Talking Heads

by Henry on November 21, 2007

I’ve another bloggingheads with Dan Drezner. One of the topics that we talk about is the weirdness of the norms that govern regular op-ed page writers. In the NYT at least, they seem to be discouraged from mentioning each other by name when they disagree/attack each other, this has become increasingly artificial seeming as they’ve become a bit bloggier, and started to engage each other more directly than in the past. The key example that Dan and I talk about is the recent back-and-forth over Reagan’s legacy and the Republican Southern strategy between David Brooks, Bob Herbert, and Paul Krugman (with other non-regular op-ed writers andbloggers piping up too). But as we suggest in the dialogue these norms are beginning to break down – this rather nasty piece by Ruth Marcus claiming that Paul Krugman is dishonest, has merited a pretty vigorous response on Krugman’s blog (see also Mark Thoma) which shows pretty convincingly that Marcus has taken some of the quotes that she uses out of context, so as to suggest that Krugman was making claims that he wasn’t in fact making (another quote that she uses is more accurate – but Krugman claims convincingly that he was writing at a time when the long term economic outlook for Social Security looked far more dire than it does today). Marcus’s attack is itself a response to Krugman’s previous criticisms of an unsigned Washington Post editorial that she (Marcus) strongly hints that she wrote herself.

In general, this is all to the good. I can see the justification for the previous policy, I think – that you don’t want your op-ed pages to break down into bickering between a small group of elites, and that you want to preserve the ideal of the op-ed writer as a disinterested and magisterial figure taking the pulse of the American polity, etc, etc, etc. But this also allows op-ed writers to get away with a lot of self-serving bullshit while never being called on it. A more vigorous back-and-forth of the kind we’ve being seeing is a highly imperfect corrective to that problem – but it’s certainly better than the current system where regular op-ed writers are simultaneously put on a pedestal and never subjected to the processes of fact-checking that restrain traditional journalists.

{ 4 comments }

1

mpowell 11.21.07 at 6:03 pm


I can see the justification for the previous policy, I think – that you don’t want your op-ed pages to break down into bickering between a small group of elites

I had wondered about this myself. What happens when you enforce this policy is that these guys are never forced to engage in reality.

2

md 20/400 11.21.07 at 7:07 pm

The Post’s op-ed page is dominated by its editorialists. Hiatt, Mallaby, Marcus, Applebaum, King, &c. The result is a very narrow range of opinion coming from the Post while making it seem like there is a broader range.

3

Linkmeister 11.21.07 at 9:10 pm

It’s a pity the Times didn’t allow this vigorous give-and-take when Safire was still writing his columns there. I’d have enjoyed a Krugman v. Safire battle. Krugman v. Brooks shows that Brooks is outmanned.

4

Hedley Lamarr 11.23.07 at 11:49 pm

“But this also allows op-ed writers to get away with a lot of self-serving bullshit while never being called on it.”

It’s a tie between George Will and Herr Doktor K.

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