Updated: At a reader’s suggestion, I looked up on Google Trends the number of searches for each name on this list. “steve sailer” came in ahead of 19 of The Atlantic 50. For example, #1 ranked “paul krugman” has been searched for 17.6 times as often on Google as “steve sailer” in 2009, but #12 ranked David Broder has only been searched for 0.4 times as often as “steve sailer.”
And since “isteve” gets another 50% as many searches as “steve sailer,” I might come in ahead of five or six more of these supposedly big names, putting me right at about #25. Of course, the same could be said for lots of other people who aren’t on The Atlantic 50. For example, Ann Coulter is searched for more often than anybody on The Atlantic 50 besides Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, and Michelle Malkin is ahead of Krugman. (And there are lots of technical quibbles about the spelling of names, last name-only searches, and so forth, so don’t take these ratios all that seriously.)
Here’s how The Atlantic came up with their list of “the most influential commentators in the nation:”
To compile the list, our team spent months collecting and analyzing data, tracking a group of 400 names that eventually became our 50. Our in-house methodology relies on three streams of information:
- Influence: We conducted surveys of more than 250 insiders – members of Congress, national media figures, and political players – asking respondents to rank-order the commentators who most influence their own thinking. These surveys were done with National Journal.
- Reach: We collected and analyzed data to measure the total audience of each commentator.
- Web Engagement: In partnership with PostRank, a company specializing in filtering social media data, the Wire analyzed top commentators on 16 measures of webiness, including mentions on Twitter and performance on popular social media sites like Digg and Delicious.
The final list is the result of an algorithm that brings together these three factors.
Rather than debate who is on the list, I’m going to use this list to answer a question I’ve been wondering about. Like Francis Galton in the 1860s, I like to take other people’s lists made for their own purposes and use them to answer my own questions, such as: What are the demographics of opinion-molders?
Using somebody else’s list to answer your question is less susceptible to bias than making up your own list. Presumably, the Atlantic folks weren’t thinking about demographics when they came up with their methodology, so their list isn’t biased by preconceptions about demographic balance. Therefore, whatever its flaws, it’s a more neutral starting point for examining the demographics of the commentariat than any list I’d come up with after I came up with my question.
Here’s my first crack at estimating the demographics of The Atlantic 50. I’ll update this table on Friday as improved info comes in via the Comments.
The first thing that leaps out at you demographically is the Lack of Diversity, the extrem
e under-representation of Non-Asian Minorities. Out of fifty, there’s one black guy, Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post (who out of this rather dull list is definitely one of my favorites — sensible yet idiosyncratic). So, the list is 2% black, whereas the population is about 13% black
As for Hispanics, there’s one Spanish-surnamed guy, Matt Yglesias, who has a white Cuban grandfather, but doesn’t particularly consider himself Hispanic and instead identifies as Jewish-American, due to his three Jewish grandparents. So, we’ll call the list 0.5% Hispanic, versus 15% of the population.
So, although non-Asian minorities are a little over 30% of the population, they are under-represented by an order of magnitude among the opinion elite.
“Asians” (following the Census Bureau’s post-1982 definition when they took South Asians — physical anthropology be damned! — out of the Caucasian race and put them in with East Asians) are represented by Fareed Zakaria, who is from an aristocratic Indian Muslim background. (His father was #2 to Indira Gandhi in India’s ruling Congress Party.) So, 2% Asian on the list versus maybe 5% of the population. By the way, I’m not surprised that the “Asian” representative is Indian rather than from the much more numerous East Asian community. South Asians tend to be more political and loquacious than East Asians.
So, the Atlantic’s list is 96% white, which certainly fits my long-held theory that our media elites are clueless about the impact of demographic change in the American population because everybody they compete with is white. For example, a recent study found that 94% of the screenwriters of studio releases are white. At this level in American society, minorities are just exotics. As I wrote in 2006:
This doesn’t mean that the white elites view minorities as their equals. Far from it. Instead, they can’t conceive of them as competition. Nobody from Chiapas is going to take my job. Status competition in the upper reaches of American life still largely consists of whites trying to claw their way to the top over other whites, who, as an example, make up 99 percent of the Fortune 500 CEOs. That’s why the media treats the outsourcing of hundreds of thousands of white-collar jobs to English-speaking, high-IQ Indians as a respectable cause for alarm, but not the insourcing of tens of millions of immigrants to perform blue-collar and servile jobs.
