lying in ponds
The absurdity of partisanship
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January 2003 Archive

Friday 31 January 2003

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ON A RHETORICAL WARPATH: The always-excellent Andrew Cline criticizes columns by first Peggy Noonan and then Michael Kinseley for "poor rhetorical theorizing". And this from Andrew makes me ready to go back to college:
A warning to students attending, or thinking of attending, Park University: If you take my rhetoric class, prepare to be challenged. I don't care what your beliefs are. You go right, I go left. You go left, I go right. You go some other direction, and I'll find its opposite and go that way. I will do all that I can to shake up your world view, to get you to question your values, your knowledge--everything you've been taught so far. That, dear student, is one huge part of what education is all about. That's also a big clue about why there are so many liberals in the humanities and social sciences. Shaking up world views, questioning authority and received wisdom, is not a (classically) conservative endeavor.

ARIANNA OFFLINE: The Oregonian has dropped syndicated columnist Arianna Huffington from their Op-Ed page because "She has dragged herself across the line from being a commentator to being an activist . . . . She loses the status of sideline observer." The issue is her recent involvement in an anti-SUV campaign. Thanks to Henry Hanks for the link.

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Thursday 30 January 2003

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Wednesday 29 January 2003

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LEVEY BREAKS: Lying in Ponds has criticized WSJ OpinionJournal columnist Collin Levey because she didn't make a single positive Democratic reference in 2002. In today's column, she breaks through:
In the Ninth Circuit, Carter appointee Stephen Reinhardt returned to an earlier antigun opinion and deleted references to the work of Michael Bellesiles, the historian whose Bancroft Prize was revoked because of serious questions about the honesty of his scholarship.
Granted, it's pretty weak (many are; that's why it's so difficult to avoid positive references to the other party!), but Ms. Levey commends the action of a judge who she identifies as a "Carter appointee". Humorously, this one column vaults Ms. Levey into second place with a Democratic partisanship score. This just shows that the rankings don't mean much until a few months of columns have accumulated.

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Tuesday 28 January 2003

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ROSTER EXPANSION: After this year's roster was decided, two pundits had their columns discontinued -- Thomas Bray of the WSJ OpinionJournal and Frank Rich of the New York Times. As a result, I'm going to add a few additional columnists. Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe has already been added, and I'm considering others like Derek Z. Jackson, Rich Lowry and Arianna Huffington.

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Monday 27 January 2003

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2003 STATS: Beginning today, the statistics on the right side of this page show results from this year's columns rather than the final 2002 results. So the Top Ten includes three of the pundits added this year -- Robert Scheer, Molly Ivins, and Ann Coulter. The partisanship scores shouldn't be taken too seriously this early in the year -- the rankings can be expected to change dramatically over the next several months.

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Sunday 26 January 2003

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Saturday 25 January 2003

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Friday 24 January 2003

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SPINSANITY ON THE WSJ: Brendan Nyhan of Spinsanity criticizes the Wall Street Journal editorial page on the University of Michigan affirmative action case, concluding with:
A good editorial informs in the course of making a forceful argument. Unfortunately, the Journal is often all too willing to dispense with such niceties.

Spinsanity's critique was softened by their subsequent correction of "two major errors" in the original post.

2003 STATS ON MONDAY: Tune in Monday when the 2003 statistics will be displayed for the first time, replacing the final 2002 results.

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Thursday 23 January 2003

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KURTZ ON KRUGMAN: Howard Kurtz writes a characteristically balanced profile of Paul Krugman in yesterday's Washington Post. I had to chuckle when I read this paragraph:
Krugman vows to be more careful, but adds: "I'm under much more scrutiny than any other opinion columnist. There are people who spend remarkable amounts of time monitoring me and looking for any possible deviation."
Just for the record, I spend a lot of time on this site discussing Mr. Krugman, but only because he has dominated the rankings and because so much of my e-mail concerns him (both pro and con). He's one of over 30 pundits being evaluated, and I'd frankly rather spend more time on some of the others.

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Wednesday 22 January 2003

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NICKNAMES: Some readers have asked about columnists who use nicknames to refer to political figures. My general approach has been reluctance to add anything more than necessary to the lists of partisan names. I checked last year's columns for the use of "Dubya", but found that it was used by only three columnists, surprisingly most often by Peggy Noonan (9 occurrences). Maureen Dowd probably uses nicknames the most frequently ("W.", "Rummy", "Poppy", etc.). If a columnist were to consistently use nicknames in either a negative or postive partisan way, it could affect the results. I'm not enthusiastic about cluttering up the lists with nicknames, but I would do it if convinced that it was necessary.

