I wrote last week about what I saw as the shameful parting shot of Daniel Okrent, The New York Times public editor, or ombudsman. He accused Paul Krugman of distorting statistics in his columns, with no supporting evidence.
Today the Times has a quarter-page of soppy huzzahs from readers for Okrent. (Parenthetically, why do all American publications persist in publishing letters of the ilk: “What a wonderful cover story on x”? I thought that kind of thing vanished with the collapse of the Cultural Revolution. The Times piece is even headlined: “Goodbye, Public Editor No. 1, and Thanks”. Yuk.) The last letter, however, is something different.
In Daniel Okrent’s parting shot as public editor of The New York Times, he levied a harsh charge against me: he said that I have “a disturbing habit of shaping, slicing and selectively citing numbers in a fashion that pleases his acolytes but leaves him open to substantive assaults.”
He offered no examples of my “disturbing habit,” and maybe I should stop there: surely it’s inappropriate for the public editor to attack the ethics of one of the paper’s writers without providing any supporting evidence. He responded to my request for examples with criticisms of specific columns. Those criticisms were simply wrong: in each of those columns I played entirely fair with my readers, using the standard data in the standard way.
That should be the end of the story.
I want to go back to doing what I have been doing all along: using economic data to inform my readers.
Princeton, N.J., May 24, 2005
Stay tuned to the public editor page for further instalments.