lying in ponds
The absurdity of partisanship
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December 2002 Archive

Tuesday 31 December 2002

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BRAY SIGNS OUT: With today's column, the WSJ OpinionJournal's Thomas J. Bray ends his 2 1/2 year tenure as a columnist. Mr. Bray spent the year in and out of the Top Ten -- this last column dropped him from 10th to 11th in the final rankings. He was going to be kept on the Lying in Ponds roster for next year; we'll see if the OpinionJournal replaces him with a new pundit.

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Monday 30 December 2002

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Sunday 29 December 2002

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Saturday 28 December 2002

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Friday 27 December 2002

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HOLIDAY PROGRAMMING: Instead of composing comments this week, I've been writing Perl scripts to download and process columns from the new pundits (coming January 1st!). So I'm cranking out stuff like this:
 ... $stream = HTML::TokeParser->new($file) or     die "Couldn't read file: $file: $!"; while ($token = $stream->get_token) {     if ($token->[0] eq "S"    && 	$token->[1] eq "font" && 	$token->[2]{'id'} eq "columnist-name-cr") { 	$column_section = "yes";     } elsif ($column_section    && 	     ! $author          && 	     $token->[0] eq "T") { 	$author = $token->[1]; ... 

It's fun -- no, really!

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Thursday 26 December 2002

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Wednesday 25 December 2002

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MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL!!

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Tuesday 24 December 2002

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LOTTS OF MOVEMENT: Even now at the very end of the year, there has been quite a bit of movement in the bottom half of the Top Ten. The Trent Lott debacle has played a signficant role -- the partisanship scores of many Repbulican-leaning columnists (Pete du Pont, Brendan Miniter, Charles Krauthammer) have dropped and those of Democratic-leaning pundits like Frank Rich have risen because of columns critical of Lott.

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Monday 23 December 2002

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A web site called pandagon.net doesn't seem to think highly of my efforts. Here's their post from Friday:
Every time I happen upon Lying in Ponds, I am amazed at just how much work can go into producing something so entirely useless.

First, the proprietor is attempting to "fight partisanship", which is kind of dumb when you're "fighting" the partisan leanings of opinion writers. The worthlessness of the goal, however, pales in comparison to the methodology, which basically seems to be Coulteresque word counts with even less rational thought involved. In a post, he expounds this genius bit:

When a partisan figure's actual words are quoted, it is generally evaluated as a positive reference, even if the columnist then criticizes those words.

So, if I quote someone, even if the quote is meant to give a negative impression of the person, it's a positive reference. I see.

The kicker is that the fool takes TAPped's side in their debate with Somerby. That's just wrong.

The first point comes up constantly -- aren't opinion writers supposed to be partisan? Well, they have a perfect right to be, but I'm not aware of any pundits on the Lying in Ponds roster (or any others) who admit to being partisan. Paul Krugman explicitly rejected the notion earlier this year. I've repeatedly said (see the philosophy page) that I expect pundits to have "partisan leanings", but that I'm trying to make a fundamental distinction between ordinary party preference and actual partisanship, as in this dictionary definition of partisan:

1 : a firm adherent to a party, faction, cause, or person; especially : one exhibiting blind, prejudiced, and unreasoning allegiance

Concerning the criticism of the methodology, "word counts" are a simple, imperfect tool. But it seems to me to be a reasonable attempt to quantify the tendency of partisan political writers to distort the obvious complexity of politics into a simplistic "good party/bad party" formulation. Frank Rich is an example of an opinionated, ideological columnist who manages to look beyond the party label and take consistent, principled positions.

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Sunday 22 December 2002

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Saturday 21 December 2002

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Friday 20 December 2002

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TAPPED VS. SOMERBY: Quite a battle has developed between Tapped and The Daily Howler's Bob Somerby. Lying in Ponds agrees with the Tapped take on Somerby, both the positive and negative aspects:
Now, it's true that when Somerby is correcting specific errors or omissions of fact in the work of mainstream reporters, his work is very useful and on firm ground, albeit invariably shrill and sanctimonious. (See his grating favorite rejoinder, "Try to believe that he wrote it . . .") But when Somerby launches into one of his pet theories about why and how the media is biased, his posts frequently descend into little more than rampant innuendo and conspiracy theorizing.

In a sense, the way Somerby feels about the media eerily parallels the way conservatives do. The right imagines that Howell Raines, for instance, is a ruthless partisan who orchestrates New York Times coverage down to the sentence, forever looking for ways to screw Republicans. Somerby, for his part, seems to imagine that half the reporters in Washington sit around in a room together, drinking coffee and figuring out ways to screw Al Gore. From what Tapped has read, Somerby's arguments are incredibly reductionist -- in Bob's World, there is only one explanation for anything that happens in the world of journalism, and that is that reporters are Covering Up the Truth and Sucking Up To Power. When reporters criticize the Democrats for anything at all, it's because they're buying into GOP spin. When reporters don't write stories that Somerby feels they should be writing, like the Lott story, it's always because they are placating conservatives.



