lying in ponds
The absurdity of partisanship
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January 2004 Archive

Saturday 31 January 2004

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Friday 30 January 2004

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COMING ATTRACTIONS: Next Monday will a big day here at Lying in Ponds, as the first rankings for 2004 will be unveiled, along with some programming changes, including one change which will require a long explanation. Even though the rankings are likely to be very volatile after only a month of columns, there may be points of interest:
  • Will anyone dare to challenge the reigning gorillas of shrillness -- Ann Coulter and Paul Krugman?
  • Are Bill O'Reilly, Joe Conason, Tony Blankley and Harold Meyerson contenders or pretenders?
  • How does the WSJ OpinionJournal's "On the Editorial Page" compare to the lead editorials of The New York Times and The Washington Post?


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Thursday 29 January 2004

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HELLO HAROLD: Harold Meyerson of The Washington Post has been added to the Lying in Ponds roster of pundits. From his archive page, it looks as if Mr. Meyerson has been writing a weekly column since last September, but I would swear that his name was not included in the list of columnists on the main Opinion page as recently as a couple of weeks ago. Here is Mr. Meyerson's biography from The American Prospect:
Harold Meyerson is Editor-at-Large of The American Prospect.

Meyerson is also political editor and columnist for the L.A. Weekly, the nation's largest metropolitan weekly, where he served as executive editor from 1989 through 2001. His articles on politics, labor, the economy, foreign policy and American culture have also appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New Republic, The Nation, The New Statesman; the op-ed, commentary, and book review sections of The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Los Angeles Times, and in numerous other publications.

He is the author of Who Put The Rainbow in The Wizard of Oz?, a critical biography of Broadway lyricist Yip Harburg, and his articles have been republished in several books, most notably the Brookings Institution's Bush v. Gore. In 1987-8, he was a regular commentator in The Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, and from the late '70s through the mid-'80s, he was a political consultant for a range of progressive causes and candidates.

From 1991 through 1995, Meyerson hosted the weekly show "Real Politics" on radio station KCRW, the Los Angeles area's leading NPR affiliate. He has been a frequent guest on televison and radio talk shows.

Born in Los Angeles in 1950, Meyerson was educated in Los Angeles public schools and at Columbia University. He lives in Washington, but maintains the pretense of bi-coastalism by swooping down on Los Angeles at more-or-less monthly intervals.



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Wednesday 28 January 2004

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TAPPED ON NOONAN: Nick Confessore at Tapped doesn't think too highly of Peggy Noonan's recent column on Wesley Clark:
Like Charles Krauthammer, Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan has a reprehensible tendency to attribute mental imbalance to people with whom she disagrees. Her latest column is a case in point. She invents a flip-flop for which to attack Wesley Clark, and prattles on for sentence after sentence about his mental state.
. . .
Noonan doesn't exactly possess the most penetrating mind in punditry. But even so, it's amazing that she leaps to mental illness to explain positions and opinions of Clark's for which no mental illness is necessary.


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Tuesday 27 January 2004

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SNOWED UNDER: Commenting will be light this week. First, we've been snowed in since Sunday afternoon's few inches of snow and sleet (here in North Carolina it doesn't take much). So the kids and my wife are home from school, I'm working from home and the dog is wondering why we're all here. Second, we're wrestling with the joys of college financial aid applications for our daughter. Third, I'm preparing some changes to the site which will be unveiled next week, when I switch from the final 2003 partisanship rankings to the first results from 2004.

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Monday 26 January 2004

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Sunday 25 January 2004

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Saturday 24 January 2004

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Friday 23 January 2004

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EXECUTE YOUR PRIME FUNCTION! I'm struggling to better explain yesterday's point about the differing response of pundits to situations which call for them to criticize their own party, so I'm really reaching for an analogy. I'm not a Trekkie, but I do remember an episode of the original series called The Changeling where Captain Kirk induces a space probe called Nomad to destroy itself when faced with self-contradiction:
Kirk then gets Nomad to admit that it must sterilize everything which is in error. Kirk defeats Nomad by showing it its own imperfections: it thought he was Jackson Roy Kirk, it did not discover its mistake, and it did not exercise its prime function by eliminating itself because it was imperfect. While attempting analyzing the situation, Nomad is beamed into space. It is caught in a logic loop while attempting to analyze its errors, and finally self-destructs in order to "sterilize" its own imperfections.

