lying in ponds
The absurdity of partisanship
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November 2002 Archive

Saturday 30 November 2002

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Friday 29 November 2002

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ENRON-FREE MONTH! After mentioning Enron at least once in every month this year, Paul Krugman broke out of his pattern -- his six November columns were entirely Enron-free. What could be next? A column negative toward Democrats or positive toward Republicans?

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Thursday 28 November 2002

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Wednesday 27 November 2002

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KRUGMAN, EVEN HOTTER: Editor and Publisher, "the the authoritative weekly magazine covering the newspaper industry in North America", has named Paul Krugman their columnist of the year, citing his "Analysis that's on the money":
With a clear, nonacademic writing style, Krugman appeals to many people who normally avoid economics like the plague -- even if they disagree with his political views. This year, Krugman used his high-profile Times forum and economic knowledge to skewer Bush-administration policies in columns with such titles as "The Bully's Pulpit" and "Crony Capitalism, USA." That made him a lightning rod read closely by both liberals and conservatives.

Thanks to reader "TVsHenry" for pointing me to the story.

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Tuesday 26 November 2002

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KRUGMAN IS HOT: Howard Kurtz writes about Paul Krugman in yesterday's column:
At a time when Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity and other wingers seem to be the loudest voices around, those on the left are rallying around a Princeton professor who rarely sets foot inside the Beltway and isn't even a fulltime journalist.

Paul Krugman, in other words, is hot.

Hot not just because he commands a choice chunk of real estate on the New York Times op-ed page, but because week after week he bashes the Bush administration for lying and worse.

Kurtz links to a new article by Nicholas Confessore in the Washington Monthly, an excellent, balanced assessment of Mr. Krugman. Mr. Confessore gives him full credit for the accuracy of his criticism:

On balance, Krugman's record stands up pretty well. On the topics he writes about most often and most angrily--tax cuts, Social Security, and the budget--his record is nearly perfect. "The reason he's gotten under the White House's skin so much," says Robert Shapiro, a former undersecretary of commerce in the Clinton administration, "is that he's right. None of it is rocket science."

The article also covers Mr. Krugman's mistakes this year and grapples with the views of many (including Lying in Ponds), that his credibility is hurt by his one-sided criticism of the Bush administration:

"He is obviously a very smart guy, basically liberal, with complicated views, who once recognized when his own side was wrong. And at some point he switched and became someone who only sees what's wrong with the other side, in fairly crude terms," says Mickey Kaus. "The Bush tax cut is based on lies. But it's not enough to criticize a policy to say that it's based on lies. You have to say whether it's good or bad for the country." True, Kaus is probably Krugman's most vociferous non-right-wing critic. But even among those journalists and politicos who enjoy his column, it's not uncommon to hear the comment that Krugman might be a little more effective if he were just a little less rabid.


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Monday 25 November 2002

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TOP COLUMNISTS? Well, I did a Yahoo search on each of the columnists listed on the Blue Eagle Commentary web site, and I'm really shocked by the results. Here are the top twenty, ranked by matches returned by searching with search strings like: "George Will" "columnist":

Top Columnists by Yahoo Web Matches

ColumnistWeb Matches
1. George Will 21600
2. Ann Coulter 18600
3. David Horowitz 16600
4. Cal Thomas 16400
5. Kathleen Parker 14300
6. Thomas Sowell 13700
7. Tony Snow 13300
8. Michael Kelly 13300
9. Linda Chavez 13000
10. Walter Williams 12800
11. Michelle Malkin 12600
12. Mona Charen 12500
13. Larry Elder 12200
14. John Leo 12100
15. Charles Krauthammer12100
16. Don Feder 12000
17. Paul Greenberg 11600
18. Bill O'Reilly 11500
19. Suzanne Fields 11400
20. Robert Novak 10600

Why are the top twenty all conservative? Does this mean that conservative pundits are really that dominant in syndication? I'll investigate this further . .

