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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Jumping on Sharks

PRELIMINARY NOTE: I have acquired fairly strong evidence (from Brad DeLong and from perusing the site) indicating that The Hill simply assigns headlines to articles with no author input. If this is so, then my statements below indicating that Bowles and Simpson chose the title of their piece from The Hill would be wrong. This was an innocent mistake -- I had never encoutered The Hill before, and had no idea they did this -- but a mistake nonetheless. That I was mistaken about this makes DeLong's post more understandable, and Mankiw's less so, although I still find DeLong's evaluation to be a little harsh. This is discussed further in the updates below.

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Brad DeLong has somewhat of a reputation for being unfair to those with whom he disagrees. For instance, today he accuses Greg Mankiw of "jumping the shark." (I don't think he is using that phrase properly, by the way: Wikipedia says it means becoming absurd, while DeLong is accusing Mankiw of being mendacious.)

What was Mankiw's sin? He summarized an article by Bowles and Simpson as follows: "readers might like to know that Bowles and Simpson themselves have called the Ryan plan a positive step..." This prompted Delong to write: "Naughty, naughty. It is not good to quote people out of their context. Not good at all."

Somewhat oddly, I thought, Delong offered no links to either Mankiw's or Bowles and Simpson's pieces. "Hmm, I wonder why?" So I googled for Mankiw's piece, which nicely offers a link to Bowles and Simpson, allowing Mankiw's readers to easily check and see if he is mis-characterizing them. And when I followed that link, what did I find? An article with the title "Paul Ryan's budget is a positive step."

Now, a title is, for one thing, an author's way of giving a very brief summary of what he is going to say. So DeLong is saying that Mankiw was being "naughty, naughty" for summarizing Bowles and Simpson's piece in the exact same way they summarized it themselves! Wow, that is naughty.

UPDATE: Commenter "brad," who I assume from the context is Professor DeLong himself, notes that Bowles and Simpson may not have titled that article I linked to themselves. That would tip the scales a bit towards DeLong and away from Mankiw. But, even then, I still find DeLong's criticism a bit harsh for the crime.

UPDATE II: DeLong is now objecting that I am "saying something that is false" when I say that headline "may not have titled that article I linked to themselves," because, according to him, there is no chance they so titled it. But the only evidence I have for this is his assertions that it is so. I have written for many different outlets: sometimes I got to choose my title, and sometimes the editor chose it, but never have I had a title simply forced on me: the editor always asked for my approval for his/her title. Perhaps The Hill does not work that way. I am open to that possibility. I am here openly acknowledging that I may have been mistaken in assuming the authors had at least approved the title. DeLong has also directed me to strike through every passage where I claim the authors wrote and/or approved the title. Sorry, I find struck-through text ugly and hard to read. I am here printing corrections. The same as The New York Times does. If it's good enough for the Grey Lady, it's good enough for me.

Tomorrow I will try to check and see if the authors had anything to do with the title of their piece. If they didn't, you will see a big "I was mistaken" right here. But no ugly-assed strikethrough, sorry.

UPDATE III: Well, I've perused The Hill a little bit, and seeing how the site works (I had never laid eyes on the site before yesterday, and then I only saw this one post), it is pretty clear to me that DeLong is almost certainly correct -- this site does not have writers writing for it, it just releases their press statements in blog form. But I have checked with The Hill just to make sure.

13 comments:

  1. Headlines that The HIll puts above the texts of statements are, in general, not written by the people who made the statement.

    If you think that Bowles and Simpson's view of Ryan is that it is "a positive step," full stop, I believe you are wrong.

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  2. I did not suspect that the authors had not given their piece its title themselves. And no, I do not think that was their view, "full stop." I think Mankiw would have done better to point out that they had caveats. But it's not as if what they had written was, "Ryan's bill is a positive step... Nah! Just kidding!"

    Then Mankiw would have been "naughty, naughty."

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  3. My copy of the statement is headed "Statement by Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson on Chairman Ryan Budget Proposal"--not "Ryan Proposal Is a Positive Step."

    David Weigel characterized Bowles-Simpson's statement as "one of the more milquetoast responses Ryan's got." I think Weigel is correct. I think Mankiw is not.

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  4. Makiw's statement is certainly incomplete. But it is not false; he was not yanking their statement out of context to make them seem to be saying something they didn't.

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  5. BTW, I have updated the original post to reflect your point about the title.

