March 11, 2013
Krugman Economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman. (Scott Eells/Bloomberg)

Toni Straka lives in Vienna, Austria. He’s the 48-year-old founder and publisher of the Prudent Investor blog, the subtitle of which reads, “CHRONICLING THE GLOBAL DEBT EXCESS SINCE 2005.” A recent piece from the Austrian magazine Format caught Straka’s attention — it spoke of New York Times columnist Paul Krugman’s filing for Chapter 13 bankruptcy.

That’s a slam-dunk post for Straka. “This is the birthplace of Austrian economics,” says Straka. “It was just too good of a story that the prototypical Keynesian follower, Krugman, had declared bankruptcy. That was just too saucy a story for us.”

That’s not to say Straka didn’t check Google. He did, and found not a lot of hits for the story. “They have a scoop,” he concluded, before putting the story on Prudent Investor.

Prudent Investor — “one of the early and few warners about the U.S. housing bubble,” Straka says — has some reach. “I’m being syndicated and aggregated in more feeds than I could remember,” Straka says. One of the feeds that pulls in the Prudent Investor is knit together by a California company named Financial Content, which delivers stock quotes and financial information and news to its clients’ websites. And one of those clients is Boston.com, a portal that presents content from the Boston Globe.

Wing Yu, the CEO of Financial Content, says that his people generate absolutely no news, no content. They merely grab it, wrangle it and push it onto websites. “We’re strictly a tech company,” Yu says. “We don’t have any editorial oversight.”

No editorial oversight, sure. Editorial impact? Absolutely: The Prudent Investor posting on Krugman made its way through the Financial Content feed and onto Boston.com. Once there, it sucked in all the juices of integrity and credibility stored up over the decades by the Boston Globe. So people believed the posting that indicated Krugman had gone bankrupt.

Or, at the very least, Breitbart.com believed the posting that Krugman had gone bankrupt. It swallowed the story and republished it, laughing the whole way. “Apparently this Keynesian thing doesn’t really work on the micro level.” This, from the duped Breitbart.com writer:

 

The notion that some automated news feed, unregulated by local editorial brains, would just filter onto Boston.com appeared to offend Boston Globe Editor Brian McGrory, who earlier today told the Erik Wemple Blog: “The idea that we’d have a partner on our site is actually news to me,” referring to Financial Content. He pledged to “address our relationship with that vendor.”

The Krugman-bankrupt thing, of course, is a joke that comes courtesy of the Daily Currant, a satire site. Not long ago, the Daily Currant made headlines for similar reasons with a different story, as the Washington Post passed along a satirical post that Sarah Palin had signed on as a commentator with Al Jazeera.

Is hoodwinking some sap at a media organization the reigning objective at Daily Currant? Nah, says founder Daniel Barkeley. “The goal is to write satire that’s close to the truth,” says Barkeley, noting that he models his stuff after mockumentaries such as “The Office.” “They hew very close to reality yet they’re supposed to be funny.”

Barkeley, 28, produces the Daily Currant with the help of just a single freelancer. Material for his riffs, he says, comes from his reading diet, which consists of the New York Times, The Washington Post, the Financial Times, the Economist and the like. “I just try to satirize the things that I read,” says Barkeley, which results in joke-posts that are a bit higher brow than the offerings from The Onion, he says.

The elevated-brow content in the Krugman piece comes right here:

The filing says that Krugman got into credit card trouble in 2004 after racking up $84,000 in a single month on his American Express black card in pursuit of rare Portuguese wines and 19th century English cloth.

References to Portuguese wine and English cloth weren’t plucked from a comedic riff. David Ricardo, the great English political economist, cited those two products in laying out the theory of comparative advantage, which would become a philosophical pillar of free trade. Krugman’s bio is thick on the economics of international trade.

“The idea that he would rack up a bill on Portuguese wine and English cloth is the giveaway,” says Barkeley. A giveaway that the folks at Breitbart.com and Prudent Investor somehow failed to spot, to the eternal embarrassment of their university economics professors.

Journos’ failure to pick up on a nicely threaded comparative-advantage joke resulted in all kinds of Internet violence: Straka reports having pulled his piece within an hour of its posting; Boston.com went nuts trying to track down people who could actually take the Krugman thing off of its site; and Breitbart.com took down its piece. And! Format magazine published this stunning notice in red ink at the top of its aggregated story:

Österreich steht noch, den Euro gibt’s auch noch – doch der Ökonom und Euro-Schwarzmaler Paul Krugman schlittert in den Privatkonkurs, nachdem der Versuch, einen Ausweg aus den Schulden zu finden, gescheitert ist, berichtet “The Daily Currant”.

UPDATE: It’s the footer of the Format story that actually attempts to correct things. It reads:

Die Quelle dieser “Nachricht” ist das Satire-Magazin “The Daily Currant”, der Wahrheitsgehalt der Meldung entsprechend gering. Hier das Original in englischer Version

Via Google Translate, that means:

The source of this “message”, the satirical magazine “The Daily Currant”, the truth of the message is correspondingly low. Here’s the original version in English

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.
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