Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Catch of the Day

To Brad DeLong, who takes apart a Julia Ioffe TNR profile of Ezra Klein.

To begin with: for those who don't know, Ezra Klein has always been a terrific friend and supporter of Plain Blog, of me, and of political scientists in general. So I'm not exactly unbiased on this. On the other hand, I'd take his support to be pretty convincing evidence that he is not, as Ioffe believes, always looking "upward" -- I mean, really, when Ezra first took notice of me I couldn't have been more of a nobody, and even now it's hard to see that there's much percentage in it for him in (as he does) occasionally tweeting out one of my posts. I think Ed Kilgore nails it: Ezra has a great talent for collegiality.

Back to DeLong: he points out four really interesting questions Ioffe could have tried to answer in her profile:

Just what is Ezra Klein doing that gets him 100,000 page views a day (it is a very good day on which I get more than 50,000) and makes out-of-town newspaper bureau chiefs and senior senatorial staffers say that they learn "more from Ezra Klein on any given day than from the entire national news staff of the New York Times?

Why doesn't Wonkblog face more competition, or at least see more attempted imitators?

Why is Ezra Klein doing this at the Washington Post? [...]

Can Wonkblog survive at the Washington Post, or will its DNA destroy Wonkblog as we know it?

The thing about Wonkblog is how astonishingly good it is. Ezra is exactly right that policy was (and is) undercovered by the general-interest press, but presumably that's systematic, and he's found a way to break through that, somehow. That's an important story! Not only that, but he's expanded into his current format while maintaining consistent, terrific quality. That's an interesting story! Perhaps even more interesting than who he spoke with at the White House Correspondents' Dinner.

Granted, that story, especially the first half, would have a lot less to do with Ezra Klein than it would with the general orientation of a large group of bloggers, some in roughly Ezra's generation but many not, who place policy far more in the center of their interest in politics than has traditionally been the case with most reporters.

(Oh, and I've never met Gene Sperling, but I suspect DeLong is exactly right in his Klein/Sperling comments. Also: yes, Sperling is an important player at the moment, but Ioffe is telling a story about the White House Correspondents' Dinner: there are lots of important players in that room! And by the way, that includes Ezra Klein, who the WH might just want to be talking to for their own purposes -- in other words, it's possible that Ioffe's informant has the story backwards).

Anyway, not that there's anything wrong with doing a personality profile, but DeLong is right: we're not getting the interesting parts of this story. So: Great catch!


  1. The weird thing about it to me is that it's not like The New Republic is allergic to the kind of work that Ezra Klein is doing. If I'm not mistaken, Brad Plumer went to Wonkblog from being an assistant editor at TNR, and Jonathan Cohn's blogging about health care has been very much in line with Ezra's.

    It seems to me like the most interesting split in new forms of political journalism over the past few years has been the Politico/BuzzFeed model - determining that the way to increase the marketing share is by "winning the morning" and producing click bait - versus the Wonkblog model, which figures that there is a real untapped market for intelligent policy analysis that isn't personality or narrative driven. I think the most interesting thing about Ezra Klein's rise is that he made it happen by trusting the intelligence and intellectual curiousity of his audience.

    1. Agreed. I think the binary of "politics vs policy" is deeply pernicious.

      A standard leftist critique of Klein's journalism is that it lacks "a theory of politics" by being too focused on "technocratic," "wonky" substance and not attuned to the way in which political interests struggle within the framing and choices embedded in policy models and their presentation before mass audiences. I do think there's something to that critique, suggesting Klein's occasional and partly systematic blindspots around strategy, mobilization, and political economy.

      BUT Klein's journalistic enterprise has a much more well developed understanding of politics than does the Politico/Buzzfeed/Sunday-morning/cable-news coverage *precisely* because he focuses substantively on policies and on political actors' and parties' preferences. That's essential for understanding politics. Because other journalists don't pay due attention to this, or even actively report inaccurate policy information, they wind up producing coverage of politicians and parties that is misleading and anti-informative.

    2. One could group the l'enfant terrible Nate Silver in with Klein and his kind.

  2. Isn't it interesting that new model Ezra Klein takes David Brooks as a role model? I thought it was, and I think the way that Klein has moved into Beltway respectability is actually worth delving into.

    1. It's important to note why Ezra Klein admires Brooks at this point in time: not for his logic or for his viewpoints, but because he is able to write column inches that present the opposing argument in a way that people can grasp.

    2. I'm fine with Ezra, but if that's what he thinks I'd disagree with him there. Brooks' presentation of his opponents' arguments is almost always misguided and foolish. So if he's explaining them in a way that people think something misguided and foolish is actually accurate and sensible, well, I don't think that's a good thing.

  3. I think the difference between DeLong's questions and Ioffe's profile kind of match up with the differences between Wonkblog and the conventional media.

    1. Yes -- which is disappointing since it's part of the brand new TNR.

  4. Agree, and I'm not even a huge fan of Ezra and crews technocratic neoliberalism.

    The thing I disagree with Ezra is his characterization of himself as non-ideological and purely driven by undercurrents of data. It is impossible to evaluate the efficiency of a program without knowing the end goal. The end goal can only be determined by idelogical.


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