer for commentary last year. That doesn’t speak well for American journalism generally. I don’t mean to say that this one mistake makes Stephens a bad writer. Just last week, I rather liked his criticism of Robert Gates’ new book. But what he’s doing now speaks to a general sense of not caring about facts. The Pulitzer citation reads, “Awarded to Bret Stephens of The Wall Street Journal for his incisive columns on American foreign policy and domestic politics, often enlivened by a contrarian twist.” Contrary to the facts?

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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