New Republic Editor Michael Kinsley is "free of cant and virtucrat smugness"; Rowland Evans and Robert Novak are "the most influential columnists in the world"; Mary McGrory is "the Pat Buchanan of the movement liberals"; and Ellen Goodman, who delivers "predictable liberal commentary," nevertheless was recently "clucking against the celebration of unwed mothers."
You can read all about it in the new "1986 MediaGuide" put out by Jude Wanniski, the neoconservative former Wall Street Journal editorial writer and now the self-proclaimed "wild man" of supply-side economics.
The 102-page book, which sells for $12.95, has the format of a restaurant guide, ranking the nation's top print reporters on a system of one star ("at or above minimum standards of objectivity") to four ("pacesetters for the profession"). It is also possible to get a simple minus sign (-) for being "poor" and "below standards of objectivity [and] content reliability."
Wanniski said he consulted 30 friends in preparing the guide -- "no politicians, no journalists; mostly staff people in various capacities in the government and in various brokerage firms on Wall Street." He said all his helpers are "voracious readers" of the daily press to whom he promised anonymity.
"Just as we need dining guides, news gourmets can't possibly get through the daily and periodical fare without a discriminating eye for journalistic bylines," writes Wanniski in the introduction.
So far few seem to be taking the new guide with great seriousness, but it may be the first effort of its kind, and it has sparked amused interest among journalists, who were passing around early proof copies this week.
Naturally some were more pleased with their ratings than others, yet even those criticized seemed to take it good-naturedly.
"Clucking?" said columnist Goodman, reached by phone at her office at The Boston Globe. "Well, I guess one wouldn't assume there's any sexism in 'clucking' because men can do it, too. Right?"
"I'm a little alarmed," said Kinsley, who gets four stars and is called "the most important of today's liberal journalists, a national asset at the age of 34."
The praise for Kinsley goes on and on, and includes the statement that he writes about "Middle East complexities" with "wit and fascination."
"I don't think I've ever written about Middle East complexities," said Kinsley, who produces The New Republic's "TRB" column, "but if I ever do so I will certainly attempt to do it with wit and fascination."
Apparently perusing an advance copy as he was interviewed over the telephone, Kinsley exclaimed at one point, " Expletive , Evans and Novak get four stars, too!"
"It's more flattering than accurate," said Novak. "People sometimes disagree with what they see in a restaurant guide, but it does give them a little something to base what they eat on."
Novak added that he considers the guide a "serious" effort to evaluate reporters, but that "part of the fun is in disagreeing with him."
McGrory, a Washington Post columnist whose three stars ("excellent") make her one of the guide's highest-rated journalists, is described as "the keeper of the seal of approval for the left-lib line."
However, the guide continues, "Mother McGrory's columns excoriate Democrats who step over the line with as intense a passion as is displayed in her harangues against the Reagan agenda. . . one of the finest writers of the daily press."
Said McGrory of her three stars: "He makes it sound as if I didn't deserve them . . . calls me an old scold, and then throws in the sop at the end."
Wanniski said in a telephone interview that, personally, he wanted to give McGrory a mere two stars ("good") but was talked into upping the rating by the friends he consulted in preparing the guide.
"This is one of the cases where several people said she was worth three. She's ahead of the curve, which means getting right where the news is breaking, right where change is occurring so you're not late with information. We look for reporters -- left, right or center -- who can give us information that's going to be valuable for our economic analysis."
Wanniski now runs his own Morristown, N.J., consulting firm, Polyconomics Inc., which provides political and economic analysis for business clients. The guide is published by Polyconomics, and the first 500 copies are for the firm's 110 clients, mostly corporations.
Wanniski said that in preparing the guide, "Every entry was rewritten several times" as a result of the ongoing editorial debate.
Wanniski said there has been unexpected interest in his guide.
"The first phone call came from the library at the Pentagon," said Wanniski. The library ordered a copy.
Then the Political Club for Economic Growth in New York, a group of Wall Streeters, ordered 535 copies to send to members of Congress.
The guide strongly focuses on politics in its evaluations. "It comes from the right," said Wanniski. "I came from the left. I'm a neoconservative. I was a liberal for most of my adult life."
Now, he says, he is concerned that there are not enough talented young liberal journalists coming along -- one of the reasons for his delight with Kinsley.
"Now there are probably more good conservative journalists than liberal journalists, but that wasn't true a decade ago."
Running through the guide's evaluations is a steady emphasis on business and financial reporting. The sections on financial reporters and columnists precede the sections on foreign correspondents, national security and diplomatic correspondents, political reporters and columnists, and social commentators.
Newsweek's Robert Samuelson, for example, gets two stars for his "big reputation as a serious kind of conservative economics pundit . . . Often offbeat, unpredictable, but the absence of a coherent framework is maddening."
"He's entitled to his opinion," said Samuelson. "I happen to think the world is a little more complicated than he does. But I would give Jude two stars." As an example of their disagreements, Samuelson said he thinks that Wanniski's wish to return to the gold standard is "a romantic delusion."
The guide also contains a rundown of the major news stories of 1985 and how they were handled by the press; and capsule evaluations of the performance of 26 publications, including major newspapers and an assortment of magazines, among them Aviation Week & Space Technology, Barron's, Human Events, The National Interest and Time.
The New York Times' Washington bureau comes in for heavy praise for its "talent and depth . . . They were pacesetters."
"It's better than being slammed," said Times Washington Bureau Chief Bill Kovach. " . . . I guess I'll have to get a copy."
While the guide hasn't yet been widely circulated, some media watchers are already venturing opinions on it.
"It sounds like fun. The folks in it won't mind as long as their names are spelled right," said Stephen Hess, author of a series of Brookings Institution books on the press.
Hess said he hasn't seen the guide yet and would have to study Wanniski's methodology in order to determine if it should be taken seriously. He also said Wanniski's methodology, described to him by a reporter over the phone, sounded "idiosyncratic."
Spencer Klaw, editor of the Columbia Journalism Review, hasn't seen it either.
"It reminds me of the most fun I ever had in any kind of writing was when it fell to me to write the confidential guide to freshman courses in college," said Klaw. "We didn't give the faculty the best of it . . . It's too bad he doesn't have symbols in there like the 'Guide Michelin' -- three egg cups, four crossed spoons and forks . . . "