I came across James Fallows’ 1991 piece on The Economist (to which my subscription has just lapsed), The Economics of the Colonial Cringe, and thought it pretty interesting. On the one hand, this seems a little dated:
In functional terms, The Economist is more like the Wall Street Journal than like any other American publication. In each there’s a kind of war going on between the news articles and the editorial pages. The news articles are not overly biased and try to convey the complex reality of, well, the news. Meanwhile, the editorials and “leaders” push a consistent line, often at odds with the facts reported on the news pages of the same issue.
If there’s any marked difference these days between the line touted in the editorial pages line and the perspective of the news articles, I can’t detect it. The WSJ seems to still have a firewall between the two (although in fairness its editorial pages are also far loopier than those of the Economist).
On the other, this still seems bang on the mark.
The other ugly English trait promoting The Economist’s success in America is the Oxford Union argumentative style. At its epitome, it involves a stance so cocksure of its rightness and superiority that it would be a shame to freight it with mere fact. American debate contests involve grinding, yearlong concentration on one doughy issue, like arms control. The forte of Oxford-style debate is to be able to sound certain and convincing about a topic pulled out of the air a few minutes before, such as “Resolved: That women are not the fairer sex.” (The BBC radio shows “My Word” and “My Music,” carried on National Public Radio, give a sample of the desired impromptu glibness.) Economist leaders and the covers that trumpet their message offer Americans a blast of this style. Michael Kinsley, who once worked at The Economist, wrote that the standard Economist leader gives you the feeling that the writer started out knowing that three steps must be taken immediately — and then tried to think what the steps should be.