Reprinted from Consortium News
When America's opinion-making herd gets running, it's hard for anyone to get in the way regardless of how erroneous or unfair the reason for the stampede. It's much easier -- and career-wise safer -- to join the pack, which is what New York Times columnist Paul Krugman has done regarding Russia, Ukraine and Vladimir Putin.
In the latest example of the New York Times' endless Putin-bashing, Krugman begins his Friday column with what you might call a "negative endorsement" of the Russian president by claiming that ex-New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani has "an embarrassing crush on the swaggering statesman."
But Krugman misleads his readers. Giuliani wasn't really praising Putin when he said "that is what you call a leader" in commenting on Putin's decisiveness. Some liberal defenders of President Barack Obama simply cherry-picked the quote to counter Giuliani's attempt to disparage Obama by comparing Obama's chronic indecisiveness to Putin's forcefulness.
In the fuller context, Giuliani was not expressing a fondness for Putin at all. Indeed, he disparaged the Russian leader as "a bully" and urged a tough-guy response to Putin over Ukraine. "Instead of him pushing us around, we push him around," Giuliani said in the Fox News interview. "That's the only thing a bully understands."
So, why did Krugman begin his Putin-bashing column by misrepresenting what Giuliani was saying? It may have been a form of "negative endorsement." Since many American liberals hate Giuliani, Giuliani's praise is supposed to translate into liberal hatred for Putin.
But "negative endorsements" are inherently unfair. Just because Josef Stalin might have liked Franklin Roosevelt and because we may hate Stalin, that doesn't mean we should hate Roosevelt, too. The use of "negative endorsement" is akin to guilt by association. And, in this case, Krugman was playing fast and loose with the facts as well
Krugman also opts for some of the most hyperbolic language that has been used in the U.S. mainstream media to distort events in Ukraine. For instance, Krugman claims that "Mr. Putin invaded Ukraine without debate or deliberation." But that really isn't true either.
The Ukraine crisis is far more complicated and nuanced than that, as Krugman must know. If he doesn't, he should consult with fellow Princeton professor Stephen F. Cohen, who has bravely challenged the prevailing "group think" on both Ukraine and Russia.
Cohen, one of America's premier Russia experts, has even warned that...
"American media coverage of Vladimir Putin ... has so demonized him that the result may be to endanger U.S. national security. ...
"[M]ainstream press reporting, editorials and op-ed articles have increasingly portrayed Putin as a czar-like 'autocrat,' or alternatively a 'KGB thug,' who imposed a 'rollback of democratic reforms' underway in Russia when he succeeded Boris Yeltsin as president in 2000. He installed instead a 'venal regime' that has permitted 'corruptionism,' encouraged the assassination of a 'growing number' of journalists and carried out the 'killing of political opponents.' Not infrequently, Putin is compared to Saddam Hussein and even Stalin."
Yet, Cohen said:
"...there is no evidence that any of these allegations against him are true, or at least entirely true. Most seem to have originated with Putin's personal enemies, particularly Yeltsin-era oligarchs who found themselves in foreign exile as a result of his policies -- or, in the case of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, in prison. Nonetheless, U.S. media, with little investigation of their own, have woven the allegations into a near-consensus narrative of 'Putin's Russia.'" [For details from Cohen's article, click here.]
Indeed, much of what Krugman finds so offensive about Putin's Russia actually stemmed from the Yeltsin era following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 when the so-called Harvard Boys flew to Moscow to apply free-market "shock therapy" which translated into a small number of well-connected thieves plundering Russia's industry and resources, making themselves billionaires while leaving average Russians near starvation.
When Putin succeeded Boris Yeltsin in 2000, Putin took on some of the oligarchs and pushed others out of the political arena, while also moderating some of the extreme policies and thus making life somewhat better for the average Russian, thus explaining Putin's broad popularity. Putin could be fairly criticized for not going further, but economist Krugman must surely know this history regarding how the Russian "kleptocracy" got started.
Yet, Krugman slides into the now common demonization of Putin. "Mr. Putin never had the resources to back his swagger," Krugman smugly writes...