Instapundit, Cont'd

If you read my recent post on Instapundit, be aware that Professor Glenn Reynolds has responded on his blog. Since he and I disagree on some matters, I hope you’ll do him the courtesy of checking out his whole post so you’ve got the most fair assessment possible of his perspective.

I do want to address a couple of things that don’t seem fair to me.

He writes:

IT’S HARD TO TAKE CONOR FRIEDERSDORF’S CRITIQUE OF LAZINESS SERIOUSLY WHEN HE SAYS THIS: “I’m not sure if traffic is up at Instapundit these days or down.” And when, you know, there’s a sitemeter that answers the question right on the Instapundit front page. But Friedersdorf can’t be bothered to look for things like that.

There are two problems:

1) I never accuse Professor Reynolds of laziness. My critique was that Instapundit sometimes fetishizes pithiness at the expense of substance. I don’t speculate as to why the blog does that — in fact, I say I am puzzled by it — but I am quite sure that laziness isn’t the issue, since its author is anything but that. I’ll never know how he writes that blog, fulfills his duties as a parent, husband, and law professor, and still manages to write books and articles, scuba dive, and take digital photos, among other things. But I’m impressed!

2) I actually did check Instapundit’s site meter, and as far as I can tell — having just checked again to make sure I wasn’t missing anything — it is only possible to see the site’s traffic for the last 12 months. See for yourself, and please let me know if I am wrong about this. Of course, the level of traffic actually isn’t even neccesary to my argument, since I was saying that regardless of whether traffic is up or down I prefer the Instapundit of old (even if the figures were easily available, I don’t know that it would’ve been fair to call me lazy for not looking them up), but seeing as how I did try to look them up, and couldn’t find traffic figures for Instapundit circa 2002 to 2005, it seems like an especially unfair criticism. (Perhaps Professor Reynolds can see farther back on his site meter than I can because he is logged in or privy to administrator pages?)

Professor Reynolds also writes:

He’s got a point to make here. Which is, I think, trolling for his Tucker Carlson’s new venture, which launches Monday. Good luck with that, Conor. I understand you’re planning to distinguish yourself by featuring carefully researched, non-sloppy pieces. . . . .

I am not sure why Professor Reynolds initially thought that I work for Tucker Carlson’s new venture — I haven’t the least bit of affiliation with it — and I am even less clear on why working there would motivate me to write a piece criticizing Instapundit, but I do think it is especially unfair to accuse me of sloppiness while getting all of these facts about me wrong in a way that mis-characterizes my motives. To his credit, Instapundit did update the post with a correction upon learning that I do not work for The Daily Caller.

I still don’t understand the line about my not being a serious blog reader.

But I’m glad that Professor Reynolds also noticed the compliments I offered him and his site. After getting some angry e-mail from far left blog readers who claimed I pulled my punches, I want to reiterate that I genuinely regard his writing as worthwhile and his site as well worth keeping in your RSS reader — should anyone imagine that I offered any compliment in that post without meaning it, let me assure you that I am willing to defend every word I published.

Finally, I want to address a note that Jim Treacher, a blogger at the Daily Trawler, sent to Professor Reynolds, and that he subsequently published.

Conor Friedersdorf is not working for the Daily Caller. I am, though! Check me out starting in about 11 hours or so.

P.S. Could you maybe put up a correction that Friedersdorf has nothing to do with the Caller, and we’re no more fond of his attempts to divide and conquer than you are?

It is perfectly fair to correct the record regarding my involvement in the site, and I wish Mr. Treacher great success at his new digs (go check them out), but I must say that his remark about my “attempts to divide and conquer” are nonsense. It is unclear whether he is referring to my post on Instapundit, or a quote published in The Washington Independent, but I suspect the latter, so here is the exchange between reporter Dave Weigel and I.

Mr. Weigel’s question: “…since you write a lot about what conservatives need to do vis a vis journalism, are you optimistic about the Daily Caller? What does it need to do that Breitbart et al are not doing?”

My answer, as rendered in his article: “I hope that The Daily Caller aspires to produce writing that is as well written and professionally edited as the stuff that the talented Tucker Carlson writes for Esquire,” said Friedersdorf. “The alternative — the Andrew Breitbart model — is to publish poorly reasoned, atrociously edited screeds on the cheap, on the assumption that ideologically friendly readers will keep clicking anyway.”

