lying in ponds
The absurdity of partisanship
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October 2002 Archive

Thursday 31 October 2002

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INDEPENDENCE OF THE JOURNAL: To demonstrate that each of the newspapers evaluated here have stated policies of editorial independence, I've previously posted information from the New York Times and Washington Post. To complete the point, here is what the Wall Street Journal's OpinionJournal says on its philosophy page (emphasis mine):
The Wall Street Journal has a long and proud tradition of vigorous and independent editorial commentary. ...

Looking back over this history, the surprise is not the change of views over the years but the constancy of them. (See "Journal Editorials and the Common Man.") They are united by the mantra "free markets and free people," the principles, if you will, marked in the watershed year of 1776 by Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence and Adam Smith's "Wealth of Nations." So over the past century and into the next, the Journal stands for free trade and sound money. Against the interference of taxes and ukases by kings and other collectivists. For the defense of individual autonomy against dictators, bullies and even the tempers of momentary majorities. If these principles sound unexceptionable in theory, applying them to current issues is often unfashionable and controversial.

A little further down on the "Our Philosophy" page though, there is an interesting paragraph which suggests that the Journal's view of editorial independence doesn't imply ideological diversity:

But coordination of policy positions is not as difficult as an outsider might think, for we are a like-minded group. The most important coordinators--Editor Robert L. Bartley, Deputy Editor Daniel Henninger and Deputy Editor, International George Melloan--have worked together for decades. Similarly, no one needs to tell Assistant Editor Melanie Kirkpatrick or Washington columnist Paul Gigot, or for that matter many junior members of the staff, what the Journal position is going to be. Typically we find conversations starting with the assumption that everyone knows what we are going to say. That is, we are guided by the tradition of free people, free markets set out by Charles Dow and elaborated by a long string of editors since.


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Wednesday 30 October 2002

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BRODER REPEAT? The Washington Post has a David Broder column called "The Terminator's Proposition" on its editorial page today, which appears to be identical to the one which appeared on Sunday. Maybe they decided it had been a mistake to run it on Sunday, because another Broder column, a tribute to Paul Wellstone, appeared on the same day. In any event, you'll find both of his columns in Sunday's boxscore.

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Tuesday 29 October 2002

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THE PUNDITOCRACY ON IRAQ: Recently, Media Minded called attention to an article in The Nation by Michael Massing which criticizes the Washington Post Op-Ed page for devoting too much attention to the pro-war position on Iraq:
A survey of the Post's opinion pages over the past two months reveals a remarkable imbalance on the subject of Iraq, the great issue of the day. Collectively, its editorials, columns and Op-Eds have served mainly to reinforce, amplify and promote the Administration's case for regime change. And, as the house organ for America's political class, the paper has helped push the debate in the Administration's favor.

Mr. Massing singled out columnist Jim Hoagland, saying that:

Hoagland writes about the issue so regularly (and monotonously) that he felt compelled to defend himself in a mid-October column.

A quick count of the Lying in Ponds archives shows that Mr. Hoagland does in fact lead all pundits in mentions of Iraq:

Most 2002 References to the Word "Iraq"

ReferencesColumns
Jim Hoagland28644/83 (53%)
Nicholas D. Kristof19727/81 (33%)
Thomas L. Friedman16031/75 (41%)
David Ignatius15516/39 (41%)
William Safire13034/76 (45%)
Claudia Rosett13015/38 (39%)
Richard Cohen9318/78 (23%)
Michael Kelly8216/35 (46%)
George F. Will7812/80 (15%)
Maureen Dowd7622/81 (27%)

Mr. Hoagland though, takes pride in his attention to the Iraq issue, as he described in this recent passage (from the column Mr. Massing referred to):

"You sure write a lot about Iraq," an exasperated editor at The Post said to me in 1998. I took it as an unintended compliment from a colleague who was not eager to devote more space to Saddam Hussein's transgressions then. Bush's determination has cleared news space as well as time at the Pentagon for Iraq.


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Monday 28 October 2002

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NAME CHANGE: Over the weekend, I made changes so that Lying in Ponds will begin to refer to the "WSJ OpinionJournal" instead of the "Wall Street Journal". The change is in response to reader Michael Kurtz's valid point a couple of weeks ago, that the set of regular columnists evaluated on this site from the OpinionJournal.com web site are not equivalent to those of its parent organization, the Wall Street Journal.

