Features Archive - Respond to this Article

Jan/Feb 1999 - Volume 31 Issues 1 & 2

Special 30th Anniversary Section - JUST THE FACTS
<--PREVIOUS|CONTRIBUTOR LISTING|NEXT-->

Michael Kinsley:

is editor of Slate Magazine (www.slate.com).

All magazines aspire to be factually accurate. Beyond that, their goals vary. Some claim and even actually try to be totally "objective," eschewing all opinion or, as Newsweek used to claim years ago, separating fact from opinion. This is a futile goal (are you going to be objective and avoid any opinion about child molesting?), but aiming for it is a perfectly legitimate strategy. So is what I take to be the current strategy of Time and Newsweek, which is not to have any overt or even covert ideological bias, but to liberate writers from the constraints of objectivity and not to worry excessively if it all averages out as a tilt one way or the other. And that's roughly where we are at Slate.

Another approach is to publish opinion frankly labeled as such but aim for "balance" of views (always, of course, within a spectrum of acceptable opinion). I suppose Foreign Affairs falls into this category, along with the newspaper op-ed pages. Or you can have a public ideological tilt but not enforce it too ruthlessly, or you can just be ideologically confused. The New Republic has straddled those categories for the two decades I've been associated with it.

All these strategies are conceptually muddy and force you to draw impossible lines between fact and opinion, opinion and bias, and so on. Only The Washington Monthly has a strategy that makes it easy to be honest. It says: Look, we're not putting this magazine out for our health (or, God knows, our wealth). We're here to publish the truth as best we can determine it. That includes both the truth about factual matters and the truth about policy and other matters of opinion. We don't wear our opinions as decorations - we hold them because we believe they're true. We wouldn't tell our readers that Miami is north of Chicago. Why would we tell our readers that the Postage Stamp Reform Act of 1999 is a good thing if we think it's a bad thing?

Furthermore (goes the unspoken Monthly credo) if we don't have an opinion about the PSRA, we haven't done our job. We should study it and develop one before writing about it. (What's the point of writing about the relative latitudes of Miami and Chicago if you're not going to give the answer?) And if, after studying it, we're truly of two minds, our views are of no use to the reader and we should write about something else.

Like many elements in The Washington Monthly gospel, this philosophy takes an important truth (the futility of objectivity) and extrapolates it until it begs for mercy. The Monthly approach is a useful part of the journalistic mix, but why must it be the One True Path? After all, the Monthly couldn't be put out without The New York Times and The Washington Post. It gets most of its information directly or indirectly from publications whose philosophy it disapproves of. Why can't we all just get along?


<--PREVIOUS|CONTRIBUTOR LISTING|NEXT-->

This site and all contents within are Copyright © 1999 The Washington Monthly, Washington, D.C.
Web Construction by Joshua Barlow