Who calls that “an attempt to divide and conquer”? Are Andrew Breitbart and Tucker Carlson supposed to be allied generals whose respective armies of journalistic staffers will be weakened without one another? I don’t get it. Even if I can’t understand the exact nature of Mr. Treacher’s critique, however, it is evident that he is both upset that I am criticizing someone on the political right and quick to presume that I have some kind of strategic motive. Though what could conquest mean here, I wonder?

Let me set the record straight: with the possible exception of Human Events, a publication that may betoo corrupt to be worth saving, I want every journalistic enterprise I critique to improve and succeed. When I criticize Mr. Breitbart, or his sites Big Hollywood, Big Government and Big Journalism, part of my project is pressuring them to do better work. In fact, I’d happily provide my counsel to anyone at those sites privately and free of charge, and I think that much of the critiques I’ve published thus far are constructive.

This shouldn’t be very difficult for Mr. Treacher to believe, since I’ve been calling for quality conservative journalism for a long time — as you can see here, this particular project of mine long predates Mr. Breitbart’s sites, and even back then I was praising Tucker Carlson (see paragraph 10).

I am a writer. When I critique people or sites, it isn’t because I’ve got a personal grudge against them, or because I want them to fail, or because I want to divide and conquer them, whatever that means — it is because I think they are wrong on some matter of substance. It is weird that this most straightforward motivation doesn’t seem to occur to Mr. Treacher as a possibility. As long as journalists on the right conceive of themselves inside some kind of war metaphor, where criticism is considered to be the disloyal act of a would be conquistador, they’ll exist inside a movement bubble where they never get tough criticism save from ideological opponents who really are thinking strategically, and would rather see them fail than improve.

5 Responses to “Instapundit, Cont'd”

  1. Aaron Wiegel Says:

    ‘Or, apparently, to distinguish properly between “knew” and “new.”’

    Oooooh score one for the mundane point about spelling that has nothing to do with the content of your post.

    Anyway, good luck with trying to expose those trapped in the cocoon to outside ideas. I think it’s a noble venture that requires much more patience than I could possibly muster. I don’t consider myself a conservative (or a liberal for that matter) but I value healthy political parties that aren’t trapped in a cycle of cynicism and nihilism.

  2. billrutherfordprincetonadmissions Says:

    While I’d hardly characterize myself as “far-left” (though possibly “angry), I, too, thought your paragraphs heaping praise on Insty took all the venom out of your critiques.

    And unfortunate as it may be, I can’t say I’m sad that his response to your attempts at extending an olive branch was a bunch of passive-aggressive snark that didn’t get close to the points you made.

  3. mindym Says:

    I think it is an artifact of some sort of anti-intellectualism that proudly courses through the conservative politics. To question, to contest, to challenge is to attack. In my view, that kind of give and take is constructive. It is essential in order to develop a sound argument. What I wonder is if it is really the back-and-forth that is at issue, or if it is the setting (i.e., being called out in public). In any event, I think you are right about the movement bubble. It makes me think about the first few weeks of American Idol. Along with the average-to-super talented and attention seekers, there are always these kids who are outrageously bad, but shockingly unaware of that fact. When they leave the audition, you see their moms reassuring them (and sometimes giving a little something crass to the cameras). Then you realize how this happens: you live in a bubble with no real criticism (which, btw, would’ve prevented you from making an ass of yourself on national television).

  4. nutellaontoast Says:

    Hi Conor, meet Conor from this blog:
    “I am a writer. When I critique people or sites, it isn’t because I’ve got a personal grudge against them, or because I want them to fail, or because I want to divide and conquer them, whatever that means — it is because I think they are wrong on some matter of substance.”

    Now, Conor, meet Conor from my blog:
    “Conor Friedersdorf said…

    Wow, I didn’t realize that this site still exists. What a curious and cowardly species of person who labors on in obscurity for years on end ranting against a blogger who, FYI, no one is forcing you to read! The unwillingness to do so under your own name speaks volumes.”

    I know you two will be inseparable!

  5. seanb Says:

    When you’re in a hole, Conor, stop digging.

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