The Atlantic 50 is 82% male.
It’s 6% out-of-the closet homosexual (Andrew Sullivan, Rachel Maddow, and Glenn Greenwald).
Religious ethnicity (i.e., the religious background of one’s ancestors) is interesting. I haven’t exhaustively searched each pundit’s parents, but I looked enough to find out some things I hadn’t known, such as that David Ignatius of the Washington Post is Armenian. Also, the father of Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times was an Armenian immigrant college professor from Romania. (I can’t find anything about the background of his college professor mother Jane.)
There’s a widespread assumption that any pundit with a German-sounding name is Jewish, although that’s not always true. Is Kimberly Strassel Jewish? Steve Benen? I don’t know enough to even guess.
Keith Olbermann was raised Unitarian and in this video tells a long story about how his father turned down a job at an anti-Semitic New York department store chain in the 1960s because they kept probing to see if he’s Jewish. According to Olberman’s version of the story, his father finally shouted that he didn’t spend his Saturdays at temple because he wasn’t Jewish and stormed out denouncing the department store executives for their anti-Semitism. And that’s when the 10-year-old Olbermann learned to hate conservatives.
Perhaps, though, I wonder if young Olbermann didn’t get the story backwards in some fashion. The notion of an anti-Semitic department store chain in New York City in the 1960s seems curious. Was there one? My search of Google for the phrase “anti-Semitic department store” finds zero hits. My experience at the UCLA MBA school in the early 1980s was that a professor had to warn the gentile female students that, much as they might be experts on fashion and shopping, they should not get their hopes up about making a great career at any of LA’s department store chains because the best jobs were reserved for Jewish men.
Perhaps, the elder Mr. Olbermann was angry at the anti-gentilism of the department store executives, but since “anti-gentilism” isn’t even a word, the story got stuck backwards in Olbermann the younger’s head. Or maybe the elder Mr. Olbermann was part Jewish and didn’t feel like apologizing for his ancestors’ mixed marriages to the Jewish department store executives. Who knows?
Olbermann was raised in the Unitarian church, so I’ll put him down as Protestant. (Yes, I know that Unitarians aren’t even Christians theologically, but ethnically they are more or less Protestants.)
Skipping Strassel, Benen, and Kristof’s mom, I’ll take a guess at the religious background of 47.5 of the pundits and use 47.5 as my denominator.
Roman Catholics do fairly well, with 23 percent, plus another 3 percent Armenian Catholics (are Armenians Catholics? They aren’t Protestants), plus 2 percent Eastern Orthodox (Arianna Huffington). Protestants are underrepresented at 20%. Jews make up about 50% of the Atlantic 50 versus 3% of the population, which means people of Jewish background are a little more than 30 times more likely to be in the Atlantic 50 as the average American. White Jewish men are at least 50 times over-represented.
The Jewish figure may go down a little as I hear about more individuals with Jewish surnames who are actually half-Jewish. And there are all the questions about what to do with adoptees, cuckoos’ eggs, converts, and so forth.
This strong Jewish representation among the influential isn’t new. In the 1995 book Jews and the New American Scene, the prominent social scientist Seymour Martin Lipset, a Senior Scholar of the Wilstein Institute for Jewish Policy Studies, and Earl Raab, Director of the Perlmutter Institute for Jewish Advocacy at Brandeis University, pointed out:
“During the last three decades, Jews have made up 50% of the top two hundred intellectuals, 40 percent of American Nobel Prize Winners in science and economics, 20 percent of professors at the leading universities, 21 percent of high level civil servants, 40 percent of partners in the leading law firms in New York and Washington, 26% of the reporters, editors, and executives of the major print and broadcast media, 59 percent of the directors, writers, and producers of the fifty top-grossing motion pictures from 1965 to 1982, and 58 percent of directors, writers, and producers in two or more primetime television series.” [pp 26-27]