The Most Painful Correction of All Time

Paul Krugman can rest easy – he will not be forced by Gail Collins into personally admitting the error behind his continued stubborn insistence that he got the story right on the 2000 Florida recounts despite widespread evidence to the contrary. Instead, Ms. Collins goes through hundreds of words before finally landing here:


In describing the results of the ballot study by the group led by The Miami Herald in his column of Aug. 26, Paul Krugman relied on the Herald report, which listed only three hypothetical statewide recounts, two of which went to Al Gore. There was, however, a fourth recount, which would have gone to George W. Bush. In this case, the two stricter-standard recounts went to Mr. Bush. A later study, by a group that included The New York Times, used two methods to count ballots: relying on the judgment of a majority of those examining each ballot, or requiring unanimity. Mr. Gore lost one hypothetical recount on the unanimity basis.

In the interim, we have seen one faux correction, outside of the Times normal policy of appending corrections to the bottom of the original piece, that actually repeated the original error, and several calls by the NY Times Public Editor Byron Calame for Krugman to set the record straight.

Apparently, wringing a correction out of Krugman is so heinously difficult that it requires a full-fledged intervention by Editor Gail Collins in the form of a spotlight editorial – an editorial that manages to work in a cheap shot at Michael Brown in the course of describing how the Times will handle “minor” misstatements of fact:

A “For the Record” column of errata will run under the editorials whenever it’s appropriate. The first one appears today. It corrects several misstatements about when Joe Allbaugh, the former FEMA director, met his successor, Michael Brown, now legendary as a disaster in his own right. Although there have been multitudinous references throughout the media to the two as former college chums or college roommates, they in fact went to different schools. A spokeswoman for Mr. Allbaugh says that while they have been close pals for a long time, they met after graduation. Obviously, if we’re debating the serious issue of allegations about cronyism at FEMA, a friend is a friend whether the relationship was born off campus or on. That’s what makes this one perfect grist for “For the Record.”

Collins finds all of this necessary, mind you, to explain how the assertion that Brown and Allbaugh are college chums is in fact wrong in substance but right in spirit. Sure, Gail, whatever, it’s your world, I’m just living in it…

It’s enough to make one sympathize with former Public Editor Daniel Okrent, who said:

I learned early on in this job that Prof. Krugman would likely be more willing to contribute to the Frist for President campaign than to acknowledge the possibility of error. When he says he agreed ‘reluctantly’ to one correction, he gives new meaning to the word ‘reluctantly’; I can’t come up with an adverb sufficient to encompass his general attitude toward substantive criticism.

Okrent is gone, and Calame will be soon enough…but how long will Gail Collins continue to run the Times…right into the ground?

UPDATE 10:08 p.m.: Many thanks to the great Tim Blair for the link…

UPDATE 2 10/02/05 8:50 a.m.: Thanks also to the mighty Instapundit for the notice…

UPDATE 3 10/02/05 9:32 a.m.: Tim Worstall wonders why the correction is still not appended to Krugman’s column as it should be, while Michelle Malkin asks about the other two columns where Krugman falsely stated the facts on this issue…and thanks to Michelle for linking back…

UPDATE 4 10/02/05 10:07 a.m.: Many thanks also to our good friend the MinuteMan for the linkage, as well…that pugilistic pontificator Patterico also notes that the mistake has still not been corrected, on any of the three columns…nice work, Gail…Lorie Byrd (thanks for the link!) observes: “Is there anything more difficult than getting a liberal to admit that George Bush actually did win Florida in 2000? Maybe getting Keith Olbermann to admit that he won Ohio in 2004?”…

UPDATE 5 10/02/05 1:13 p.m.: Patterico informs me that one of the three columns has the correction now, though the other two still do not…Also, thanks to Andrew Sullivan for the link – I don’t believe I’ve had the honor before…Blogniscient currently has this post ranked #5 among political blogs…

UPDATE 6 10/02/05 3:36 p.m.: Good stuff here from Quantum Catfish, and a little Journalism 101 from Flex Blue…

UPDATE 7 10/02/05 6:55 p.m.: Still more from Power Line

UPDATE 8 10/03/05 12:38 p.m.: Thanks also to Ace – I believe this is my first link from this long-esteemed personage…

73 comments to The Most Painful Correction of All Time

  • Well, on that we’re in perfect agreement…I advocate my position strongly, as do you, but I wish you peace as well…

  • Bruce Moomaw

    Actually, a survey of the Washington Post’s very useful computerized page allowing calculation of the final Florida vote if various conbinations of assumptions are made shows that Bush would have won if the recount had gone according to Gore’s desired criteria, while Gore would have won if the recount had gone according to Bush’s desired criteria — no matter how many of the questionable-chad ballots had been counted, or if ANY had been.

