Do Liberal Publications Value Diversity Of Opinion More Than Conservative Ones?

by James Kirchick | June 10, 2009

The latest issue of the Columbia Journalism Review carries an article by Ben Adler about the spate of new conservative websites that have emerged in the wake of the Republicans' crushing electoral defeat (a subject that Charles Homans covered more deeply in the Washington Monthly several months ago). Adler sees this as a (mostly) positive development, because it will lead to greater diversity of thought on the right. Liberal publications and writers, he argues, have always been more willing to criticize their ideological brethren:

For roughly the last twenty-five years, conservative opinion journalism has generally followed Ronald Reagan’s eleventh commandment: thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow Republican. Liberal magazines, on the other hand, prized diversity of opinion, even contrarianism. The Nation, you may recall, invited Christopher Hitchens to endorse President Bush for reelection in its pages.

This is a very sweeping statement to make, and Adler doesn't provide much evidence for it. But what's especially strange is that he would point to The Nation, of all publications, as a repository of counterintuitive thought, and its printing Christopher Hitchens's 2004 Bush endorsement as evidence of "contrarianism" in liberal publications. After all, Hitchens quit The Nation in 2002 when he realized that it was "becoming the voice and the echo chamber of those who truly believe that John Ashcroft is a greater menace than Osama bin Laden" (how little things change). And here he is two years later attacking the magazine for printing Naomi Klein's idiotic call for her fellow leftists to "Bring Najaf to New York" during the 2004 Republican National Convention. I have a feeling that the magazine's decision to let Hitchens endorse a president whom they've continually called a war criminal in its pages had more to do with old, if weathered, comradeship than intellectual provocation.  

This leads to the broader, and more interesting, question of whether or not liberal publications value "diversity of opinion" more than conservative ones. I think it's impossible to generalize on a question like this, and people on both sides of the debate will nitpick examples of National Review opposing this Bush policy or The American Prospect opposing that Obama one to marshal evidence in support of their case. Others might argue that it shouldn't be the goal of a political publication to value "diversity" of opinion at all, as such a pursuit inevitably muddles the perspective of a magazine. These are all very interesting debates to have (at least for those of us who work in opinion journalism). But registering the broad claim that liberal magazines are less ideologically rigid than conservative ones, while pointing to the most ideologically rigid left-wing magazine on offer as evidence, does not an argument make.

--James Kirchick

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