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What's the use of politician op-eds?

A lot of you have asked my response to Rep. Paul Ryan's op-ed on health-care reform this morning. I'd just direct you back to my original post on his argument or our subsequent interview.

But to make one meta-point, I don't really understand why my op-ed page, or all the other op-ed pages, waste so much real estate publishing talking points from politicians. These carefully vetted bits of politi-speak are not interesting op-eds (and the least interesting, I should say, are those written by members of the White House), and they are frequently misleading. They also make the op-ed page a confusing place: Pieces written by writers and experts are published for a different reason, and written for a different purpose, than those written by political actors.

Which isn't to say that politicians shouldn't have a place to make their arguments. But with the rise of the Internet, they can put their arguments online (Ryan, to his credit, does exactly that, and his willingness to respond has led to profitable exchanges between him and his critics). If they want more space, or more publicity, it's been my experience that readers really enjoy probing interviews with politicians, and op-ed pages could certainly use members of their editorial boards to conduct those interviews. It'll also improve the reader experience, because only the politicians who think their arguments are strong enough to withstand questioning will enter the fray. That is not, I think, how these op-eds work.

By Ezra Klein  |  March 15, 2010; 6:02 PM ET
Categories:  Journalism  
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This has to be a rhetorical question, seeing as how Ezra Klein didnt arrive in Washington this morning.

Why do newspapers put ridiculous opeds probably written by the staff in their pages? Why do reporters show up for press conferences about nothing at all? Why do TV political chit chat shows books guests who have no news to commit at all just their recitation of talking points? Why u ask??

Because they want these people to return their phone calls. All of this theater is about maintaining a pipeline to the political actors.

Posted by: zeppelin003 | March 15, 2010 6:39 PM | Report abuse

Its better to give Paul Ryan space on the OpEd page than anything that Mark Theissen might contribute.

Posted by: saratogian | March 15, 2010 6:53 PM | Report abuse

Yup, it would have been far profitable to readers (and hence to your advertisers) if Paul Ryan's interview was published instead of his Op-Ed. Op-Eds are good, just that those should not be for politicians who generally repeat talking points. Op-Eds by experts and non-elected folks (foreign folks, Fed Chairman or FCC Chairman or other appointed folks or those in general public raising major political point with a right voice, etc.) are good.

In this case since your interview of Ryan was already published, the interview could even have been conducted by a Conservative columnists like Kruathammer or George Will etc.

I did not even bother to read Ryan's Op-Ed...

Posted by: umesh409 | March 15, 2010 7:03 PM | Report abuse

"In this case since your interview of Ryan was already published, the interview could even have been conducted by a Conservative columnists like Kruathammer or George Will etc."

Hehe. Could you imagine?

Question #1: "Representative Ryan, which would say is destroying America the fastest at this moment in time: Democrats, scientists, or blue jeans?"

Posted by: slag | March 15, 2010 7:17 PM | Report abuse

Couldn't agree more. I can't remember the last time I was able to get through an entire Op-Ed by a pol from either side of the aisle. Talking points and boilerplate. They're bland, predictable, and utterly useless.

Posted by: yawgmoth6139 | March 15, 2010 7:20 PM | Report abuse

Agree with Ezra - unless that contain a groundbreaking announcement, op-eds by politicians are a useless and boring as interviews with professional athletes.

Posted by: jbentley4 | March 15, 2010 7:24 PM | Report abuse

Well, we could return to the primitive 80's and re-introduce the concept of "lies." Then blatant distortions of the truth like those purveyed by Ryan, Lamar Alexander and the like on Fred Hiatt's liar's playground would be embarassing to their purported authors, and the flow of BS would eventually wane.

But I dream.....

Posted by: Dollared | March 15, 2010 8:22 PM | Report abuse

I believe at some point, when the Internet was not as prominent and a politician's means of communicating with their base or district was limited, having an op-ed by a politician was almost a badge of honor for a newspaper.

We don't think about it now, but there was a time when being a politician was a respectable job in Washington.

However, the nature of our politics and media has changed, and so many politicians have become political hacks and the media has become of obsessed with providing such 'hackery' a venue.

Posted by: clarenceflanders | March 15, 2010 8:57 PM | Report abuse

The op-ed page was created to afford a platform for ordinary schmoes, talented oddballs, and lonely advocates whose views were otherwise unaired. What's happened over the years is hilarious.

Posted by: phillygirl2 | March 15, 2010 10:25 PM | Report abuse

Ezra : "...and his willingness to respond has led to profitable exchanges between him and his critics"

And in your case, Ezra, Ryan has cleverly disarmed you as one of his critics.

Now we know why he agreed to talk with you recently.

That plum he threw you now makes it hard for you to firmly respond to the blatant lies he published in your own paper's op-ed section today.

My guess is that you feel "close" to him or obligated to him somehow, now that he has blessed you with a career-enhancing interview. After all, if all GOP pols refused to let you interview them, you would become just another irrelevant blogger, or you wouldn't get invited to those special correspondent dinners or parties.

This is how the pols disarm their news critics. They invite them to White House dinners and other parties, knowing fully well these so-called journalists won't ask hardball questions in fear of being left out in the future.

The White House correspondent pool is the same way. If the "reporters" start asking really tough questions, they won't be called on anymore and might even lose their spot in the pool.

So Ezra, Ryan used your paper today, not to "mislead" but to lie. And your only response is to point back to your recent interview? That is lame.

Posted by: Lomillialor | March 15, 2010 10:31 PM | Report abuse

Funny how this only becomes an issue when the politician in question is an articulate opponent of Ezra's views. This isn't about the higher issue of how to use the op-ed page, it's about trying to create a distraction from the substance of Ryan's piece.

Besides which, how far should we want to take this? Ezra's positions are as predictable as any politician's, and we all know that some of his writing is talking points from Journolist. Should the paper print his op-eds?

Posted by: tomtildrum | March 16, 2010 12:05 PM | Report abuse

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