CNN Reliable Sources, February 23, 2003: Interview with Paul Krugman

SYNOPSIS: Paul Krugman debates whether U.S. media coverage of Iraq is biased

KURTZ: But are the American media siding with the administration as the showdown grows closer, or is the European press all but campaigning against the Bush war effort? Well, joining us now in New York Paul Krugman, "The New York Times" columnist and a professor of economics at Princeton University. And here in Washington, David Frum, a columnist at "National Review" online. He's a former speech writer for President Bush and the author of the bestselling book about the Bush presidency, "The Right Man." Also with us, Katty Kay, Washington correspondent for the BBC. Paul Krugman, you write in "The New York Times" for months both cable networks -- both U.S. cable networks have acted as if the decision to invade Iraq has already been made and have, in effect, seen it as their job to prepare the American public for the coming war. Are you saying that CNN and Fox are essentially rooting for war?

PAUL KRUGMAN, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Fox is clearly. CNN is a little more ambiguous but both have -- the point that I was trying to make is that both networks and MSNBC, as well, have essentially gone into war mode. They've treated this as a done deal. They've used essentially the kind of logos, martial music and so on that we saw after we saw Gulf War I had started. So from the point-of-view of the American public, Iraq is already the enemy, we're already at war. And the point I was trying to make in "The Times" column was that, you know, if you ask why do the Europeans see things so differently, well, one answer is not culture, not society, not politics but, just hey, they don't have, you know, "Countdown: Iraq," "SHOWDOWN IRAQ," "Target Iraq" on their screens nonstop.

KURTZ: David Frum, should American networks be devoting more time to a debate about whether there should be a war? Should there be more room for anti-war voices on these networks?

DAVID FRUM, "NATIONAL REVIEW ONLINE": Paul Cartman is an economist and the central belief of economics is that numbers matter. And I think he would want to begin by noting that there are networks, as well as cable networks and the audiences for these networks are ten times the size as the cable networks, sorry. And there's a third cable network, as well, that also has an audience. And that while Fox certainly has tended to be supportive of the administration's position, CNN much less so. The networks, the big networks, much less so again. And I'm afraid, with respect, that the European networks are no models to follow at all. I mean, not just in their intense anti- Americanism but in, I mean, the record of who's been right. I mean, it was the BBC that swallowed the Jenin hoax story wholeheartedly. And they have given a kind of publicity to the anti-war movement without, at the same time, doing the work of engaging with the content of the anti-war movement and realizing how much of the anti-war movement is, in fact, actively pro-Saddam, sympathetic to...

KURTZ: Let's get a response. What's wrong with the idea of listening to a very important and burgeoning anti-war movement around the world?

KATTY KAY, BBC: In fact, I think that part of it is that, is that there isn't such a large anti-war movement here in America, and therefore there isn't so much reporting of it. I think that European networks felt that American networks missed a trick last weekend in reporting the anti-war protests, which were seen really talking to people back in Britain as epoch making. That was the single largest peace time demonstration ever.

FRUM: I didn't criticize you for covering it. I'm criticizing covering it without focusing on the content. You can't just cover the size of the crowd and ignore, for example, Tony Bend saying that -- saying that Kurdish demonstrators are CIA stooges. That's...

KAY: But the interesting thing about those demonstrations is that this was not just your classic anti-war demonstrators. These were middle class people who had never demonstrated before, many of them from the Conservative Party. This was -- I think this was misportrayed, actually, by some of the American networks and certainly some of the cable networks as your -- what were they described as, your classic demonstrators. These were not your classic demonstrators. This was very different.

KURTZ: Paul, you also had some critical words for CNN and Fox's coverage of the anti-war demonstrations last weekend.

KRUGMAN: Fox, which, of course, had it's -- you know, the demonstration was basically right outside their windows, were saying, oh, it's just the usual serial protesters, the usual gang. Very few pictures conveying to the audience the impression it was a bunch of bearded flag burners, which manifestly just wasn't true.

CNN was better on that, but then there was this peculiar business about the next day treating it as the main story being that the demonstrations lent aid and comfort to the Iraqis. So there was some flat misstatements to the U.S. media, and you know, just -- my -- the real point is aside from who's right, who's wrong, we should say, look, something is awry here. Somebody is reporting the world very differently from the truth. Maybe both sides; obviously I think that the BBC has been much closer to getting it right. But...

KURTZ: But the BBC also has its critics, as you well know, Katty, there seems to be a feeling that some programs are giving a lot of air time to what we describe as anti-Americanism. And, in fact, the British commentator Andrew Sullivan now refers to it as the Baghdad Broadcasting Corporation.

KRUGMAN: Andrew Sullivan is not exactly your most objective observer, can we say?

KAY: But certainly, though, we do have critics here who say that we have done too much protesting of the anti-war movement. But I actually think that it has been refreshing to see some reporting of the anti-war movement which does exist here in America. We've sent over correspondents, we had somebody out in Iowa a couple of weeks ago. We have reported from Pennsylvania on different pockets of the anti-war movement here, and it's reporting that frankly I haven't seen much of on American networks but the BBC has covered.

KURTZ: Why do you think that is?

KAY: Because I think that there is not so much impetus to cover the anti-war movement. I think that Paul Krugman has a point there that there has been a selling of the war almost as a fait accompli.

FRUM: Can I break in?

KURTZ: Go ahead.