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Thursday 19 December 2002

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CLOSE AGAIN: As in October, columnist Collin Levey came perilously close to making her first positive Democratic reference of the year in today's column on a PBS documentary on Islamic history:
That pattern has been consistent in the network's coverage of the Middle East. PBS once blessed its viewers with such fare as 1989's "Days of Rage: The Young Palestinians," a show that, as host Hodding Carter enthused at the time, "reflects opinions rarely heard in America."

When a partisan figure's actual words are quoted, it is generally evaluated as a positive reference, even if the columnist then criticizes those words. That principle is not absolute. The quote of Hodding Carter is minimized in two ways -- it's very short, and it's introduced sarcastically ("enthused"). So it's evaluated as neutral instead, and Ms. Levey's record is intact.

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Wednesday 18 December 2002

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DR. GIGOT: Jonathan Chait at The New Republic writes a brilliantly funny piece (requires registration) about our friends at the WSJ:
One of the things that has fascinated me about The Wall Street Journal editorial page is its occasional capacity to rise above the routine moral callousness of hack conservative punditry and attain a level of exquisite depravity normally reserved for villains in James Bond movies.

Mr. Chait's fascination is prompted by a recent WSJ editorial which bemoans the fact that many low-income workers have no income tax liability, thus "undermining the political consensus for cutting taxes":

When I try to visualize the editorial meeting that produced this bit of diabolical inspiration, I imagine one of the more rational staffers--maybe Dorothy Rabinowitz--tentatively raising her hand and asking, "Isn't that idea a bit, you know, immoral?" Then Robert Bartley or Paul Gigot would emit a deep, sinister laugh and press a hidden button, depositing the unfortunate staffer into a tank of piranhas. Come to think of it, I haven't seen Rabinowitz's byline in a couple of weeks.


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Tuesday 17 December 2002

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PROPOSED ROSTER ADDITIONS: Okay, here's a partial list of pundits I'd like to add for next year. First, some influential pundits from other newspapers -- Robert Scheer (LA Times), Clarence Page (Chicago Tribune) and Molly Ivins (Fort Worth Star-Telegram). I also want someone from the Boston Globe -- Ellen Goodman, Derek Z. Jackson, Jeff Jacoby, Thomas Oliphant? If anyone has an opinion on that, please let me know.

Second, here are some choices which I'm assuming to be representative of the dominance of conservative syndicated columnists in the heartland -- Mona Charen, Linda Chavez, Ann Coulter, Thomas Sowell, Cal Thomas, and Walter Williams. Once again, I've been looking for pundits who: (1) are influential; (2) focus on national rather than local or international issues; (3) focus on substance or ideology rather than electoral politics; and (4) write regular, frequent columns which are available online for free. A fair number of prospects fail on point (3) (Michael Barone, Robert Novak, Walter Shapiro, Jules Witcover, etc.) or point (4) (Peter Beinart, Margaret Carlson, Eleanor Clift, David Frum, Al Hunt, etc.).

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Monday 16 December 2002

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Sunday 15 December 2002

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Saturday 14 December 2002

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Friday 13 December 2002

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KRAUTHAMMER DROPS OUT: Charles Krauthammer dropped out of the Top Ten after yesterday's column criticizing Trent Lott. His spot was taken by Daniel Henninger, who jumps from tenth to eighth after today's pro-Bush column. That means that the Wall Street Journal's Opinion Journal now has a remarkable seven of the top ten most partisan columnists.

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Thursday 12 December 2002

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WAIVER RUMORS: Before new pundits can be added to the 2003 roster, painful cuts must be made from this year's Lying in Ponds pundit team. After floundering about in search of the proper criteria for inclusion (with helpful suggestions from readers), we're looking for pundits who: 1) are influential; (2) focus on national rather than local or international issues; (3) focus on substance or ideology rather than electoral politics; and (4) write regular, frequent columns which are available online for free.

According to clubhouse rumors, here are the current columnists who may be packing their bags soon:

  • Bob Herbert - too local
  • Nicholas Kristof - too international
  • Thomas Friedman - too international
  • Colbert King - too local
  • David Ignatius - too international
  • Fred Hiatt - too international
  • Jackson Diehl - too international
  • Jim Hoagland - too international
  • Robert Kagan - too international, not enough columns
  • Claudia Rosett - too international
  • Dorothy Rabinowitz - not enough columns
  • John Fund - too much electoral politics
  • Kimberly Strassel - no columns since November 1st?
  • Tunku Varadarajan - not political enough


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Wednesday 11 December 2002

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ALL KRUGMAN, ALL THE TIME: Paul Krugman has not only dominated the Lying in Ponds Top Ten all year, he's also been dominating pundit-related news lately. He's been the subject of a major magazine article, won an award, and was declared to be hot by Howard Kurtz. One reader has gently questioned whether I've become obsessed with Mr. Krugman, but don't worry -- this site will not be some kind of "Krugman Watch". Something which seems obvious to me is that excessive partisanship is not limited to one pundit or one party -- I hope that the data presented on this site makes that point clearly.

Having said all that, here's yet another Krugman item. Mickey Kaus recently linked to an interesting analysis of Mr. Krugman by Daniel W. Drezner. That generated an unfriendly response from Mr. Krugman, which prompted a similarly hostile reaction from Mr. Kaus.

