By Gene Lyons

Niall Ferguson’s Bad Education

August 29, 2012 12:00 am Category: Memo Pad 15 Comments A+ / A-
Niall Ferguson’s Bad Education

During a presidential campaign, the temptation is always to melodrama. Having spent most of twenty years lamenting the vanishing professional ethics of the news media, I nevertheless found myself gobsmacked, as the Brits say, by Newsweek’s cover story by Harvard University historian Niall Ferguson entitled “Obama’s Gotta Go.”

Ferguson’s surely entitled to his opinions (although not his vote, as he’s a British subject, not an American citizen) but to paraphrase the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, he’s not entitled to his own facts. Riddled with ludicrous errors and manifest deceptions, the article’s publication on the cover of a major news magazine at first struck me as ominous.

That Ferguson’s a professor made things worse. Academics theoretically hold themselves to more strenuous standards than journalists. I even found myself rummaging around in the University of Virginia honor code, where I went to school, for definitions of academic fraud.

And yes, it’s that bad. Vote for whomever you like. But if you make your choice based upon the following howler, then you’ve been had: “The president pledged that health-care reform would not add a cent to the deficit,” Ferguson charged. “But the CBO and the Joint Committee on Taxation now estimate that the insurance-coverage provisions of the ACA will have a net cost of close to $1.2 trillion over the 2012–22 period.”

In fact, as New York Times columnist and Princeton economist Paul Krugman pointed out, the Congressional Budget Office concluded that Obamacare will actually reduce the yearly budget deficit by an estimated $210 billion over the decade. There’s a chart documenting that non-obscure fact on page two of the CBO report.

Krugman demanded a correction by Newsweek.

Instead, editor Tina Brown’s latest plaything allowed Ferguson to double-down. Rather than apologize, he posted an online rejoinder calling Krugman’s objection “truly feeble,” and boasting that he’d “very deliberately” written “‘the insurance coverage provisions of the ACA,’ not ‘the ACA.’”

In short, Ferguson very deliberately misled his readers to the tune of $1.4 trillion–considering only the debit half of Obamacare’s balance sheet, but not its revenues and savings. Then he falsely cited the CBO to cover his tracks.

Even his alibi quoted the CBO report out of context. Internet sleuths quickly caught him out. A flabbergasted John Cassidy summarized in the New Yorker: “[O]ne more time: The Oxford-trained, Harvard-employed, Newsweek contributor Niall Ferguson just edited the CBO report to change its meaning.”

To repeat, it’s perfectly legitimate to doubt the CBO’s conclusions or to argue that Obamacare will prove a budget buster. What’s not OK is falsifying quotes and misrepresenting data.

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Niall Ferguson’s Bad Education Reviewed by on . During a presidential campaign, the temptation is always to melodrama. Having spent most of twenty years lamenting the vanishing professional ethics of the news During a presidential campaign, the temptation is always to melodrama. Having spent most of twenty years lamenting the vanishing professional ethics of the news Rating:

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Comments

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Daniel-Jones/827014412 Daniel Jones

    Niall Ferguson has officially sold his own career down the river.

    If he is not summarily fired for such blatant lies, then I feel sorry for every student at Harvard.

  • http://www.facebook.com/don.larson.923 Don Larson

    In Peer Reviews, didn’t his esteemed Colleagues, “out,” this guy for his sloppy handling and misuse of the FACTS! The guy certainly is no, “genius;” and, to think he may be teaching Kids, and others . . . Tis’ a Shame . . . and a Disgrace!

  • adler56

    Who would ever put any faith in a guy named Niall- were his parents too dumb to spell Nail?
    Who owns newsweek? Going back to Watergate’s “follow the money” should show us who paid for and who pushed this foreigner’s hatchet job.

  • HPM3

    I was watching Harvard’s series on Justice (with Michael Sandel). In reading the site’s community blog- it was amazing how many students fully embraced Ayn Rand’s (libertarian) ideology. Many students openly claim that the poor have “enslaved” the rich –and that expecting a rich man to pay taxes to benefit the poor is outright “theft” of the rich man’s money (nevermind the false choice).