    The reason? As pointed out by Mickey Kaus, both men assumed that a recount that included all the officially “doubtful” but really definite votes in strongly pro-Bush rural counties — that is, votes in which the optical vote-readers used in such states were absolutely firm in identifying whose dot had been filled in, but in which inexperienced voters made technical mistakes such as writing in their candidate’s name IN ADDITION TO filling in his dot, often due to genuinely foggy instructions on the ballot — would assist Bush, so Gore was frantic to keep them out while Bush was frantic to keep them in. In reality, most of those technically botched but clear-intent votes came from first-time black voters even in Florida’s rural areas, thanks to the Democrat’s get-out-the-black-vote drive, and they would have carried the state for Gore, no matter how many (or if any) of the various doubtful-chad votes from the urban voting machines had been counted. (They actually were counted in some counties but not in others, and duly certified by Katherine Harris.)

    OK. So Krugman’s main point in that column — that the newspapers which say that Bush was the clear winner of Florida and thus of the election, no matter what the recount rules were, are spouting nonsense — is quite correct, although he got some secondary details wrong. (To say nothing of the fact that Gore would unquestionably have carried the state if Palm Beach hadn’t bungled its ballot design OR if the voter registration list run by Katherine Harris hadn’t, MAYBE accidentally, listed thousands of black non-felons in the state as felons and thus ineligible to vote — as pointed out by Krugman.) I’ll take you guys seriously when I see you comparably foaming at the mouth about, say, William Safire’s montonously reliable mendacity throughout his three decades as a NYT columnist.

    And, regarding the assumption by some of you that Bush was beyond doubt validly and honestly elected because of the final legal decision that put him in the White House, four little digits: 1876.

  • Well, Bruce, glad to see Nina’s little request for people teaching us a lesson over at Salon’s Table Talk didn’t go unheeded. It makes no difference to me whether you take ‘us guys’ seriously or not. I must say, all of your ‘ifs’, ‘ifs’, ‘ifs’ may make you sleep better at night, but here’s a little lesson you can take back to Table Talk. Concentrate on having a message and a decent candidate, and maybe you won’t have to rely on ‘legalese’ and parsing of ‘voter intent’ to win an election…

  • Nina makes two mistakes, common on the left, in discussing the Florida results. She accepts the claims of leftist partisans without checking them — and she ignores the evidence of fraud by Democrats.

    The latter has received less attention than it should. It is simply a fact that some Democratic controlled counties in Florida have recent histories of vote fraud, some quite blatant. That’s true of Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade, and others. It is simply a fact that some of the gains Gore made in these counties during the recounts are implausible statistically. It is simply a fact that, in the Democratic counties that produced the most dubious results, standards were changed during the recount. It is simply a fact that two Democratic newspapers, the Palm Beach Post and the Miami Herald, found that nearly 6,000 felons had voted illegally in 2000. Florida has registration by party so we know that almost 70 percent of them are Democrats. It is simply a fact that New York newspapers found that thousands of people had voted illegally in both states — and that these people, too, were heavily Democratic. It is simply a fact that Democratic operatives exploited Florida’s laws to throw out hundreds of overseas ballots, most of them cast by the military. (This was almost certainly illegal under a federal law, which provides some protection for those in the military.)

    It is simply a fact that the 1993 “Motor Voter” Act encourages noncitizens to vote and that we would expect them, even in Florida, to vote more often for Democrats than Republicans. How many did no one knows, but every time there has been a serious investigation on this, hundreds of illegal votes by non-citizens have been found.

    Finally, it is simply a fact that there is strong evidence that about 15,000 votes were stolen from Bush in Palm Beach county, probably by spoiling the ballots. (Those interested in more details are advised to look at John Fund’s “Stealing Elections”.

    If we could have magically counted all the legal votes and only the legal votes in Florida, Bush would have won by so large a margin that there never would have been a contest. (Oh, and by the same standard, he would have won New Mexico, too.)

    And those who think that 1878 was the last time we elected a president who lost the popular vote are misinformed. John Kennedy, by any reasonable way of evaluating the popular vote in Alabama, narrowly lost the national popular vote to Nixon. (Did fraud also rob Nixon of Illinois, Missouri, Texas, and Hawaii? Possibly.)

  • George

    Arguments about the various recount scenarios are fundamentally bogus. The key question is this – if Florida election officials had counted all the ballots according to Florida law, who would have won? Answer: Al Gore. This Washington Post link, based on the NORC study, allows you to juggle various ballot criteria and see the results…

    Virtual Voting Booth.