It seems to me that extremely partisan columnists are caught in a logic loop when confronted with a situation like the Paul O'Neill controversy. If their fundamental premise is that the other party contains all the bad guys while the good guys are in their own party, how could an excessively partisan Democrat criticize the Bush administration without being forced to praise Mr. O'Neill, or how could an excessively partisan Republican defend the administration without being forced to criticize Mr. O'Neill?

Most of the pundits mentioned yesterday are either not partisan at all (Broder) or only moderately partisan (Kinsley, Thomas, Chavez, Henninger), so they seemed to have no problem with the concept that some Republicans can be right and others wrong. But my point is that extremely partisan pundits such as Ann Coulter, Paul Krugman and Molly Ivins will somehow find a way to minimize the crossing of party lines. Yesterday I explained how Mr. Krugman and Ms. Ivins did it, but there was not a recent Republican example at hand. So let's go back a revealing case from a year ago -- how Republican pundits handled the Trent Lott affair. There was nearly universal condemnation in the punditocracy over Trent Lott's praise of Strom Thurmond's 1948 segregationist presidential campaign, and some Republican pundits (Peggy Noonan, Charles Krauthammer) distinguished themselves by sincerely and extensively criticizing Senator Lott. But some others (Robert Bartley, Daniel Henninger, Michael Kelly) found a way to handle the scandal without seriously criticizing Lott -- they simply ignored it. And the now-reigning queen of partisanship at Lying in Ponds, Ann Coulter, fought back with creative spinning, transforming a column of mild criticism of Trent Lott into a dizzy word association of Democratic criticism leading from Strom Thurmond to FDR to Henry Wallace to George McGovern to Ted Kennedy, and finally (inevitably) to Bill Clinton.

I think this is really excessive partisanship at its most obvious -- an inability to accept legitimate criticism of one's own party without simultaneously attacking the other party. Paul Krugman has written 388 New York Times columns over four years without a single substantive "crossover" column. I've evaluated just over 100 Ann Coulter columns so far with only one weak crossover column. The most partisan columnists simply find a way to avoid substantive praise of the other party or criticism of their own, on every issue, in column after column, year after year.

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Thursday 22 January 2004

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THE O'NEILL AFFAIR AS A SCANDAL CASE STUDY: The Paul O'Neill controversy provides an interesting case study because both the accuser and the accused are Republicans. This means that whichever side pundits take, they will find it difficult to avoid simultaneous praise and criticism of Republicans. Reader Dan Schaeffer questions whether the score of such columns are actually indicative of partisanship:
Linda Chavez's column gets a blue 16 rating due primarily to several (13) negative references to Paul O'Neill. O'Neill is a Republican, so I suppose those negative references are literally R- references... but given O'Neill's recent apostasy, it seems to me that making negative references to him -- essentially, attacking him for falling away from the party line -- would be more indicative of Republican partisanship, not less.

Mike C. asks a similar question and offers an example of a maverick on the Democratic side:

I'd just like to point out, that in your rankings of the pundits commenting on Paul O'Neill, there is a bias towards being counted as "pro-Democratic" when that is not the intent. Since O'Neill-bashing by the White House apologists is ranked as "R-" it results in them having a much lower "partisan" score. (Imagine if you will a column trashing Sen Zell Miller for breaking with the Democratic Party ---would that REALLY be an "anti-Democratic" critical column?

First of all, I think it's certainly true that individual references and even entire columns will sometimes have partisanship scores which do not correctly reflect the intent of the columnist. In 2002 Claudia Rosett of the WSJ OpinionJournal wrote an extremely negative column about Hillary Clinton which "beat the system" only because of its unusual form. As long as these kinds of departures occur infrequently, they shouldn't have a strong effect on a pundit's score over dozens or hundreds of columns. In other words, partisanship scores should become more representative as the sample size becomes larger. I've always said that at least one year of columns (usually 50 to 100) is needed before trying to draw any serious conclusions.

Second, notice that most of the O'Neill columns shown in yesterday's post have low partisanship scores whether the columnist was defending the Bush administration (Daniel Henninger, Linda Chavez, Cal Thomas, and most interestingly, Michael Kinsley) or attacking it (David Broder). And yet some pundits found a way to achieve a higher score when writing about the same issue. I don't think it's coincidental that the columns with the highest scores were written by two of last year's titans of partisanship, Paul Krugman and Molly Ivins.

