The Wobble Principle
Mind the Wobble: I’ve driven three rental cars recently: 1) A hideous and tacky Dodge Avenger 2) A smooth and polished Toyota Camry 3) The highly rated Ford Focus. Bizarrely, I liked driving the hideous Dodge best. In an act of desperation Chrysler seems to have thought “Why don’t we make the suspension bits and the steering actually good. What the hell.” The Toyota was too floaty. The Focus was nimble, as advertised, but seemed fragile and the gearbox was constantly having some sort of emotional crisis.
All of which has led me to conclude that the estimable Jack Baruth was right when he argued that auto journalists trashed the Avenger’s near-identical sister car (the Chrysler 200) because–this is his phrase–“Money is made on the wobble.” What he means is this: the way to make a living as an auto journalist is to praise some cars lavishly while trashing others mercilessly, even though basically all cars for sale these days are pretty good. Why oscillate (wobble) between raves and pans? Well, people like reading raves and pans. They notice raves and pans. Middling reviews of good points and bad points, not so much. Wobbling also makes a journalist’s opinion more sought after–if you win him over, he will do you a big favor. If you lose him, he will do you great harm. Better suck up!
I suspect Baruth’s Wobble principle applies to political as well as automotive journalism, but haven’t thought it through. At a minimum, it explains: 1) Why so much on the web is billed as either the Greatest Ever or the Worst Ever; 2) The reaction to #Eastwood–which was initially labelled a calamity on a par with the Civil War. (Finally Gloria Borger had something to be extreme about!) 3) Everything Joe Klein has written. …