Read Eric's bio and previous columns
December 31, 2007
New York Times Rewards Bill Kristol for Failure
There is promoting ideological balance with quality, and there is
promoting ideological balance with the people you have sitting around.
Last week, just a couple of weeks after being bounced from the pages of
Time magazine, uber-conservative pundit Bill Kristol landed in a
new place Ė the opinion pages of the New York Times.
The issue is not that an uber-conservative was hired, but that Kristol
is unfit for the position.
is easy to hold politicians accountable for failure. You vote for a
different candidate, or you help weaken their party by giving control of
government to the other party. Thatís what happened in 2006, when
control of both houses of Congress were given by the American people to
the Democratic Party (which, since then, has failed to make any
appreciable progress on basically any issue).
The media, however, while playing up its important role in policing
government, typically falls down on the job while policing itself. These
days, ratings and readership, rather than coherence of thought and
accuracy, are the most important factors in decision making.
How else to account for the appointment of Kristol, an unflagging and
unfailing cheerleader of the war in Iraq even when his own original
predictions turned out to be so horribly wrong, to a position of such
isnít just Kristol. Supporters of the war, who in its early days mocked
opponents and made all kinds of wild declarations that turned out to be
wrong, have wriggled their way into prime, influential media positions.
Most of them, just like Kristol, werenít just wrong about Iraq because
they are driven by a partisan agenda rather than an ideological agenda.
Take the case of Jonah Goldberg, who finally came around to admitting
that the war was a mistake when opposition to it reached 70 percent. In
exchange for being inaccurate and wrong on just about everything, he Ė
like Kristol Ė found his career moving up. Having parlayed the
possession of juicy information about Bill Clintonís relationship with
Monica Lewinsky into jobs with various rightwing media outlets, he
finally ascended to the pages of the Los Angeles Times a couple
of years back.
no other job would so many public errors, especially in a job based on
your credibility, be considered anything but an invitation to start down
a different career path. Apparently, on the nationís editorial pages,
being right is less important than being around Ė and the penance for
the sin of crafting poorly informed opinion pieces is a more prominent
Were a left-wing pundit with a similar record of accuracy to be hired
under similar conditions, it might be viewed as an act of media bias.
And, in a way, itís hard to view this as anything but bias, also.
isnít ideological bias, as alleged over the last couple of decades by
conservatives, but one toward the bottom line. Most of us understand
that media companies, at the end of the day, still need to turn a profit
to please investors. Nothing threatens profits like unhappy customers
and advertisers, and nothing makes media consumers less happy than
believing their opinions arenít represented.
But the media have an important function in our democracy, and promoting
quality and accuracy should be more important than profits, at least if
youíre primarily concerned with healthy self-governance.
Credibility is a slippery thing, a subjective left up to individual
interpretation. Itís often based on the ability to craft arguments,
rather than whether those arguments are anything but lunatic ravings.
Unfortunately, you canít use the market to measure it because you canít
buy work from writers ala carte. That leaves it up to media companies
themselves to promote quality and accuracy from within, based on their
Also unfortunately, in this case, it appears that promoting accuracy
isnít such an important thing to The New York Times, and that the
penalty for inaccuracy is a promotion.
North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.
Click here to talk to our writers and
editors about this column and others in our discussion forum.
To e-mail feedback
about this column,
click here. If you enjoy this writer's
work, please contact your local newspapers editors and ask them to carry
This is column #
Request permission to publish here.