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Discourse Watch at the Atlantic?

10:28 AM, Dec 4, 2008 • By MICHAEL GOLDFARB
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Marc Ambinder ran a post yesterday titled "Discourse Watch: Obama's Citizenship A Legit Topic?" Ambinder's question was prompted by a Townhall newsletter which featured a paid ad by a group that aims to prove, in court, that Barack Obama is not an American citizen, and is therefore ineligible to serve as President of the United States.

Ambinder is well respected by Republicans and Democrats, and is therefore one of a relatively few people in this business who can help set the bounds of a debate. If either party is pushing a piece of oppo that doesn't pass the smell test, partisans on either side are likely to run with it anyway, but a blog post from a guy like Ambinder can cool things off. Of course, in this case Townhall wasn't espousing any particular opinion, but publishing a paid ad. Most publications will accept paid ads from groups they disagree with -- as this magazine has done from time to time in accepting paid ads from groups like NARAL. It strikes me as unfair to imply, as Ambinder does, that there is some question as to whether Townhall shares this view.

But the Atlantic's own credibility has been damaged by the continuing "investigation" into the maternity of Trig Palin, known to the rest of us as Sarah Palin's son. The Atlantic raised these questions and tried to force the issue out of the fringe and into the mainstream for months. It was a line of inquiry that was clearly approved by the Atlantic's editors -- it could not have persisted so long without their consent -- and met with silence by folks like Ambinder.

Which is why it's so galling that Ambinder would post a "discourse watch." The Atlantic is still a great magazine with a lot of great content, and in some quarters it may still have the kind of credibility to decide what is or isn't an acceptable avenue of discussion, but it'll be a long time before the magazine can adjudicate such questions for conservatives.