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Tuesday 21 January 2003

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GORILLAS OF SHRILLNESS: Tapped and Mickey Kaus have been going back and forth lately on the subject of Paul Krugman. Tapped defended Mr. Krugman, acknowledging that he is "occasionally shrill and over-the-top", but "far, far from the most shrill, over-the-top columnist in America." Mr. Kaus considered that a "half-hearted defense". Then Tapped tweaked Mr. Kaus for ignoring their challenge to compare Mr. Krugman to Michael Kelly:
Our point, obviously, is: In the pantheon of columnists who sometimes tend to the shrill, Krugman is a piker. He's not in the same league as the dozens of conservative columnists littering America's op-ed pages. And by Tapped's lights he's not even in the same galaxy as Kelly. Kelly is the 800-pound gorilla sitting in the corner of Kaus' Los Angeles living room whenever the Slate blogger is typing up another post about Krugman losing his cool. Why are Krugman's attacks on Bush worthy of ridicule, but Kelly's attacks on Al Gore not even worthy of mention? Stop ducking the question, Mickey.
Having slogged through every single shrill, over-the-top Kelly and Krugman column in 2002, I feel qualified to add my two cents. Assuming that shrillness is somewhat correlated with partisanship, I could make a case that Mr. Krugman's 2002 one-note performances put him far ahead of Mr. Kelly, who is himself unmistakably partisan (will Mickey respond?). But since I've said all along that Democratic partisans like Mr. Krugman will naturally have elevated partisanship scores during a controversial Republican administration, I don't think that one year of material is enough to decide which of the two 800-pound gorillas is more shrill or partisan. But I do think that they're unquestionably in the same league of shrillness. To both Tapped and Mr. Kaus, I would gently suggest that the shrill voice across the ideological street somehow seems more irritating than the one in your own living room.

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Monday 20 January 2003

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Sunday 19 January 2003

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Saturday 18 January 2003

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Friday 17 January 2003

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Thursday 16 January 2003

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SPINSANITY ON CLASS WARFARE: It's great to see the guys at Spinsanity active again after a long holiday break. In an article posted yesterday, Ben Fritz discusses the use of the phrase "class warfare".

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Wednesday 15 January 2003

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POORER WITHOUT RICH: I was very disappointed to read (via Eric Alterman) that Lying in Ponds favorite Frank Rich is soon to be promoted and switched to the Arts & Leisure page, and will therefore give up his Op-Ed position after a final column this Saturday. I've cited Mr. Rich repeatedly as the example of a columnist who is sharply ideological and can regularly rake the other party over the coals while retaining the intellectual independence to vigorously criticize his own party when he deems it necessary.

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Tuesday 14 January 2003

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"THE MOST RELENTLESS VOICE": Jack Shafer at Slate salutes Washington Post columnist Colbert I. King in an article last week:
I salute King not because he's the most artful writer in the business or even the brainiest, but because he possesses the most relentless voice I've encountered in a daily newspaper since alcohol dimmed Mike Royko's and death extinguished it. He's a winning example of what editors (and writers) could do with the op-ed form if they drew on their passion now and again. King takes names. He names names. And he calls people names.

Last year's results showed that Mr. King was certainly no partisan. His score suggested that he leans Republican, but that's because his local columns regularly criticized D.C. mayor Anthony Williams (and ex-mayor Marion Barry), and because of a single column with a remarkable 36 negative references to Senator Robert Byrd. I dropped him from the active list for 2003 along with other local or international columnists, opting instead for an "apples and apples" comparison between a wider cross-section of columnists who focus on domestic issues and politics.

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Monday 13 January 2003

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DOWN WITH THE COUNT: Jack O'Toole at Political Professional offered some thoughtful criticism in a post last Monday. Mr. O'Toole makes two main points. First, he's concerned about methodology:
Like most people, I've always had reservations about studies that are more interested in counting than context. That's how one media watchdog group managed to name Saving Private Ryan the most violent movie of 1998, and another wound up arguing that a popular sitcom was among television's most violent programs -- based almost entirely on a single fantasy episode in which the lead characters played the roles of The Three Stooges. These results were generated using essentially the same methodology as that employed by LIP, and demonstrate the weaknesses inherent in this type of study.

