RedBlueAmerica.com off to a promising start:

Web site promotes understanding of both sides

Jan. 26, 2008

by David Kopel

Last Saturday, Rocky Mountain News publisher John Temple announced the debut of RedBlue America.com, an E.W. Scripps political Web site that aims to combat political polarization by offering readers the best writers on both sides of an issue. So far, it's mostly successful.

The "blue" moderator is Joel Mathis, a Kansas journalist; his "red" counterpart is journalist Ben Boychuk from California.

Several times a day, Mathis and Boychuk post a new topic, based on news articles. Then, each of them picks a favorite article that comments on the first topic.

A successful example: One featured topic on Wednesday was based on a Guardian article reporting how a mob of Palestinians had destroyed a portion of the wall separating Gaza from Egypt, and then streamed into the nearby Egyptian town.

Blue Mathis linked to an article by former New York Times correspondent Chris Hedges, at truthdig.com. The article followed Hedges' normal approach of blaming the Israelis for virtually everything and Palestinian terrorists for almost nothing. But the article included many observations based on Hedges' time in the Mideast, including his sympathetic picture of Hamas' leader. Red Boychuk linked to a short article from Commentary, noting that the Egyptian military certainly could have stopped the breach, had it wanted to; and so Egypt is in effect choosing to allow further importation of weapons in Gaza for Hamas' terrorist war against Israel.

All the articles were written with a mature tone, and provided information that very few readers would already know.

An unsuccessful example: Another Wednesday topic was whether telecommunications companies should be given retroactive civil immunity for their participation in the Bush administration's illegal wiretapping program. There was a link to a New York Times news article about current congressional debate on the issue.

RedBlueAmerica linked to an essay against immunity, written in October by Glenn Greenwald, of Salon.com. For the record, I agree with Greenwald's position and would vote against immunity were I in Congress. But Greenwald is just the opposite of the kind of writer that Temple promised for RedBlueAmerica. He made many good arguments in favor of his position. But his essay seethed with contempt for advocates of the contrary position, obvious hatred for George Bush, big business and their supporters.

The article for the other side came from Human Events, a Washington weekly newspaper which is very influential among conservatives. (Ronald Reagan once called it his favorite newspaper). Although the article addressed the telecom immunity issue, it was mainly about the broader topic of proposed changes in FISA (the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act). Written by Andy McCarthy, the Human Events piece had some solid arguments for its position.

But McCarthy's tone was even worse that Greenwald's, and his article was full of dismissive adjectives like "bone-headed" and "outrageous." Hardly the sort of rhetoric that might persuade a moderate, let alone an open-minded Democrat.

Human Events and Greenwald's column are fine for their niche audiences (hard-line conservatives, and the Angry Left, respectively). But they exemplify what RedBlueAmerica is supposed to combat - the tendency to vilify one's opponents, and to write only for an audience of the already-convinced.

More often, RedBlueAmerica finds writers who strike the right tone. And the Web site will expose you to lots of great sources that you'll never find in the print edition of a Denver paper, including the Agence France Presse wire service, Michael Medved's columns, the online versions of Mother Jones and National Review, and weblogs such as Independent Liberal, Jawa Report, and Outside the Beltway.

Mathis and Boychuk are producing topics at a torrid pace. RedBlueAmerica really needs a topical table of contents, so that readers who want to peruse some previous entries on, say, Iraq, can find them quickly, without having to dig through the Topic Archive, which just lists everything in reverse chronological order.

One feature with potential is "Truth or Not," in which Mathis and Boychuk take turns debunking a popular myth. For example, John Edwards recently stated, "I think if you want to become an American citizen and earn American citizenship, you should learn to speak English." As RedBlueAmerica pointed out, learning English is already a requirement for naturalization.

Mathis and Boychuk each have a blog. Their entries are good, although they're hardly must-reads compared to all the other policy commentators available in the blogosphere. It might be more interesting to see Mathis and Boychuk in some back-and-forth discussions. Or to follow the lead of Bloggingheads.tv, which features excellent hour-long video discussions ("diavlogs") between liberals and conservatives, which are highly civil, intelligent and thought-provoking.

There are many Web entrepreneurs who have made a living by finding an unserved niche. RedBlueAmerica.com will appeal to Americans who are interested in looking at both sides of an issue, and in expanding their sources of information.

 

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