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Is D.C. dangerous?

By Ezra Klein

I'm worried that if I wait until I return from China to comment on Conor Friedersdorf's essay about the evil social pressures of Washington, D.C., no one will care what I have to say on it. Actually, no one probably cares even if I say my piece right now, but I'm at least in the window for commenting on such matters.

Anyway, the back story to this bit of inside baseball is that Conor is a heterodox conservative who lived in the District for a while and then moved away and has now revealed that the relocation was in service of his soul. "I knew that if I hung around long enough," he writes, "a day would come when an acquaintance who I genuinely liked as a person would sell out by writing a book that we both knew to be dishonest, or stay silent in the face of some indefensible [nonsense]."

That's probably true, but those are some seriously low stakes. Who cares if some buddy of his writes a stupid book and he decides against commenting on it? The publishing industry releases a lot of stupid books in a day and most writers ignore them. That gnawing fear seems to have driven Conor from my fair city, but it's not in the top 10 things I worry about while living in the District.

Plus, Conor keeps in touch with people who live in D.C., including me. I imagine he still considers many of his previous neighbors to be his current friends. Is it really so much easier to hammer your pals if you live in Philadelphia? And what about the intellectual benefits for a policy writer living in the District? How much is exposure to new ideas and analytic insights worth? How many of them do you need to rack up before you've outweighed the damage of being one of many people who doesn't comment on a poorly-conceived book?

The larger danger is not friends but professional contacts. And that's not so much about D.C. as it is about the type, and amount, of reporting you choose to do. Neither Ben Smith nor Joe Klein nor Jonathan Alter live in the District. But all of them are seriously plugged in, with the difficult trade-off that entails: It's hard to know what people in power are thinking if you refuse to talk to them, but it's also harder to make them really upset if you want to continue talking to them. (I should note that I think all the writers I just mentioned handle this problem particularly well, which is why I used them as examples.) And unlike the books-by-acquaintances issue, this one has real consequences for your audience. That's not a D.C. problem, though. It's a consequence of reporting, and one that isn't limited to any particular city.

By Ezra Klein  |  May 25, 2010; 2:48 PM ET
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"I should note that I think all the writers I just mentioned handle this problem particularly well, which is why I used them as examples."


Posted by: WHSTCL | May 25, 2010 4:24 PM | Report abuse


So what ARE the top 10 items you worry about living in the District?

Posted by: grat_is | May 25, 2010 5:32 PM | Report abuse

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