Philosophy of Lying in Ponds
- In a healthy democratic system, political decisions by
politicians and voters should be made on the merits of the issues, and not
for any other reason. Partisanship is one factor which damages the
political process; there are others (apathy, money, etc.). Lying
in Ponds chooses to focus on partisanship.
- One of the ingredients necessary for good decision-making is the
availability of relatively unbiased information and analysis.
Political pundits should be able to provide independent analysis of
the issues of the day that will allow politicians and voters to make
better decisions. Eric Alterman's book,
Sound and Fury : The Making of the Punditocracy, does an excellent
job of explaining the powerful influence exerted by major pundits
on the insular culture of Washington.
- Turning away from a tradition of strongly partisan newspapers in
the 19th century, major American newspapers have since chosen to
pursue objectivity in their reporting, and
independence from partisan interests in their commentary and
analysis (Alterman's book examines the history of this transformation -- his
opinion is that American journalism has been damaged by worshipping at
the altar of objectivity).
- Political columnists for major American newspapers have therefore
been expected to be independent, which presumably implies that they
are not overtly or covertly writing on behalf of a political
- Although columnists claim to be independent, they shouldn't be
expected to be politically neutral. It is natural and reasonable
that most pundits have developed political philosophies which lead
them to favor one party over another.
- However, Lying in Ponds tries to draw a fundamental
distinction between ordinary party preference and partisanship. A
partisan pundit is one whose opinions nearly always break down along
party lines. When two people agree on everything, it's pretty certain that
only one is doing the thinking. Assuming that it's unlikely that a
partisan columnist is actually formulating the party platform, then the partisan
columnist's opinions must therefore
derive from allegiance to the favored party or hostility to the other
party rather than from independent thought.
- It's easy to confuse ideological bias with partisan bias. While
liberals are usually Democrats and conservatives are usually
Republicans, a pundit who is truly committed to ideas
will frequently find themselves criticizing their favorite party.
Christopher Hitchens and William Safire are examples of the
- Even if a pundit happened to genuinely agree with one party on
almost all substantive policy issues, a major part of the political process
hinges on the character of the people who participate in it. Any
human trait -- courage, humility, intelligence, cowardice, hypocrisy,
stupidity -- is easily found in both parties, and an independent
pundit could not write honestly about the political process without
- Lying in Ponds is an attempt to quantify and analyze
partisanship in the American punditocracy. Lying in Ponds believes that
non-partisanship is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for
constructive punditry. The views of pundits who are excessively partisan
cannot be taken seriously (like advertising), because their ulterior
motives or uncontrolled biases are certain to frequently
contaminate their judgements. But
a lack of partisanship does not necessarily make a pundit worth
- Partisan punditry amounts to a kind of false advertising if it is
not acknowledged, since all major pundits purport to be independent.
It also violates the spirit of newspaper
policies which separate content and advertising -- partisan columns amount
to free advertising for political parties. Most importantly, partisan
pundits make rational political decision-making more difficult by
contributing another source of distortion rather than illumination to
the political debate.
- Lying in Ponds itself attempts to be completely
non-partisan. Democratic and Republican biases will be evaluated in
exactly the same way.