When Slate.com was first born, Michael Kinsley, the initial editor-in-chief, wrote an article saying that one thing Slate would not do would be to critique Microsoft. As he said, no one can audit themselves. While Slate would be a remarkably open forum, Microsoft was paying the bills, and so Microsoft would not come in for criticism in the pages of Slate. That's only coercive to the degree to which your employer is always coercive. There were plenty of other places to post criticism of Microsoft, and you didn't have to look hard to find them. Hell, those who felt animated enough could have started up an anti-Microsoft site on Geocities or whatever else was free web back then.
And Slate was and is an online political magazine that is dedicated to presenting many viewpoints and differing opinions. CAP, meanwhile, is a public advocacy organization, a political operator, and has never claimed to be anything else.The Center for American Progress is not a free and open media organization. It's not Blogspot. It's not an online magazine. CAP has never promised to present every side of the issue, never pretended to be an open forum, never denied that it has a set of political policy positions that it endorses. That's natural. I wouldn't expect to read a blogger on the NRA's website go on pro-gun control jeremiads. I wouldn't expect a NARAL blogger to post about the evils of abortion. That's the deal you make when you blog for a political advocacy group. Perhaps Matt didn't understand that when he signed on, but I really doubt it. It seems more likely that his commenters didn't understand. And they aren't the ones drawing a paycheck from CAP.
The root of this problem, I think, is the simple naivete and misunderstanding on the part of Matt's readership. I am a huge fan of Matt's blog, but I knew very well when he switched to CAP's masthead that there were going to be consequences.
Do I find the whole thing a little creepy? I do. Do I, as a consumer of Matt's work, wish he was on an open forum? I do. It was Matt's choice to make, and it's the fault of the readership who expected this change to have no repercussions at all for so badly misunderstanding the situation. And don't kid yourself into thinking that, one way or the other, being on the Atlantic's masthead doesn't carry with it certain burdens and expectations as well. Sure, it's much more free than CAP, but it's not completely free, and again-- whoever said that CAP would publish a blog and pay the blogger with no expectations whatsoever as to content? Who came up with that idea? If people are simply arguing that Matt should try to go back the the Atlantic, or set up a personal blog again, then advocate that. Expecting someone drawing a paycheck from a political advocacy organization to have no responsibilities to the organization is naive.
You can contrast this with the Ladyblog imbroglio at Culture11. Culture11, as I said at the time, has the right to publish or not publish whatever it wants. And there are some expectations associated with being under the imprimatur of Culture11-- things like obscenity, basic grammar and coherence, libel, etc. Beyond that, I felt and feel, the bloggers should have close to free rein. That's the difference between writing for a media organization like Culture11 and writing for a political organization like CAP. Ultimately, either have the right to publish what they want. Both ultimately will also draw the lines around what they feel is appropriate for their purpose. And it just seems like the norm to me for the lines to be drawn much more narrowly for a political agency. I know that's annoying as a consumer of media, and like I said, I don't like it. But it's CAP's dime.
There is an element of coercion in employment. It's up to the employer to decide how much. If anyone, Matt included, doesn't like it, they can look for a new job. But his commenters seem intent on being liberal commenter stereotypes and comparing an employee being constrained by his employer to the real, physical, we'll-kill-you-if-you-cross-us of totalitarianism.
Update: ron bailey says in comments:
I'm not certain I agree with you, but for the sake of argument let's pretend I do. Wouldn't Palmieri been better off just to have Matt address the issue on his own? A mea culpa published in Yglesias' own words would have saved the CAP a lot of credibility and mended fences with the hyper-timid incrementalist bullshitters at Third Way at the same time.Should have been more strenuous in saying-- this was very poorly handled, and I think ron is right. I guess a lot of what I'm reacting to is the language being used to some commenters, with stuff like "Stalinist" and "Big Brother" being thrown around. But it's true, there were many more artful ways to handle this.