Sunday, December 21, 2008

What We Want To Know ...

Okay, this is strictly a DC-centric political junkie post, but I'm really curious who the crybaby is who whined about this and had this posted subsequently. The comments make for entertaining reading if you're bored.

There are two things I don't understand about DC. One is the degree to which one is expected to "defend" all sorts of nominal allies, regardless of what the allies have done on the merits. The other is the fact that these are all grown-ups, many of whom have been involved in fairly rough political campaigns, but yet it's somehow inappropriate to use blunt language to make your point. Isn't one of Rumsfeld's rules (the good Rumsfeld, when he was Chief of Staff and SecDef for Ford) not to get hung up on personalities and grudges, since it's a small town and we all have business to attend to tomorrow. Sheesh.

[Update from Neil]
: So, here's Third Way's management team. Third Way's President and two VPs were previously involved with an organization called "Americans for Gun Safety", but apparently they didn't learn how to avoid shooting themselves in the foot.

12 comments:

Justin said...

I'm really curious what Yglesias' next comment is going to be. How can he possibly follow up on the clusterfuck that is that post & comment thread?

Neil Sinhababu said...

Same here, Justin.

TW really blew it on this one. It's on the front page of Kos now. I don't know what kind of weird pressures Palmieri is operating under, so I'll reserve judgment on her situation.

Neil Sinhababu said...

Now Stoller's running with it on OpenLeft.

I wonder how the Third Wayer who thought this was appropriate damage control will feel tomorrow morning...

BruceMcF said...

Some of the comments are silly ... "Goobye Cruel World, I will never read MY again!" ... but some are fun.

Indeed, until this whole thing exploded, I never realized that The Third Way is AGAINST SUPERTRAIN.

Cynical Again said...

The "whiny" aspect is what stood out immediately for me. What a bunch of crybabies the folks at Third Way must be!

Ankush said...

I guess I'm in the minority, but I find all the outrage really, really fascinating and totally naive.

Yglesias doesn't work for a media organization. He works for an advocacy group. With that comes all the pressure to be on board with the agenda.

He wasn't hired because he's an independent voice. He was hired because he has a reputation as someone who's independent who has views that almost always in line with CAP -- i.e., he helps promote their message. I don't know if he thought otherwise, but the idea that he could just write whatever he wants without the people paying him caring whether it caused problems for them -- again, it's naive across the board, including among people who think Palmieri has done something totally unthinkable.

When Yglesias left The Atlantic, Ross Douthat had a decent post about how he didn't like someone who he thought was a smart, independent mind going to work for a political organization because it would entail compromises and promote insularity. This, I think, is the sort of thing he was talking about.

Like Neil, I'm not commenting on Palmieri's move per se. Just pointing out that this isn't surprising or, in the scheme of things, such a huge deal. After all, I assume Spencer Ackerman left for similar reasons -- when under CAP's banner, he couldn't just write whatever he wanted.

Finally, I'd just note that things probably would've played out differently if Yglesias had made his points differently. Yes, Nick, people should be grown-ups and all and not just bristle at bad words, but saying someone's agenda is hyper-incrementalist bullshit -- without any elaboration or any links to supporting posts -- is not, in fact, an argument.

Neil Sinhababu said...

Ankush, I see how the norms of working for an advocacy organization operate here. But there has to be a better accommodation between those norms and the norms of the blogosphere than what we just saw at CAP.

When people read Matt Yglesias at CAP, they expect that they're getting the same product as if they were reading Matt anywhere else. If they thought they were reading a version of Matt heavily pressured and constrained to get on board with a certain agenda and not diss certain allied groups, they'd be a lot less interested. Now they see that they're getting a different and lower-quality sort of product than they thought they were getting, and they're unhappy.

By the evaluative standards applicable to blogging, Matt's product suddenly appears to be not as good as before, because it's less independent. And that's why people who come there to read his blog are unhappy.

I don't have any problem with the original "hyper-incrementalist bullshit" post. If you had to fully defend every premise of your argument in a blog post, we couldn't do anything except maybe some math and philosophy blogging.

Neil Sinhababu said...

Let me add one more thing. Perhaps you'd say that we should've expected all along that Matt's work was being constrained in this way. But I thought there was a perfectly good reason for CAP to let Matt operate freely. If he's seen as independent, he's more influential, and the advantages of his influence may exceed the costs of his occasional waywardness.

I thought that was the sensible way to play it, anyway, and so it guided my expectations about how the CAP-Yglesias relationship would be.

Ankush said...

Neil, a few responses.

When people read Matt Yglesias at CAP, they expect that they're getting the same product as if they were reading Matt anywhere else.