    But, although I don't agree with Mario Rizzo about not tipping cab drivers, I assure you, after knowing him for over a decade, that he is not a sociopath!

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  6. Mankiw writes:

    "So readers might like to know that Bowles and Simpson themselves have called the Ryan plan a positive step..."

    But Bowels and Simpson did not make that call, rather some editor at The Hill did. Bowels and Simpson did call it a credible plan and a serious plan, but raised the concern that the plan:

    "falls short of the balanced, comprehensive approach needed to achieve the broad bipartisan agreement necessary to enact a responsible plan. The plan largely exempts defense spending from reductions and would not apply any of the savings from eliminating or reducing tax expenditures as part of tax reform to deficit reduction. As a result, the Chairman's plan relies on much larger reductions in domestic discretionary spending than does the Commission proposal, while also calling for savings in some safety net programs - cuts which would place a disproportionately adverse effect on certain disadvantaged populations."

    That’s some caveat. It seems to me that Bowels and Simpson are being both polite and politic, and when they laud Ryan’s “constructive contribution to move the debate forward…” it reads like a pat on the back for a nice try, a kindness that might meander congenially toward condescending.

    In any case, Delong could be a bit more charitable to Mankiw for the honest, almost inadvertent mistake he makes in claiming that Bowels and Simpson themselves characterized the Ryan plan as a positive step. They didn’t, but that by itself doesn’t bring him near any shark. If, however, his claim is that Bowles and Simpson are in any way promoting Ryan’s plan as such, then all I can say is keep them ski tips up and happy landing.

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  7. Gene do you think this is a better example of jumping the shark?

    I have not followed the links, but I believe DeLong when he says The Hill makes up their own titles; even Mises.org makes up titles for articles (not the authors). But even so, that gives Mankiw much more of an excuse. I.e. someone else framed it that way, and if anything the Hill writer is the naughty one.

    But yes, Mankiw should have done a better job being nuanced.

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  8. "But Bowels and Simpson did not make that call, rather some editor at The Hill did."

    Well, munnsterny, that was mentioned in the update as a possibility. I have both named my own pieces, at times, and had them named for me, at times. None of know for sure (unless you were in on the production process and you named it) just who did.

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  9. I think I need to sharpen this:

    Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson do not want their statement on Chairman Ryan's budget proposal summarized as: "Ryan Proposal Is a Positive Step."

    When you write that The Hill's "title is, for one thing, [Bowles and Simpson's] way of giving a very brief summary of what [they are] going to say," you are writing something that is false. It is not. Headlines in The Hill are not the authors' work. You should stop saying that they are. You need to put a strikeout line through your passage.

    When you write that the phrase "Ryan Proposal Is a Positive Step" "summariz[es] Bowles and Simpson's piece in the exact same way they summarized it themselves!" you are writing something that is false. They did not so summarize it. You should stop saying that they do. You need to put a strikeout line through your passage.

    When you write that "Bowles and Simpson may not have titled that article I linked to themselves," you are writing something that is wrong. it is not the case that Bowles and Simpson "may not have titled." Bowles and Simpson did not title it. You should stop saying that they may have. You need to put a strikeout line through your passage.

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  10. "You should stop saying that they are."

    Well, I have stopped saying it. I said it at one point in time, in my original post. When you claimed that pieces in The Hill are not titled by the author(s), I immediately put in an update noting that, according to you, I was mistaken. I wrote something once. Then someone points out what they think is a mistake (you haven't provided me with a scrap of evidence for your claim, you know!), so then I write "I may be mistaken!" Seems perfectly honest. I have now added a second update mentioning your further objections. If I confirm your claim, I will post another update without any "maybe"s.

    As far as you telling me how to format my blog, well, as we say here in Brooklyn, fuggedaboutit.

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  11. Hey, Brad, since we're getting all blog interventionist now, here's one for you: You need to stop snipping out parts of peoples' comments on your blog that you don't want seen because, hmm... they are inconvenient for your position?... and either post their comment whole or delete it. Now. Get trottin'.

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  12. Gene, you are of course free to format or revise your blog however you want. However, the revision should make it clear that Bowles-Simpson have been misquoted and thereby misinterpreted by Mankiw. Venial it may be, but the sin is there.

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  13. I have now put in a preliminary comment that should make it clear that I now believe I was incorrect in stating Bowles and Simpson chose that title. The fact it is at the top of the post should handle any concerns that I am "still saying" they chose the title.

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