My Three Suggestions for Improving Slate:

On occasion of Slate's 10th anniversary celebrations, its editors very graciously invited several of the magazine's "most persistent critics" to offer their criticisms in Slate's pages. Here are my criticisms, which I hope are constructive.

Robert T. Baker (mail):
After your lengthy criticism about Slate's misuse of hyperlinks and poor ability to correct itself, how fitting that the editor's final reference to "The Volokh Conspiracy" links to your old blogspot site circa May 2005!

Hollas and hellos from an old student! Always good to read and hear you...

--RTB Esq., UCLAW c/o Y2K
6.20.2006 2:35am
yuriy (mail):
I Found Absolutely FREE PlayBoy &PentHouse:
If I find something else I'll inform you.
Best Regards, Yuriy
6.20.2006 3:32am
tefta (mail):
Even handed and well stated.
6.20.2006 7:56am
I wonder if it is even possible to have an effective corrections policy (not that we shouldn't try). It seems to me that most people just don't care enough to read corrections.
6.20.2006 9:11am
Notice how Slate's headline for your article refers to your second point, about the "stupid corrections policy" as opposed to something that sounds more substantial like their "stupid failure to link to original sources"?
6.20.2006 9:36am
Moonage Webdream (mail) (www):
Well done Eugene. I too have been a Slate reader going back about as long as Slate does. They've even quoted me there a time or two, so I have to like them. However, I get really tired of the constant barrage of anti-Bush stuff they feel almost obsessed to pour out every day. The Bushisms don't strike me as being poorly done and researched, they strike me as being part and parcel to the atmosphere Slate has become engulfed in of late. It's not funny any more. They may be as witty as they ever were, but they're not applying the wit, just the sarcasm. And, sarcasm's not funny to me. They get their stories from other places, and I'm aggregating most of those other sources. In essence, they have rendered themselves somewhat useless. If I want Bush-bashing proper, I can always go to Kos. If I want Bushisms, they're all over the net. If I want goofball criminal activity, The Smoking Gun. Interesting odd stories, Snopes, etc.. My criticism to Slate would be to take the blinders off and look at the whole picture. If they do, then their true wit will be allowed to expand to areas they've not burnt out.
6.20.2006 10:01am
As time goes on, Slate becomes more like Salon which has become more like The Village Voice. If I want to read a good dose of trash, I'll just read The Village Voice.
6.20.2006 10:32am
On the mark.
Under the heading "Watch Your Genre—Stay Serious Without Being Too Serious" I would add the article "In Praise of Boxer Briefs"

I could not figure out if this profoundly revealing, timely and important topic was offered in the spirit of humour or driven by the need of making male readers better men.
At any rate, it didn't offer supporting academic study results. What? Hasn't been done? Now, here is a serious void crying out for some enterprising grad in search of some grant money.
6.20.2006 10:43am
Humble Law Student:

Thanks so much!!! Wohoo, free playmates. That is something Professor Volokh should have recommended for Slate.

Actually, for this blog, why cant we have a LawMate of the day? He/She could take various provocative poses around Wright and Miller's Federal Practice and Procedure. Nothing hotter than that.
6.20.2006 11:35am
Bob Bobstein (mail):
That article is spectacular. As a lawyer and former magazine editor, I love well-grounded, polite, and detailed corrections on small but important matters.

I often disagree with your criticism of specific Bushisms of the Day-- particularly the "I'm the decider" one. That struck me as the quintessential Bushism, with its ungrammatical, baseless insouciance. Still, after reading your column today, I think that you are correct. To have a regular feature called "Bushism of the Day" encourages Slate's writers to look for misspeakings even when they are not quite there. Not appropriate for a sometimes-serious publication.

Also, thanks to HLS &Yuriy for their fine suggestions. Keep us posted, yuriy! should be a one-stop source for all news relating to the Muhammad cartoons, and free pornography. That ought to boost PJ media!
6.20.2006 11:50am
JGR (mail):
There was always something outright bizarre about Slate - It hits you over the head with self-congragulatory statements about being the new medium ("We're interactive! We have audio! We have video!") Then they consistently refuse to link, which is arguably the single greatest improvement that the web offers over traditional jounalism.

The oddity of this really defies imagination. Hypertext was regarded as the Holy Grail of information as long ago as 1965, when Theodore Nelson began thinking about it. The science writer Ed Regis describes the embryonic stage of this insight in his entertaining book Nano:

"Soon Ted Nelson was imagining ways in which computers could allow you to view texts in parallel, simultaneously, side by side on the screen. This "parallel-textface" function would be highly useful when you were following the course of argument on a controversial issue - a situation in which there was lots of back-and-forth complaint and commentary. With parallel textface you could read one document and while in the middle of it switch to some other document on the same screen, so that you could compare the two, checking a fact, verifying a quotation, seeing what the other guy said. You could see if the author had ever replied to a critic, and, if so, you could see whether that critic had made any response to the author. Because it went beyond the essentially passive functions of mere text, Nelson called this dream-system of his "hyper-text".

Imagine a tv show that announces that it is the new wave of cinematography and when you tune it in, it is a series of black and white photos with audio - Welcome to Slate.
6.20.2006 12:39pm
Goober (mail):
How did I know you would lead off with a Bushism....

Yeah, and Yuriy's suggestion is teh awesome, too.
6.20.2006 12:46pm
Hattio (mail):
Slightly off topic,
My biggest criticism of Slate when I used to read it regularly was that they would keep changing titles, and keep one article on the "front page" for days. Then you had to click to it to see if it was really a new article on the same topic, or just a new title appended to the article you read two days ago. I found it completely annoying, and its one of the major reasons I stopped visiting Slate very regularly.
6.20.2006 12:55pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
Excellent criticisms, Prof. V.