Their two columns illustrate how Mr. Krugman and Ms. Ivins stay ahead of the Lying in Ponds pack -- by writing about nearly every issue in a more one-sided way than their colleagues. The other columnists grappled with the O'Neill story directly, making lots of references to O'Neill himself (Broder 13, Kinsley 18, Thomas 13, Chavez 13, Henninger 16). But there are many fewer references by Mr. Krugman (4) and Ms. Ivins (3), because they spend very little time praising Paul O'Neill despite having complete faith in the accuracy of his revelations. Instead, they merely use the revelations as a springboard for a familiar litany of attacks on the Bush administration. Extremely partisan columnists are able to use nearly any set of facts as a starting point to arrive at seemingly unrelated favorite arguments such as unemployment (Krugman) or criticism of Richard Perle (Ivins). Although none of our current pundits have done so, a partisan Republican could easily have written a column defending the administration from Mr. O'Neill's claims without taking much time to attack Mr. O'Neill himself, and their partisanship score could have been just as high.

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Wednesday 21 January 2004

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THE O'NEILL COLUMNS: Following is a table of recent columns which have focused on the controversial account of Paul O'Neill's experiences as the first Treasury secretary of the current Bush administration contained in a book by Ron Suskind, "The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House and the Education of Paul O'Neill". The columns are listed in the order of their partisanship score; tomorrow we'll compare and contrast.

Author/
Affiliation
Title/
Date
PI Partisan References
Paul Krugman
New York Times
The Awful Truth
13 January 2004
58 2D+: Howard Dean, Wesley Clark
2R+: O'Neill, O'Neill
14R-: George Bush, Bush, Paul O'Neill, administration, Bush administration, administration, Dick Cheney, O'Neill, Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, administration, administration, administration, administration
6R=
Molly Ivins
Creators Syndicate
Giving money to rich people
15 January 2004
55 3D+: Robert Rubin, Clinton, Bill Clinton
3R+: Paul O'Neill, O'Neill, O'Neill
17R-: Karl Rove, the president, Nixon, Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Nixon, Bush, George W. Bush, Bush, Bush, Bush, Bush, the Bushes, the Bushes, Bush, Perle, Perle
8R=
Joe Conason
New York Observer
O'Neill tells all, and it's not pretty
14 January 2004
38 10R+: O'Neill, Paul O'Neill, O'Neill, O'Neill, O'Neill, O'Neill, O'Neill, O'Neill, O'Neill, O'Neill
22R-: White House, White House, White House, White House, The President, The President, The President, The President, The President, Vice President, George W. Bush, White House, Bush administration, the President, administration, White House, White House, administration, administration, White House, White House, White House
Daniel Henninger
WSJ OpinionJournal
O'Neill's Bush-bashing confusion shows why Cheney pulled the plug.
16 January 2004
18 1D-: Sidney Blumenthal
8R+: Bush, Cheney, Bush White House, the president, Bush White House, Bush, Dick Cheney, Dick Cheney
17R-: O'Neill, Paul O'Neill, O'Neill, Bush, O'Neill, O'Neill, O'Neill, Paul O'Neill, O'Neill, O'Neill, O'Neill, O'Neill, Paul O'Neill, O'Neill, O'Neill, Paul O'Neill, O'Neill
2D=, 17R=
Linda Chavez
Creators Syndicate
Sour grapes
14 January 2004
16 9R+: the president, the president, the president, Vice President Dick Cheney, Bush, Card, Bush, O'Neill, the president
17R-: Paul O'Neill, O'Neill, O'Neill, White House, O'Neill, O'Neill, O'Neill, O'Neill, O'Neill, the president, O'Neill, O'Neill, O'Neill, O'Neill, Bush, Card, Card
25R=
Cal Thomas
Tribune Media Services
Paul O'Neill's charge
15 January 2004
13 1D+: Clinton administration
1D-: Democrats
12R+: O'Neill, White House, administration, President Bush, O'Neill, Bush, White House, the president, administration, the president, President Bush, administration
16R-: Paul O'Neill, Paul O'Neill, President Bush, Bush, O'Neill, O'Neill, the president, O'Neill, O'Neill, O'Neill, administration, Vice President Dick Cheney, O'Neill, O'Neill, O'Neill, O'Neill
Michael Kinsley
Washington Post
O'Neill's Vanity Fare
16 January 2004
11 1D+: administration
17R+: George W. Bush, White House, Andy Card, Card, the president, Bush, president, former president, George W. , Bush, administration, the president, O'Neill, Bush, Bush, President Bush, Bush administration
21R-: O'Neill, Paul O'Neill, Paul O'Neill, O'Neill, O'Neill, Nixon administration, O'Neill, O'Neill, O'Neill, O'Neill, O'Neill, O'Neill, O'Neill, O'Neill, George W. Bush, O'Neill, O'Neill, President Bush, White House, O'Neill, Paul O'Neill
1D=, 7R=
David S. Broder
Washington Post
A Straight Shooter's Failure to Be Heard
18 January 2004
5 2D+: Democratic, Evan Bayh
16R+: Paul O'Neill, Republican White House, O'Neill, O'Neill, O'Neill, President Bush, O'Neill, O'Neill, O'Neill, O'Neill, O'Neill, Republican, Olympia Snowe, O'Neill, O'Neill, O'Neill
12R-: George W. Bush, Bush, Vice President Cheney, Cheney, O'Neill, Bush, Bush, Larry Lindsey, Bush, the president, Bush, Bush
13R=


