Newsweek editor and provocateur Tina Brown must be thrilled that Niall Ferguson's "Hit the Road, Barack" cover is the talk of the morning, but, actually, it's not because the essay hit on some universal truth or was an exquisite piece of journalism—it's because everyone is cutting the piece off at the knees. First off, Brown and the crew at Newsweek deserve a slow clap for their amazing trolling instincts. By employing Ferguson, a Harvard historian who once described the president as being "like Felix the Cat" because "Felix was not only black. He was also very, very lucky," to write an Obama takedown shows a real willingness to dive right into controversy. (Ferguson's also a controversial choice given last year's extremely harsh assessment of his work in The London Review of Books by Pankaj Mishra.) And we haven't seen this much Newsweek cover-story talk since umm...Tina Brown commissioned Andrew Sullivan to write about how Obama was The First Gay President ... or Spanking ... or late last month when Newsweek decided that Mitt Romney was a wimp. It's gotten to the point where Newsweek is just flexing its troll muscles to elicit press and get people talking about the magazine rather than, you know, reading it.
If anyone did read Ferguson's story, as The New York Times's Paul Krugman did, they might have caught some errors. "There are multiple errors and misrepresentations in Niall Ferguson’s cover story in Newsweek — I guess they don’t do fact-checking," wrote Krugman in reference to a Ferguson passage about the Congressional Budget Office. Writes Krugman: "he is deliberately misleading readers, conveying the impression that the CBO had actually rejected Obama’s claim that health reform is deficit-neutral, when in fact the opposite is true." (Not surprisingly, Ferguson has taken to The Daily Beast to rebut Krugman.) Over at Slate, Matt Yglesias wasn't a fan of Ferguson's piece either, writing that "it's so comprehensive as to be completely incoherent" and deconstructs the idea that Obama is the reason for economic growth in China. And Business Insider's Joe Weisenthal offered a chart-enhanced takedown of Ferguson's wrongness. But, hey, everyone's talking about Newsweek! So it must be worth it, right?