We previously chronicled the accuracy of the Daily Beast’s attempts to rank the most influential liberals and conservatives in American media. Over the weekend the online magazine attempted a similar endeavor with the “Top 25 Centrist Columnists and Commentators,” and it’s about as flawed as the entire concept of centrism.
Tunku Varadarajan’s initial efforts at dissecting the left and right were by no means perfect, but for the most part they appropriately identified ideology and impact on the national political discourse. John Avlon’s list of centrists does neither. Notable names on the list include prominent “centrists” such as troubled conservative David Frum, liberal comedian Jon Stewart, and the politically confused Harold Ford, Jr. Other mentions include basically every big name in the New York Times and Washington Post editorial page, staunch Reaganite Peggy Noonan, and Clinton-era staple David Gergen.
The flaws in labeling this list centrist are mostly self-explanatory, but there are some faults that require individual attention. For one, it is insulting to call someone like David Frum, one of the purest examples of a true right-wing thinker in American politics today, a “centrist” when most of his detractors’ authoritarianism is far more left-wing than his insistence on truth and self-reflection. And, ironically, in classifying an openly liberal commentator– so openly liberal, in fact, that he was ranked by Varadarajan as the most influential left-wing media personality in America— like Jon Stewart as a “centrist,” Avlon exposes a left-wing bias in and of itself.
As for gauging impact, the fact that, not counting television personalities whose programs are streamed online, 12 of the 25 personalities are members of the Old Media (newspapers and talk radio) is a sign that Avlon’s definition of “influence” may be a little outdated.
There are two solid pieces of evidence for why individual objectivity does not exist. The first is that the only way a single person can express objectivity is through apathy, and even that exposes a preference. The second is that the “center” is always relative to each individual’s point on the political spectrum and how much pressure they are receiving from the extremes, something anyone who has studied the Overton Window can explain in detail. Sure, organizations, through the sum of their parts, can arrive at a healthy balance of opinions, but an individual who claims to be objective is either deceitful or not interesting enough to warrant attention. Many on this list are both, and attempting to legitimize the existence of political moderates in the post Fox News-era only leads media outlets to certain misfortune– just ask CNN.
[Screencap via HuffPo]
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