Then "people" are naive. Of course this isn't true. Do you think he has never had a critical thought about CAP that, but for his affiliation with the group, would've been aired on a blog with a different group? In his characteristically succinct way, Atrios is right when he observes, "Look, even a fantasy version of editorial independence doesn't really include calling out your boss using your boss's printing press." This is true, of course, even of media organizations, but to a much lesser degree than with a policy outfit. (If I had to guess, while at The Atlantic, Yglesias probably held back on Jeffrey Goldberg.)

By the evaluative standards applicable to blogging, Matt's product suddenly appears to be not as good as before, because it's less independent.

I wish I had time to dig up Douthat's post (the one I referenced above), but basically, this became true when he moved to CAP, whatever illusions people otherwise had. There's no such thing as pure editorial independence -- people are always constrained from criticizing their bosses and adversely affecting their employer's work, whether consciously or not. At a magazine, however, you have more freedom to write whatever you want than with a political group. They have an agenda for crying out loud. This is so self-evident that I can't believe people are even surprised about it.

If you had to fully defend every premise of your argument in a blog post, we couldn't do anything except maybe some math and philosophy blogging.

Oh please. I think highly of you, Neil, but this is a straw man -- an argumentative move far beneath a philosophy professor. The hyper-incrementalist line was part of a strong claim that was a key part of his post.

I don't care about the language, but I'm just saying: He made a conclusory claim without putting in the work -- which I'm sure he could've done -- to provide links and/or context. It was lazy, but whatever, his prerogative. I think his presentation, however, rankled more than it would have if he had put in the work to back up his claims. Instead, he got publicly embarrassed by his boss.

P.S. I'm about to get on a flight, so won't be able to follow up on this -- if there's more -- till much later.

Neil Sinhababu said...

Do you think he has never had a critical thought about CAP that, but for his affiliation with the group, would've been aired on a blog with a different group?

I wouldn't put the point that strongly, but I always assumed that he was basically writing the same sort of things he'd write before. Differences of tone and all that, and the fact that CAP does lots of cool wonky research would get him to link to their research a lot more often, but for the most part I don't think there's been a dramatic difference between Matt's blogging at CAP and at the Atlantic. He rides his progressivism a little harder, but I feel like I'm basically getting the same product.

Regarding Matt's original Third Way post, Ankush, I have no idea what you're talking about. Matt puts up easily five posts a day that involve undefended premises as substantial as "But their domestic policy agenda is hyper-timid incrementalist bullshit." Pressure him enough, and he'll put up another post defending the premises. In a medium like Yglesias-style rapid-fire political blogging that's a fine way to do it.

Ankush said...

But I thought there was a perfectly good reason for CAP to let Matt operate freely. If he's seen as independent, he's more influential, and the advantages of his influence may exceed the costs of his occasional waywardness.

I think this is the best point to be made on your side of the argument, but if they really thought that, then why hire him? That's the key question.

ThinkProgress and CAP aren't like a media organization in the following, key way: At The Atlantic, even if (for the sake of argument) they didn't like what Yglesias was saying, they liked the page views because it meant ad dollars. CAP and ThinkProgress aren't nearly as interested in ad dollars, though. Their main concern, by a large margin, is getting their message out.

So why hire him? Not just for large numbers of eyeballs -- but also for the prospect that Yglesias would to more for their cause and their organization than he would've if he had been working somewhere else. I've been reading him for a while, and as I recall, he didn't use to link so frequently -- and with such unqualified praise -- to CAP white papers, about CAP events, about CAP people, etc. And I don't think that mild shift in tone and emphasis occurred randomly.

Again, I don't think this is a huge deal by any means -- like I said, I thought it was obvious, and think it has been for a while -- but of course his affiliation with CAP has editorial consequences.

You're right that it's in CAP's interest for him to be "seen as independent" -- which is why Palmieri's move was, strategically, probably unwise -- but if he actually were completely independent, there would be much less reason for a group like CAP to pay him.

Ankush said...

I feel like I'm basically getting the same product.

I agree. You are, basically, but with some modest shifts in tone and emphasis. I think we're on the same page here.

Matt puts up easily five posts a day that involve undefended premises as substantial as "But their domestic policy agenda is hyper-timid incrementalist bullshit."

Correct. It's a problem in those posts too. I'm not sure if you've noticed, but I'm not a particularly big fan of his work. Editorially, I think it would be much better if he posted less and if his posts weren't so frequently written for people who already agree with him. I'll leave it at that.

This time, I really am leaving for the airport. Interesting conversation, though.