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Tuesday 20 January 2004

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GOOD CORRECTION: According to the Code of Ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists, "journalists should admit mistakes and correct them promptly". Molly Ivins shows how it's done by plainly apologizing ("Crow Eaten Here") at the end of two recent columns -- one for borrowing a line without crediting the source, and one for attributing information to the wrong source. Kudos to Ms. Ivins.

BAD CORRECTION: David Brooks took some heat for unfairly associating criticism of neoconservatives with anti-Semitism in a recent column. While Mr. Brooks attempted to explain and apologize, he apparently did it in an e-mail to some readers rather than where it belongs, in a subsequent column.

NO CORRECTION: Although Charles Krauthammer wrote a column which clearly manipulated a Howard Dean quote and altered its meaning, he has yet to address the issue as far as I'm aware.

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Monday 19 January 2004

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WRITERS ON THE STORM: I'm not sure why, but there were a lot more columns last week than usual, reaching what I think is an all-time high of 17 columns on Thursday, many of them dense with political references to evaluate. Thankfully there were a few easy columns on offbeat topics -- Las Vegas, polygamy and the glass armonica.

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Sunday 18 January 2004

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Saturday 17 January 2004

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Friday 16 January 2004

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PULITZER PARIAH: Jay Rosen, the chair of the journalism department at NYU, wrote a fascinating piece on Paul Krugman on his PressThink weblog a couple of weeks ago, occasioned by Mr. Krugman's New Year's resolutions column. He asserts that Mr. Krugman is not a typical columnist with a background in journalism and an assumption of objectivity, but that he is instead an "outsider", a "pariah", and that "Krugman and the national press live in two different moral universes".
A key figure in national politics since September 11, 2001 is Paul Krugman. The New York Times columnist has been advancing a view of the world in direct opposition to Bush Administration policy and the political aims of the Republican Party. Before a word is written, Krugman is therefore placed in a certain category by journalists who might have read his Dec. 26 column. To them, he is the partisan observer telling an officially nonpartisan press what it should observe. Not a promising rhetorical situation.

Although Mr. Rosen states that Paul Krugman is considered to be partisan by other journalists (a charge which Mr. Krugman has explicitly rejected), he sees value in "the tension between someone like Krugman and others in the press", and in fact argues that his work deserves a Pulitzer Prize:

To me there is no question that for his courage and relentlessness Krugman should be this year's Pulitzer Prize columnist. Who even comes close to his kind of impact? But that award would itself be a political statement about the breakdown of consensus, a development of deep consequence for American journalists, as it is for American citizens.

Definitely worth reading the whole thing.

CONSISTENT WITH WHAT? At the end of the piece, Mr. Rosen takes notice of Lying in Ponds:

Recently I came across this site about "the absurdity of partisanship." It has a rating system for columnists that is supposed to show how relentlessly partisan they are-- or is it just being consistent? Krugman ranks second on the list, after the notorious Ann Coulter. This attempt to quantify the drift of a writer's opinions is interesting, but I don't see how it counts as "absurd" to be ranked at the top.

