Posted by: Bill | September 18, 2009

Top 50 Commentators

The Atlantic Monthly has put together a list of the top 50 commentators in the US. I like that they used data to form the list (see their methodology here) based on some measure of influence, reach and web engagement. I am familiar with many of the names and actively follow some of them. I am trying with all of my might to refrain from boring you with my opinions on many of them. That would be a long post that none of us have time for anyway.

I noticed a few things about the list that don’t make me happy though. I don’t plan on engaging in the merits of who should or should not be included. That would also be long and boring. All the names are prominent. I do have two larger comments regarding what the list says about the United States.
1) Too many near the top of the list represent the fringe of their party. This is upsetting, but perhaps not surprising. Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Sean Hannity stand at 2 and 7, and 11 respectively. Krugman sits at #1 on the liberal side. While he is no doubt many times more experienced and more educated than I, his opinions on all issues are beyond predictable. You know where he stands before he writes it.
Rachel Maddow (14), Maureen Dowd (17) and Olbermann (20) sit in the top 20. I could easily continue.
2) While many bloggers and less prominent commentators don’t make this list, they have proven they can quickly and logically dress down the kookier arguments posed by some of the folks mentioned above. Some of my favorites (McCardle, TNC, Marginal Revolution, etc.) don’t even waste time messing with the really crazy things someone like Beck, Rush, or Olbermann spews which is wise on their part given they would just be wasting their time. Here are two quick examples of a blogger with less star power rhetorically pummeling someone from this list:
  • Ta-Nehesi Coates notes that it’s Kanye’s fault after a David Brooks column from last week. He takes on Brooks noting that he has selective memory in his description of American modesty during the past. In short, regarding modesty, things are not so different in the US today than they used to be. Yes, we have Joe Wilson and Kanye now, but we had George Wallace, Strom Thurmond and a host of other prominent people in the past. People have always been self-promoters and I, personally, don’t think this really applies only to the US. We are talking human nature here.
  • Several people go after Thomas Friedman for, in my opinion, going off the deep end a bit. He praises authoritarian government’s ability to get things done and notes how this is helping them get ahead on issues such as climate change. I’m sure he is right about their ability to make hard decisions, but he glosses over the huge gaps in freedom and liberty that come with this. This is the quickest way to get labeled a socialist and perhaps that is okay with him. As a former Friedman disciple, it still makes me sad. I did not link to another blogger refuting him because I felt I could handle this one myself.

My point here is not that a less prominent blogger is definitively smarter or more deserving of notoriety. It is that these 50 voices may indeed carry the most influence right now, but that in no way makes them superior to the thousands of other commentators out there. It’s worth it to go looking beyond the prominent columnists in the NYT, WaPo, et al.


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