Meet the Punditsphere

Our interest is the influence of the New York Times columnists. Let us propose that they inhabit not just the blogosphere, but the punditsphere, comprising the top political columnists of the day. The blogosphere at large links to the much smaller punditsphere with much more concentration than the other way around. Combined, the pundits receive a fraction of the total references or links on any given day, but because the pundits individually get the most links, people pay them the most attention. It is within the punditsphere that the Times columnists compete especially for attention.

I started the punditsphere list with the regular 7 Op-Ed columnists from the NYT over the last four years. I chose to focus on the national/international/sociological columnists (rather than sports or metro or arts, who were also in TimesSelect) as they are read nationally. I then picked 9 from the Washington Post. I added the names of print columnists and bloggers who are especially well read: columnists I have read, names I knew from the Sunday talk shows, and names I felt I should know.

I am quite confident that the top 25 is solid, though many names in the second 25 may be interchangeable. When I collected too many names, I had to drop a few from the list: William Safire, William F. Buckley, Jim Hoagland, Peter Beinart. (Safire retired from his Op-Ed column in 2005, but I had initially added him from my list of 25 Online Political Writers in January 2005). Jonathan Alter was kind enough to appear on my father's nascent radio show on WVOX in NY, so I couldn't in good conscience leave him off, and he turned out to have a respectable showing over the last two years. I also added 4 journalists/authors who made their debuts as TimesSelect bloggers over the last 4 years.

The list of 50 includes 7 women and 3 African-Americans, and no Latino-Americans (at least, as far as I can tell; the perceived imbalance is a sore point of American political discourse which is brought up every now and then). One might like to choose the popular Los Angeles Times columnist Al Martinez, who was, for a time this year, another victim of the revolving doors on that newspaper's editorial page, but his blog references turned out to be far below this punditsphere's bottom (900 blog references over the last four years).

If there is a selection bias, it's that I sought known names and ideological balance. I didn't add every last conservative syndicated writer who, to my surprise, has tens of thousands of blog references while never appearing on a Sunday talk show. The list is also heavily weighted towards the Northeast; to the best I can determine, the only people on the list who live outside the Acela path are bloggers. Bill O'Reilly and Ann Coulter, whom I included on the blog buzz list, are the two pundits I could find in the 100,000+ post club (around the same blog luminence, oddly enough of, Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts), but their references in the blogs are overwhelmingly of ridicule from their detractors. Hugh Hewitt and Michelle Malkin made the list as they are popular columnist-bloggers, and, incidentally enough, are below the radar of top 50 most viewed media personalities in the Media Matters database.

In the end, all prejudices are mine. A better way to go about this would be for the Washington press corps (or any journalism community) to poll its membership to come up with a list (this is trivial software to write; the hard part is getting people to participate). From that point it should be easy for Google or BlogPulse to do the same sort of analysis.

Here is the list:

New York TimesDavid Brooks, Maureen Dowd, Thomas Friedman, Bob Herbert, Nicholas Kristof, Paul Krugman, Frank Rich 
Washington PostAnne Applebaum, David Broder, Richard Cohen, E.J. Dionne, Dan Froomkin, David Ignatius, Charles Krauthammer, Eugene Robinson, George Will
Other syndicated columnists Pat Buchanan, Tony Blankley, Ellen Goodman, Jeff Jacoby, Peggy Noonan, Robert Novak,  Clarence Page, Mark Steyn 
Magazines Jonathan Alter, Michael Barone, Fred Barnes, Jonathan Chait, Charlie Cook, David Corn, Jonah Goldberg, Christopher Hitchens, Michael Kinsley, Joe Klein, William Kristol, Rich Lowry, Fareed Zakaria
BloggersKevin Drum, Glenn Greenwald, Hugh Hewitt, Arianna Huffington, Mickey Kaus, Michelle Malkin, Josh Marshall, Andew Sullivan
TimesSelect BloggersRoger Cohen, Stanley Fish, Chris Suellentrop, Judith Warner

If you want to play along at home, now is the time to mark your predictions. The next page reveals all.