David R. Henderson  

Jonathan Weisman's Bias

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Jonathan Weisman is a New York Times reporter on economic policy. Back in 1999, he reported on economics for the Baltimore Sun.

The web is great. On my computer that burned in my fire in 2007, I had both the news report he did in which he quoted me and my published letter to the Baltimore Sun correcting his error and calling him out for his bias. I thought it was lost. But no fear: the web is here.

This weekend I found both his original news story and my letter.

His story is titled "President's economic legacy debated," and is dated March 17, 1999. The line directly underneath is "Clinton claims credit, but experts disagree."

Here is the the part where he refers to me. (He refers to me later too but I had no problem with that):

Even some conservatives, who predicted that the plan would send the economy into a free fall, have had to eat crow.

"I still think it was a bad idea, but I must admit it wasn't as bad as I had thought," said David R. Henderson, a research fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution, who served on President Ronald Reagan's Council of Economic Advisers.


He quoted me correctly. At no point, though, did I say that the plan would "send the economy into a free fall," whatever that means.

If I recall correctly (and I might not), I called him to correct him but he didn't respond to my voicemail. In any case, it was more important to me that the Baltimore Sun's readers know how bad his reporting was and so I wrote a letter. I have found that many newspaper readers read the letters section.

Fortunately, the Sun, to its credit, printed my letter in full. Here it is, including the title that the letters editor gave it:

Economist didn't predict `free fall' for economy

Your article "President's economic legacy debated" (March 17) is seriously misleading. Reporter Jonathan Weisman claims that I predicted that President Clinton's 1993 budget "would send the economy into a free fall."

I've never said that because although I thought Mr. Clinton's tax increase would harm the economy and was unfair, I didn't believe, even back in 1993, that increasing taxes only for the 1 or 2 percent of Americans with the highest incomes and for upper-income seniors would cause huge harm.

Moreover, although Mr. Weisman quotes seven other economists of varying political views, I am the only one whose ideology he tries to identify.

I am not a conservative, as he claims, but a libertarian, as Mr. Weisman could have found out simply by asking me.

More important, he doesn't even hint at the political views of the other seven. Do the other people he interviewed, including President Clinton's chief economist and one of his former chief economists, not have political leanings?

Why doesn't The Sun give its readers the whole story?

David R. Henderson, Stanford, Calif.

The writer is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace.


Notice what I did. I went after Weisman, but I also held Weisman's Baltimore Sun editor to account.

Weisman's identification strategy, by the way, is virtually identical to the strategy used on me by Ralph Vartabedian of the Los Angeles Times: First, identify me as a conservative without even having asked me my ideology and, of course, misstate my ideology, and second, refuse to identify the ideologies of any of the other economists quoted.

If curiosity is one of the main signs of a good reporter--and I believe it is--Mr. Jonathan Weisman is not a good reporter. Unless, that is, he has changed.


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CATEGORIES: Media Watch




COMMENTS (8 to date)
MikeP writes:

Would you rather be quoted as a conservative economist or not quoted at all?

I don't think being quoted as a libertarian economist is in the cards.

chedolf writes:

[Comment removed. Please consult our comment policies and check your email for explanation.--Econlib Ed.]

David R Henderson writes:

@MikeP,
Would you rather be quoted as a conservative economist or not quoted at all?
The former.

Stephen Gradijan writes:

Would you rather be quoted as a conservative economist or not quoted at all?

I don't think being quoted as a libertarian economist is in the cards.

False dichotomy; he could be quoted as simply "an economist", or a "PhD economist" or something else nondescript in keeping with the other unlabeled economists.

Alan Goldhammer writes:

David, why are you rehashing a 'fight' that was waged and finished almost 20 years ago? I read the full Baltimore Sun article that you linked to and don't find all that much objectionable in it. Weisman goes out of his way to seek a diverse number of people to quote from. In fact, you should consider yourself to be in good company as you get two featured quotes (you don't say anything at all about the 'Mexico' quote; was that problematic??) amidst luminaries such as Yellen, Stiglitz, & assorted academic economists.

In my reading of the column, I find it difficult to disagree with the premise of the key point, e.g., Presidents have very little to do with the state of the economy during their administrations. Do you disagree with this?

Doug Huber writes:

To really, really blow his mind, you should have identified yourself as a liberal economist, but only in the classical sense.

David R Henderson writes:

@Stephen Gradijan,
False dichotomy; he could be quoted as simply "an economist", or a "PhD economist" or something else nondescript in keeping with the other unlabeled economists.
Good point. My bigger two upsets, though, were the ones I named: (1) that he implied to the reader that I said the tax cuts would “send the economy into a free fall, whereas I had said no such thing, and (2) I was the only economist he quoted who apparently had an ideology.
@Alan Goldhammer,
David, why are you rehashing a 'fight' that was waged and finished almost 20 years ago?
Because I think it matters. Wiseman isn’t retired; he has graduated to a more-important job.
I read the full Baltimore Sun article that you linked to and don't find all that much objectionable in it.
I’ve stated what I found objectionable. I never claimed that someone I don’t even know--you--would.
Weisman goes out of his way to seek a diverse number of people to quote from.
True.
In fact, you should consider yourself to be in good company as you get two featured quotes (you don't say anything at all about the 'Mexico' quote; was that problematic??) amidst luminaries such as Yellen, Stiglitz, & assorted academic economists.
I would have if he hadn’t used my quote to set up a straw man. On net, though--see my comment to MikeP--I’m glad he quoted me. Also, your statement that I didn’t say anything about the second quote is incorrect. You ask if it was problematic. I explicitly stated "I had no problem with that.”

Hans writes:

The truth always reveals itself. Mr Henderson,
am I pleased you took time to set the record
straight.

Another case of a fake reporter and a fake
newspaper.

And why is it that not a single American
newspaper went bankrupt last year?? Whom is
funding and bailing them out??

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