Who Needs In-House Critics?


TNR editor Frank Foer explains a new initiative that many writers I know seem enthusiastic about:

One of the pleasures of TNR is disagreement, the regular encountering of arguments that one instinctually dislikes. These essays might not always convert, and may occasionally provoke the hurling of the magazine at the wall, but at their best, they prod you to sharpen your thesis and wield more persuasive evidence. Of course, disagreement already exists in spades on our website. But as an experiment, we’ve decided to formalize it. We’ve asked Jim Manzi (several clicks to our right) and Michael Kazin (several to our left) to regularly disagree with us—to write short pieces that call us out when they see us making dubious intellectual leaps, and to serve as collegial irritants to our assumptions. They will dispute us in their columns, as they see fit. (And when TNR writers see fit, as Leon Wieseltier does here, they will respond.)

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.