Sympathetic Interpretations

I think Reihan is extending an undue helping of generosity here:

Jeff Rosen has been raked over the coals for his not-positive assessment of Sonia Sotomayor. What I find remarkable is this -- Rosen was being so cautious and careful that he acknowledged his limitations in passing judgment, a good and responsible thing to do, and his humility is being used as a lacerating strike against him.

Maybe. As I've said, the headline was "The Case Against Sonia Sotomayer." The subhed was "Indictments Of Obama's Frontrunner To Replace Souter."

Reihan continues:

Rosen explicitly invited readers to take a different view, and to discount his assessment. Some of Rosen's detractors say, "Well in that case, why did you write anything at all?" Rest assured, most people who weigh in on public controversies of this kind know far less about the subjects of these controversies than Rosen knows about Sotomayor.

Right. But, in the age of blogging and 24-hour commentary, that's an appallingly low standard. If all it takes to occupy the "respectable intellectual center" is to know more than your average commenter, than there isn't much respectable or intellectual about the center. Perhaps that's the point.

Having recognized that he was relaying strongly negative assessment, Rosen checked himself before he wrecked himself, which is the best one can do. Should Rosen not draw on the knowledge of legal insiders to sketch out potential criticisms?

Reihan is a colleague and one of my favorite writers from across the ideological way. But I don't find this very credible. I don't think anyone is seriously arguing that Rosen should "not draw on the knowledge of legal insiders." It's helpful to read the damning graph again:

I haven't read enough of Sotomayor's opinions to have a confident sense of them, nor have I talked to enough of Sotomayor's detractors and supporters, to get a fully balanced picture of her strengths.

The very process of journalism is exactly what Rosen said he didn't do. I'm fairly confident that if you turned in a piece with a graph like that to any competent J-school professor, you would fail. I'm not sure why Rosen should be held to a lower standard.

Reihan wants us to lay off on Rosen because he exercised "humility." But "humility" is the floor for a decent writer--not the ceiling. You don't get credit for not beating your wife. You don't get credit for admitting that you didn't do your job.


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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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