Plinth for Plinth’s sake

by John Q on June 17, 2006

When I was first told by my wife about this story, I expected it would turn out to be an Internet factoid, probably much-circulated, melding the old stories of paintings hung upside down, works painted by ducks and hailed as masterpieces, and so on. But the Independent’s account gives chapter and verse. The Royal Academy, having received a sculpture by one David Hensel with the plinth packed separately, decided to reject the sculpture and exhibit the plinth.

Asymmetrical Information

by Henry Farrell on June 17, 2006

“Megan McArdle”: has a go at me for “criticizing the _Economist_”: in my last post. Fair enough that she should want to stick up for her employer, but her argument seems to me to be (a) an attempt to duck the issue, and (b) preposterous.

bq. Note that The Economist, whose reporters extensively research and fact check their claims, is automatically full of [expletive deleted]. A New York TImes columnist who turns in 700 words twice a week consisting, in this case, apparently largely of reprinting the press releases of the Smithfield plant union organisers, is an unimpeachable source. Opinion columnists: reliable fonts of disimpassioned analysis. Reporters who spend weeks working on a story: partisan hacks. … This is not to slam opinion columnists, who I often enjoy. But having written reported stories, and opinion columns, I know that the standards for the latter are a tad more loose. No one ever challenges an opinion columnist to be balanced, fair, or even defend his facts, unless they’re of the “The Holocaust never happened!” variety. Reported pieces, on the other hand, get checked down to the spelling of the names, and then gleefully interrogated by editors and other reporters who disagree with you. When I see an opinion piece, I know that all the inconvenient facts have been left out so they won’t annoy the reader. When I read a reported piece, for all the complaining about the MSM in the blogosphere, I know that the editors and the writer are at least nominally interested in the truth, not the conclusion–at least provided that they work at a mainstream paper, and not one of the money-losing political mags where the editors have to keep the donors happy.

This is an argument from authority, a kind of argument with which Ms. McArdle has a “rather unhappy history”: More to the point – it’s a bogus argument from authority. McArdle’s claim is that newspaper reporters are more authoritative than op-ed writers, because they don’t leave out “all the inconvenient facts,” and because they’re “at least nominally interested in the truth, not the conclusion.” Now this is a claim that I’m prepared to buy, up to a point, with newspapers that maintain a clear separation between editorial content and reportage. The _Wall Street Journal_, for example, does some first rate economic reporting, even if its editorial pages are a cesspit. But as a defence of _The Economist_, it isn’t even laughable; it’s pitiable. _The Economist_ has never sought to disguise the fact that it’s a magazine with a strong pro-free market agenda, which pervades not only its editorial content, but its reporting. It doesn’t try to present both sides of the question and never has; its reportage is shot through with opinionated assertions and undefended value judgments about the need for “reform” of lamentably social-democratic West European countries, to marketize the education system &c&c&c. Nor does it tend to report developments which might call its preferred policy stances into question with any great degree of enthusiasm. Now there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that in principle – I’m obviously in favour of strongly opinionated political writing, or I wouldn’t do it myself. But it certainly doesn’t put _Economist_ reporters in a very good place to criticize op-ed writers and political magazine journalists, or more generally to assume a lofty position from which they may criticize the pell-mell of ideologically driven debate beneath. The activities that op-ed writers and _Economist_ reporters are engaged in aren’t nearly as far removed from each other as Ms. McArdle might wish to suggest.

Which brings us to the more particular matter under discussion. Herbert’s piece rested on a set of factual claims – if she wants to take issue with the article, she should, one would think, concentrate on whether these claims are in fact correct, rather than appealing to general arguments about the inferiority of op-ed writers. My original post suggested precisely that “inconvenient facts have been left out so they won’t annoy the reader.” As I claimed, if you want to take an undocumented immigrant worker’s experience in Smithfield Foods’ meatprocessing plant as a proxy for the Mexican-American dream, it’s hardly irrelevant that Smithfield Foods has an established track record of abusing aforementioned undocumented immigrant workers’ rights, and threatening to report them to immigration authorities if they should dare to organize themselves. If this isn’t an “inconvenient fact” for the Economist‘s preferred narrative, I’m not sure what would be.


by Kieran Healy on June 17, 2006

Where do FIFA find these guys?

I really hope the Yanks hold out for a draw.

I’m not sure what it is about Italian footballers that inspires sheer loathing. Their Oscar-worthy acting? The purity of their cynicism? Whatever it is they’ve got it to burn.

Final whistle. Well done the U.S.