I have a new column at Time.com [Update: link offline -- see here] on The American Prospect's attempt to limit my criticism of liberals on their blog (which caused me to quit) and its implications for the future of opinion journalism. Here's how it begins:
Not that long ago, many people thought the Internet would break down partisan boundaries and improve the quality of political debate in this country -- a prediction that sounds as silly today as previous hype about the educational potential of television and radio.
Today, online politics has come to be dominated by two warring camps, just like offline politics. And while many critics complain about the polarization of the blogosphere and its effect on elections, how blogs will affect the economics of opinion journalism is less well understood. In particular, partisan blogs have become so popular that they are threatening the business model -- and the independence -- of center-left opinion magazines, which may be forced to toe the party line to ensure their survival.(Read the whole thing.)
Update 9/20 2:45 PM -- Andrew Sullivan comments on the whole episode:
The blog partisanship on the right is often depressing - and boy would I have been fired long ago if I had ever been blogging on a "conservative" site. But the politburo on the left is no better. And to think we once believed the blogosphere could liberate independent thought. Yeah, right. You can now read Brendan, freed from the liberal thought police, at his own blog. Support free thought. They won't.
Update 9/20 3:08 PM -- It turns out that something similar happened to Matt Welch:
In the winter of 2002, the Prospect approached me about becoming a regular media columnist, to which I happily agreed. In January of 2003, my first piece had graduated to the fact-checking process, and then suddenly I was hit with an e-mail informing me that my article, and in fact my services overall, were no longer desired, precisely because of my "off-duty activities." An excerpt:
some of the editors had concerns ... that your affiliation with the soon-to-launch L.A. Examiner ... rather firmly places you on a different part of the political spectrum than the Prospect. Though it's clear to me from reading your writings that you are ... more politically independent than conservative, the increasingly prominant affiliation with [Richard] Riordan has given some of our editors pause.
Seeing as how Prospect Editor-at-Large Meyerson is a key columnist for the L.A. Weekly, and had just the week before written a laughable piece asserting that a newspaper edited by me and the author of this site was going to be "neocon" ... it wasn't hard to guess who "some of the editors" might mean. In subsequent phone conversations, my list of disqualifyingly undesirable "off-duty activities" was expanded to include writing six articles for Reason, and being paid to speak at a single weekend conference hosted by the devilish Institute for Humane Studies. It was also suggested that maybe my politics were drifting Rightward without me even realizing it. These things happen, I was told, and not without some sympathy.
Later still, all that was withdrawn as some kind of terrible misunderstanding; the real reason for parting ways was that my work didn't pass muster. But in the meantime, would I mind not writing about the details of this little communication breakdown?
One thing missing from this discussion is that Brendan was a known commodity when TAP hired him. He has a long track record of writing and expressing independent views. Presumably, that's why TAP hired him. For TAP to suddenly discover that he is an independent thinker after hiring him is, at a minimum, evidence of incompetence on TAP's part. I suggest that anyone hired to do blogging for anyone insist upon having a contract that specifies some payment in the event they are suddenly discovered to be consistent in their views.
Update 9/21 6:53 AM: Eugene Volokh points out that the Power Line quote included in the article omits the next two sentences, which state "Hyperbolic? Well, maybe." But it's clear that the author, John Hinderaker, didn't think the claim was hyperbolic; the conclusion actually reinforces the introduction. I've reprinted the full text below (which I previously printed in this post):
It must be very strange to be President Bush. A man of extraordinary vision and brilliance approaching to genius, he can't get anyone to notice. He is like a great painter or musician who is ahead of his time, and who unveils one masterpiece after another to a reception that, when not bored, is hostile.
Hyperbolic? Well, maybe. But consider Bush's latest master stroke: the Asia Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate. The pact includes the U.S., Japan, Australia, China, India and South Korea; these six countries account for most of the world's carbon emissions. The treaty is, in essence, a technology transfer agreement. The U.S., Japan and Australia will share advanced pollution control technology, and the pact's members will contribute to a fund that will help implement the technologies. The details are still sketchy and more countries may be admitted to the group later on. The pact's stated goal is to cut production of "greenhouse gases" in half by the end of the century.
What distinguishes this plan from the Kyoto protocol is that it will actually lead to a major reduction in carbon emissions! This substitution of practical impact for well-crafted verbiage stunned and infuriated European observers.
I doubt that the pact will make any difference to the earth's climate, which will be determined, as always, by variations in the energy emitted by the sun. But when the real cause of a phenomenon is inaccessible, it makes people feel better to tinker with something that they can control. Unlike Kyoto, this agreement won't devastate the U.S. economy, and, also unlike Kyoto, the agreement will reduce carbon emissions in the countries where they are now rising most rapidly, India and China. Brilliant.
But I don't suppose President Bush is holding his breath, waiting for the crowd to start applauding.
Hinderaker now claims the post was "tongue-in-cheek" and his fellow blogger Paul Mirengoff argues that my "'sample quote' actually goes further than anything anyone on Power Line has written other than in jest." But I think the post is consistent with the fawning admiration for President Bush that is often expressed on that blog, as in this quote from Hinderaker a few weeks ago:
I had the opportunity this afternoon to be part of a relatively small group who heard President Bush talk, extemporaneously, for around forty minutes. It was an absolutely riveting experience. It was the best I've ever seen him. Not only that; it may have been the best I've ever seen any politician. If I summarized what he said, it would all sound familiar: the difficult times we live in; the threat from Islamic fascism--the phrase drew an enthusiastic round of applause--the universal yearning for freedom; the need to confront evil now, with all the tools at our disposal, so that our children and grandchildren can live in a better and safer world. As he often does, the President structured his comments loosely around a tour of the Oval Office. But the digressions and interpolations were priceless.
The conventional wisdom is that Bush is not a very good speaker. But up close, he is a great communicator, in a way that, in my opinion, Ronald Reagan was not. He was by turns instructive, persuasive, and funny. His persona is very much that of the big brother. Above all, he was impassioned. I have never seen a politician speak so evidently from the heart, about big issues--freedom, most of all.
I've sometimes worried about how President Bush can withstand the Washington snake pit and deal with a daily barrage of hate from the ignorant left that, in my opinion, dwarfs in both volume and injustice the abuse directed against any prior President. (No one accused Lincoln of planning the attack on Fort Sumter.) Not to worry. He is, of course, miles above his mean-spirited liberal critics. More than that, he clearly derives real joy from the opportunity to serve as President and to participate in the great pageant of American history. And he sees himself as anything but a lame duck, which is why he is stumping for Republican candidates around the country.
It was, in short, the most inspiring forty minutes I've experienced in politics.
Update 9/21 7:16 AM -- More reaction: Jonah Goldberg has posted here and here about my article and the controversy, which he wants to call the "Nyhan defenstration." Both he and Stephen Spruiell at the National Review media blog, while generally supportive, question my claim that conservative magazines are typically less heterodox than their left-of-center counterparts. Other reactions: an Andrew Sullivan reader and Max Sawicky.
Update 9/28/09 10:12 PM: The original column is offline -- here's a link that still works.