On the left-hand side of our page we have placed some fixed pages that explain what we’re up to and who we are. As a matter of fact, we added another one about bias. People accuse of this too often. Here’s what we wrote:

>You might have noticed that this page criticizes conservative commentators far more than it does liberal ones. It does. Is this evidence of some kind of bias? Nope.

>First, bias has to do primarily with accurate presentation of fact. For this reason, newspapers can be biased in their presentation of facts, or in their selection of facts, or in the way they interpret factual disputes. Judges can be biased if they tend to accept the factual claims of one side of an argument over another. And so on. The basic question of bias, as you can see, relates to assertions regarding whether or not a certain state of affairs obtains. Since we are largely not interested in questions of fact, we can’t be guilty of this.

>Second, over the two years that we’ve been doing this, we’ve had the opportunity to get a pretty good look at the punditry in the major daily newspapers. We have pointed out numerous times in posts that for the most part, conservative columnists defend their positions with arguments. For this reason we admire them. We also think that few liberal columnists argue as energetically as their conservative colleagues. Since the liberals don’t argue, you will find the conservatives strongly represented on our pages.

>Third, we’re not a newspaper and we have no commitment to “balance.” We find those accusations meaningless anyway. Balance exists in nature. Just because George Will cannot envision anything other than a moronic liberal interlocutor, doesn’t mean we have to go find a liberal who does the same thing.

>Fourth, the failure of some particular argument of some particular conservative writer does not in any respect entail the liberal counterpart. It entails–if we’re right–only the failure of that particular argument.

>Finally, we don’t ask you do draw any conclusions other than the ones we explicitly make in the individual posts. If you think–as many often do–that those conclusions are unwarranted, then tell us. We take all thoughtful criticism seriously.

>–The editors

I thought I’d foreground that because I’d like to hear some comments on it. Another thing we do in these pages is complain about the standards of our national discourse. Thus this website. Editors, we thought, don’t check anything other than grammar on the op-ed pages. Or so we thought. Today, the Washington Post’s ombudsperson Deborah Howell wrote (a propros of the William Arkin blog entry we discussed yesterday):

>Readers usually take things literally. And an editor should have told him to take out the word [mercenary]. That’s what editors are for: They keep opinion writers from making fools of themselves.

Really? That doesn’t seem right.

6 thoughts on “Editors”

  1. i think you might be getting these sort of accusations as a result of the increasingly polarized nature of our national discourse. everything seems to be posited terms of dichotomous realtionships and binary oppositions. concepts such as plurality, multiplicity, and negotiated meaning are rapidly disappearing into a black void of “with us or against us”-type sentiments. even the tone of the public discourse reflects the nature of it; much of it is of the “going for the throat,” win-at-all-costs variety because the perceived stakes are so high. arguments are battles to be won, not ideas to be developed.

  2. it’s not about argument anymore, it’s about contradiction, like the monty python skit here: http://youtube.com/watch?v=teMlv3ripSM. great line: “contradiction isn’t arguing, it’s just the automatic gainsay of whatever i assert.” welcome to the WaPo op-eds.

  3. I don’t know that it was ever about argument. In any case, what interests me here is the discussion of bias. I suppose we can be biased in our choice of arguments to assess–purposely perhaps picking the worst ones we can find. Unfortunately, however, that’s not the case. We stick in large part to major newspapers. Every now and then we’ll venture into the blogosphere for the illustrative purposes only. But I would hardly call Will, Krauthammer, Brooks and company the worst. However badly they argue (judging merely by the number of times they’re featured here), they’re hardly Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter. One other source of complaint might be that our discussions of they’re arguments are uncharitable. That’s not something we desire and we commit ourselves to a principle of charity more stringent than that of the people we read. Finally, for those who can’t somehow get past the idea of balance, and who envision “a pox on both their houses” to be some kind of logical principle, we’d ask that you entertain the idea that every argument is unique.

  4. what i’m understanding is that there has to be an argument for you guys to assess the argument. that somewhat limits your choices, because few pundits argue; most simply make bland assertions or simply develop long-form “no it isn’t, yes, it is” sorts of pieces, or engage in bile-spewing contests, like coulter and franken. that’s not bias, in fact, it’s very far from it, but this gets back to my point about the polarization of the national discourse. when people see the that the punditry receiving criticism on your site is largely from the conservative side, they assume bias because the discourse is all gainsay in the popular media, while you guys are simply assessing arguments. this whole idea of balance and fairness is a crock. life is niether fair nor balanced and anyone who tells someone life is fair is selling something. perhaps what we need is some sort of discussion of bias that deconstructs the idea that bias is bad. there is this negative stigma attached to bias that seems specious to me. i think one of my profs was saying this the other day: suppose your parents weren’t biased. that would suck, because they would give equal consideration to all the other kids and reserve any sort of favoritism towards you. you get pushed off the swings, don’t look for dad. that kid had as much right as you did. bias can be bad, yes, but it is not always and inherently bad. moreover, it’s unavoidable. we all bring bias with us into every discussion, even the ones who try to avoid it, like the relativist, can’t, they just lie to themselves. i mean even the accusation of bias comes from a bias. bias is simply one’s perspective. admitting bias is simply being honest.

  5. Right. I’d agree that all of us have a perspective in some very important sense. But I’d say that bias is different from perspective and related concepts. In the parents’ case above, they’re not biased towards you until you’re put in a situation where “balanced” judgment is required vis a vis other children (like say a court of law or a soccer game). Prior to that they’re just your parents.

  6. (Begin extreme sarcasm)

    You are biased! You evaluate arguments with the rules of logic. You are not being balanced because you fail to offer irrational evaluations of arguments. Shame on you!

    (End extreme sarcasm)

    Seriously, your explanation for what you choose to evaluate is fine. However, Im not sure it will lessen the amount of emails you receive because I doubt those who send such emails have read through the links on the left.

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