    Gore wins every scenario as long as item 3 is “Yes”, which it must be to obey Florida law. This particualr category of “overvote” must be counted by law and is not subject to discretion by election officials as the other criteria are.

  • George, you are 100% right that arguments of this sort are bogus; after all, George W. Bush took office over 4 years ago, and the voters were so upset over the ‘theft’ of Florida that he won the state handily, and improved his national margin substantially, during his campaign for a 2nd term. If these parlor games amuse you, have at it. Myself, I live in the real word – as opposed to the ‘reality-based community’ that lives off of past glory…

  • Bruce Moomaw

    (1) Yep. That’s exactly the Washingtojn Post page I cited, George. Give Bush EVERY benefit of the doubt except for that one (which Katherine Harris ruled was permissible), and Gore still carries the state by at least 134 votes.

    (2) Mark and Jim Miller nicely cancel each other out. Had the GOP in 1960 had a message and decent candidate, and they wouldn’t have to mutter about JFK stole that election. (By the way, John P. Roche — remember him; conservative Democrat who wrote several times for National Review? — who workd in JFK’s cmpaign wrote in a 1974 newspaper column that Nixon’s refusal to challenge that election had nothing to with “graciousness”. According to Roche, Nixon DID plan to challenge the vote count in Illinois and Texas — until the Kennedy people quietly let him know that they, in turn, had solid evidence that Nixon had stolen California, at which Nixon hastily backed off his challenge.)

    (3) I’m well aware that the Elecotral College unquestionably and honestly (if that’s the word for it) misfired in 1888. (As for 1960, the only reason JFK didn’t unquestionably get enough votes in Alabama to beat Nixon nationally is that the racists who then ran the Alabama Democratic Party refused to even allow him on the ballot! Instead, they demanded a slate of unpledged electors, half of whom finally voted for JFK while the other half voted for Harry Byrd. They pulled exactly the same trick in 1948 and 1964, refusing to even allow Truman or LBJ on the ballot at all.)

    When I mentioned the 1876 election, I was talking about its — er — interesting aftermath. While Tilden unquestionably won the popular vote, the republicans insisted that there were 20 questionably electoral votes — all but one from the South — and that Hayes would win the Electoral College by exactly one vote if all 20 of them were assigned to him. The US nearly went to war again over th election, until the GOP made a deal with the South’s whites: in return for the South agreeing to count all 19 electors for Hayes, the GOP would end Reconstruction and throw Southern blacks back on the mercy of the local whites (which Tilden refused to do). At that point, Congress had agreed to have all the electors decided by a commission with 10 Republican members, 10 Democratic ones, and David Davis — the Republican former Supreme Court justice who had nevertheless indicated that he intended to back Tilden. Once the GOP made its Judas deal, Davis suddenly resigned from the commission, Pres. Grant appointed a party-line Republican to replace him, and the commission voted 11-10 to give all 20 electors to Hayes, giving him the Electoral College by 1 vote three days before the inauguration. So, to repeat my earlier point…

    (4) Getting back to Krugman, I repeat that there’s nothing in his two columns on the subject ( ; ) that remotely contradicts his statement in his Sept. 2 correction ( ): “None of this has any bearing on my original point, which was not that the outcome would have been different if the U.S. Supreme Court had not intervened – the Florida Supreme Court had not, in fact, called for a full statewide manual recount – but that the recorded vote was so close that, when you combine that fact with the effects of vote suppression and ballot design, it becomes reasonably clear that the voters of Florida, as well as those of the United States as a whole, tried to choose Mr. Gore.”

    (5) Regarding Mark’s insistence that there’s no evidence of Republican bias in the Diebold company (despite the publicly stated polticial enthusiasms of Mr. Diebold himself): how interesting, then, that it’s the Republicans — in both the House and the state of Maryland — who are currently fighting tooth and nail against entirely unobjectionable bills to require a paper trail in electronic voting machines. One might almost think they had an ulterior motive — as they had in their unquestionable sabotage of the 2002 New Hampshire election. (By the way, that story has also been quietly making its own way up the ladder as the DA turns successive higher and higher-ranked witnesses. At the moment it seems to be pointing toward the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee.)

  • Bruce, you show an admirable knowledge of past elections that, while quite interesting, does not bear on the point of Krugman’s column. The statement you quote in your point four was NOT what Krugman originally said (and by the way, that’s the purpose of my post, in case you missed it). That was his little ploy to try to minimize his error. Let me quote for you from his original column:

    In his recent book “Steal This Vote” – a very judicious work, despite its title – Andrew Gumbel, a U.S. correspondent for the British newspaper The Independent, provides the best overview I’ve seen of the 2000 Florida vote. And he documents the simple truth: “Al Gore won the 2000 presidential election.”