My point has always been that opinion columnists play a vital role by offering independent rather than partisan commentary. Each major party spreads over some ideological range, with ongoing intraparty disputes over many high profile issues. Certainly neither party is consistently virtuous. So when the opinions of pundits such as Ann Coulter and Paul Krugman align almost perfectly with those of their own parties over several years of columns on dozens of topics, this amazing consistency cannot be explained on ideological or moral grounds. What's left except for the absurdity of partisanship?

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Thursday 15 January 2004

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SPINSANITY ON O'REILLY AGAIN, AND BROOKS: The guys at Spinsanity have consistently taken politicians and pundits to task for "using irrational associations to connect their opponents with hated groups and people" (Nazis, the Taliban, Enron, anti-Semites, etc.). In an article yesterday, Ben Fritz discusses several recent uses of this unfair tactic by liberals and conservatives. First he criticizes David Brooks for a recent column in which he defends neoconservatives by linking their opponents to anti-Semitism:
As Josh Marshall and Bob Somerby have pointed out, this is a clear attempt to associate criticism of President Bush's foreign policy or neoconservatism with anti-Semitism in readers' minds. Certainly some criticism of neoconservatism or the Bush foreign policy team has had an anti-Semitic bent. However, Brooks uses a classic trick of punditry by failing to make such distinctions so that it seems that all critics of neoconservatism are anti-Semitic. He thus ends up implicitly lumping together a whole range of criticism, including that of former General Wesley Clark, the Democratic presidential candidate.

After knocking MoveOn.org and the columnist Alexander Cockburn for Bush-Hitler associations, Mr. Fritz turns to Bill O'Reilly:

Unfortunately, comparisons to Nazis continue to be made - and not just for President Bush. On Fox News' "The O'Reilly Factor" last Friday, host Bill O'Reilly described the American Civil Liberties Union as a "fascist" group. "The ACLU doesn't care about the law or the Constitution or what the people want," O'Reilly said while criticizing a lawsuit the group filed against the city of San Diego for renting space to the Boy Scouts due to its exclusion of homosexuals. "It's a fascist organization that uses lawyers instead of Panzers," referring to the German tanks used in World War II.


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Wednesday 14 January 2004

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SPINSANITY ON O'REILLY: Brendan Nyhan of Spinsanity takes aim at Bill O'Reilly and "The misrepesentation zone":
This is actually the third time O'Reilly has falsely claimed that Glick said Bush knew about the Sept. 11 attacks in advance. On Sept. 18, 2003, O'Reilly claimed on his show that Glick "accused President Bush of knowing about 9/11 before it happened." The next night, O'Reilly read Glick's direct quote in an implicit clarification, then said that "Glick was saying without a shred of evidence that President Bush and Bush the elder were directly responsible for 9/11." Then, during an October 8, 2003 interview on National Public Radio's "Fresh Air," O'Reilly again falsely claimed Glick "proceeded to blame President Bush and his father, Bush the elder, for orchestrating the [Sept. 11] attack on their own country."

O'Reilly's claims that his show is a "no spin zone" grow more hollow by the day.

Bill O'Reilly is one of the new pundits added this year to Lying in Ponds.

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Tuesday 13 January 2004

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PAUL KRUGMAN SPEAKS: Paul Krugman was a guest on the Diane Rehm show last week (link via The Unofficial Paul Krugman Archive). Mr. Krugman discussed the state of the economy, and then offered some advice to Democratic presidential candidates while joking that "officially at The New York Times I'm as nonpartisan as Bill Safire is". Of course, the data clearly shows that William Safire is far less partisan than Mr. Krugman. Some of Mr. Safire's individual columns are every bit as partisan as Mr. Krugman's, criticizing Democrats or praising President Bush profusely. But Mr. Safire does more often in a single year what Mr. Krugman has not done a single time in four years -- he writes entire columns which are dominated by criticism of his own party for excessive secrecy and support of "media giantism".

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Monday 12 January 2004

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THE WSJ SPEAKS: On Saturday, Karen Elliott House wrote a column explaining the philosophy of the The Wall Street Journal editorial page, explicitly asserting that its approach is ideological rather than partisan:
While our news pages are committed to informing our readers, our editorial pages are dedicated to advocating a consistent philosophy and positions that emanate from it. That philosophy can be summed up as "free markets, free people." We have stood for these fundamental principles even in times--and places--when they were not considered fashionable. While specific issues differ in various parts of the world, our editorial pages view those issues through a consistent lens everywhere; for example, while protectionism is more popular in some parts of the world than others, our publications around the world are committed uncompromisingly to free trade.
. . .