I agree that the Lying in Ponds method is simple, and that the results should be viewed with caution. But the examples cited above seem to be a result of either a small sample size or an anomalous data point. I've previously noted those issues in connection with Collin Levey and Colbert King. I average together two different methods which combine the partisanship scores from individual columns into a final score to try to minimize those potential problems -- it was reassuring that the top three were identical with either method (Total PI and Median PI).

Second, Mr. O'Toole argues that Paul Krugman's score is inflated because of his subject matter:

Paul Krugman's column is about economics. He disagrees with the dominant wing of the Republican party on economic issues. As a result, he's inevitably going to "win" any simple numbers game like Lying in Ponds' -- just as, say, Pat Robertson would if he were hired by a major newspaper to write on abortion policy twice a week. Of course, Krugman could improve his scores dramatically by inserting the phrase Unlike high-minded Republicans such as John McCain from time to time, but that fact merely demonstrates just how flawed the LIP methodology really is.

It's a plausible hypothesis, but one that doesn't hold up under inspection. Mr. Krugman wrote many columns on non-economic topics in 2002, and they're just as partisan as the economics columns. There was an anti-Republican screed on the church and state issue, an anti-Republican screed on Trent Lott, an anti-Republican screed on climate policy, an anti-Republican screed on forest policy, an anti-Republican screed on drilling in Alaska, an anti-Republican screed on French elections (huh?), and many more. Have you detected a pattern? It's really necessary to go to the Paul Krugman page and scroll down through the column statistics to get a feeling for the remarkable consistency. While it's right to have a healthy skepticism about counting methods such as this one, I believe that the basis for Mr. Krugman's 2002 partisanship score is extremely solid, suffering from neither small sample size (99 columns) nor by the effect of anomalous data points.

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Sunday 12 January 2003

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YOU WANT IT, YOU GOT IT: TBOGG thinks Lying in Ponds should include synidcated columnists:
...and wouldn't you just know it that Paul Krugman came out on top as the most partisan of all columnists. Not Michael Kelly or Bob Bartley. Of course he only reviewed the The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and New York Times. Not that conservatives like Andrew Sullivan will point this out when refering to the rankings. This implies that Krugman is somehow more partisan than columnists like Ann Coulter, Rich Lowry, or Cal Thomas, who don't write for those publications, but are syndicated. Seems dishonest doesn't it? And dishonesty is so hard to quantify...

Coulter and Thomas, of course, are among the new pundits being evaluated this year. By the end of the month I'll start showing the 2003 results on the right side of the page.

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Saturday 11 January 2003

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Friday 10 January 2003

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Thursday 9 January 2003

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Wednesday 8 January 2003

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LET THE SIDESHOW BEGIN: Avedon Carol at the website The Sideshow raises an important point:
LIP claims that Krugman deserves the award because of "the remarkable consistency" of his criticisms of the Bush administration throughout the year. Yet we are told that, while Krugman is aiming his criticisms at the administration that is in power, Levey and Rosett were also consistent in criticizing the Democrats, even though they are not the party in power. It seems to me that partisanship would be the only explanation for the position LIP says Levey and Rosett seem to take, while Krugman might simply be reserving his examinations for those who actually control policy. As I've said before, Krugman has not historically been particularly kind to Democrats when they have been in power, and being hostile to Bush policies doesn't make you a Democratic partisan, either. But if the two writers at OpinionJournal really do seem to be working on a formula that "all Democrats are bad", it seems hard to find even the flimsiest rationalization for pretending that it's policies, not partisanship, that motivates them.

I agree to a point -- I've said several times during the year that I suspect that the partisanship scores of Democratic pundits are likely to be higher during a Republican administration because of an abundance of targets to criticize. But that doesn't explain why Paul Krugman's score is more than twice as high as those of any other Democratic columnist.

I'm more skeptical of the idea that "Krugman might simply be reserving his examinations for those who actually control policy". I've read many times that Mr. Krugman was critical of the Clinton administration and that may have been true early on, but when I evaluated his columns from 2000 (the first year of his Times column), there was definitely no evidence of that. Look at the 2000 Krugman page and you'll see that he made over 140 negative references to George W. Bush alone, only 13 to Al Gore and a grand total of 3 to Bill Clinton. That doesn't sound like a very grueling examination for "those who actually control policy", even given that it was a lame duck year.

