14 July 2009

Famous Idiot Op-Eds

Should serious newspapers publish op-eds by people who have no qualifications to write about the issue addressed except fame?

Matthew Yglesias (hat tip to Steam Powered Opinions) argues that they should not:

[W]hy does Sarah Palin have an op-ed on climate legislation in the Washington Post? Does she have scientific expertise? Economic expertise? Knowledge of the state of international climate negotiations?

Perhaps during her brief time in the public spotlight she developed a reputation for an unusually solid grasp of complicated policy details? Or is the idea that she’s known for being honest? A good-faith participant in public policy debates?

Well, no. And the fact of the matter is that the Palin op-ed actually fits very comfortably alongside the established norms of Charles Krauthammer, George Will, and Robert Samuelson—words on paper that are neither paid advertisements nor serious efforts to improve people’s understanding of the world.

Then again, Yglesias is partially being intentionally dense.

Why Palin? Because she was a Vice Presidential nominee for the GOP in 2008, is one of the few names being widely discussed right now as a Presidential candidate in 2012, and is one of the more prominent spokespersons for the hydra-headed Republican party at the moment because she was more popular with the Republican base than GOP Presidential nominee John McCain. Her words put her on the record on something that could be an issue in a future Presidential campaign and also articulates the policy of a wing, at least, of the Republican Party.

In short, her statements are important, more because of what they say about who is speaking and those she represents, than they are because they provide a wider understanding of the world.

I am not as offended as Yglesias, as a result, but I see his point. Op-eds like this are pure exercises in spin, are naturally prone to spread misinformation, and create an appearance of authoritative opinion where none had existed before.

1 comment:

Steve Balboni said...

You're definitely right about the intentional density of Yglesias on this. I'd be interested to see if he would explicitly indict the current practice of giving people platforms because of who they represent and not based on any independent qualifications.

It's also a bit of a slippery slope. We all often times cite pundits and bloggers who aren't subject matter experts. Palin is an extreme example of this of course.