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Sunday 24 November 2002

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Saturday 23 November 2002

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Friday 22 November 2002

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BRITISH PRESS VS. U.S. PRESS: Andrew Cline at Rhetorica comments on an excellent Media Minded post about the British newspaper culture:
American versus British newspapers...

MediaMinded takes a look at the differences between American and British newspapers. One startling fact that you may not be aware of: Many British national newspapers top American papers in circulation--that in a country of about 58 million people. How can this be? I think one answer has to do with "bias." The British national newspapers are aligned with the various political factions in England. They make no pretence of objectivity. And, according to several landmark studies dating back to the 1950s, citizens find partisan information more politically useful than so-called objective information.

I recommend reading the entire Media Minded post, and following the links to interesting articles by Andrew Sullivan and the Columbia Journalism Review. Along the same lines, Eric Alterman argues in his book that American journalism would be well-served by following the British model of less boring, more ideological newspapers.

The Lying in Ponds take is that there is an important distinction which should be made between ideological bias and partisan bias. An ideological bias in the media is not a problem if it is openly acknowledged, and Mr. Alterman may be right that it would lead to more interesting newspapers and less political apathy in the public. But the presence of an excessive partisan bias transforms journalism into advertising, too distorted and unreliable to be useful in any serious political debate. I would invoke the Frank Rich/Paul Krugman ideology/partisanship example, but I'm sure everyone is tired of hearing me go on and on and on about that.

Andrew Cline has already responded to the above comment with more background on "the value of biased information".

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Thursday 21 November 2002

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WE'LL STILL HAVE BOB BARTLEY TO KICK AROUND: In Robert Bartley's valedictory column yesterday (now in yesterday's boxscore), he announced that he was stepping down as the editor of the Wall Street Journal to become an editor emeritus. However, his column will continue, so Lying in Ponds readers can continue to enjoy his Top Ten-caliber partisan commentary. Eric Alterman is not unhappy to see Mr. Bartley step down.

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Wednesday 20 November 2002

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BARTLEY FAREWELL? The featured article on OpinionJournal today is what seems to be a Robert Bartley farewell column. Since you have to register to see the featured article, I'll just wait until tomorrow to evaluate it.

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Tuesday 19 November 2002

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MOTHER OF ALL PUNDIT LISTS: Last week, I mentioned that I'd like to find some way to define the "top" pundits. Reader John Berner suggests doing web searches (e.g. "David Broder" and "columnist") for a list of columnists, then ranking them by the number of hits. I like that idea, and I found an impressive list of over 700 columnists to use as the basis for a search. "Blue Eagle Commentary" seems to feature conservative columnists, but the list covers the ideological spectrum from Ted Rall to Ann Coulter, and includes all of the major newspaper pundits as well as hundreds I've never heard of. I'll start working on a program to extract that list, do web searches and rank the results.

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Monday 18 November 2002

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Sunday 17 November 2002

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Saturday 16 November 2002

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Friday 15 November 2002

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IDEOLOGICAL VS. POLITICAL: Although I'd like to greatly expand the roster, I really don't have the time to do very many more than this year's 37 pundits. So that means I need to choose to drop some of the current pundits to make room for new ones. What set of criteria should I use to decide? First, I think I should keep those highest in the rankings this year. Second, I'm inclined to drop pundits who write mostly about the political process (the "horse race") instead of ideological or cultural issues. Most pundits do some mixture of both, but those who are very heavy on politics (E.J. Dionne, David Broder, John Fund) tend to have low partisanship scores anyway. I want to drop Mr. Fund quickly, before he has a chance to write another column with 302 partisan references.

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Thursday 14 November 2002

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OFFSEASON ROSTER MOVES: It's time to get serious about choosing which pundits to include on next year's roster. My intention is to make a major change -- instead of including all the columnists from the three newspapers, I'd like to have a more diverse set which includes pundits from other major papers (USA Today, L.A. Times), magazines (e.g. Slate, Salon) or who are nationally syndicated (Molly Ivins, Cal Thomas).

