There are two things I enjoy about SpinSanity (despite their pejorative use of the term “rhetoric”): 1) the writers are equal-opportunity critics, and 2) they approach what they do with a fine sense of moral philosophy, i.e. a sense that some things are more virtuous than others based on their understanding of an ethics of political/journalistic communication.
Today, Brendan Nyhan chastises The Wall Street Journal for peddling spin on its editorial page. Spin, as opposed to opinion, is the deliberate distortion of discourse for persuasive or coercive ends. Nyhan concludes with this assertion of moral philosophy:
A good editorial informs in the course of making a forceful argument.
Treatises of ancient Greek rhetoric are filled with such statements because, for the Greeks, virtue was a paramount quality of individuals within their social context. These statements, like Nyhan’s, often sound naive to the jaded citizen of the 21st Century.
On the one hand, it is naive because the editorial section of a paper, it could be argued, exists to impress upon the citizenry the worldview or ideology of the editorial board and/or the owners. On the other hand, that may be accomplished in ways that demonstrate excellent virtue. In this case, I would define excellent virtue in editorial writing as giving readers an honest account of the facts as they are understood in the given context and then giving them an honest account of the paper’s position in relation to those facts.
Spinning is for pundits and TV talk-show flamers, not great newspapers (and I consider the WSJ among the few in that category).
UPDATE (12:35 p.m.): The Daily Howler has this to say about recent columns by Howard Kurtz and Richard Cohen.