Thursday, April 23, 2009

But Can You Get Pouilly-Fuissé in a Juicebox?

I share Matt Yglesias's somewhat mixed emotions (h/t: graz) at the news that Ezra Klein will soon be joining the Washington Post.

Congratulations to Ezra, to be sure. This is a step up in many ways, both for him and for that part of the WaPo audience who will not venture into the blogosphere. I've been impressed by Ezra for years now. For one thing, his blog's tagline ("Momma said wonk you out") is not far behind my all-time favorite, from Obsidian Wings ("This is the Voice of Moderation. I wouldn't go so far as to say we've actually SEIZED the radio station . . .")

More substantively, he is about the only person I know who does not cause my mind to go into write-protect mode when he discusses health care policy. And as he says in his own post announcing the new gig:

I'm hoping that associating myself with Woodward and Bernstein will convince academics and policy makers to return my befuddled calls more quickly.

Filter out the bit of tongue-in-cheek there, and it's a solid point.

On the other hand, this immediately raises a flag. If there is one word more than any other that sets off those of us in the anti-Villager camp, it is access. These six letters are held up as an excuse for a long list of sins -- of both commission and omission, of a fetish for bipartisanship and an instinct to self-censor -- and it is rare to find someone who has been in the Beltway for more than a year or two who does not trot them out every so often. The flip side to the benefit of having a venerable institution at your back is that it can also be a weight around your neck. When you acquire a bigger podium, the instinct all too frequently is to think first how not to lose it. I worry, for example, that Ezra might eventually be less willing to do things like take George Will and the WaPo itself to task, as he did so well earlier this month (h/t: uncle eb).

On the surface of it, as Ezra points out, this change amounts to little more than a new host and a different color scheme for his blog, which currently lives at the American Prospect's website. Perhaps he will not let himself get trapped inside the bubble. Perhaps he will maintain his standing as capo di tutti capi of the Juicebox Mafia. We will have to wait and see, and hope, and stay on his butt. And in the meantime, the rest of us DFHs will have to work that much harder to hold the WaPo to account.

So, good luck, Ezra, if you're reading this. I wish you the best, in a perhaps uncharitably complex way.

Inside baseball note: The Juicebox Mafia is a term said to have been coined by a contributor to The New Republic. It originally referred to Ezra Klein, Matt Yglesias, and Spencer Ackerman, and crazy man Marty Peretz snapped it up as part of his effort to belittle their less than fawning attitude toward Israel vis a vis the Palestinians. It is my sense that the term now applies both more generally and more widely, to include points of view on other topics and other wonkobloggers who refuse to parrot the conventional wisdom. I also believe that its original derisive intent can, or at least should, be seen as a badge of honor, and that is how I use it.

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