January 25th, 2009
A few months ago, I asked for suggestions for magazines to subscribe to. I got a lot of helpful suggestions, and subscribed to three: The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and The Economist.
Today, I’m reviewing the only one of the three that I’m disappointed in, and it’s The Economist. This comes as something of a surprise, because so many people (with the exception of Bryan O’Sullivan) recommended it.
Let’s start with a quote from the issue that found its way to my mailbox this week:
A crowd of 2m or more is making its way to Washington, DC, to witness the inauguration of Mr Obama. Billions more will watch it on television. [link]
Every issue, I see this sort of thing all over. An estimate, or an opinion, presented as unquestioned fact, sometimes pretty clearly wrong or misleading. For weeks before Jan. 20, and even the day before, the widely-reported word from officials was that they had no idea what to expect, but if they had to guess, they’d say that attendance would be between 1-2 million. In the end, the best estimates have placed attendance at 1.8 million.
Would it have killed them to state that most estimates were more conservative, and to cite the source of their particular estimate? That’s all I want, really, when they do things like this.
I knew going into it that the magazine (to American eyes) essentially editorializes throughout, and I don’t have a problem with that. But it engages in over-generalization far too often — and that’s just when I catch it. This was just a quick example from the first article I read in this issue; it’s more blatant other places, but quite honestly I’m too lazy to go look some more examples up at this hour. I do remember, though, them referring to members of Obama’s cabinet as if they were certain to be, back before Obama had even announced their pick, let alone their confirmation hearings happening.
One of my first issues of The Economist had a lengthy section on the global automobile market. I learned a lot about how western companies broke into markets in Asia and South America. Or at least I think I did. I don’t know enough about that subject to catch them if they are over-generalizing again.
The end result is that I read each issue with a mix of fascination and distrust; the topics are interesting, but I can never really tell if I’m being given an accurate story. It often feels like the inside scoop, but then when I have some bit of knowledge of what the scoop is, it’s often a much murkier shade of gray than The Economist’s ever-confident prose lets on.
Don’t get me wrong; there are things about the Economist I like. But not as much as with the New Yorker or the Atlantic, so I’ll let my subscription lapse after 6 months — but keep reading it until then.