TimesSelect Pundit Buzz Rankings, Before and During

Media | Familiarity

The following numbers list references to the writer's name in the blog posts. Certain columnists are commonly known by a nickname (Tom, Bill, Nick, Josh), and thus I queried both results and added them together. It is possible these include overlapping pages. In one case (George Will), I had to estimate the number of references to the columnist and not to the coincidental use of his name in a completely different context: from looking at the last 50 blog posts, 20% were constructions where “will” was used as a verb. (USA Today: "Boy George Will Be Picking Up Street Trash.")

I mentioned earlier that Google only started collecting blog data in earnest after June 2005. Thus, ninety percent of the posts that I found were from after September 17, 2005 — the cutoff date I picked for the beginning of the TimesSelect era. One might worry that this is akin to forming a conclusion after the first few weeks about how a baseball team will finish in September. So we can gauge this using correlation: a measure of 1 means that the data is directly proportional; 0 means no relation; -1 means inversely proportional. (If you slept through college statistics, there's an Excel function which calculates these for you.) Baseball being a funny game, a given team plays a different set of teams each month, and thus the results of any given month may not be a good predictor at all. If we look back at the 2007 season, the correlation between the records of baseball teams from the first month to the end of the season was .70 for the American League and .32 for the National League.

By contrast, the correlation between the data from the two years before TimesSelect to the two years of TimesSelect was .90 (and, striking out the two outliers, it was .96). If Pete Rose were still a betting man, he'd be much wiser placing his money predicting the popularity of a given pundit then he would the outcome of a series of baseball games. 

New York Times columnists are highlighted in orange; Washington Post columnists in grey. The growth column is the number of references from latter two years divided by the former two years. The change column indicates how many positions within this list the pundit has moved.

The precision of the absolute numbers is misleading, due to Google's notoriously quirky estimates. (At one time, I went through one and rounded to the 1,000's, but didn't like the look of it and left the numbers as I had captured them.) The key column here is growth, which is trimmed to 2 or 3 significant digits.  

[underlying data here.]

 Columnist/Blogger Publication TimesSelect
2 prior
1   Michelle Malkin   syndicated columnist, blogger 79,7878,4319.5
2   Andrew Sullivan   Atlantic Monthly blogger 43,2703,83511.3+4 
3   Thomas Friedman   New York Times 39,5234,1459.5+1 
4   Hugh Hewitt   TownHall.com blogger 36,0693,9969.0+2 
5   David Brooks   New York Times 35,9693,7399.6+2 
6   Christopher Hitchens   Slate, Vanity Fair, Atlantic 35,7543,6359.8+2 
7   Paul Krugman   New York Times 34,1455,1996.6-4 
8   George Will   Washington Post, Newsweek 28,9612,39412.1+7 
9   Mark Steyn   syndicated columnist 27,3743,0958.8-1 
10   Glenn Greenwald   Salon blogger 26,31338771.0+40 
11   William Kristol   Weekly Standard 25,2651,51416.7+9 
12   Pat Buchanan   syndicated columnist 25,2232,9958.4-1 
13   Frank Rich   New York Times 24,2292,8298.6-1 
14   Maureen Dowd   New York Times 24,0433,2747.3-4 
15   Robert Novak   Chicago Sun-Times 23,5115,7894.1-13 
16   Arianna Huffington   Huffington Post blogger 22,2202,10410.6
17   Charles Krauthammer   Washington Post, Time 22,0001,65413.3+2 
18   Jonah Goldberg   National Review, LA Times 21,0991,86811.3-1 
19   Josh Marshall   TPM blogger 20,3582,5238.1-5 
20   Kevin Drum   Washington Monthly blogger 18,5762,6187.1-7 
21   Michael Barone   USNews & World Report 14,29440335.5+9 
22   Peggy Noonan   Wall Street Journal 12,4841,2649.9-1 
23   Bob Herbert   New York Times 10,5701,8305.8-5 
24   Joe Klein   Time 10,44327937.4+16 
25   Mickey Kaus   Slate 10,29266915.4+2 
26   Richard Cohen   Washington Post 10,22040125.5+5 
27   David Broder   Washington Post 9,96835827.8+9 
28   E.J. Dionne   Washington Post 9,2549359.9-4 
29   David Corn   The Nation 8,8901,0548.4-7 
30   Dan Froomkin   Washington Post 8,84938722.9+3 
31   Nicholas Kristof   New York Times 8,6901,0158.6-8 
32   Rich Lowry   National Review 8,55374211.5-6 
33   David Ignatius   Washington Post 8,08539120.7-1 
34   Fred Barnes   Weekly Standard 7,99935622.5-3 
35   Eugene Robinson   Washington Post 7,47826328.4-6 
36   Fareed Zakaria   Newsweek International 6,90865710.5-8 
37   Michael Kinsley   Time 5,4757457.3-12 
38   Jeff Jacoby   Boston Globe 5,47547211.6-9 
39   Charlie Cook   National Journal, Cook Pol. Rep. 5,13320225.4+5 
40   Jonathan Alter   Newsweek 4,81219924.2+5 
41   Ellen Goodman   Boston Globe 4,64128716.2-2 
42   Tony Blankley   Washington Times 4,20636811.4-6 
43   Jonathan Chait   New Republic, LA Times 4,09532012.8-5 
44   Anne Applebaum   Washington Post, Slate 3,1363688.5-9 
45   Stanley Fish   TimesSelect blogger 2,83921813.0-3 
46   Clarence Page   Chicago Tribune 2,43716015.2
47   Roger Cohen   TimesSelect blogger, Int. Her. Tribune 2,2498127.8
48   Paul Gigot   Wall Street Journal 1,9812109.4-5 
49   Judith Warner   TimesSelect blogger 1,2238015.3-1 
50   Chris Suellentrop   TimesSelect blogger 8536413.3-1 