Ideally, I could find some list of the "top" pundits, defined in some rational way -- the most widely-read, widely-syndicated, most influential, etc. But I'm not aware of such a list, despite a fair amount of Googling. If anyone out there has any ideas, please let me know.

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Wednesday 13 November 2002

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Tuesday 12 November 2002

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FLORIDIZATION: The always outstanding Spinsanity criticizes George Will, John Fund and other conservative pundits for the use of the term "Floridization":
The term "Floridization" and its variations is of the same breed as Clintonize", "Daschle-ize" and "Enronize": nonsensical catchphrases coined in order to attach loaded emotional associations to whatever they are applied to. In this case "Floridization" is an ad hominem attack on Democrats for legal wrangling and complaints about voting rights.

Such phrases become shorthand used to discredit the actions and policies of opponents without addressing them on the merits (Last and Fund do substantively address real issues, though they clearly coin the term so it will be used in this manner). The powerful connotations of such words often allows them to become deeply imbedded in political discourse, especially as they are repeated with less and less context. "Clintonize," for example, has become shorthand for everything one perceives to be wrong with American culture. Such terms erode the vocabulary of politics, diminishing the discourse to little more than a battle of buzzwords.



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Monday 11 November 2002

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IDEOLOGICAL YET INDEPENDENT: Because of the emphasis on identifying the most partisan columnists, I worry about Lying in Ponds being too negative. The intent is not to merely criticize partisan pundits, but also to encourage independent (not politically neutral or centrist) punditry from across the ideological spectrum. Frank Rich is a great example of just that kind of independent columnist. He is sharply ideological, racking up 340 negative Republican references in only 21 columns by opposing the Bush administration on Enron and most other things.

But Mr. Rich's opposition is clearly not partisan -- he shows no hesitation in criticizing Democrats with the same vigor. His independence was on display in his brutal post-election criticism of Democrats in Saturday's column. Following two other Republican-leaning columns, Mr. Rich dropped from 7th to 12th place. He was replaced in the Top Ten by Pete du Pont.

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Sunday 10 November 2002

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Saturday 9 November 2002

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Friday 8 November 2002

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Thursday 7 November 2002

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UNWANTED FUND-ING: OpinionJournal columnist John Fund discovered a way to administer some serious pain to Lying in Ponds. After having to identify and evaluate a mind-altering 302 partisan references (it seemed as if he mentioned every candidate in America) in Mr. Fund's election day column, there is no chance he'll be getting a Christmas card from me. With any luck, names like Erskine and Dirk and Myrth and Mitt won't be bouncing around in my head long enough to cause any permanent damage. The torture continues -- he added 30 more references yesterday and another 77 today.

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Wednesday 6 November 2002

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BELLWETHER: Election day went pretty smoothly in our precinct. We had about 980 ballots cast, which is about 45% of the total number of registered voters. Shown below are the number of people who voted in each hour through the day. As usual, a line formed in the dark before the polls opened at at 6:30 (something I've always found difficult to grasp), so the first couple of hours were hectic.

The precinct is almost exactly split between the two parties, and the results here are usually well-correlated with the rest of the state. So when I saw that Dole had solidly won our precinct, it looked like it would be a Republican night.

