The View from Nowhere is "a bid for trust that advertises the viewlessness of the news producer," a preemptive defense against accusations of bias, and "an attempt to secure a kind of universal legitimacy that is implicitly
denied to those who stake out positions or betray a point of view." Claiming objectivity or viewlessness shouldn't be a source of journalistic authority, Rosen says, partly because everyone is coming from someplace, but also because there are better metrics:
In journalism, real authority starts with reporting. Knowing your
stuff, mastering your beat, being right on the facts, digging under the
surface of things, calling around to find out what happened, verifying
what you heard. "I'm there,
you're not, let me tell you about it." Illuminating a murky situation
because you understand it better than almost anyone. Doing the work!
Having a track record, a reputation for reliability is part of it, too.
But that comes from doing the work.
At its best, Wonkblog embodies that kind of journalism. Klein has an impressive work ethic, an ability to consume large amounts of dry, jargon-laden information, and a talent for boiling down complex policy proposals. He understands much of what he covers as well as anyone doing it. And his work exhibits several kinds of integrity: if I discovered a factual error in one of his pieces, he would correct it; he has hired intellectually honest, talented people to contribute to his vertical; and he's taken his outsider vision of what political journalism ought to be and tried to embody it.
I sincerely respect that.
All this praise isn't a buildup to a devastating take-down. On the whole, journalism is lucky to have Klein. I sincerely hope and fully expect that I'll have him to argue with for many years to come. But there is one aspect of his journalism that demands criticism, for it springs from a correctable intellectual mistake, and left unchecked it threatens to undercut his tremendous potential in much the same way that Woodward's faulty analysis has undermined his reportorial talents. It is strange, given Klein's career trajectory, that he of all people should make this mistake.
He is trying to bolster his authority by invoking The View from Nowhere.
In the TNR profile, Julia Ioffe nodded toward that tic by noting that "Klein, who came up through the progressive media and is, according to
public records, a registered Democrat, insists on portraying himself as
someone driven purely by powerful, un-ideological currents of data." In 2012, Klein told TNR's Alec MacGillis, "At this point in my life, I don't really think of myself as a liberal.
That's not the project I'm part of, which is to let the facts take me
where they do." As a writer with idiosyncratic policy preferences and an aversion to ideological movements, I'll never demand that Klein self-identify as a movement liberal or progressive. But he is deeply mistaken when he avers that policy can be grounded in no more than currents of data, or that his writerly output is divorced from disputed value judgments and philosophical foundations. As Will Wilkinson once told him, "There's no avoiding the fact that, if you're doing anything with policy at all, you're trying to achieve some goal. If you think that the goal is one that's worth having, you have to have some rational justification for why that's the end that we ought to be aiming at." Following facts where they lead is smart and necessary, but it is not sufficient.