It is also important to state clearly what our opinion pages do not represent. They are not partisan. Unlike most American newspapers, we do not endorse political candidates, and from time to time we have important disagreements with all leading political figures. We view issues through the lens of our philosophy and let our readers decide which person or party best serves to protect market capitalism and self-government. For instance, we supported what became known as the Bush tax cuts before he proposed them and we now hail the fact that they are working to stimulate the economy just as we predicted. We also opposed the President's steel tariffs before he imposed them, and once he did so we wrote a dozen critical editorials until he lifted them.

It's important to reiterate that the partisanship of the WSJ OpinionJournal is being evaluated here at Lying in Ponds rather than that of the full Wall Street Journal. By evaluating the lead editorials of The New York Times and The Washington Post and the "On the Editorial Page" feature of the WSJ OpinionJournal, the partisanship of the editorials selected each day as the most important by the three institutions will be compared. During the holidays I promised to subscribe to the full online WSJ if I could raise the $79 annual fee from readers, but only $10 came in.

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Sunday 11 January 2004

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Saturday 10 January 2004

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Friday 9 January 2004

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KID GLOVES: Donald Luskin has taken issue with my year-end summary of Paul Krugman, criticizing me for (what must be a first) being too easy on him:
I never fail to be amazed by the kid-gloves treatment that Krugman continues to get from most media critics, even one like Waight who possesses the hard, irrefutable quantitative evidence of Krugman's over-the-top partisanship. Such critics always seem to have to throw in an obligatory homage to Krugman's credentials ("gifted economist and writer" and the like -- when, in fact, almost none of these critics is in any position at all to judge Krugman's gifts as an economist; it's just something they read somewhere, and it's their notion of "fairness" to repeat meaningless slogans that give their own judgments a superficial appearance of balance). And such critics are never willing to come right out and say that Krugman's over-reaching partisanship is out-and-out electioneering (there's always a qualifier: "for whatever reason").

It is certainly true that I am unqualified to judge Mr. Krugman's talents as an economist; I simply make the assumption that those in his field knew what they were doing when they honored him before his controversial role as a New York Times pundit. I have no trouble at all believing that Mr. Krugman could simultaneously be an outstanding academic economist and a blindly partisan political columnist.

As for being unwilling to criticize Paul Krugman's motives, I've tried to stay focused on the difficult task of defining and quantifying partisanship. I don't know why Mr. Krugman writes extremely partisan columns; I'll leave it to others to discuss that. But I am trying to argue that the excessively partisan punditry practiced by the elite few at the top of the Lying in Ponds rankings represents a fundamental betrayal of the vital role they should play (and claim to play) as independent (not neutral!) observers of the American political system.

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Thursday 8 January 2004

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CHANGES FOR 2004: The new pundits are here! The new pundits are here! After taking into account the results of the recent reader poll, here are the new columnists who will be evaluated beginning this year:
  • Tony Blankley, Creators Syndicate
  • Joe Conason, The New York Observer
  • Bill O'Reilly, BillOReilly.com
  • Lead Editorial, The New York Times
  • Lead Editorial, The Washington Post
  • On the Editorial Page, WSJ OpinionJournal

These columnists will no longer appear:

  • Robert Bartley (deceased)
  • Bill Keller (promoted)
  • Michael Kelly (deceased)
  • Collin Levey (column discontinued)
  • Mary McGrory (retired due to illness)
  • Frank Rich (promoted)

Finally, these columnists have been "deactivated", which means that their columns will still appear in the daily boxscores, but will not be evaluated for partisanship:

  • Pete du Pont (not frequent enough)
  • Walter Williams (not political enough)

I haven't posted since the first of the month in order to focus attention on the 2003 summary and final results. I plan to keep the 2003 rankings on the right side of the main page through the end of January, then I'll replace them with the first exciting results of 2004.