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Tuesday 5 November 2002

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KRUGMAN 2000 REPORT: Back in August, I promised to evaluate all of Paul Krugman's New York Times columns from 2000, in order to test the hypothesis put forward by some readers -- that Mr. Krugman's current high partisanship ranking is misleading because he had been similarly critical of the Clinton administration. The results are finally in -- here is Mr. Krugman's 2000 page, which can be compared to the corresponding page for this year. Here are some highlights:
  1. Mr. Krugman's Combined Partisanship Index of +28 (Democratic) in 2000 is dramatically less than this year's value of +83. This discrepancy suggests that it is not fair to consider Mr. Krugman the most partisan pundit in the rankings based on this year's data alone, because the scores may change significantly as the political landscape changes. This lends support to the common-sense "target-rich environment" hypothesis -- the idea that Democratic-leaning pundits will systematically have higher partisanship scores during Republican administrations and vice versa. Mr. Krugman's numbers for 2000 look fairly similar to those of someone like Charles Krauthammer this year -- probably quite partisan but somewhat muted by the absence of juicy, high-profile targets in the White House. Lying in Ponds suspects that a controversial president of the opposite party tends to elevate the true partisans to the top of the rankings ahead of their ideological brethren. Republican columnists like Robert Bartley, Michael Kelly, or Charles Krauthammer probably rose to Krugman-like heights in the rankings during the Clinton 90's.
  2. Although Mr. Krugman's partisanship score was much lower, antipathy to Republicans is just as evident in his 2000 columns. In the course of 98 columns in 2000 and over 80 so far this year, there has been only one individual column which leaned in the Republican direction. It was a July 2000 column with one positive Republican reference, to the "Nixon-goes-to-China effect" (see how easy it is?).
  3. The main reason for Mr. Krugman's lower partisanship score was that the award-winning international economist wrote many more columns in 2000 on non-political themes, mostly consisting of the sharp, well-written economic analysis for which he has become admired. His partisanship score is so high this year because his columns have been both remarkably one-sided and remarkably relentless. His 2000 columns were not quite as one-sided, and definitely not relentless. Below is a chart showing the orientation of his individual columns in each year.

  4. The 2000 results do not support the idea that Mr. Krugman was critical of Bill Clinton or his administration -- references were about 23 positive to 4 negative. That's not very different than this year's 25 postive to 1 negative. Of course, it's quite possible that Mr. Krugman was more critical in the early Clinton years, before he started his Times column.

Thank you to whoever maintains the The Unofficial Paul Krugman Archive; they have a complete up-to-date collection of Mr. Krugman's Times columns and much more.

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Monday 4 November 2002

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ELECTION DAY: Tomorrow is election day; the big news here in North Carolina is the most expensive Senate race in the country. I'll be working at the polls all day (6:30 am - 7:30 pm) and won't evaluate columns; hopefully I can catch up on Wednesday. But I'll have something special to post for tomorrow while I'm gone . .

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Sunday 3 November 2002

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Saturday 2 November 2002

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NO TIME FOR LIEUTENANTS: The Democratic candidate for Maryland lieutenant governor, Admiral Charles Larson, is the subject of Colbert King's column today. But references to either Mr. Larson or his Republican counterpart are not evaluated as partisan references, because I choose to ignore lieutenant governors, just to keep my lists of partisan names from getting completely out of control (about 600 total names right now). In addition, I intentionally ignore: state executive branch officals, state legislators, mayors, city council members, lower-ranking members of the White House staff, and any federal department officials below cabinet level (undersecretaries, etc.). I make exceptions when any of the above become nationally prominent -- the most common example being the handful of big city mayors who typically become national figures. Another exception is New York State attorney general Eliot Spitzer, because of the national prominence he has achieved.

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Friday 1 November 2002

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SAFIRE RESPONDS TO CONASON: In a column yesterday, William Safire seems to be responding to the criticism from Joe Conason which was mentioned here last week. Mr. Safire admits that he sometimes publishes hunches which turn out to be wrong, but he continues to defend the possibility of an Iraq-Al Qaeda link:
But lo and behold, The New York Times last week reported from Prague that President Vaclav Havel "quietly told the White House he has concluded that there is no evidence to confirm" the Atta-Iraqi meeting. Havel had "discreetly called Washington" to tell senior Bush officials to ignore the reports.

Wow -- Havel personally intervened, calling the Bush White House himself to "quietly, discreetly" contradict his intelligence service and fellow officials? That was a news story deserving its front-page play and subsequent editorial. My e-mail screen sparkled with gleeful nyah-nyahs from readers certain this proved Saddam had no terrorist connections and should be left alone. I brooded about my hunch.

But lo and re-behold, two days later The New York Times reported this denial from Havel's spokesman: "The president did not call the White House about this. The president never spoke with any American government official about Atta, not with Bush, not with anyone else."



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