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Why Oh Why Can't We Have Better Right-Wing Webloggers?

A Puzzle: The Economist's American Political Coverage

Why oh why can't we have a better press corps? Economist edition:

Henry Farrell: [P]eople like meself who like to take potshots at [the Economist's] odder articles; we can now be sure that our readers can actually read the original if they click on the link. This piece on the demise of Mark Warner's and George Felix Allen's respective president hopes is a case in point. Most of the article is pretty unexceptionable. The peculiar bit is this summation of the current state of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination.

But whatever the reason, [Warner's] retreat has created a vacuum. He had positioned himself as the centrist alternative to Hillary Clinton, the early front-runner for the Democratic nomination and the darling of the party%u2019s liberal activists. Southerners, Westerners and moderates are now shopping for a new candidate, perhaps Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico or Governor Tom Vilsack of Iowa, Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana or former Senator John Edwards of North Carolina, the vice-presidential nominee in 2004....

So Hillary Clinton is apparently the "darling of the party's liberal activists."... [T]he only surveys that I know of which try to figure out what "liberal activists" want are the Pew survey (which focuses on Howard Dean supporters) and the Blogpac survey, which draws from a sample of MoveOn email list subscribers.... Pew finds that Clinton polls number 4 or number 3 among former Dean activists depending on which question you look at, while the Blogpac survey finds her to be joint fifth with Joe Biden, and to have higher unfavourable ratings than any other listed candidate. Given that Clinton has specifically tried to position herself as the centrist alternative over the last couple of years, this is about what one would expect. Equally bizarre is the suggestion that centrists might want to gravitate towards John Edwards. This could just be the result of sloppy thinking that telescopes "Southerners, Westerners and moderates" into a unified category, but to the extent that Edwards might appeal to Southerners and Westerners, it's not because he's a moderate. It's because he's running the most economically populist campaign that a serious candidate for the Democratic nomination has run in recent history.

These claims don't seem biased to me so much as clueless. The bit about Clinton in particular strikes me as the sort of thing one might believe if one listened more to Republicans talking about Democrats than to Democrats themselves. I don't get the impression that the article's author actually knows very much about what's happening within the Democratic party. Not what you expect from a serious magazine.

And in comments:

Crooked Timber Comments: Hasn’t the management of The Economist been clearly turning their magazine into a right-wing rag for a while?... Posted by Barry · October 21st, 2006 at 7:33 am

Barry, I think standards in general at the Economist have fallen in the last decade or so. But it’s really only the American coverage that has moved to the right – or more precisely, to Republican partisanism – rather than just becoming sloppier. I think that this is a deliberate move on their part – they now have many more American readers than UK ones, and they’re generally rich Americans.

Commercially you can’t go wrong by reinforcing the prejudices of rich old men.

Posted by derrida derider

And the Opinion Mill:

Opinion Mill: Amazing insights from The Economist: Thanks to Atrios and the alert uniformed attendants at Crooked Timber, I see The Economist has taken most of its content out from behind the firewall.

There was a time when I read The Economist regularly, and even paid the premium for a subscription. Then I began to realize that aside from the heftier supply of international news and the absence of the really excruciating fluff pieces Time and Newsweek like to churn out, the Economist differed from its competitors mainly in the fact that it added a letter "u" to certain words. There was also the creeping sense that spores from Fox News had drifted into the Economist's office ventilation system, leading to elevated methane levels and lowered intellectual content in the magazine's reportage on American politics. The attraction of The Economist used to be the sense that it was giving you a view of America from the far side of the ocean. Nowadays, it gives you the sense of having been written from somewhere beneath the ocean, maybe in a suburb of Atlantis....

[George] Allen, we are told, may have been "afflicted by the curse of early popularity." Well, yeah, maybe. On the other hand, he may have been afflicted by his own actions, which as soon as the spotlight hit him showed the world that George Allen is an ignorant buffoon, a neo-Confederate creep and a howling racist who compares dark-skinned people to monkeys and then tells easily exposed lies to smooth things over.

The magazine's lame rundown on Allen can be written off as simple laziness; the summation on Warner, on the other hand, raises deeper questions about where they get their information:

Mr Warner, who served as an extremely popular and successful governor of Virginia until January, insisted there was nothing scandalous involved. Still, his announcement aroused suspicion. Some suggested the salacious. Others wondered if the decision had to do with his vast business interests. But whatever the reason, his retreat has created a vacuum. He had positioned himself as the centrist alternative to Hillary Clinton, the early front-runner for the Democratic nomination and the darling of the party's liberal activists...

It will certainly come as news to Daily Kos and other centers of liberal activism that Hillary Clinton is their darling. Most of the lefties I know are exasperated and angered by her suport for the Iraq invasion and her ceaseless tacking toward the dead middle; she is a far-left candidate only in the alternate universe that is home to WingNutDaily and the grifters at NewsMax, where Hillary is second only to Ted Kennedy in the winger demonogy...

In my view, it's not spores from Fox News infecting an unsuspecting population of Economist writers. In my view, it's a deliberate attempt by Economist management to shape its American political coverage by hiring people who will ape the political coverage provided by the Wall Street Journal editorial page--but, of course, without the coke, the meth, and the acid the Journal's writers consume daily. The assumption appears to be that pleasing the American circulation base and thus keeping the magazine going requires that its American political coverage start with the assumption that various Republican talking points and shibboleths are true, and then heads off into the Gamma Quadrant from there.

This does have costs: it makes me, for one, much less likely to trust or quote what the Economist writes about the rest of the world and about economics and finance than I was two decades ago.