03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Dueling Palin Reviews Equals Zero For Readers

I don't really see much point to newspapers running dueling reviews of a single book -- it's sort of feckless, isn't it? Well, shucks! if you didn't like this take on the book, we've got another one column over that may be more to your liking? I guess when you're running low on subscribers, you have to do something to be all things to all people! That said, the Washington Post's decision to run a left-wing versus right-wing take on Sarah Palin's Going Rogue seems to be an especially poorly-conceived idea. Beginning with the fact that the very conceit sort of limits the impact of the review, by making the entire exercise seem, uhm... predictable.

But let's consider the two points of view. Writing "for the left" is Air America blogger (and Friend to Eat The Press) Ana Marie Cox, who, by her own admission, was given a single afternoon to read the entire book and render a "review." This restriction, apparently, did not bother the Post's editors, but Cox made sure to mention it, out of deference to readers. On the other side, we have... Matthew Continetti of the Weekly Standard, who not only apparently had the chance to read Palin's book in full, but has also written his own book on the topic, The Persecution of Sarah Palin: How the Elite Media Tried to Bring Down a Rising Star. This seems to be a duel between badly mismatched duelists, neither of whom is really to blame for the gap between them.

Cox, despite the limitations imposed on her review opportunity, gamely attempts to pull out some interesting details and make as informed a criticism as anyone can who's admitted up front that it won't be possible. Lest you think that I'm mounting a blind defense of a personal friend, I'll tell you that Ana Marie's review is surprisingly bereft of the sorts of insights into Palin's relationships with the various players in the McCain campaign that I know she could offer, having covered the McCain campaign as extensively as she has.

Continetti, by contrast, isn't nearly as cheerleadery as I figured he would be. At one point, he offers, "if you like Palin, you'll like Going Rogue -- and if you don't like Palin, well, I hear the new Stephen King is pretty good," which is about as customer-oriented as a review of this book can be. But for all his familiarity with the book (which apparently makes him think of obscure German literary critics) and the subject matter (again, Continetti, WROTE HIS OWN BOOK ON PALIN) he doesn't do much in the way of reviewing the book's contents. Instead, we get a paragraph of generalities that could have come straight from HarperCollins's P.R. department, followed by a lengthy take on the media's reaction to the book.

So, instead of "dueling book reviews," we get one reviewer who's not been afforded enough time to complete the task, and another reviewer who apparently had the time but declined to proffer an actual review. Naturally, commenters are currently ripping apart Cox for not finishing the book and Contenetti for being "worshipful" and "sycophantic." But this is the Post's fault, not the reviewers!

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