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You live. You learn. You admit utter and embarrassing blunder. You lift your head and go forth. You write better.

You shrug it off as big-city bias, as another example of the tiresome discrimination against flyover America, when the president of the United States gives a Fake News Award to a New York Times columnist for saying precisely what you said.

You wonder why Sarah Huckabee Sanders didn't go to bat for you, at least for an honorable mention, for old times' sake.


Paul Krugman, a Nobel Prize-winning economist and columnist for the Times, wrote immediately after Donald Trump's preposterous second-place election in November 2016 that the stock market would collapse. If he beat me on that doozy, it was only by minutes.

I specifically recall wandering home in a daze from a wake of a watch party early election night, then sitting here at this desk and typing on this laptop that the utter shock and instability to the planet resulting from the tragic American election would send financial markets into a steep dive.

That was naïve, dumb. It failed to understand that the markets are mostly mercenary.

In the global tragedy of the moment, I lost sight of the fact that the markets love tax cuts and lax regulation. I was oblivious to the fact that bullishness stems solely from corporate earnings--and from the calculated prospect of more corporate earnings--and not at all from whether the newly elected political leader is a responsible and decent human being who would lead the country honorably.

But the White House's award to Krugman invites the making of an important broader point about the nature of journalism and politics.

By simple definition, Krugman did not commit fake news. He committed a boneheaded opinion in a column existing for opinion.

Offering a public prediction is to invite clear and inevitable public accountability, and is, if foolish, brave. When the public prediction is revealed by that inevitable accountability to be laughable--that's something for which to stand accountably embarrassed.

But dumb is not fake. Stupid is not a lie. Wrong is not fraud. Those are challenges to get smarter and endeavor to be right in the future even more frequently.

But now let me tell you what real fake news is.

It's applying a megalomaniacal disorder to send out your pitiable and soon-to-be-fired press secretary to declare to the world the blatant lie that your inauguration was the biggest ever, defying such well-known evidentiary factors as turnstiles and photographs.

It's saying the former president bugged your offices when he didn't.

It's saying the former president was quite possibly not an American citizen when he was.

Yes, leading media organizations make errors of fact, usually by simple blunder, but sometimes, yes, because of rushing to report from assumptions based on preconceived views, also known as biases.

Everyone has them. Good editors are fairer than the average guy, by instinct and training. But, confronted with three juicy news tips in a day, they'll push first the one they deem most important and likeliest to pan out, which is a bias.

Still, a great and editorially liberal newspaper like the New York Times will break seismic negative news in its independent news pages on a right-wing atrocity like Trump and a left-wing atrocity like Harvey Weinstein.

And it's dangerous, smacking of tyrannical impulse, for that right-wing atrocity to use his office to discredit a great newspaper and the free press generally. It's better to whine only about individual errors and injustices, as Bill Clinton so whined when that same editorially liberal Times obsessed in its independent news pages on the bogus Whitewater charges.

It's better to say your Whitewater stories are wrong than to say fake news.

And it's better to say your opinion column turned out to be stupid than to say fake news.

One other thing, for full context: Stock markets have been known to go way up because of factors that later contribute to them crashing. Some experts cite interest rates kept artificially low as the reason for today's raging bullishness, and say that will soon change.

Krugman could turn out to have been premature, not wrong.

I don't know. And I'm not saying.

But here are a few things we plainly know, because they are not opinions, but facts, and they don't fluctuate like markets: Trump's inaugural in January 2017 was not the largest-attended ever and never will be; Barack Obama didn't bug Trump Tower; and Obama was born in Hawaii, which was a state of these United States at the time.

I'll chance one new prediction and stand for public accountability on it: If the stock market drops precipitously, Trump will explain that he has nothing to do with that.

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John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, was inducted into the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame in 2014. Email him at jbrummett@arkansasonline.com. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

Editorial on 01/21/2018

Print Headline: Boneheaded, not fake

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