Name Calling Doesn't Inspire Serious Debate

Newsbeast Editor Tina Brown rightly tweeted this morning that "Andrew Sullivan has lit up the web," with his Newsweek cover story, "Why Are Obama's Critics So Dumb?" But an ad hominem cover line is better for creating heat than light.

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Newsbeast Editor Tina Brown rightly tweeted this morning that "Andrew Sullivan has lit up the web," with his Newsweek cover story, "Why Are Obama's Critics So Dumb?" But an ad hominem cover line is better for creating heat than light. The article itself -- unlike Brown's cover line, Sullivan doesn't use the word "dumb" or any of its synonyms in his essay --  looks at the major criticisms of Obama's tenure from both right and left and attempts to dismantle them. Rather than engage with those arguments though, critics are understandably focused on the cover itself, all in all offering us a lowlight in political discourse. The critics tend to put forward one or several of the following reactions:

Is this a joke? Newsweek initially tweeted the cover before posting the article, prompting some very real questioning of whether they weren't joking. "It seems almost impossible to believe," wrote Newsbusters' Noel Sheppard. Says The Weekly Standard's Mark Hemingway, "If in recent years it seems as if Newsweek has been descending into self-parody, it's still hard to imagine that this is real." All such doubts were cleared up, of course, when the article itself appeared online. And so the prevailing theory became...

Clearly Tina Brown is trolling for page views: "The trololol is strong in this one," writes Buzzfeed's Matt Charette. The argument that Tina Brown is no better than the deliberately offensive internet commenter tends to build on theories posed after other similarly provocative Newsweek covers, including the creepy imagining of Princess Di at age 50 and crazy-eyed Michele Bachmann. People depict those covers (and this one) as a cheap attempt to turn the struggling news weekly around. Reuters social media editor Anthony De Rosa quickly tweeted "Newsweek trolls the entire GOP with its latest cover." Wrote TownHall's Kevin Glass, "Yes, I realize that I'm falling for their troll just by writing about it."

What's up with that photo of Obama? In the accompanying article, Sullivan says Obama's critics "are likely to miss the screen for the pixels," and apparently so are this particular breed of Newsweek critics, who focused on the choice of a somewhat unattractive photo of Obama for the cover. "As soon as I saw it, I thought 'what is going on with the back of President Obama’s neck there? Is that a shelf??'" writes RedState's Caleb Howe. Really? That's your primary objection to the cover? Instapundit, too, writes, "the Obama photo on Newsweek’s cover will do him more harm than all the desperate sycophancy in the text. He looks terrible, and surprisingly like Jimmy Carter, even down to the downturned liverish lips and incipient jowls. I’m amazed they went with that one." Props to Instapundit for actually making reference (if passing) to the text of the article, nevertheless ...

Reasoned takedown of Sullivan's argument: Kidding! There was (some but) not much of that this morning, but we don't really blame anyone for being distracted from engaging with the article by their urgent need to mock the cover. What Newsweek didn't realize is that opening up an argument about whether critics are wrong simply because they are "dumb" (again, that's not really the argument Sullivan actually makes in the text!) is only going to invite low-level discourse. So there you have it. Today's hottest political item featured seemingly smart people trying to have smart conversations about who's dumb. Thank you, Newsweek.

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