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Wednesday 7 January 2004

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Tuesday 6 January 2004

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Monday 5 January 2004

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Sunday 4 January 2004

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Saturday 3 January 2004

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Friday 2 January 2004

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Thursday 1 January 2004

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PARTISAN PUNDITRY 2003: In the 2002 partisanship rankings, Paul Krugman easily lapped the field of fellow columnists from The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal. After the addition of a large group of syndicated columnists to the roster this year, Mr. Krugman has some company at the top of the charts.

With a controversial Republican administration and Republican control of both houses of Congress, it seems likely that Democratic partisans would be energized by opportunities for criticism, systematically increasing their partisanship scores. Despite that expectation, Republican pundit Ann Coulter has maintained the lead in the 2003 Lying in Ponds partisanship rankings through a series of rants which attempt to convince the reader that the political world is very simple to understand -- all liberals are bad, all Democrats are bad, and all Republicans are good. None of Ms. Coulter's 50 columns this year came close to contradicting that formula. The simple methods used here cannot quantify the nastiness of some of Ms. Coulter's attacks -- in one August column she wished that Al Gore and Gray Davis had been killed in Vietnam: "Both were veterans, after a fashion, of Vietnam, which would make a Gore-Davis presidential ticket the only compelling argument yet in favor of friendly fire." For more on Ms. Coulter's problems, see the Spinsanity topics page, where there is a section devoted to documentation of her manipulative rhetoric and inaccuracies.

Paul Krugman's partisanship score was slightly lower than last year, but the extreme partisanship of his columns was essentially unchanged. Mr. Krugman has written two columns each week for The New York Times for four full years, including the final year of the Clinton administration, covering topics from elections in France to the space program. In response to readers' comments, I've tediously gone through all 382 of Mr. Krugman's Times columns, looking for "harsh criticisms . . directed against Democrats", but have been simply unable to find a column which consists mainly of substantive and unambiguous criticism directed at Bill Clinton or Al Gore or Terry McAuliffe or Tom Daschle or Al Sharpton or Howard Dean or Gray Davis or any other Democrat. That distinguishes Mr. Krugman from fellow left-leaning pundits such as Maureen Dowd, Frank Rich, Bob Herbert, Michael Kinsley, Thomas Oliphant, Mary McGrory, Helen Thomas, and even Robert Scheer and Molly Ivins, all of whom have found occasions to substantively criticize their own party in only the last couple of years. How many "crossover columns" would an ideologically strident but truly independent columnist write out of 382 opportunities? I don't know, but certainly far more than zero. Mr. Krugman is clearly a gifted economist and writer, but for whatever reason, his columns have scrupulously observed party boundaries, finding unlimited time to discuss Thomas White and Trent Lott but no time at all for Marc Rich or Al Sharpton.

Just behind Mr. Krugman in the rankings were two fairly similar columnists, Robert Scheer and Molly Ivins. Neither pundit wrote a substantive crossover column in 2003, although Mr. Scheer came close with some vigorous praise of the Reagans and criticism of California Attorney General Bill Lockyer. Both columnists share with Ann Coulter the infamy of their own section on Spinsanity topics page.

A little further back are a cluster of moderately partisan columnists -- Daniel Henninger, Mona Charen, Michael Kinsley, the late Robert Bartley, Maureen Dowd and Cal Thomas. Each of these columnists demonstrated an ability to occasionally write an entire column devoted to criticism of their own party or praise for the other.

Last year's final rankings had WSJ OpinionJournal columnist Collin Levey second in partisanship only to Paul Krugman. After going that entire year without a single positive Democratic reference, her columns this year (they stopped in August) were very different -- only a single Democratic reference, and it was positive. Clearly I made the charge of partisanship against Ms. Levey last year on the basis of insufficient data, and I sincerely apologize for that. Ms. Levey writes mostly about cultural issues; I've since taken the approach that Lying in Ponds will attempt to evaluate only pundits who focus on politics rather than local, international or cultural issues. Last year's third place columnist, Claudia Rosett, writes mostly about international affairs, so she was not evaluated this year.

I'm looking forward to another year of exploring the issue of partisanship, with some roster changes and the presidential election sure to keep things interesting. Upon which political ememies will Ann Coulter wish death and destruction this year? Will Paul Krugman be able to write another 100 columns without a single contrary note? Will editors at The New York Times and The Washington Post begin to insist that their columnists disclose potential conflicts-of-interest (George Will) and honestly acknowledge blatant manipulation of quotes (Charles Krauthammer and Maureen Dowd)? Stay tuned . .

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