Responses to Niall Ferguson’s Newsweek Cover Story on Obama


The Critics

I realize you had to put “Hit the Road, Barack” by Niall Ferguson on your cover (Aug. 27) to balance out the “Romney: The Wimp Factor” cover (Aug. 6.), but it is so full of inaccuracies and right-wing talking points, I won’t take the time or space to refute them all. Anyone who faults Obama for the failings of Congress is not seeing the whole picture.

Mike Kuller, Walnut Creek, Calif.

People on the right like to argue that the [Congressional Budget Office] was wrong. But that’s not the argument Ferguson is making—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. We’re not talking about ideology or even economic analysis here—just a plain misrepresentation of the facts. 

Paul Krugman,, Aug. 19, 2012

A tenured professor of history at my undergraduate alma mater has written a cover story for Daily Beast/Newsweek that is so careless and unconvincing that I wonder how he will presume to sit in judgment of the next set of student papers he has to grade. I have no complaint with anyone making a strong case against Obama, or in his favor. That’s what an election year is for. My point concerns the broadside pamphleteering nature of his argument, which is no worse than what we expect on cable-news talk shows but also no better. And it comes from someone trading heavily on the prestige that goes with being a tenured professor at the world’s leading university.

James Fallows,, Aug. 20, 2012

The Supporters

Newsweek's Aug. 27 cover story, titled “Why Obama Must Go,” by Niall Ferguson has inspired me to break silence after a 40-year hiatus from writing letters to the editor. The article was the best factual treatise on Obama’s four years that I have seen in any mainstream media publication.  

Travis Piper, Bloomfield, N.Y.

No good deed goes unpunished. That is the only phrase that comes to my mind in thinking about the enormous smear campaign that is currently going on against Professor Niall Ferguson as a result of his bold cover story in Newsweek. As a world-class financial historian with an encyclopedic mind, Professor Ferguson has seen and documented the experiences of other countries that are similar to the travails that we as a nation are currently experiencing. He brings to his analysis a sense of history as well as his strong financial analytical skills in coming to his conclusion that the United States economy would be better off with President Obama being a one-term president. I wholly concur with his analysis and conclusion.

While some in the media may be actively trying to besmirch Professor Ferguson for his bold conclusions, they will all come to naught. He comes to his conclusions honestly and after tremendous work and analysis. Their criticisms are the result of knee-jerk reactions to a piece that differs fundamentally from their paradigm of how our economy works and how economic growth is best promoted in our country. For the past four years under President Obama, we have seen the results of the economic-growth programs of Professor Ferguson’s critics. It’s time that we as a nation turn from that course and heed the admonitions of the good professor.

Now for the full disclosure: Professor Ferguson is the Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University, a chair that my wife and I donated in memory of my deceased father. In the eight years that Professor Ferguson has held the chair, he has been an indefatigable academic, writing books of great renown, producing award-winning documentaries for public television, speaking to financial and other groups, and teaching a full course load at Harvard University. I have never seen a professor (nor anyone else for that matter) with such an extraordinary work ethic. His work and academic rigor are of the highest standard. He brings a tremendous amount of honor to those of us who know him, and my whole family is proud to have him occupy the chair that bears my father’s name.

James Tisch, Loews Corporation

(Editor's note: This letter was not featured in the print edition of Newsweek.)

Ferguson has a very good point that many of his critics are overlooking. The ACA’s insurance-coverage provisions do indeed add to the budget deficit. It then attempts to “pay for” these through a combination of new taxes, fees, spending cuts, and cost reductions. I think it is fair enough to argue that increased expenditures paid for by new taxes and fees are the equivalent of deficit increases. When Obama promised that the ACA would not add to the deficit, many Americans likely … believed that the “savings” in the plan—cost reductions through greater efficiencies in the delivery of health care—would “pay for” added expenditures. Ferguson was pointing out that this isn’t true. 

John Carney, CNBC, Aug. 21, 2012

In his recent Newsweek cover story, my colleague Niall Ferguson passionately argues that the president has not sufficiently fulfilled his promises to justify reelection. Whether you agree with him or not, Ferguson’s crisp and challenging article raises important questions of policy for the next president, whoever wins. The failure of the administration (and yes, Congress) to enthusiastically embrace the Simpson-Bowles tax-reform plan was a huge mistake. I do not necessarily subscribe to all of Ferguson’s points, or even his bottom-line conclusion. But I deeply object to those who vilify Ferguson for being thought-provoking.

Kenneth Rogoff, professor of economics, Harvard University

The harsh attacks on Niall Ferguson’s Newsweek cover story demonstrate a disturbing intolerance for thoughtful dialogue and debate around important issues facing our nation. I commend Ferguson for advancing a thoughtful, albeit pointed, criticism of the Obama administration’s economic policies. A free press exists in the U.S. precisely to allow for a vigorous debate over issues of importance to the nation. Charges of “unethical commentary” and demands that Harvard investigate Ferguson’s “moral character” to determine whether he is still fit to teach are intended not to advance this debate, but to rule certain viewpoints as out of bounds.

Kenneth Griffin, CEO, Citadel LLC