LET IT SNOW: I'll be in Albany, New York the rest of the week on business, where most of the snow is still on the ground from last Friday's big storm. I should be able to update the site, but probably on a more erratic schedule.

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Tuesday 7 January 2003

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TRENT LOTT AS A SCANDAL CASE STUDY: The recent controversy over Trent Lott's praise of Strom Thurmond's 1948 segregationist presidential campaign generated widely-varying responses from the punditocracy. Although the Lott affair was almost exclusively a Republican scandal, the response from pundits did not break down neatly along party lines. While a Democratic-leaning pundit could be expected to criticize Lott for either substantive or partisan reasons, partisanship could compel Republican-leaning columnists to downplay or avoid criticism of Lott.

Yesterday's post listed the pundits who have referenced Lott most often this year -- almost all of the references were negative in response to the scandal. Following are capsule summaries of how the 2002 Top Ten treated the Lott story in 2002:

  1. Paul Krugman: Mr. Krugman made 37 references to Trent Lott, most of them in a single hard-hitting column in December, in which he predicted that Mr. Lott would get a "slap on the wrist" but remain in his position.
  2. Collin Levey: Ms. Levey did not mention Trent Lott.
  3. Claudia Rosett: Ms. Rosett mainly concentrates on international issues; she did not mention Lott.
  4. Robert L. Bartley: Mr. Bartley also did not mention Trent Lott.
  5. Michael Kelly: With one mention of Lott earlier in the year, Mr. Kelly also ignored the scandal.
  6. Mary McGrory: Ms. McGrory mentioned Lott 20 times, criticizing him in four consecutive columns in December.
  7. Daniel Henninger: Mr. Henninger criticized Lott only once, and that was only in the context of also criticizing Bill Clinton.
  8. Frank Rich: Mr. Rich made 21 references to Lott in a column which was more harsh toward Republicans in general than to Lott himself.
  9. Michael Kinsley: Mr. Kinsley made 10 Lott references in one very reasonable column.
  10. Pete du Pont: Mr. du Pont mentioned Lott 14 times, most of them in a column which criticized Lott for political reasons, for having "given the Democrats a powerful weapon that they will use persistently".

The Lott affair, as an example of a scandal which implicates only one party, might be seen as an occasion for partisan pundits to stand out clearly from the crowd. It's striking that each of the five Republican pundits with the highest partisanship scores for 2002 either minimized or completely ignored the uproar over Trent Lott (as an international affairs columnist, Claudia Rosett should probably get a pass). On the other hand, several other sharply conservative columnists such as Peggy Noonan, John Fund and Charles Krauthammer confronted the issue directly (near the top of the list of most frequent Lott references), and that's reflected in their lower scores. Mr. Krauthammer dropped out of the Top Ten at the end of the year as a direct result of two anti-Lott columns.

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Monday 6 January 2003

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CORRECTING SULLIVAN: While I appreciate the link from Andrew Sullivan this morning, I have to correct a couple of things. Mr. Sullivan said that Paul Krugman won "first prize for the second year in a row", but 2002 was the first year of Lying in Ponds. I did evaluate Mr. Krugman's columns in 2000 to test a hypothesis, but his partisanship score that year was much lower because he wrote many more columns on non-political themes, mostly consisting of the sharp, well-written economic analysis for which he has become admired. Mr. Sullivan also said that I ranked Michael Kinsley as "among the most relentlessly partisan". But I've used the term "relentlessly partisan" to describe those with a high median partisanship index, which results when nearly every column has a consistent partisan slant. Michael Kinsley is actually an example of the reverse -- he writes many columns on non-partisan topics which keeps his median PI low (zero in fact), but when he does turn to political subjects he is quite one-sided (high total partisanship index).

LOTTS AND LOTTS: I meant to do this before the end of last year, but here it is. Last June, we looked at Enron as a scandal case study; now we'll look at the Trent Lott scandal in the same way. Tomorrow I'll summarize how each of the columnists on the 2002 Top Ten list treated the Lott affair. For today, here's a list of the pundits who have mentioned the word "Lott" most frequently.

