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Defending Imperial Nudity
By Paul Krugman
The New York Times
Hans Christian Andersen understood bad rulers. "The Emperor's New Suit" doesn't end with everyone acclaiming the little boy for telling the truth. It ends with the emperor and his officials refusing to admit their mistake.
I've laid my hands on additional material, which Andersen failed to publish, describing what happened after the imperial procession was over.
The talk-show host Bill O'Reilly yelled, "Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!" at the little boy. Calling the boy a nut, he threatened to go to the boy's house and "surprise" him.
Fox News repeatedly played up possible finds of imperial clothing, then buried reports discrediting these stories. Months after the naked procession, a poll found that many of those getting most of their news from Fox believed that the emperor had in fact been clothed.
Imperial officials eventually admitted that they couldn't find any evidence that the suit ever existed, or that there had even been an effort to produce a suit. They insisted, however, that they had found evidence of wardrobe-manufacturing-and-distribution-related program activities.
After the naked procession, pro-wardrobe pundits denied that the emperor was at fault. The blame, they said, rested with the C.I.A., which had provided the emperor with bad intelligence about the potential for a suit.
Even a quick Web search shows that before the procession, those same pundits had written articles attacking C.I.A. analysts because those analysts had refused to support strong administration assertions about the invisible suit.
Although the imperial administration was conservative, its wardrobe plans drew crucial support from a group of liberal pundits. After the emperor's nakedness was revealed, the online magazine Slate held a symposium in which eight of these pundits were asked whether the fact that there was no suit had led them to reconsider their views. Only one admitted that he had been wrong - and he had changed his mind about the suit before the procession.
Helen Thomas, the veteran palace correspondent, opposed the suit project from the beginning. When she pointed out that the emperor's clothes had turned out not to exist, the imperial press secretary accused her of being "opposed to the broader war on nakedness."
Even though skeptics about the emperor's suit had been vindicated, TV news programs continued to portray those skeptics as crazy people. For example, the news networks showed, over and over, a clip of the little boy shouting at a party. The clip was deeply misleading: he had been shouting to be heard over background noise, which the ambient microphone didn't pick up. Nonetheless, "the scream" became a staple of political discourse.
The emperor gave many speeches in which he declared that his wardrobe was the "central front" in the war on nakedness.
The editor of one liberal but pro-wardrobe magazine admitted that he had known from the beginning that there were good reasons to doubt the emperor's trustworthiness. But he said that he had put those doubts aside because doing so made him "feel superior to the Democrats." Unabashed, he continued to denounce those who had opposed the suit as soft on sartorial security.
At the Radio and Television Correspondents' annual dinner, the emperor entertained the assembled journalists with a bit of humor: he showed slides of himself looking under furniture in his office, searching for the nonexistent suit. Some of the guests were aghast, but most of the audience roared with laughter.
The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee oversaw an inquiry into how the government had come to believe in a nonexistent suit. The first part focused on the mistakes made by career government tailors. But the second part of the inquiry, on the role of the imperial administration in promoting faulty tailoring, appeared to vanish from the agenda.
Two and a half years after the emperor's naked procession, a majority of citizens believed that the imperial administration had deliberately misled the country. Several former officials had gone public with tales of an administration obsessed with its wardrobe from Day 1.
But apologists for the emperor continued to dismiss any suggestion that officials had lied to the nation. It was, they said, a crazy conspiracy theory. After all, back in 1998 Bill Clinton thought there was a suit.
And they all lived happily ever after - in the story. Here in reality, a large and growing number are being killed by roadside bombs.