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The Value Of Internal Criticism

TNR's new in-house critic blog, where smart critics to our right and left rebut articles on our site, struck me as the kind of thing nobody could dislike, but Matthew Yglesias finds a way:

I think this is an idea whose spirit one can’t help but applaud, but that doesn’t really make a ton of sense. After all, there’s nothing currently stopping Jim Manzi or Michael Kazin from offering criticism of TNR content on the websites of publications they’re already affiliated with. At the margin, the only impact of bringing them in-house would have to be either to spur them to comment on things they don’t really deem worthy of commentary or else to spur them to pull punches and be more polite than the subject matter deserves.
My first thought was that the punch-pulling impact would dominate, but upon reflection it seems more likely that “commenting on the not-comment-worthy” would be the bigger problem. Think about what you’d rather read: A blog by Michael Kazin, featuring a variety of commentary including, when warranted, criticism of New Republic articles or a blog in which Michael Kazin criticizes New Republic articles? That doesn’t seem like a close choice at all.

Wow, talk about missing the point. The purpose is not to produce the most wide-ranging Michael Kazin (or Jim Manzi) blog possible, it's to expose our readers to intelligent criticism of our site. The rationale is to address a problem of ideological cloistering on the web. For example, a few months ago, Mary Katherine Ham of the Weekly Standard wrote an item about how Nancy Pelosi was boasting about how health care reform would encourage sloth. The item was entirely premised on Ham's truncating the quote in order to invert its meaning. I pointed this out, but my correction never saw the light of day at the Weekly Standard. As far as the Standard's reader's were and are concerned, Ham's item was correct.

I like to think that we don't have a lot of Weekly Standard-esque hacks on our staff, and that the in-house critic blog will thus play more of an intellectual rebuttal role than pointing out blatant lies. In any case, the point is to give our readers the benefit of smart rebuttals, and in turn to force our writers to operate under the discipline of knowing that we can't offer a poorly-constructed argument without risking this being pointed out to our readers. That's a different kind of discipline than knowing that some other blogger who my audience doesn't read might attack me.