One indicator of how highly a publication regards its readers is in the quality of the content. Easterbrook’s review is borderline stupid. Media Matters provides perhaps too much detail on why that’s so: if you want the short course, it’s because Easterbrook finished reviewing the film in the second paragraph and filled out the rest of the column with factual errors and some truly bizarre straw men: “If Gore is so concerned about the environment, why does he still travel by air?” “If Gore is so concerned about poor people, why does he want to lower their standards of living by decreasing the use of polluting fuels?” Plus, he says Gore is a transsexual Martian who sighs a lot, as who among us wouldn’t.
You’ll notice I don’t link to Easterbrook’s review. This is because I’m taking a cue from Weisberg, who told New York University journalism students that his magazine “doesn’t believe in using quotations” because “quotations are there often to thank the sources, or for the writer to kind of congratulate himself on having talked to the person.” While I’m not prepared to dispense entirely with quotations, I do believe links are often used by writers to thank their sources or kind of congratulate themselves for having read the stuff they’re talking about, which interferes with the Weisbergian goal of keeping things “very tight and concise” and might lead some of my readers to check on things like whether or not Easterbrook actually called Gore a transsexual Martian.
As far as you know, he did. And if he didn’t, that’s okay too: Weisberg says my readers will catch it.
Another aspect unique to Slate is that its editors don’t believe in fact-checking. “We think it makes authors lazy and careless,” says Weisberg. “We like writers to be responsible for their facts. And we’ve also discovered that on the Internet, and particularly since the advent of blogging, mistakes get found out very quickly. So there’s a huge disincentive to making mistakes.”
Imagine how much grief the New York Times and Weisberg’s alma mater, the New Republic, could have avoided if editors hadn’t held out that fact-checking crutch to Judy Miller and Jayson Blair at the Times, and Ruth Shalit and Stephen Glass at New Republic. The poor kids were insulted by the implicit editorial assumption that they were lazy and careless, and we all paid the price.
At any rate, I’m covered: if I’m wrong about Easterbrook’s description of Gore, a reader will notice and tell me about it eventually, and if a few early readers don’t catch the correction, assuming I’m wrong, and go around thinking Easterbrook is even more of a demented flake than he actually is, well, that’s the nature of online publishing and that’s the cost of keeping things “tight and concise.” Why get it right the first time if someone will be along to fix it in a while?
Atrios’s specific question was “Um, Slate, do you really have such contempt for your readers that you publish Gregg Easterbrook under the title “Ask Mr. Science”?”
And the answer is, yeah, all that and more. Seems to work for them, though.
From comments …
NTodd: “You’re wrong. Al Gore actually is a kitten-eating cyborg.”
RP: “I’m the kitten in question. When Al Gore said I had to start thinking outside the box I said “oh yeah? Eat me.” So he did. No need to fact check. I am hugely disincentivized to make mistakes.”
My only quarrel is with RP’s self-congratulatory use of a quotation.
The access logs are starting to over heat; it must be time to break out the “Welcome Atrios Readers!” banner again. You all are in no small part responsible for the site reaching a million plus visitors over the past year, so, thanks very, very much.
Adding, on 12/9/2011 … Okay, 5 1/2 years later the Atriots are back. Why? I dunno, but howdy.