Tom Friedman and piling on.
A bit of a rough patch for the three-time Pulitzer winner. Tom Ricks hosts a posting on his Foreign Policy blog from an irate U.S. academic I suspect of being of Irish heritage who, wondering "just how wrong can Friedman be?" reminds us that from his perch on the NYT op-ed page Friedman was a champion of Dublin's zealous corporate tax-cutting of the 2000s. Which led, more or less, to Ireland's current near insolvency. (And of the U.S.-led Iraq invasion of 2003, a gratuitious touch.)
Simultaneously - does Tom (shown) have a conspiratorial enemy out there? - an unmarked brown envelope arrives at New Republic, apparently sent by one of Friedman's NYT colleagues. It contains a version of a recent column by the illustrious pundit reduced to its shopworn cliches (below). It's not a pretty sight, this "typing" as Truman Capote said of poor writing. But happily there are cures for it, if a Pulitzer-prize winner can humble himself to seek them.
Here's the original Friedman column, and the same column with the non-cliches stripped out:
A wake-up call’s mother is unfolding. At the other end is a bell, which is telling us we have built a house at the foot of a volcano. The volcano is spewing lava, which says move your house. The road will be long and rocky, but it will trigger a shift before it kicks. We can capture some of it. IF the Middle East was a collection of gas stations, Saudi Arabia would be a station. Iran, Kuwait , Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, Iraq, and the United Arab Emirates would all be stations. Guys, here’s the deal. Don’t hassle the Jews. You are insulated from history. History is back. Fasten your seat belts. Don’t expect a joy ride because the lid is blowing off. The west turned a blind eye, but the report was prophetic, with key evidence. Societies are frozen in time. No one should have any illusions. Root for the return to history, but not in the middle.
Such exercises in attempted humilitation are unusual. Ricks, a former WaPo foreign correspondent, arguably wrote the best of the many what-went-wrong-in-Iraq tomes (Fiasco); and Chait is a among the most clear-thinking pundits, as balanced and fair as the selection of opinion to found in New Republic itself. (Proof of that is how often I find myself disagreeing with Chait, not always as professive a voice as I'd like. Which makes me trust him that much more.)
Thing is, and you saw this coming, it wouldn't be hard to find days when Ricks and Chait also were merely "mailing it in," or that they'd taken leave of logic, according to my own admitted biases. Same applies to me, in spades.
Taking apart another pundit's argument is one thing, indeed it's an important part of the game. But savaging a pundit's command of the language is personal, arguably below the belt, and often an act of hubris. For instance, Ricks is far too enthralled by David Petraeus, and for the wrong reason of the general entrusting him with his time; and Chiat, a U of Michigan alum, has been too quick to shoot down progressives like Naomi Klein without assessing the legitimacy of her theories on "shock doctrine" impacts in their larger context.
I'm the first to argue that among our failings in punditry is groupthink and not challenging conventional wisdoms spouted by our peers. But there's something else afoot here, an effort to demote the NYT or Friedman or both, possibly to build up those faulting him. Which isn't attractive either.
What this episode means will reveal itself in time, and is the sort of "inside baseball" primarily of interest to scribes. Freidman's detractors may feel he is too prominent, too busy, to answer his critics in kind, as his NYT research minions certainly could help him do. (In a mere afternoon's time, at that.) And so rival pundits may feel they can demean Friedman with impunity. Or they may feel the emperor really has lost credibility (the world is not "flat," after all, as Freidman argued in his best-known book). And thus (a) he deserves to be taken down and (b) should be delegitimized before he does more damage.
Either way, not great new for one of the NYT's least interesting pontificators. Still, I'd rather this kind of assault continue to be focused on the banality of WaPo's David Broder, 81-year-old dean of Beltway pundits, who has yet to meet a received wisdom he didn't readily embrace; and that paper's Charles Krauthammer, the McGill- and Harvard-trained psychiatrist sadly, almost tragically, miscast as having any real undestanding of the human condition and its role in geopolitics. As ubiquitous talking heads and widely syndicated columnists whose ramblings and distortions appear pass for enlightenment in scores of dailies across the country (and, in Krauthammer's case, in Canada as well), these particular opinion-shapers do bear watching and accountability.