Besides the weird refusal to link, Slate bugs me most these days with their radio spots. If I want to check out "Summary Judgments" on the new movies, etc., either I listen to it, or forget it.

Hint to Slate: I'm on the web because I want to *read* things. Provide a transcript or buy your own radio station, people.
6.20.2006 1:35pm
Matthew in Denver:
One slight criticism - of your three suggestions, two of them might be retitled "I really don't like those Bushisms..." To be serious, I do think that issue #1 and #3 are linked. I always assume that Weisberg didn't link his Bushisms BECAUSE they were forced. If you know your argument is weak, why make it obvious?
6.20.2006 1:40pm
Closet Libertarian (www):
That was great. I have actually been surprized at Slate's respones to some of my criticisms. They actually emailed me back and agreed to try and be more clear.

This is the opposite of what has happened when I email the Washington Post. They didn't reply at all or just defended their wrong statements.
6.20.2006 1:47pm
JGR (mail):
"Hint to Slate: I'm on the web because I want to *read* things. Provide a transcript or buy your own radio station, people."

This is one of my own pet peeves so I'm glad you mentioned it. I can deal with the fact that my AOL home page increasingly uses video instead of print because AOL is mass-market. What I find deeply troubling is that sites that fancy themselves intellectual are increasingly switching to audio or video and not even giving the option of print transcripts. Only recently, National Review magazine would print thoughtful articles bemoaning the collapse of book culture. Today, National Review Online provides audio links to things like "Derb Radio", and when someone writes in to ask why there are no print transcripts, they reply in their weblong The Corner that they want you to listen to it, not read!!!
6.20.2006 1:49pm
Neal R. (mail):
I hope Slate takes all three of your suggestions to heart.

One minor quibble: I don't agree that there's "nothing risable" about the President's prosthetic hand comment. You're right that the Slate excerpt is misleading, in that it suggests the President purported to shake a dismembered hand, but the full quote is still clumsy, ungrammatical, and inarticulate, as many of his public statements are. And that, to my mind, is the main point of the Bushisms column.

In general, I think you sometimes go too far in defending the President against unfair Bushisms. You're right that Slate quotes selectively to make the President sound as bad as possible, and I'm always glad when you point that out. But when you go on to assert that that the quote does not reveal anything unusual or strange or inarticulate in the president's diction or syntax, more often than not you are overstating your case. He's a clumsy, inarticulate speaker. So what? Many people find that endearing.

That said, I think the whole idea of a daily "Bushisms" column is puerile and should be abandoned.
6.20.2006 2:07pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Neal R.: I appreciate the kind words, but wanted to ask what part of the full quote was ungrammatical. (Whether it's clumsy and inarticulate is a personal judgment that I suspect would be hard to helpfully argue about.) Here's the material that I quoted in my article: "I'm honored to shake the hand of a brave Iraqi citizen who had his hand cut off by Saddam Hussein.... I appreciate Joe Agris, the doctor who helped put these hands on these men.... These men had hands restored because of the generosity and love of an American citizen ..." Maybe I'm missing something, but I don't see the grammatical error.

Also, if we're quibbling, I should make a slight correction to the quote from me, so that people don't assume that I erred in the original: I said "nothing risible."
6.20.2006 2:33pm
Bruce Wilder (www):
I thought your Slate column outstanding: a clear and reasonable case for taking practical steps to improve accuracy. Thank you.
6.20.2006 3:56pm
lucia (mail) (www):
I don't understand what was strange about that particular Bushim even when taken out of context. In my part of the world, people are generally born with two hands. So, it's perfectly possible to shake the hand of a man whose hand, singular, was cut off.
6.20.2006 3:59pm
Neal R. (mail):
Prof. Volokh,

You're right, nothing ungrammatical there. I misread the quote the first time. And I misspelled "risible."

As to whether there the President's speech is "clumsy" or "inarticulate" (my words), I disagree that this is purely a "personal judgment" (your words). There can be at least some objectivity in assessing this sort of thing.

For example, John Kerry tends to speak in long, eliptical sentences. Sometimes he does so to carefully qualify his statements, and sometimes it appears to be more of a verbal tic. Some people may think there is nothing whatsoever unusal about his speech patterns, but I suspect most would agree that he is a bit long winded. At any rate, it's something we can meaningfully discuss. That this judgment isn't mathematically quantifiable doesn't mean it's purely subjective, either.

Similarly, President Bush has his own clearly discernible speech patterns that justify some mild ribbing. (Other commentors on previous "Bushism" threads here have described those patterns better than I could, but I'm sure you would at least acknowledge that he has a distinctive way of speaking.) Opinions of course will vary, but again that doesn't mean that it's a purely "personal judgment."

In any event, I think your Bushism posts would often be more effective if you just shined a spotlight on Slate's misleading omissions, without going on to defend the underlying speech -- which appears to many, at least, to be clumsy and inarticulte. Of course, if you strongly believe that the speech in question does not deserve any ribbing at all, you may want to go that extra step. But then you are inviting disagreement on that secondary issue -- an issue you yourself describe as a "personal judgment."

The far more important point, to my mind, is that Slate misleadingly edits the President's quotes to make him sound more inarticulate than he actually is. That is unfair, and I commend you for pointing it out.
6.20.2006 4:11pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Neal R.: A fair argument, and thanks for the gracious and thoughtful response.
6.20.2006 5:24pm