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Sunday 27 October 2002

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Saturday 26 October 2002

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Friday 25 October 2002

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PYTHON POWER: Paul Krugman makes a bid for Lying in Ponds approval by making another Monty Python reference in today's column, his second of the year (first "Bring out your dead", today the dead parrot). I've also come across one reference to the Black Knight in his Y2K columns (I'm almost finished with them, really!). A quick scan of all of this year's columns shows one Python reference each by Bill Keller and Sebastian Mallaby.

GOOGLE POWER: Traffic to this site increased sharply early this week. As far as I can tell from the logs, the reason was that so many visitors arrived from Google searches for "Maureen Dowd". The Lying in Ponds Maureen Dowd page is number three on the list (the number two link is to a Brazilian web page in Portuguese!). Out of curiosity, I checked to see the position of Lying in Ponds pages in Google searches for columnists in the top ten:

Lying in Ponds in Google Searches

ColumnistGoogle Ranking
Paul Krugman21
Collin Levey3
Claudia Rosett3
Robert Bartley23
Michael Kinsley6
Frank Rich3
Brendan Miniter3
Mary McGrory8
Thomas Bray51
Charles Krauthammer14

In general, the better-known columnists have many more links to them, so Lying in Ponds is further down the list. Thomas Bray is an exception -- one or more men named Thomas Bray were prominent in Colonial times.

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Thursday 24 October 2002

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Wednesday 23 October 2002

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CONASON, SAFIRE AND CROW: Joe Conason of Salon asks William Safire to eat crow on the Mohammad Atta-Iraq story:
Safire is never corrected and rarely corrects himself -- no matter how outrageous or absurd his assertions turn out to be. Writing about sensitive, highly disputatious topics, he scorns careful qualifiers such as "reportedly" and "alleged." In addition to his predictions about the indictment of Hillary Clinton, which blew up in his face like a trick cigar, he falsely implicated Clinton aides Bruce Lindsey and Sidney Blumenthal in criminal conspiracies. Does anybody know why Safire remains exempt from the standards that govern his colleagues?

Lying in Ponds doesn't know enough to pass judgement on the Atta-Iraq story, but it agrees completely that pundits should take responsibility for positions taken in previous columns -- they should not only acknowledge factual errors, but also admit when their predictions have been incorrect.

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Tuesday 22 October 2002

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INDEPENDENCE OF THE POST: A couple of weeks ago, I posted some information showing the historical principle of editorial independence of the New York Times. Along the same lines, here's a declaration of the principles of the Washington Post (emphasis mine):
Eugene Meyer's Principles for The Washington Post

Eugene Meyer had a vision of what makes a newspaper truly great, and that vision included serving the public according to seven principles. He offered them in a speech on March 5, 1935 and published them on his newspaper's front page.

The first mission of a newspaper is to tell the truth as nearly as the truth can be ascertained.

The newspaper shall tell ALL the truth so far as it can learn it, concerning the important affairs of America and the world.

As a disseminator of news, the paper shall observe the decencies that are obligatory upon a private gentleman.

What it prints shall be fit reading for the young as well as the old.

The newspaper's duty is to its readers and to the public at large, and not to the private interests of its owners.

In the pursuit of truth, the newspaper shall be prepared to make sacrifices of its material fortunes, if such a course be necessary for the public good.

The newspaper shall not be the ally of any special interest, but shall be fair and free and wholesome in its outlook on public affairs and public men.



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Monday 21 October 2002

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KAUS ON DOWD: Mickey Kaus offers his view on Maureen Dowd:
One reason I don't share the near-universal blogospheric reaction against Maureen Dowd's Sunday column is that, despite the crude and overdone Bush caricaturing, she does acknowledge both the pro-war arguments just discussed. She distances herself by putting them in the fictionalized mouth of Richard Perle -- but she doesn't dismiss them. The column isn't substantively an anti-Bush rant so much as Dowd's equivalent of William Raspberry's taxi-driver dialogues, which are designed to ventilate the arguments while allowing the columnist to remain ambivalent. ... Much as I've done here!

A while back, I mentioned Eric Alterman's assessment of Dowd as "curiously apolitical". The Lying in Ponds take on Ms. Dowd is that she doesn't appear to be very partisan based on her columns this year. She has criticized the Bush administration pretty relentlessly, with special attention to Dick Cheney and Karl Rove. But she also has more negative than positive references to Democrats. My interpretation is that Ms. Dowd is mostly non-ideological and her relatively high current ranking is because most of the juicy targets in 2002 for her kind of personal criticism are Republicans.