KRUGMAN: Let me just say, something remarkable happened in the U.S. I mean, even if you think this is right, that, you know, war in Iraq is the right thing, something very odd happened. Here was one guy, Osama bin Laden, who launched a terrorist attack and the administration, aided by the networks -- including the broadcast networks, by the way, that's a canard -- have engaged in a sort of transference. Bush himself last -- as far as we can make out -- last mentioned Osama bin Laden in a speech last June. Suddenly it was, you know, Osama, Osama, Osama, Saddam, Saddam, Saddam. And the networks, the broadcast media simply picked that up, transferred our feelings of alarm and anger from one villain to another villain, a villain no doubt. And that didn't happen in the rest of the world and that, more than anything else, is the reason why views of the world look so different in the U.S. from...

FRUM: Before we make the BBC a touchstone, I wasn't in London last week but was there for the previous big set of big rallies in October. I was standing in the middle of them. And I saw them, how they were covered on the BBC. And I'm sorry, it is not true that if you want to leave the idea these are rallies in which mothers with perambulators are marching down Piccadilly, that's not the way it happened. I was there. I saw people chanting Islamic slogans; I saw people dressed like suicide bombers. I heard the chant of "Allah Akbar." And I think that the complaint that people here who question the objectivity of the BBC's coverage of British -- of the British anti- war movement is that they cover the fact of the war movement without covering the content of the war movement and -- which is something that with regular politics they do exactly the opposite of. I mean, when they interview politicians on the British Broadcasting Corporation, and they treat them like hunted animals, and they treat them like liars and criminals.

KAY: We have a history of more critical interviewing, certainly, of our politicians than you would find in America. It was interesting when Tony Blair came over a couple weeks ago, and standing there with President Bush at the White House, the most pointed and critical question certainly came from the British journalist. That is our history of debate. That is the way we have always questioned our politicians.

FRUM: Also, your temptation to elbow the politicians a little bit out of the story.

KURTZ: What about when British tabloids, one in particular ran a picture of Tony Blair with blood on his hands. It does seem that at least some elements of the British Press are part of this anti-war movement.

KRUGMAN: Hey, one of our tabloids ran a picture of the U.N. Security Council, with the heads of France and Germany replaced by weasels. I mean, tabloids -- And that was, by the way, one of Rupert Murdoch's papers, so...

KAY: And another -- And another Rupert Murdoch paper, "The Sun," ran a special French edition on Thursday, which was distributed free in Paris, calling President Chirac a worm. Now what this has also done, this debate, is it has shifted, I think, slightly in Europe away from a debate about the war in Iraq to old rivalry, certainly. This has given all of the media a chance to dig up our favorite pastime, which is France bashing. And so you have...

FRUM: The favorite pastime of the British medium -- media is not France bashing, it's Israel bashing. And that is one of the things that, when you look at, again, the content of the British press, it is very striking. I mean, the British press, for example, bought the Jenin hoax entirely. And I don't know that any of them has ever apologized.

KURTZ: I don't want to debate that particular episode right now. Paul, let me ask you this...

FRUM: It does go to the question, though, of how, if they're going to be Paul Krugman's touchstone for authenticity and reliability, how truthful are they?

KURTZ: Well, he's saying they're presenting a different perspective from that of the American media.

FRUM: And it might be untruthful.

KURTZ: Paul Krugman, you've written, also, that -- you've criticized the American press, which you've seen as leaning conservative, for coverage of Bush's domestic policy. You say the president is often lying about taxes and the budget and the U.S. press are not very critical. Do you see a connection between what you would describe as the rather flaccid coverage of Bush's domestic policy and the coverage of the war effort?

KRUGMAN: I'm going to surprise you and say I think they're quite different. I think Bush has gotten a lot of free passes on domestic policy. I think it's amazing how little criticism, you know, really -- obviously untrue statements by the Bushies and so on. But the truth is, the war is something else. This is another level. This is -- I think that the U.S. media, by and large, you know, have taken it as -- for one thing they've just sort of moved ahead in time. It's as if the bullets are already flying and it's a different level. You can -- the coverage on war on terror-related stuff is -- if I think that there's been some conservative leaning in the coverage of tax cuts or deficits, that's nothing compared with the dramatic difference in the way -- between U.S. and the rest of the world's media on the whole issue of war.

KURTZ: Just briefly, isn't it true that, by and large, President Bush doesn't get a lot of respect from the European press and this spills over into the coverage of Iraq?

KAY: There is a vitriol in the European press in the anti- Americanism, certainly. And I think that the cartoons that we are getting of Uncle Sam as a gun-toting Texan cowboy have a very personal nature -- which is, by the way, incredibly damaging for Tony Blair -- that is almost inexplicable. Being on this side of the Atlantic, it's difficult to understand where it comes from.

KURTZ: Isn't that truly at odds with the notion of, quote, "objective journalism"?

KAY: It's certainly directed against President Bush. There is something to do with style here, that there is something in President Bush's style which has really got the backs up of Europeans. It did it before September 11, you know...

KURTZ: Sure.

KAY: ... the Kyoto Accord, the international criminal courts. And now every time that President Bush speaks in what I've heard called, you know, fluent Texan, you can sense in Europe again that people are dismissive of the American position because of President Bush's language. And it has a real problem being sold in Europe.

KURTZ: Paul Krugman, Katty Kay, thanks very much for joining us.

David Frum, stay put. When we come back, we'll go inside the Bush White House and get the scoop on your new book.


Originally broadcast, 2.23.03