04/20/2012 07:00 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Scenes From The Secret War Of The New York Times Columnists

If you're a regular consumer of the New York Times editorial page, you may have already noted that a sort of sub rosa battle has been going on between Paul Krugman and the paper's Romper Room Centrist cohort of Thomas Friedman and David Brooks (recently joined by Bill Keller). Alex Pareene has provided some excellent documentation of this battle, which remains somewhat muted due to the fact that the Times "has a (supposedly unwritten) rule barring opinion columnists from criticizing one another by name."

"But what you will see, regularly," Pareene explains, "is Paul Krugman criticizing unnamed people who happen to have made the exact same argument as David Brooks. (Or Thomas Friedman.)"

So let's recall that this week Friedman wrote a column that looked like he'd "lost a bet and had to write a parody of the stupidest Tom Friedman column anyone could imagine." That column led off with a paragraph-long lamentation of the Stuff That Was Broken At Union Station, which inconvenienced Friedman so mightily that he went on an extended reverie about how only Michael Bloomberg could save him. As Dave Weigel pointed out, the train station was in the middle of a "$7.8 million reconstruction project paid for by Amtrak, the Architect of the Capitol, the National Park Service, the Union Station Redevelopment Corp. and Metro." How Michael Bloomberg, or a third political party, could spur the "renewal" that was already under way was a mystery.

Flash forward to Friday, and what has Paul Krugman published? A blog post titled "Infrastructure Spending Yields Results." Interesting! The lede: "I don’t usually do personal-anecdote analysis, but a quick thought here." A reference to "personal-anecdote analysis"? Feels like a knowing wink. And the rest of the post? A brief discussion of Boston's "Big Dig," which famously inconvenienced Bostonians almost from the moment it was started (I think it was established as a key public works project in the Magna Carta) until it was concluded. But now? Krugman describes his ride as "amazingly fast." (Having recently returned from Boston, I can vouch for this.)

It all feels like a brushback pitch aimed at Friedman, but, of course, the Times' "unwritten rule" enforces an ambiguity that makes it uncertain.

Fortunately, my colleague Matt Sledge points out that in the post's RSS feed teaser, it gets a lot clearer:

(See also.) We just sort of wanted to let Mr. Krugman know that his efforts aren't going unnoticed.

Paul Krugman and the art of calling out a colleague [Pareene @ War Room]

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