I can't deny it


I suppose I should be grateful to Portfolio.com's Jeff Bercovici for saying I'm "not stupid," here, but his saying that I'm "playing stupid" is in some ways worse, since it implies dishonesty.

He writes that "of course" I'm wrong regarding my arguments in this Nation column because "[s]urvey respondents routinely answer questions as they think they're supposed to rather than as they actually would if they were being candid. So an Us Weekly subscriber, asked if she would like to see more Paris Hilton stories on the nightly news, says no rather than have the interviewer think she's an idiot."

Well, where to start? In the first place, I allow for this by writing the words "if decades of public opinion data are to be believed." In a column of only about a thousand words, it's impossible to do justice to every conceivable objection. So one has to signal that one is not unaware of them and trust the reader to understand.

Bercovici thinks that by merely citing the phenomenon of "response bias," he has disproved the other 990 or so words in the column. Were this the case, however, then all 20 years of Pew's surveys would be useless. But, of course, they aren't. The essay by the journalism scholar Michael J. Robinson that Pew published with the studies dealt with exactly this problem and explained why he believed the data stood up to such objections. (I won't accuse Bercovici of "playing stupid," but I don't see how he could have written what he did if he had read Robinson, here.)

What's more, just think about it: If people were trying to impress interviewers, they would say they wanted lots of important political and foreign stories, wouldn't they? Instead, they say the opposite. They own up to liking weather and disaster stories best. Where's the status in that? The allegedly important stuff does as badly as the celebrity stories in these surveys, or worse. Moreover, Bercovici, like many people who defend this crap -- though he does not -- make the argument that these stories must be popular, otherwise why would so many people watch them? But as I pointed out in the column, these numbers are actually tiny. The cheapness of cable's production costs allow, say, Joe Scarborough to have what is considered a successful show with just a few hundred thousand viewers. They are statistically insignificant in a country of 300 million or so, but they are enough to attract advertisers for balding products and the like. It's one of the curses of allowing them to drive the news cycle.

Anyway, it's rather amazing for Bercovici to simply assert the wrongness of my views without actually demonstrating that the phenomenon with which he wants to undermine them is at work. Nor does he address the arguments I make to further my viewpoint. Nor does he make any reference to the study upon which I relied or the arguments its author presents in support of the data.

I'd go on, but I just found out that Viking needs the final manuscript next week, and I thought I could make changes after the galleys were printed. And as the great man said, "That's life. ... I thought of quittin' baby, but my heart just ain't gonna buy it."

I took the kid to a street fair this weekend and noticed that when you take out a subscription to the Times, they give you a Yankees jersey. They're also giving away photographs of great Yankees teams. I hesitate to say that's the reason a team that has virtually no chance of winning its division is on top of Page One of the sports section every day while the other New York team that is in a much tighter pennant race, owing to more injuries than one can count, but hanging on at four games up and playing the team that's on their tail, is on Page D8.

If the Times is really interested in preventing the "appearance of conflict of interest," given its business relationship with Steinbrenner and Co., then it's Yankees fans who should be complaining.

Someone write a letter: letters@nytimes.com.

By looking the other way when Romney and Giuliani announced last month that they'd rather attend fundraisers on September 17 than attend the interactive YouTube debate, reporters and pundits made this much plain: The intersection of money and politics, as it pertains to Republicans, is of no concern to them. We're told that fundraising methods, as well as personal wealth, can tell us a lot about Democratic candidates. But the topics have been deemed meaningless when it comes to the Republican hopefuls. The issues are not to be discussed, and they're certainly not to be turned into campaign issues or used as lenses through which voters are urged to view the candidates. Read more here.

Correspondence Corner

Name: Mark Paul
Hometown: Chicago


You have a heavy schedule this week, so you probably missed Roger Cohen's Times op-ed on Monday, in which he resurrects the MacArthur-Japanese occupation analogy only days after Prof. Dower tried to kill it. Again. In The Politico, no less, as you reported.

Dower has been trying to discourage the war party from this line since Nov. 2002. Clearly, he needs a large supply of silver-tipped stakes that have soaked in sauteed garlic for a month. Or something. This is one tough vampire -- it sucks brains instead of blood.

In case your readers don't have a scorecard handy to identify a player, Cohen is now hiding out at the IHT after editing some of Judith Miller and Mike Gordon's WMD propaganda pieces.

Name: Jim Carlile
Hometown: Burbank, California

Hi Eric,

As much as I would love to see Larry Craig nailed for hypocrisy over this restroom incident, there's something about this whole story that troubles me.

I guess the best way of putting it is, exactly what's legally culpable about gay men picking each other up with secret signals, footsies, or whatever? I mean, even if Craig were deliberately cruising for men, what did he specifically do wrong that's illegal? I see worse, more seductive signals every day between strange men and women in bars, waiting rooms, all sorts of public places.

I could understand it if the behavior had escalated into physical lewd acts in public, but that didn't happen. So since when did mere gay seduction become automatically illegal, just because of intent alone? Rather than chortling over the Craig problem, I think gay men everywhere should ask just why their pick-up attempts, however they work, are still being criminalized.

Name: Mike Shirley
Hometown: Eureka, Ca

As a west coast hiker I would like to invite Ken from NC to come hike the Pacific Crest Trail. The portions of this trail that I have been on match the descriptions of the Appalachian trail Ken described. I would also like to remind Ken that the 99.9% of this country that is not viewable from the Appalachian trail is in the view shed of 99.9% of the rest of this country. I do not love wind farms and do not think that they will or can solve our energy problems. I believe that the LTC was simply reminding people that there comes a time when the best alternative to a problem is to allow your back yard to be used for the public good.

Name: Scott Gauss
Hometown: Winfield, IL

What? No review of "High School Musical 2"???

In the interest of full disclosure I'll note that I watched and enjoyed the original, and my daughter was not there to provide my cover.

Eric replies: Dude, what do we look like here? We review books, CDs, and DVDs. TV Guide, or whatever, tells you what to watch when it's on ...

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