Saturday, November 03, 2007

LIES, DAMNED LIES, STATISTICS, AND 9/11! 9/11! 9/11! 9/11!

I want to comment on a couple of paragraphs in Paul Krugman's column yesterday, in which he discussed Rudy Giuliani's recent baldfaced lying about health care and prostate cancer survival rates in America and the U.K.:

But here's what I don't understand: Why isn't Mr. Giuliani's behavior here considered not just a case of bad policy analysis but a character issue?

For better or (mostly) for worse, political reporting is dominated by the search for the supposedly revealing incident, in which the candidate says or does something that reveals his true character. And this incident surely seems to fit the bill.

But political reporting isn't dominated by the search for the supposedly revealing incident that reveals a candidate's true character. Political reporting is dominated by the search for the incident that confirms what reporters have already decided that they know about a candidate's true character. Incidents that can't be fitted into "the story reporters like" just fall by the wayside.

So if one of the Clintons seems to shade the truth, that's revealing, because they're just big liars. If George W. Bush or Rudy Giuliani flat-out lies, that's not revealing, because they're straight shooters. (Yes, I think that's still the conventional wisdom about Bush.)

Conventional wisdom about about a politician solidifies quickly; in Giuliani's case, it was etched in stone just after 9/11. The C.W. about a pol can change, but what's needed is either something that hits people on a gut level (e.g., a sex scandal) or a concerted, disciplined, patient, long-term effort by the opposition to reframe the politician.

Ah, but Giuliani is running against Democrats (and Republicans who'd rather attack Hillary). So never mind -- he won't be reframed.

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