The New York Times (NYT) issued eight opinion columns Thursday in which columnists revised their “incorrect predictions and bad advice” to “reflect on why they changed their minds.”
The “I Was Wrong” series covers inflation, Al Franken, capitalism, the power of protest, Trump voters, Chinese censorship, Facebook and Mitt Romney.
“Our columnists did their research. They read, watched, talked to the experts. They formed an opinion and wrote about it,” the NYT Opinion Twitter account tweeted. “They were wrong — and they’re telling you why.”
Paul Krugman shouldered some of the blame for being on “Team Relaxed” about inflation fears in early 2021, having dismissed concerns that the American Rescue Plan, which pumped $1.9 trillion into the economy, would have consequences.
“I was Team Relaxed,” Krugman wrote. “As it turned out, of course, that was a very bad call. But what, exactly, did I get wrong?”
Krugman said he, like others, argued the American Rescue Plan would “lead to a much smaller surge in GDP than the headline number would suggest,” and that Americans would save their stimulus checks rather than spend. Krugman said he also believed state and local governments would spend their aid “gradually” over “several years.”
Krugman said what he didn’t account for was that the “fear of infection and changes in the way we live caused big shifts in the mix of spending,” and supply chain disruptions, among other things.
Krugman said “the whole experience has been a lesson in humility.”
“Nobody will believe this, but in the aftermath of the 2008 crisis standard economic models performed pretty well, and I felt comfortable applying those models in 2021. But in retrospect I should have realized that, in the face of the new world created by COVID-19, that kind of extrapolation wasn’t a safe bet,” he concluded.
Then there was Bret Stephens, who regrets using a broad brush to smear Trump voters.
“The worst line I ever wrote as a pundit — yes, I know, it’s a crowded field — was the first line I ever wrote about the man who would become the 45th president: ‘If by now you don’t find Donald Trump appalling, you’re appalling.”
Stephens of course clarified he “regrets almost nothing of what I said about the man and his close minions.”
“But the broad swipe at his voters caricatured them and blinkered me,” he confessed. “It also probably did more to help than hinder Trump’s candidacy. Telling voters they are moral ignoramuses is a bad way of getting them to change their minds.”
Stephens says he was “blind” to the fact that Trump voters saw “a candidate whose entire being was a proudly raised middle finger at a self-satisfied elite that had produced a failing status quo.”
But Stephens didn’t reach this conclusion on his own, he said. It was after his friend Peggy Noonan referred to Stephens as part of “the protected.”
“My family lived in a safe and pleasant neighborhood. Our kids went to an excellent public school. I was well paid, fully insured, insulated against life’s harsh edges,” Stephens wrote. “Trump’s appeal, according to Noonan, was largely to people she called ‘the unprotected.’”
Stephens said those voters didn’t enjoy the same luxuries he did and that for them. “It was an experience compounded by the insult of being treated as losers and racists — clinging, in Obama’s notorious 2008 phrase, to ‘guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them.’”
“No wonder they were angry,” Stephens said, before saying that he was “dripping condescension toward [Trump] supporters” which only confirmed “their suspicions about people like me — people who talked a good game about the virtues of empathy but practice it only selectively; people unscathed by the country’s problems yet unembarrassed to propound solutions.”
Michelle Goldberg said she regrets “calling for [Al] Franken to resign without a Senate investigation.”
Franken, then a senator for Minnesota, was accused by Leeann Tweeden of sexual harassment. Goldberg “called on Franken to resign from the Senate, not because I thought his alleged actions were irredeemable, but because I thought Democrats should free themselves of the burden defending him.”
Goldberg has finally turned the corner, though, saying “due process is important whether or not a person did what he or she is accused of, and the absence of it in this case has left lasting wounds.”
“Carried away by the furious momentum of #MeToo, I let myself forget about that transparent, dispassionate systems for hearing conflicting claims are not an impediment to justice but a prerequisite for it.”
Goldberg went on to say that others accused of sexual harassment were reflexively called on to resign but that “a reflexive assumption of guilt is not a decent substitute” for due process.
Columnist Thomas Friedman said he is currently wrong about Chinese censorship but hopes his belief that China will have a freer press was just a “premature” observation.
Friedman said China has become increasingly more authoritative in their goal to stifle dissent and criticism, and that he believes the communist nation “will pay an increasing price for the loss of that kind of honest journalism — both in terms of being able to surface hidden problems and in terms of the freedom to innovate and challenge incumbents in the market with new ideas.”
“I plead guilty to premature optimism when it comes to China developing a more open information ecosystem,” Friedman wrote. “I’m going to ask the court for a suspended sentence. Let’s all wait and see how this plays out over the next decade.”
While the columnists appeared to, in some part, try to walk back their earlier opinions, most simply excused their earlier writing, a point made by NPR’s Eric Deggans, who said the essays “read like they’re not admitting major mistakes or hedging.”