    Two different news media consortiums reviewed Florida’s ballots; both found that a full manual recount would have given the election to Mr. Gore. This was true despite a host of efforts by state and local officials to suppress likely Gore votes, most notably Ms. Harris’s “felon purge,” which disenfranchised large numbers of valid voters.

    Now compare that to “it becomes reasonably clear” that Florida went for Gore.

    Let’s take it slow: “Al Gore won” vs. “It becomes reasonably clear”. Sound like a backtrack to you? If not, you’re much more nuanced in your appreciation of the English language than I am.

    The second part of Krugman’s statement is demonstrably false, and I and others have proven it elsewhere; the Public Editor of the Times agrees, and apparently, so does Gail Collins now.

    And 1876 has nothing to do with Krugman’s dishonesty…and I reiterate, that is the point I originally made.

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  • Bruce – You are evading my central point. Let me be as plain as I can be: There was no possiblity of a legitimate victory for Al Gore in Florida in 2000 because he benefitted from too many illegal votes and too much chicanery in the recounts. Note please that I said legitimate, not legal.

    Your side almost won because they cheated more. I can understand why you prefer to evade that point, but the facts are inescapable.

    What interests me — to get back to Paul Krugman — is that he seems completely unwaware of the facts that I mentioned above. Most think that fairness in a dispute requires looking at both sides. Krugman is unwilling to do that, which is one reason he makes so many errors.

    (Oh, and your account of Alabama in 1960 is a bit off. Feel free to email me if you want a fuller explanation.)

  • Bruce Moomaw

    To repeat to Mark: Krugman’s mistake on the likely outcome of such a recount was ( as he said) a relatively minor mistake that had no bearing at all on his central point: that Gore would unquestionably have carriied the state if it hdn’t been for both the Palm Beach ballot-design mistake and (more importantly) the state’s major disenfranchisement of large numbers of black non-felons. And, to repeat what I said in the Roger Kimball thread above: we’ll start taking you guys seriously when you stop screaming apoplectically about minor mistakes by Krugman while remaining utterly silent about hugely bigger and more frequent mistakes (and deliberate lies) by the likes of Safire and Judith Miller, whom the Times is also very reluctant to apologize for. (It was reassuring, though, to see that Mark agrees with me that Kimball actually is usually a swine.)

    As for the disenfranchisement scandal: note the near-repeat in 2004, when the Miami Herald finally overcame massive resistance by Jeb Bush’s administration to get its hands on the 2004 disenfranchisement list, and discovered that it disenfranchised black felons while leaving Hispanic felons totally free to vote. Whoops again. It may or may not be coincidence that Florida Hispanics tend to vote Republican.

    To Jim Miller: send me more information on that supposed Democratic cheating in the Florida vote count, since neither Mark nor any other conservative I’ve ever read has mentioned it. (As for the RECOUNT: that Washington Post survey shows that Gore would still have won if not a single remotely questionable chad — including those dangling from the card by one corner — had been counted.)

    And I still await your comments on the GOP’s very curious behavior in regard to Diebold and other paper trail-less voting machines. I have one conservative friend who’s a computer expert, and who agrees that there is absolutely no excuse for their behavior on that one. So does the Washington Post. As Mark Kleiman says: this particular technology makes it possible, for the first time in US history, to rig vote counts untraceably in major — not minor — ways. And we already know from the 2002 New Hampshire scandal that the GOP is quite willing to do that sort of thing.

  • Bruce, I don’t know who you’re trying to fool, but I did not agree that Kimball is a swine, I don’t owe you an explanation for anything, and you can repeat that you don’t take me seriously until you’re blue in the face, but I’m not the one hanging around your blog trying to get you to concede that the extremely partisan Gail Collins issued a correction for no reason at all, in such a prominent fashion, just because she felt like it…the only thing worse than someone who is obviously wrong and refuses to admit it is someone who is shown a correction admitting the person was obviously wrong and STILL refuses to admit it…

    Bruce, I’ll be honest with you, if someone else wants to argue hanging chads and voter intent and all that other crap you guys content yourself with to deny the obvious fact that George W. Bush not only beat you once, but twice, they’re welcome to it…but I think I’ve had just about enough. You really, really need to come to grips with the fact that you guys lost in 2000…and 2004. Don’t you think your energies would be better spent focusing on 2006 and 2008?…

  • Bruce Moomaw

    Sure — provided those energies include making sure the GOP doesn’t rig the voting machines or the eligible-voter rolls enough to win those elections by massive fraud, as they seem quite enthusiastic about doing:

    As you say, it’s never too early — especially with this bunch in charge.