Far from being excluded from the “conversation” over the last 2 years, the star columnists of the New York Times still dominate the top of the field. The Times's "Big Three"– Friedman, Brooks, and Krugman– were the top three referenced newspaper columnists through the TimesSelect era. Five of the NYT columnists are in the top 14, where they all outrank the second most popular Washington Post columnist. Ironically, the sixth NYT columnist, Bob Herbert, edged out the list's most voluble TimesSelect detractor, Mickey Kaus of Slate (which has been owned by Washington Post Co. since 2004).

Let's consider the top 25 names on the list, which have a combined 83% share. This list includes 8 bloggers, who achieve their high standing in part by making it up in volume (sometimes decibels; more often, pace). Whereas Frank Rich muscles into #13 by swinging for the fences one day a week, Glenn Greenwald has shot past him by writing the equivalent of a Frank Rich column almost every day. Greenwald's rise is off the charts here because he just started blogging in October 2005 (near our cutoff date); his prodigious output was recognized by the editors of Salon, who minted him as one of their bloggers this past February.

As for the 17 traditional columnists in this group (non-bloggers), ten are solid conservatives. The rest either fall into two camps: they either write for the Times; or they are named Christopher Hitchens or Joe Klein– two columnists who can't be accused of being tied to the party line. The liberal lights of the Times (and the swing critics like Dowd and Friedman) remain powerful guidestars to the liberal-moderate readership.

The trending numbers start to tell the story we're looking for. The NYT columnists appear to have slipped. The Washington Post columnists, and conservatives, did well. As did, by percentage, the bottom of the list. This particular group of fifty saw an increase in ten times the references over the two years. Of top 25 of the chart, only 10 increased above that rate (none of them from the Times). As for the bottom 25, 19 increased above the rate, including all of the TimesSelect contributors. It would appear that in the last two years there was a general flattening of the punditsphere; we look into some more details in the subsequent charts.

One last point must be made before proceeding. These rankings do have their utility for this exposition, but are obviously not universal measures (quoting Robert Fuller: “The problem isn't that rank counts. The trouble is that rank counts twice."). Just as the last person to graduate medical school is called Doctor, the last person on this punditsphere is the Opinionator, Chris Suellentrop, who co-writes the NYT editorial page blog. #48 is the editor of the Wall Street Journal editorial page, Paul Gigot. He got the exclusive conversation with man-in-the-news Karl Rove in August, not #1.