The Economist: sinner or saint?

I have to confess, I'm a little stonkered by the discussion in the left blogosphere about whether they should subscribe to The Economist, or whether it is, like, the stupidest magazine ever. Obviously, having worked for the place for four years, and read it for many more, I'm somewhat partial. Nonetheless. There's something really sad about someone complaining that a magazine is terrible because it makes stupid people feel smart. Sad in part because working for The Economist is a good way to find out just how many actually brilliant and accomplished people read the magazine, and gush about it when they meet you. But also sad because it sounds like that third grade loser trying to get the cool kids back by saying "You don't even know short division!" People who are actually confident in themselves do not, in my experience, complain about dangerous reading materials giving the proles ideas above their station. Terrible, horrible, classically liberal ideas. Bad proles!

The Economist has its faults, but it is the best newsweekly in the English-speaking world. Many of its critics, I observe from long experience, applied considerably looser standards of accuracy to publications that agree with them than they expected from us. Journalists are not experts; and especially at a magazine, which can't stick three people in Ulan Bator, they will never have as much grasp of nearly any issue as the academic experts.

Luckily, that isn't their job. Saying "the more I know about a subject, the less wonderful they seem" is not a devastating critique of The Economist--it is a fact about every single publication, and nearly every journalist (I exclude foreign correspondents who become experts on remote conflicts that no other speaker of their language has covered.) Anything that you're an actual expert on will seem hopelessly muddled as rendered by a journalist, because we spend our lives trying to explain complicated things in very few words to an audience that has virtually no background in the subject. It's just that when the publication agrees with you, you figure they got it generally right, so you give them a pass on all the simplifications. And if you don't believe me, I suggest that you go to your favorite publication and offer to spend a week editing the letters to the editor.