    And, although this is a side issue, by the count of the actual people in this country who wanted him to be president, Bush won in 2004, NOT in 2000 — although the majority of that malfunction can be put down to the good old Electoral College. (If you’re tempted to defend that bizarre institution, remember that — as Robert A. Dahl points out in “How Democratic Is the U.S. Constitution?” — it only exists, along with our misapportioned Senate, because the small states publicly threatened at the Constitutional Convention to treasonously ally with Britain in a war against the new republic unless they were given a disproportionate share of political power, thereby infuriating but successfully blackmailing both Madison and Hamilton.)

  • Bruce Moomaw

    By the way, the Extremely Partisan Gail Collins — just after the 2000 election, when she was still writing a column — attacked Gore for defending the Electoral College because he thought HE’D be the most likely one to benefit from a malfunction of it.

  • Bruce Moomaw

    I will say, though, that I agree with you that “the only thing worse than someone who is obviously wrong and refuses to admit it is someone who is shown a correction admitting the person was obviously wrong and STILL refuses to admit it.” Including Safire and Miller, whose mistakes were vastly larger than Krugman’s, but draw no comment at all from you.

  • One last time, Bruce: one great thing about a blog is it’s mine, all mine, totally mine, and I’m under no obligation to blog about anything I don’t want to; if you want the Safire beat, start the anti-Safire blog, then work your butt off every day to nourish your blog like I have…nobody’s stopping you…

  • Bruce – The problem of vote fraud is something I write about regularly on my web site. In fact, I was writing about it before I started the site. Here, for example, is a Q&A I did shortly after the 2000 election. It has some discussion of the problems of fraud in Florida, though I would add quite a bit to it now.

    I have been thinking about doing a new summary piece that adds the new evidence. If I do, I’ll try to remember to email you about it. The Florida chapter of Fund’s book, “Stealing Elections” has a fair amount of material, including this from page 35:

    “In the confusion and chaos after the 2000 election, an anomaly occurred that many people believe ended up costing George W. Bush thousands of votes in Palm Beach. it appears that as many as 15,000 votes may have been altered and subtracted from the Bush total in Palm Beach County.”

    (Several pages of evidence follow.)

    I had arrived at about the same number independently, by the way. And the returns last year provided more evidence for Fund’s argument, since Bush’s vote rebounded to about what one would predict, given the Republican registration in the county.

    As for electronic voting machines, I oppose them and have said so on my site. Not because they can’t be made reasonably safe, but because a large minority will never believe that they are safe. Instead I favor using one set of machines to print paper ballots and another entirely separate set of machines to count those ballots. (And I would allow those who want to challenge an election to bring in their own machines to do recounts.) Again, this is something I have discussed on my site.

    Mark Kleiman’s remark suggests to me that he is not familiar with the history of vote fraud in this country.

  • On voter fraud…
    I have a co-worker that came from Mexico and was able to vote in the last presidential election LEGALLY after her citizenship became effective. She was so excited about the process of being able to “voice her opinion”, which by the way was for Bush(which endeared her to me immediately)!
    She told me that so many of her “people” had been voting illegally for years, long before they attained citizenship. Guess which party they generally cast their votes for?
    Personally, I think the idea of having to show multiple ID is not a bad idea.
    I do not have a problem carrying my Social Security card, picture ID – for that matter, whatever else they might ask for when I go to the polls.
    At least that way we could know that we are getting votes from people that have the right to vote!
    How many of our elections have been skewed by illegal aliens tossing their ballots in under the radar?

  • Yes, what a hardship, Melissa, to be forced to show picture ID!…

  • Nina

    It is a hardship for some people to have to somehow get to the DMV and wait in long lines. The thing amounts to a poll tax.

    But in some states (Florida, Ohio, Texas, Georgia) it doesn’t matter whether you vote or not, because the machines are rigged and the election boards are corrupt.

  • Please…give me one shred of proof the machines are rigged, or the boards are corrupt…you might be surprised, Nina, to find that Texas is one of the most advanced states in the union when it comes to technology companies and university research…I think you have us confused with Louisiana…we don’t ride horses to work anymore, and some of us have indoor plumbing and electricity now, too…

    Really, it must suck going through life being totally paranoid…

    Oh, and whoa is me, there’s a line at the DMV! Why, I might have to actually make a small sacrifice to exercise my responsibilities as a citizen! The sky is falling…

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