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Slave to the Cocktail Circuit

October 14th, 2008 · 34 Comments

I notice James Joyner and, via him, David Frum complaining about a certain attack that gets leveled against conservatives who are insufficiently infatuated with Sarah Palin or John McCain these days: That they’re effectively selling out their principles to win the approval of elite Beltway media types, who will henceforth invite them to posh cocktail parties and Sunday morning political talk shows. I find this interesting in part because I got a bit of the same back when Dave Weigel and I wrote about the whole Ron Paul newsletter fooferaw. It’s also the implicit charge when folks on the right allude to the “strange new respect” afforded some quisling fellow traveler.

Here’s the really odd thing about this. The number of “David Brooks” slots out there—opportunities for a token moderate conservative or libertarian at an otherwise liberal-leaning mainstream publication—are vanishingly tiny.  I’m actually hard pressed to think of an obvious example other than Brooks and maybe Ross Douthat, but at any rate, I’m pretty sure they can be counted on the fingers of one hand. If you’re in the very small pool of realistic contenders for that slot, I guess it might be a rational career strategy. If you’re not, it might still be good for a one-shot “even the conservative…” op-ed or TV spot. But on the whole, it’s not gonna do you that much good. You’re still going to be the freak.

If you’re willing to toe a straight party line, on the other hand, let’s face it, you can be pretty damn mediocre and still carve out a nice little niche for yourself at any one of a welter of generously funded ideological publications and think tanks. Sure, it’s a smaller pond, but you get to be a relatively big fish. You’ll always have a book deal waiting at Regnery, a warm guest chair on Fox, editors at NR and the Weekly Standard eager to look at your pitches, handsome honoraria on your speaking tour of College Republican groups, and in your golden years, an undemanding sinecure as the Senior Olin Fellow at the Institute for Real ‘Murriken Studies. (Ask yourself whether, absent these venues, you would ever have heard the name “Michelle Malkin.” And cross apply all of the above, mutatis mutandis, on the left, of course.)

For all but the very, very few with a realistic shot at a Brooks slot, the cynical careerist calculus weighs strongly in favor of reflexive fealty.  And certainly it’s got to be much easier, much more comfortable, to give your self-selecting audience precisely what they want to hear and bask in their accolades. I don’t know if I’ve named it here before, but I’ve long observed a phenomenon in the blogosphere I call “audience capture,” where a once-interesting writer becomes rather dull and predictable, each post another jab at the lever, predictably rewarded with a tasty pellet.

Moreover, all this strikes me as fairly obvious, certainly to anyone working in ideological punditry. So much so that you start to wonder whether these attacks don’t have a whiff of projection, or at least preemption, about them.

Tags: Journalism & the Media


       

 

34 responses so far ↓

  • 1 dan // Oct 14, 2008 at 1:10 pm

    Kristol is a liberal now?

  • 2 Dilan Esper // Oct 14, 2008 at 1:53 pm

    You are so right about this one. Not that contrarianism can’t be infuriating sometimes (e.g., Mickey Kaus, tnr), but the big problem in the punditocracy isn’t the prevalence of independent thinkers who sell out their side, but the prevalence of pure ideological hacks who will say all sorts of things they don’t really believe or not say things that they do believe in order to further their cause.

  • 3 Dilan Esper // Oct 14, 2008 at 1:54 pm

    And just to follow up, even if I sometimes get infuriated with the contrarianism of Mickey Kaus and tnr, they are still much more interesting to read and listen to than the hacks.

  • 4 William // Oct 14, 2008 at 2:05 pm

    The Atlantic is a liberal publication? This is the one where two of the eight bloggers are on the moderate left, the others run the gamut from authoritarian to libertarian, and the magazine itself regularly runs articles obsessed with the size and technological effectiveness of America’s military? Or does Ross blog for somewhere else too?

  • 5 Julian Sanchez // Oct 14, 2008 at 2:19 pm

    Yes, The Atlantic is a liberal publication. Presumably when you’re not out debunking the pernicious myth of the liberal media, you know this perfectly well yourself.

  • 6 Gryph // Oct 14, 2008 at 6:58 pm

    Ironically, though, Malkin got her start as the token conservative on the Seattle Times editorial board.

  • 7 Julian Sanchez // Oct 14, 2008 at 11:48 pm

    Which just goes to show where the easy money is.

