Sure, I rolled my eyes a little last night when I saw the Drudge Report hyping Newsweek's cover story, headlined: "Hit The Road, Barack," by the best-selling author and historian Niall Ferguson. It wasn't so much that Tina Brown's latest circulation boosting stunt was to bash our 44th president; there is much to criticize -- a too-tepid stimulus and jobs plan, a botched foreclosure-crisis fix, breaking his promise to close Guantanamo, extra-legal killings of American citizens, prosecuting whistle-blowers, a drone strategy that's creating more new enemies than it kills, and that's just a short burst of stream of consciousness. However, I suspected Ferguson's screed would not mention any of these -- and I was correct.
But when I did check it out, I was frankly a little shocked at just how juvenile the article was. It read like a gussied-up compendium of Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity lowlights; Ferguson had almost nothing good to say about a guy called Mitt Romney but had an embarrassing man-crush on Paul Ryan. What's worst, just in my quick skimming it seemed like Ferguson wasn't just cherry-picking statistics but actively manipulating them. For job losses -- the most critical issue to most voters -- he used a number that included the disastrous last year of the Bush administration. That seemed blatantly unfair in judging Obama's policies.
Today, others have read the piece more closely, and the number of errors and manipulations are worse than imagined. The New York Times' Paul Krugman called the Newsweek cover story "unethical," and the Atlantic weighed in with a more thorough fact check, which Ferguson flunked with flying colors. Ferguson actually got in deeper when he tried to explain the process by which he falsely said President Obama's health-care plan would raise the deficit. What he did was the equivalent of comparing one company's net profit to another company's gross revenue -- a mistake that a freshman taking Econ 1010 wouldn't make.