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Sunday 20 October 2002

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Saturday 19 October 2002

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Friday 18 October 2002

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DOWD AND THE RULE OF LAWS: Something about New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd's recent columns seems to be inspiring some critics to become lawmakers. Josh Chafetz, one of the contributors to OxBlog, codifies his criticism of Ms. Dowd into The Immutable Laws of Maureen Dowd in The Weekly Standard. Brian Griffin of PulpStalag has a different interpretation of the "Laws". Meanwhile, Mark Goldblatt explains The Dowd Rule in the National Review Online.

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Thursday 17 October 2002

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SO CLOSE: Columnist Collin Levey came perilously close to making her first positive Democratic reference of the year in today's column on Harry Belafonte's recent criticsim of Colin Powell:
Mr. Belafonte may have built a second career in political activism, receiving honors from groups like Unicef for his work for children around the world. But somehow, this has become in his own mind an excuse for treating other blacks as traitors if they succeed in careers in mainstream politics and government. Back in 1998 he was just as contemptuous of the idea of Jesse Jackson taking a job in the Clinton administration.

It's a close call, but I graded the mention of Jesse Jackson as a negative Democratic reference. When a pundit cites someone else's criticism of a political figure, it is usually evaluated to be a negative reference to them, even if the writer obviously disagrees with the criticism (respect is accorded to the criticism). If the columnist then goes on to defend the criticized politician and ridicule the source of criticism, they will rack up offsetting positive references. In Ms. Levey's column, she quotes Belafonte's criticism of Powell, which gets two negative Republican references in the second paragraph. But she then defends Powell at length, praising him and explaining why she thinks Belafonte's criticism is unfair. Ms. Levey did not similarly defend Jesse Jackson, leaving her in second place in the rankings -- one of only three columnists with no positive Democratic references (the others are Dorothy Rabinowitz and Jackson Diehl).

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Wednesday 16 October 2002

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Tuesday 15 October 2002

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NYT vs. WSJ: Reader Michael Kurtz responds to last Thursday's comment about the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal:
Since you leave out the WSJ's pet liberal, Al Hunt, it seems disingenuous for you to suggest that because the NYT has a pet conservative it is less biased than the WSJ. In any event the bias charge against the NYT is because of its NEWS writing, not because of its OPINION writing. I have not heard this charge recently against either the WSJ or the WP.

The Al Hunt issue has come up several times. When I chose which columnists to include at the beginning of the year, my approach was to accept each paper's definition of their own political columnists, by evaluating all of the pundits they list on each of their three editorial page web pages. I'm not including Al Hunt at the WSJ (or some others) because they're not on that WSJ page, not because of any judgement on my part.

Then Mr. Kurtz followed up by making clear the difference between the Wall Street Journal and the OpinionJournal.com web page:

I don't want to get into a semantic argument, but you are wrong about the WSJ's "definition of their own political columnists." Al Hunt's column is in exactly the same position in the paper as Robert Bartley's. What is different about Al Hunt is that his column is not given away for free on the OpinionJournal.com web site. Also you include Peggy Noonan, but her column is normally NOT included in the paper version of the WSJ, but only appears in OpinionJournal.com.

OpinionJournal.com is not the WSJ, and what you are measuring is OpinionJournal.com, minus the weblogger James Taranto. OpinionJournal.com probably represents well the opinions of the editorial board of the WSJ, but it is much to the right of the actual opinion pages of the WSJ.

I think Mr. Kurtz is exactly right. He's right that Mickey Kaus and others constantly criticize the NYT for bias, but focus mostly on news stories rather than editorials. My point was that the WSJ's set of regular columnists is less politically diverse than that of the NYT, but he correctly makes a distinction between the OpinionJournal.com web site and the actual WSJ. Since there's no way I will pay for a $79 annual subscription to the online WSJ just to get Al Hunt's column, I guess I should adjust my terminology to refer to OpinionJournal.com instead of the WSJ.

WELL, AT LEAST I HAVE MORE FREE TIME: Now that my beloved St. Louis Cardinals are not in the World Series, I won't have any problem tearing myself away from the TV to do other things.

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Monday 14 October 2002

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Sunday 13 October 2002

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Saturday 12 October 2002

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Friday 11 October 2002

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WANTED: EDITOR AT THE WSJ: The number of obvious errors in Wall Street Journal columns continues to amaze me. Lots of them this week -- Pete du Pont made the common mistake of thinking that Barbra Streisand's first name is spelled "Barbara" and John Fund spelled RNC Chairman Marc Racicot's first name as "Mark". In the same Fund column about the Montana Senate race, there is this puzzling mistake: "Republicans claim the ad implied that Mr. Harris was gay, a potentially negative issue in rural and socially conservative parts of Montana." The Republican candidate in question is named Mike Taylor, not "Mr. Harris". Does anyone at the WSJ read these columns before they go out (at 12:01 am every day)?