  • 8 Colin // Oct 15, 2008 at 2:52 am

    Hm. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Atlantic_Monthly

    “Written from a center-right perspective…”

    Apparently not even knows this as well as you do. It’s at least a subject up for debate.

    Just because Sullivan switched presidential horses doesn’t make the publication liberal. Douhat, McArdle, Sullivan are all conservative.

  • 9 Julian Sanchez // Oct 15, 2008 at 3:25 am

    The “center right” line was added three weeks ago, establishing that any moron can change a Wikipedia entry. They have a handful of conservative bloggers; the magazine is center left. This is obvious beyond the point where I’m willing to expend effort persuading anyone who finds it controversial.

  • 10 Rishi Gajria // Oct 15, 2008 at 4:42 am

    When will you return to Bloggingheads.tv?

  • 11 Colin // Oct 15, 2008 at 12:09 pm

    And three weeks of visitors have stumbled upon that Atlantic wikipedia page, and not one of them has felt the need to change that sentence.

    There have been no reverts of that sentence, despite its apparently ‘erroneous’ content. If it’s ‘common knowledge’ as you assert, a substantial number of people (hundreds, thousands, whatever) must have read that and not bothered to change it. So either a lot of people disagree with you, or everyone is rather lazy.

    Does the ‘wisdom of crowds’ idea not hold any sway in this instance?

  • 12 Julian Sanchez // Oct 15, 2008 at 12:40 pm

    No.

  • 13 Bloix // Oct 15, 2008 at 5:29 pm

    It is standard operating procedure for the right wing to characterize the middle of the road as liberal. This is dogma and cannot be made the subject of discussion. The media is liberal, full stop. Therefore, unless a magazine, newspaper, or think tank states expressly that it is conservative, it is of necessity liberal.

  • 14 Davd T // Oct 15, 2008 at 7:34 pm

    I happen to think the Atlantic is centrist rather than center-left or center-right. (Under Michael Kelly it definitely was center-right.) But obviously according to Julian Sanchez I don’t *really* believe this; I know perfectly well it is a liberal magazine and if I pretend not to, Julian Sanchez knows I am lying. I am glad he has such a profound insight into other people’s sincerity. Maybe the police should use him instead of lie detectors…

    And no, I am not a barking leftist out to demolish “the pernicious right-wing myth of the liberal mainstream media.” I know perfectly well that the New York Times is a liberal newspaper. I just don’t think the Atlantic is a liberal magazine.

  • 15 Brendan // Oct 19, 2008 at 9:01 pm

    What Rishi Gajria said. Or asked, rather.

  • 16 Julian Sanchez // Oct 20, 2008 at 2:00 am

    Er, when they ask me and I have time to do it, I guess?

  • 17 Brendan // Oct 25, 2008 at 6:52 pm

    Reason 2 I can understand. Reason 1 mystifies me, but I also think you should reach out yourself, either directly to BH.tv or to any of the regular diavloggers. If you’re interested in going back on, of course.

    But do know that you have fans.

  • 18 Brendan // Oct 25, 2008 at 7:03 pm

    Two specific suggestions: (1) Debate Net Neutrality with Conn Carroll. (2) Do a “Free Will” episode, concentrating on one or a few of the topics that you cover on your Ars beat.

  • 19 The Georgetown Cocktail Party Paradox // Jul 21, 2009 at 2:43 pm

    [...] said something similar before myself, but this from Conor Friedersdorf jibes with my own experience: There is this idea [...]

  • 20 Political Mavens » TechCrunch and the New New Journalism // Aug 18, 2009 at 6:56 pm

    [...] is quickly ending. This is the business side of political bloggers’ dissatisfaction with the inside-the-Beltway “cocktail circuit” journalism. Those rules are under attack and those can undermine them [...]

  • 21 Return of the Georgetown Cocktail Party // Oct 30, 2009 at 12:51 am

    [...] had occasion to recall something Yglesias wrote about a year back, responding to one of my own posts about the popular charge that insufficiently strident conservatives must just be venal climbers [...]

  • 22 Matthew Yglesias » Modes of Dissent // Mar 26, 2010 at 8:33 am

    [...] any rate, Julian Sanchez did a great piece on the incentives pushing toward ideological conformity on the right and the myth of the “Georgetwon Cocktail Party Circuit.” I think that the same dynamic [...]

