When is a journalist’s public disclosure a genuine disclosure? In the explosive atmosphere of the Enron media feeding frenzy, interpretation varies.
New York Times editorial columnist Paul Krugman, currently a Princeton University economics professor, has written numerous caustic and cautionary Enron stories, most with Bush-bashing underpinnings.
Mr. Krugman’s Jan. 15 column, headlined “Crony Capitalism, USA,” offered a laundry list of complaints about the Bush administration and its ties with, among other things, the Carlyle Group a secretive investment company with ties to the defense establishment.
“None of this is clearly illegal it just stinks to high heaven,” Mr. Krugman wrote. “That’s why the Bush administration will try to keep the Enron story narrowly focused on one company during its death throes. Just remember that story is much bigger.”
While the column was lauded by the usual array of liberal press praisers this week, a few wry but keen-eyed observers including several who contacted The Washington Times recalled that Mr. Krugman was once actually employed by Enron as an adviser.
Enron spokesman Mark Palmer confirmed that yesterday.
“Paul Krugman was on Enron’s advisory committee. I don’t know when he left, but I think it was when he started his gig at the New York Times, because they wouldn’t let him continue,” Mr. Palmer said. “He’s written about it before.”
Indeed, Mr. Krugman wrote a column almost a year ago in the New York Times that included a come-clean admonition:
“Full disclosure: Before this newspaper’s conflict-of-interest rules required me to resign, I served on an Enron advisory board that turns out to have been a hatchery for future Bush administration officials. (What was I doing there? Beats me.),” Mr. Krugman wrote in his Jan. 24, 2001, column.
But the New York Times itself elaborated on this fact Thursday in a business story about Lawrence Lindsey, the Bush administration’s chief economic adviser who had also been paid as a consultant for Enron. At the end of the story, the Times noted that their “editorial columnist” Mr. Krugman “was also paid $50,000 to serve on an Enron advisory board in 1999” and had disclosed the fact in a 2001 column.
“This was an advisory panel that had no function that I was aware of,” Mr. Krugman was quoted as saying. “My later interpretation is that it was all part of the way they built an image. All in all, I was just another brick in the wall.”
This advisory board, which Enron spokesman Mr. Palmer said provided “macro-economic counsel to the company,” was bipartisan, apparently. The Weekly Standard’s William Kristol and Irwin Stelzer also served on it, according to a story Mr. Stelzer wrote for the Standard in November.
The board was assembled by Enron Chairman Kenneth L. Lay “to keep him and his team up to date on general policy trends,” Mr. Stelzer wrote.
But back to Mr. Krugman. Yesterday, an incensed Andrew Sullivan took the columnist to task in his own column (www.andrewsullivan.com) for a “disclosure” that omitted a few details.
The Times implied that the disclosure “exonerates Krugman from the charge of not informing his readership about his Enron ties. In fact, Krugman didn’t disclose his fee a year ago, passing off the board membership as some sort of jolly extracurricular,” Mr. Sullivan writes.
Mr. Sullivan also observed, “It will be fascinating to see whether any of the usual left-liberal journalist watch-dog magazines or bodies say anything about Krugman,” specifically citing Jim Romenesko’s “Media News,” published on-line by the Poynter Institute.
Calls to the New York Times op-ed page were not returned this week. A spokeswoman for Princeton University said Thursday that Mr. Krugman was vacationing out of the country.
Contact Jennifer Harper at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202/636-3085.
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