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Thursday 10 October 2002

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POT/KETTLE: Last week, George Will took a little jab at the New York Times:
About two hours after Sen. Robert Torricelli's weepy news conference, in which he -- a liberal, hence nimble at victim-mongering -- proclaimed himself a victim of America's defect ("When did we become such an unforgiving people?"), the presses of the Democratic Party's newsletter, the New York Times, were printing an editorial exercise in situational ethics.

Then Pete du Pont liked it enough to repeat it yesterday:

A Paul Krugman column in last Friday's New York Times (George Will calls the paper "the Democratic Party's newsletter") foretells what is coming as soon as Congress passes the Iraq resolution and adjourns: A full-court election press on the state of the nation's economy.

If the Times is a Democratic newsletter, then Mr. du Pont's Wall Street Journal certainly serves the same function for the Republicans. The Journal's columnist roster has been ahead of the Times' all year in the partisanship rankings. While the Times has one token Republican-leaning pundit (William Safire), the Journal's pundits exhibit not even a hint of ideological diversity.

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Wednesday 9 October 2002

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Tuesday 8 October 2002

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Monday 7 October 2002

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Sunday 6 October 2002

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HITTIN' THE ROAD: I'm heading out in the morning for a short business trip to Asheville, North Carolina, returning Wednesday. I hope to be able to update Lying in Ponds while I'm there, but if not, I'll just have to catch up when I get back.

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Saturday 5 October 2002

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KRUGMAN-SALON FOLLOWUP: The New York Times elaborates on the Salon and Paul Krugman retractions of the Thomas White/Enron story. Mickey Kaus also ponders the same issue. Scroll down from there and you'll find Mr. Kaus criticizing Mr. Krugman for being too negative toward Bush economic policies:
Until this week, as far as I remember, Krugman hasn't really emphasized the spending side, and I daresay the reason is obvious -- if fiscal stimulus is a good thing at the moment, that means Bush's tax cuts, at least in the short term, were a good thing for the overall economy, and Krugman can't quite bring himself to admit this. ... In today's column, Krugman does acknowledge that we need a "plan for fiscal stimulus." But he still can't admit that the fiscal stimulus we've had, in the form of the Bush tax cut, was a step in the right direction, if an insufficient step, in the short run. (I'm not questioning here Krugman's argument against Bush's long-term tax cuts and the likelihood of long-term deficits, though I question it here.) Krugman's particularly slippery when he asks "why not have another rebate" without acknowledging the desirability of the rebate we already had.

Of course the Lying in Ponds data shows that Mr. Krugman has made a total of 7 positive references to Mr. Bush or his administration in 2002 -- they're just a little hard to see among the approximately 370 negative references.

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Friday 4 October 2002

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KRUGMAN RESPONDS: In today's column, Paul Krugman responds to the Salon withdrawal of a Thomas White story. He says:
In a column on Sept. 17, I wrote about evidence that Thomas White, the secretary of the Army, was well aware that the Enron division of which he was vice chairman before taking that position, Enron Energy Services, was deliberately and improperly concealing large financial losses. In that column I cited a February 2001 e-mail message that I said was written by Mr. White. Since then Mr. White has said that he does not recall writing such a message, and the authenticity of the message has been questioned. As long as the authenticity of the message remains in doubt, it should be considered unsubstantiated. I erred by citing it in my column.

SALON ON GEORGE WILL: An article in Salon takes a fascinating look at George Will in "the new world of body-slamming right-wing politics":

The White House is no longer requesting talking points, Laura Bush is not calling for lunch, beloved mentors like Meg Greenfield have passed on, nimbler colleagues like Bill Kristol are dancing rings around him on TV, and shriller colleagues like Charles Krauthammer and Michael Kelly are drowning him out on the Op-Ed pages. It's a Roger Ailes world we live in, and the pundits who ascend most rapidly are the ones who most closely resemble psychotic toddlers. (Oh, let's just use Ann Coulter as an example.)

All of which raises an interesting question: Is there any longer a place for George F. Will and what he represents in the Republican republic?