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Tuesday 10 December 2002

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SPINSANITY CRITICIZES NOONAN, KRAUTHAMMER AND RASPBERRY: Spinsanity's Brendan Nyhan sharply criticizes Peggy Noonan in a post last week. Nyhan cites "two glaring errors" in Noonan's November 29 column. The OpinionJournal has since corrected the two errors by revising the text of the online column.

Ben Fritz denounces Al Gore's recent "fifth column" comment and various "rhetorical cheap shots" made by several pundits in response to Gore. Fritz criticizes Charles Krauthammer for comments on "Fox News Sunday", in which he "half-jokingly accused Gore of mental illness".

Finally, Bryan Keefer criticizes several pundits, William Raspberry among them, for "viscerally charged language". Keefer cites Mr. Raspberry for a "loaded attack" on Attorney General John Ashcroft in his December 2 column; Mr. Raspberry criticized Ashcroft with vague comparisons to the Taliban and Nazi Germany.

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Monday 9 December 2002

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A NIGHT TO REMEMBER: Well, things are almost back to normal here, but we won't soon forget the ice storm which hit last Wednesday night. From about midnight until about 3 am, our power flickered on and off as we heard the sound of transformers popping somewhere in the neighborhood, accompanied by bright flashes. Silas the One-Eyed Wonder Dog was shaking like a leaf, certain that this was some new nightmarish sort of thunderstorm. Finally the power stayed off for good as the freezing rain came down steadily (over one inch in the Lying in Ponds rain gauge). The rest of the night, we could hear limbs snapping and crashing down at regular intervals. The worst were the many tall pines which bent over under the weight of the ice until they snapped about halfway up. Fortunately, our house wasn't hit, only some fence damage as one pine dropped onto our neighbors greenhouse (below). Fellow Triangle blogger Don McArthur has some photos too.



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Sunday 8 December 2002

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Saturday 7 December 2002

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December 2002

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Thursday 5 December 2002

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STOP THE WORLD AND I'LL MELT WITH YOU: Sorry for the delay in updating the site; the Raleigh area was hit with a historic ice storm Wednesday night. We lost power for only about eight hours, far less than most, school was cancelled for yesterday and today, and our cable TV is not yet restored, which meant no blogging from home. We had a lot of tree damage, but nothing hit the house so we're very thankful. I'm posting Thursday's columns now, and will catch up over the weekend.

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Wednesday 4 December 2002

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KINSLEY DROPS OUT: After last week's whimsical column (his fourth non-political column in a row), Michael Kinsley dropped out of the the Lying in Ponds Top Ten. That means that eight of the ten most partisan columnists in the rankings are now Republicans, and six of the eight write for the Wall Street Journal's OpinionJournal.

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Tuesday 3 December 2002

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ANOTHER ROSTER IDEA: Reader Michael Kurtz suggests another approach to next year's roster:
Rather than doing the most partisan 40 columnists I suggest you do the 40 of the most influential columnists who primarily write about politics. Thus you would include David Broder, who is not particularly partisan, but does write mostly about politics and is very influential, and you would drop Thomas Friedman, who is likewise not especially partisan, is very influential, but mostly does not write about (U.S.) politics. I think you would make a mistake to concentrate on very partisan fringe writers like Horowitz.

Then he nominates 44 columnists: Alterman, Barnes, Barone, etc. So what should Lying in Ponds be about -- finding the most partisan columnists or evaluating the partisanship of the "top columnists"? I think closer to the latter, but I'm not sure that all of those on the Yahoo match list are fringe writers. David Horowitz may not be a good example, but my impression is that columnists like Cal Thomas and Thomas Sowell may have more influence than many realize because of large national followings which may be somewhat under the radar screen (Cal Thomas says that his column is syndicated in more than 540 newspapers).

I guess I'm really trying to build a list of columnists with some combination of influence, national coverage, concentration on U.S. politics and ideological focus. I'll keep working; I need to finalize a list soon so that I'll have time to do the programming necessary to download and process columns from the various websites.

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Monday 2 December 2002

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TOWARD A 2003 ROSTER: Okay, here's a tentative plan for the 2003 pundit roster:
  1. Keep the top 15 or 20 of the current roster of 37 columnists from the NYT, WP and WSJ OpinionJournal. Maybe keep George Will and William Safire, since they are often accused of partisanship.
  2. Choose at least one possibly partisan columnist from a few other top newspapers: someone from the USA Today, probably Robert Scheer from the Los Angeles Times, someone from the Chicago Tribune.
  3. Fill out the rest of the roster with some of the likely partisans from the Blue Eagle list I showed last week -- Ann Coulter, David Horowitz, Cal Thomas, etc. Maybe toss in a couple left-leaning syndicated columnists to go with the conservative horde, someone like Molly Ivins.

I really need some guidance from readers on this. My local paper (the Raleigh News & Observer) uses mostly columns from the NYT and WP, and I'm not familiar with many of these pundits. I'm looking for ideological columnists who may or may not be partisan. Please send me any suggestions.

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Sunday 1 December 2002

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