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/ZJ5BBSQIGTUMERPZFALES6HQNY Bill

    I’ve not renewed my subscription to Newsweek because of the writers they now use. My subscription lapsed in July but they keep sending me a magazine. Great work Tina

  • desertdustoff

    And they say you can’t buy a “true” scholar…what’s that? Oh yeah, there are so many errors and mistakes in this brit “Oxford trained, Harvard employed, Newsweek contributor” that leads us to believe that even these guys can be bought by all that money the repugnican party has to throw around thanks to the koch sister etc.. So, the only thing this idiot got out of all of that education is to go where the money is and facts? Like most of what has been going down in the rethuglican party…facts are not important because they have enough money and bluster to fool all those uneducated repugnicans who don’t care that their money lords are selling them into 3rd world status. And mitler and lyin’ ryan the go back team? They don’t have to think, their American taliban puppet masters take care of that for them. Ignorance is not bliss; it is a gop (greed over people) voter. Repugnican women…shame on you for selling womanhood out!!

  • montanabill

    The first question everyone needs to ask, is why Newsweek, a pretty liberal publication, printed the article and why they made it front page. Four years ago, they would have buried it.
    I’m sure they have fact checkers every bit as good as Lyons. Krugman used up his credibility decades ago. Maybe the people at Newsweek are trying to make amends for not vetting Barack Obama in the first place. Maybe, instead of directly endorsing Mitt Romney, they are trying to tell you that another four years under Obama will not be good for the country which also happens to include them. Gene is also trying to deflect criticism when he refers Obama to inheriting the worst financial crisis. I’m sure he remembers, as we all do, Obama’s boastful claims that he would have the country back on the right track in four years. He did all the wrong things during his first two years (Democrat ideology) and hasn’t even tried the last two. His only actions have been silly posturing, not real actions or proposals. Speaking of people with egos, if Gene thinks his days at Newsweek were the ‘glory’ years, think again. Oh, and by the way Gene, your statement on payroll taxes is just plain wrong.

    • bobbreinig

      montana bill do you really believe all you said or are you just a troll that says no to everything anybidy says,, unless his name in rush or sean or glen

      • montanabill

        Yes, I really do believe what I say. Why? Because I have lived the American dream and want the rest of my countrymen to be able to have the same opportunity. I have experienced life from poverty to middle class to the 1%. It was not the government that provided what I needed. It was simply taking advantage of what life had available at the times and making good decisions (sometimes bad, but those were bumps in the road).
        I have learned from the school of experience.

    • EchilReed

      Obama just delegated the job to the same group of people in the same posts who had been incapable of doing anything to avoid the mess in the first place, even when they did not directly contribute to the mess themselves – not that he had much choice about it. Same actors – same results.
      Oh, and by the way, effectively Gene made two statements about payroll taxes, not one as you claim (an old trick from you). So could you clarify? What is wrong about Gene’s statements?

  • howa4x

    I will take Krugman who won the nobel prize in economics over this charlatan any day!

  • browninghipower

    As a Yale graduate, I suppose I should be dancing on Harvard’s grave for giving this idiot tenure, but I cannot. He has obviously scammed his way to this honorable position. If the History Department at Harvard had any sense of honor, they would review this clown’s credentials with the help of a reputable private investigation firm and then kick his ass out of their hallowed halls. Harvard has been had, I think…so have the parents who have entrusted their children to Harvard for an Ivy League education.

  • EchilReed

    HPM3 – like the irony … but would it be also true to say “… many *rich* students who so far have made precious little contribution to anybody else in society, and will probably dedicate the rest of their lives to ensuring that they can extract as much as possible from their fellow citizens, while giving back as little as possible …”

  • EchilReed

    No academic economist (conservative or progressive) should be trusted at face value. Admittedly a small sample, one of them recently failed to correctly distinguish between “fewer” and “less”, hardly reassuring when a large part of the job is analysing numbers in various contexts.

  • montanabill

    Individuals are not funding SS and Medicare, it is the combination of individuals and your employer. Right now, because of Obama’s so-called middle class tax cut, the employer’s are paying the lion’s share. Secondly, your ‘contribution’ is being deducted from each paycheck, whether you file a tax return or not.

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