The author, Louis Bayard, contrasts Will's treatment of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush:

Will's treatment of Bill Clinton is instructive in this regard. As l'affaire Lewinsky heats up, the columnist's rhetoric rises to higher and higher dudgeon: "A liar ... a narcissist's delight ... unserious ... the worst person ever to have been president" ... a sower of "moral chaos." But is that the problem with Bill Clinton? Or is it that he misattributed Lincoln's "of the people, by the people, for the people"? Or is it, more likely, the assertion of an Oxford newsletter that Clinton "followed the B.Phil. course." "'Followed'?" sniffs Will, a genuine Oxford grad. "What a delicate way of saying he failed to get a degree." There you have it. Not only a sower of moral chaos but a pretender ... a social-climbing hick from Arkansas.

It takes some doing to paint a Rhodes scholar as intellectually backward, and one would think that a bar raised so high would effectively decapitate Clinton's successor, who, despite his Ivy pedigree, has been found guilty of such locutions as "Build the pie higher" and "Is our children learning?" Perhaps the challenge of defending Ronald Reagan's intellect during the 1980s proved too taxing in the end, for Will is strangely silent on the whole subject of George W. An approving nod for Bush's post-Sept. 11 orations, a dollop of praise for his position on stem cell research, scattered digs at his positions on education and campaign finance reform ... little else.



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Thursday 3 October 2002

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KRUGMAN CHALLENGED: The National Review Online challenges Paul Krugman for his reliance on a Salon article critical of Army secretary Thomas White concerning his role as a former Enron executive. Salon has withdrawn the article, citing plagiarism by its author and also casting doubt on a Thomas White e-mail message which was quoted by Krugman:
Specifically, we have been unable to independently confirm the authenticity of an e-mail from former Enron executive and current Army Secretary Thomas White that was quoted in the article.

From that, it's not clear to me whether Salon has an actual reason to doubt the e-mail, other than loss of confidence in the author caused by the plagiarism.

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Wednesday 2 October 2002

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METAFILTER WRAP-UP: A couple more responses to Metafilter comments:
I don't trust bipartisanship in politics and I, like owillis, prefer that politicians take a stand, be firm, say what they believe, and be honest about things. Then I can vote accordingly.

But I do not want journalists to be openly partisan in news articles. Editorials are one thing - that's where the opinions and biases can come out in the open. But news articles should be impartial.

I'm not sure I agree that bipartisanship among politicians implies dishonesty. I would also prefer politicians to be straightforward, but after reading Why Parties, I can understand how party allegiance for a politician usually results in a reduction in their own ideological independence in exchange for other benefits. American newspapers aim for objectivity in their news articles, so I agree that they should be held to that standard. Because I have very limited time, I decided to limit my efforts to pundit analysis.

Krugman's columns are pointedly partisan, though. He doesn't pussyfoot around, or attempt to act non-partisan just for show, or take a contrary viewpoint just to be provocative (even when, say, arguing that child labor in Third World countries is not evil - he seems to mean it). He's very straightforward, and seemingly driven - both admirable traits for an op-ed columnist, and also rare.

As I pointed out Monday, Mr. Krugman himself does not believe that he is "pointedly partisan".

WISDOM OF LILEKS: In yesterday's Bleat, James Lileks uses criticism of Barbra Streisand to launch into a plea for getting beyond partisan caricatures. It's worth reading.

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Tuesday 1 October 2002

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PARTISANSHIP BY YEAR: Another Metafilter comment:
Interesting. But aren't all the articles used to build the db from 2002? It is possible that some writers scoring high in (anti-republican) partisanship might score equally high the other way if the dems were in the White House; in other words, it's normal to analyze (and often criticize) the actions of whatever body is in power at the moment. I wonder how much, if any, the index would change if an equal number of articles from a given year from the Clinton admin. were also included?

Yes, the rankings reflect only data from 2002, so it's quite possible that some columnists would have had far different scores in previous years. Back in May, this issue came up -- I suspect that the partisanship scores of Democratic pundits are naturally lifted by a "target-rich environment" during a Republican administration and vice versa. My guess is that Republican pundits would have led the rankings during the Clinton administration.

I hope to continue evaluating columnists over several years, so that the year-to-year variation can be examined. In response to some readers who suggested that Paul Krugman was critical of Democrats during the Clinton administration, I'm working on evaluating all of his New York Times columns from 2000. I'm halfway through the year, and the results so far are quite interesting. Another Krugman note: he got the obligatory monthly mention of Enron out of the way quickly for October -- on the first day!

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