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Bad Times


Can someone please tell me where I can find the writings of the liberal media elite? I hear so much about them and I’d like to subscribe, but in the pages of its purported flagship, The New York Times, all I find are namby-pamby and naive centrists slumming for cred. So, c’mon, show me the highbrow liberal opinions.

The Atlantic Monthly’s William Lange-wiesch is a major lifter, but 20,000 words is a lot to bite off at lunch. The New Yorker’s Seymour Hersh is in the same category: You’ve got to set aside some time for these guys. Plus, they’re primarily reporters; they tend to shy away from the capsule opinion. From time to time, I want a subjective piece that in a few thousand words, give or take, shows evidence of an impressive intellect, a real concern for style, and an unapologetically left-of-center smarty-pantsism. The New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik has the requisite stylistic pretension, but he mostly writes about food (for you flag-wavers rattled by that that mag’s tone of smug—almost Gallic—urbanity, do me a favor and search Gopnik’s name and the phrase “smoked mozzarella”, then promptly stroke right out). Lewis Lapham of Harper’s Magazine is an old stand-by, but there’s only one Notebook essay per issue, and his publication is a monthly. That’s just not enough. A pretentious lefty stylist can get lonely, you know?

Then there’s the roster of political niche publications—The Nation, The Progressive, Mother Jones, Utne Reader, Z Magazine, and so on. All good, but not one more frequently published than bi-weekly.

Someone is bound to point to the obvious outlet: the alt-weekly. There’s Hentoff at the Village Voice, but as an aggressive civil libertarian, an atheist and a pro-lifer, he’s a tough one to get a handle on. And then there’s the crew at the New York Press, which is . . . well, just nuts. Those guys are all over the map. It’s a mosh pit of opinion—it’s great fun, but you’re lucky to get out without feeling pummeled. And as for the writers at the six million small-circulation alt-weeklies scattered across the country, in every American city large enough to have at least one club catering to cranky adolescent noise-rockers and/or a burgeoning escort scene, I said, “elite.”

So, we’re back to the paper of record, The New York Times.

Unless you’re interested in hearing that everything American is just swell, steer clear of the Times columnists these days. A bigger batch of half-stunned Pollyannas and cynical panderers you’d be hard-pressed to find.

In my opinion, David Brooks is the worst of the lot. Hey, middle America—Brooks is playing you, you morons! You, in the tract home in suburban Scotsdale, drive around the neighborhood in your SUV; head over to the Wal-Mart for your weekly run for such essentials as the cannon-sized container of Pringles chips and the 144-pack of Mountain Dew. Tell me, do you see David Brooks? No. For all his defense of suburban mediocrity as evidence of—Christ, of I don’t know what, the sweet unchallenging allure of blandness?—you can bet your 15-pound entertainment- console remote that the University of Chicago-educated, former book and movie reviewer, one-time Wall Street Journal Op-Ed page editor does not live in a suburban tract home. David Brooks does not shop at Wal-Mart.

I mean, in a recent column (“Living Longer is the Best Revenge”, NYT, 4/24/05), Brooks flippantly cites a report claiming that overweight people live longer than normal-weight people, basically encouraging people to pack it in, health consequences be damned. Describing himself as a “member of the community of low-center-of-gravity Americans”, he sneers, “Mother Nature—unlike Ivy League admissions committees—doesn’t like suck-ups.”

Yee-haw. Let’s all get us down to the Beef Bomb Bar and Grille, Zeke, Mr. Brooks says that us lazy-ass, underachieving Americans are A-OK. Nevermind that of the industrialized nations, we’re among the least healthy, that we have embarrassing rates of infant mortality and really shitty life expectancies, and that since 1960 we’ve been steadily slipping downward in the rankings (it must be our endearingly euphemistic low center of gravity that’s dragging us down).

No, that bit of shell gamesmanship aside, what’s really infuriating is Brooks’ transparent appeal to reg’lar folk. He slams Manhattanite “rice cake addicts”, and name checks Cinnabon, The Da Vinci Code and—of course—the Good Book, he touts the folksy pleasure of “extra biscuits at the breakfast buffet,” all to advance the cause of “socially productive mediocrity.” Socially productive mediocrity. Fucking shoot me.

John Tierney, the newest kid on the Times’ opinion block, is equally bad. In his column about the First Lady’s humorous speech at a recent press dinner (“Laura Bush Talks Dirty,” 5/3/05), this partisan Yale grad claims that middle-class Americans are moving to Red States and Republican exurbs for “more jobs, affordable houses and the lower taxes offered by Republican politicians.” Let’s skip the fact that those lower taxes are often made possible by federal money siphoned from wealthier Blue States, and get right to Tierney’s butt- kissing: “[Middle class Americans], too, watch Desperate Housewives, and they’re not surprised to hear Laura Bush doing Chippendales jokes. They’ve spent their own dollar bills there. They don’t see anything the matter with that—or with themselves.”

What? So, economic vitality is in some way linked to crap taste in soft-core entertainment?

He also says that the Chippendales set identifies with the president because, “when Jon Stewart sneers at him, they empathize because they’re used to being sneered at themselves.” OK, let me get this straight: Desperate housewives tired of being intelligently mocked for their weekends spent stuffing sweaty bills into the thongs of beefy, arrhythmic Fabios like our president because they, too, know the pain of being an Ivy League-educated millionaire, whose every fuck-up propels him to further wealth, prominence and power? Oh, I see.

As for Thomas Friedman, it’s apparent that his mind was completely fried trying to put a positive spin on the ongoing debacle in Iraq and now he’s writing goofy paeans to global corporatization in egregiously mixed metaphors, claiming that outsourcing call centers to India will lead to one race-blind, hand-holding global village—or some such blather. And, mysteriously, the generally sharp Maureen Dowd lately seems incapable of an analogy that doesn’t come from the TV Guide Channel. In a column about John Bolton’s confirmation process (“U.N.leash Woolly Bully Bolton,” 4/27/05), she whipped out three separate cinematic references and a supermodel in just seven paragraphs. Maureen, you work for the Times—not Teen People. Trust your readers.

Interestingly, the one in-house guy on the Gray Lady’s Op-Ed page making a lick of sense these days is Frank Rich, recently relocated from the snooty arts section (where they still sometimes review things like opera and dung-covered paintings). But I’m starting to think they put him there just to babysit.

—John Rodat

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