Ron Irving, at the University of Washington, wrote a very interesting email response to me about my Andrew Sullivan remarks. With his permission, I am reprinting it here.
I believe you have somewhat misrepresented the history of Sullivan's blog, for you have described the history (or so I imagine) from when you showed up at his door, rather than from when he began. Like you, I tend to think of it as an Atlantic enterprise that moved, but he started it years before he joined the Atlantic. Like the Daily Beast, the Atlantic was just a temporary home. Perhaps it's better to think of Sullivan as a version of any number of faculty members we both would have encountered over the years, ones who move from university to university every 4-5 years, always getting a good startup package, higher salary, and so on. Suppose one such faculty member got tired of negotiating with the current or a prospective new university and decided to strike out on his or her own, making a go of it with books, online courses, and a staff that helps generate the material. Maybe we'll see that before long.
As to the substance of your argument for not paying the $20, it leaves me puzzled. If Sullivan were a lone blogger presenting his views (without all the mirroring that occupies much of his space), he would then occupy a role similar to the many bloggers I read daily, some of whom I have happily contributed to (Greenwald, Atrios, emptywheel). If he asked for donations or had fund drives, as they do, I might contribute. But he isn't like them, because of all the extra baggage. And with this baggage, to my mind, he appears to be more like an independent magazine than a lone blogger. A Reader's Digest if you will. On this basis, it strikes me as entirely reasonable that he is proposing a subscription fee. Of course, no one has to pay it. I don't subscribe to Reader's Digest. But what he's doing, in effect, is leaving one online magazine and starting another. I don't think he's making us pay for his opinion. He's asking us to pay for a wide array of services.
Now, as to what I think of those services, I believe that as his operation has grown, the quality has steadily declined. More and more of the material he and his team put up is presented without any consideration of whether it's true. If someone writes garbage, they don't edit or reflect on it, they throw it up there. Well, there's editing of course in the decision as to what to put up, but as far as I can tell, there's no effort to consider whether the underlying information or data is correct. The team doesn't have that capability. And in this respect, I agree with you, which is why I may choose not to pay the $20 either. They are adding to the hall of mirrors effect of the internet, letting garbage spread along with the good stuff. I find it infuriating. All I really want to read are the posts (fewer and fewer it seems) in which Sullivan actually says what's on his mind. I wish they had a separate channel for that.
I suppose in the end, then, I reach the same point you do. And that's without even mentioning Sullivan's pomposity. But I suppose we all struggle with that condition.