Most 2002 References to the Word "Lott"

References
John Fund64
Peggy Noonan48
Richard Cohen42
Paul Krugman37
Charles Krauthammer31
E.J. Dionne28
Thomas Bray24
Colbert King22
Bob Herbert21
Frank Rich21


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Sunday 5 January 2003

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Saturday 4 January 2003

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Friday 3 January 2003

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FIRST AND ONLY TEAM CHAMPIONSHIP TO WSJ OPINIONJOURNAL: In addition to the individual rankings, a "team" partisanship score has been calculated for each of the three newspapers. The Wall Street Journal's OpinionJournal led the rankings all year and wins the 2002 title 21-15 over the New York Times. The Washington Post finished far behind because of greater ideological diversity and the inclusion of a large number of centrists and international affairs columnists. To make space for new columnists in 2003, only a selection of each newspapers' columnists will be evaluated this year, so team statistics will no longer be calculated.

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Thursday 2 January 2003

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NOT GONE, JUST INACTIVE: The 14 pundits who have been dropped from the roster (Jackson Diehl, Thomas Friedman, John Fund, Bob Herbert, Fred Hiatt, Jim Hoagland, David Ignatius, Robert Kagan, Colbert King, Nicholas Kristof, Dorothy Rabinowitz, Claudia Rosett, Kimberly Strassel, and Tunku Varadarajan) will still be carried along in the daily boxscores so that you can follow the link to their latest columns. But they'll be designated as "Inactive" and their columns won't be evaluated for partisanship (for an example, see Bob Herbert's column in yesterday's boxscore).

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Wednesday 1 January 2003

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PARTISAN PUNDITRY 2002: After evaluating all 2,129 columns written by our 37 pundits in 2002, it's time to draw some conclusions. I've stressed all along that Lying in Ponds is attempting to make a distinction between ordinary party preference (there's nothing wrong with being opinionated or having a political ideology) and excessive partisanship ("blind, prejudiced, and unreasoning allegiance"). While it's obviously difficult to draw a definitive line, the top three pundits in the rankings clearly revealed excessive partisanship by the remarkable consistency of their extremely one-sided commentary throughout the year. The New York Times' Paul Krugman took the partisanship lead early and lapped the field. In a year in which Mr. Krugman generated lots of buzz and won an award, his 18:1 ratio of negative to positive Republican references and 99 columns without a single substantive deviation from the party line were unmatched in the Lying in Ponds portion of the punditocracy. During the course of the year, I've discussed Mr. Krugman's view of partisanship, his thoughts on "balance", his treatment of the Enron scandal, and his columns in 2000.

From the Wall Street Journal's OpinionJournal, Collin Levey and Claudia Rosett earned their high rankings by following a very simple formula -- all Democrats are bad. While Ms. Levey avoided making a single positive Democratic reference in her 26 columns, Ms. Rosett did manage to praise Franklin Roosevelt -- perhaps the statute of limitations was somehow involved.

While the rest of the Top Ten pundits often wrote very partisan columns, each showed at least flickers of intellectual independence by finding that some issues were more complex than RNC or DNC propaganda might indicate. Robert L. Bartley and Michael Kelly generally avoided writing about issues uncomfortable for Republicans (Enron, Trent Lott), or wrote about them in a way which deflected the blame. Both also pummeled Bill Clinton with regularity, but each found a few reasons to criticize their own party,

Mary McGrory and Frank Rich thrashed Republicans with enthusiasm, but were also capable of very sharp criticism of Democrats. Mr. Rich's attention to the bipartisan aspects of Enron and other corporate scandals was particulary impressive; his coverage constrasted sharply with the exhaustive but blinkered treatment of Mr. Krugman. Daniel Henninger and Michael Kinsley spent enough column space on non-partisan topics to hold down their partisanship scores. Pete du Pont demonstrated independence by writing two columns of substantive criticism of the Bush administration over the issue of steel tariffs.

ON TO 2003: Starting today, a revised roster of pundits will appear in the daily boxscores, but the final 2002 statistics will be left up for a week or two. Stay tuned to see if any of the new faces (Mona Charen, Linda Chavez, Ann Coulter, Molly Ivins, Thomas Oliphant, Clarence Page, Robert Scheer, Thomas Sowell, Cal Thomas, and Walter Williams) will be able to challenge Mr. Krugman for the 2003 partisanship title.

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