  • 23 Jeffery Bahr // Mar 26, 2010 at 9:11 am

    Excellent post, Julian. The most erudite explanation of the vast right-wing conspiracy that I’ve read in a long while.

    I’ve subscribed to The Atlantic for 30 years, and it certainly *seems* to have drifted to the right, though it has always had it share of contrarian articles. As for their blogosphere, its composition seems thrown together at the last minute. Andrew and Fallow are solid, thoughtful journalists of long experience. McArdle is a dilettante. Ambinder and Goldberg merely idiosyncratic. It’s hardly Salon.

    As a perfect example of The Atlantic’s pernicious slide to the Dark Side, they stopped including Henry and Emily’s wonderful Puzzler section recently.

  • 24 oboe // Mar 26, 2010 at 9:49 am

    The number of “David Brooks” slots out there—opportunities for a token moderate conservative or libertarian at an otherwise liberal-leaning mainstream publication—are vanishingly tiny. I’m actually hard pressed to think of an obvious example other than Brooks and maybe Ross Douthat, but at any rate, I’m pretty sure they can be counted on the fingers of one hand.

    The 90% of Hiatt’s Washignton Post editorial page?

    The magazine is center left. This is obvious beyond the point where I’m willing to expend effort persuading anyone who finds it controversial.

    Can’t say I find your argument–which amounts to “Duh!”–particularly compelling.

    Presumably when you’re not out debunking the pernicious myth of the liberal media, you know this perfectly well yourself.

    The early eighties called, they want their right-wing talking point back.

  • 25 Julian Sanchez // Mar 26, 2010 at 10:41 am

    The conservatives on Hiatt’s page aren’t in the “polite company” mold—they’re hardcore neocons.

  • 26 Frum, Cocktail Parties, and the Threat of Doubt // Mar 26, 2010 at 12:56 pm

    [...] buzz over David Frum’s recent ouster from the American Enterprise Institute, some folks have linked back to this old post on the now-hoary trope that heterodox conservatives are simply angling for invitations to the [...]

  • 27 ZigZag // Mar 26, 2010 at 11:43 pm

    I found it ironic that an article about elevated, civil discourse from the right was accompanied by ads for Ann Coulter’s column.

    Repeal the 11th amendment.

  • 28 TheMoneyIllusion » The first liquidity “trap” (1932, pt. 4 of 5) // Mar 27, 2010 at 9:50 am

    [...] on domestic policy among conservatives: At any rate, Julian Sanchez did a great piece on the incentives pushing toward ideological conformity on the right and the myth of the “Georgetown Cocktail Party Circuit.” I think that the same dynamic Sanchez [...]

  • 29 Matthew Yglesias » The Cushy Life of the Rightwinger // Apr 25, 2010 at 3:59 pm

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  • 30 Balloon Juice » Blog Archive » Galt’s graduate program // Apr 25, 2010 at 7:12 pm

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  • 31 South itsire // Apr 25, 2010 at 10:42 pm

    “f you’re willing to toe a straight party line, on the other hand, let’s face it, you can be pretty damn mediocre and still carve out a nice little niche for yourself at any one of a welter of generously funded ideological publications and think tanks. Sure, it’s a smaller pond, but you get to be a relatively big fish. You’ll always have a book deal waiting at Regnery, a warm guest chair on Fox, editors at NR and the Weekly Standard eager to look at your pitches, handsome honoraria on your speaking tour of College Republican groups, and in your golden years, an undemanding sinecure as the Senior Olin Fellow at the Institute for Real ‘Murriken Studies.

    Sound like you and CATO

  • 32 The Desert Lamp » Campus » Quote of the Day // Apr 28, 2010 at 4:17 pm

    [...] this isn’t the case, it at least gives us permission to start referring to the “ASUA Cocktail Circuit.” Share [...]

  • 33 Georgetown Cocktail Parties // May 23, 2012 at 6:59 am

    [...] 2008, itself in response to a post Frum wrote over at NRO, which drew an excellent response from Julian Sanchez (“Slave to the Cocktail Circuit”).  My initial reaction was to be impressed Julian [...]

  • 34 Justin Dworak // Aug 24, 2012 at 5:33 pm

    I’m just coming across your writings on epistemic closure and the cocktail party.

    This stuff is fascinating. Truly enthralled with your writings. Thank you.

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