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Tilting at Windmills

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September 18, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

WHY IS BOB HERBERT BORING?....More than likely, you love Paul Krugman and hate David Brooks. Or vice versa. But at least you feel something about them. Ditto for the rest of the New York Times' stable of columnists. Except for one of them: Bob Herbert. In the October issue of the Monthly, T.A. Frank tries to figure out what's wrong:

Herbert has one of the most powerful megaphones in the world with which to move elite opinion — that of policymakers, journalists, entertainers, businesspeople, and the millions of middle-class readers of the New York Times — and yet he doesn't move it. Twice a week, Herbert yells at them for their indifference. Twice a week, they slam the door and run out for a joyride with badboy David Brooks. If Herbert is a bridge between the problems that are neglected and the people who can fix them, then he should be closed for inspection.

Bob Herbert and his fans disagree with me, naturally. Herbert would say that he has helped shift public opinion on issues such as the suppression of black votes in Florida, the rendition of Maher Arar to Syria, and the death penalty. But what I see is that his most influential audience isn't usually paying attention. Maybe that's the fault of Bob Herbert, or maybe it's the fault of Beltway insularity, or maybe it's the fault of life itself. But anyone who wants to advance these crucial issues must figure out the answer to this question: Why is Bob Herbert boring?

That's a harsh question. But it's true, as a Nexis search confirms, that Herbert almost never drives the media agenda. People don't agree with him, and they don't disagree with him. They just ignore him — and the blogosphere is no better. A quick check of Google Blog returns about 100,000 hits for Krugman and Dowd and about 50,000 for Brooks, Friedman, and Rich. And Herbert, who is perhaps more reliably liberal and more reliably correct than any of the others? He gets 15,000 hits.

Why? I won't spoil the ending, but it turns out that Frank's piece has some surprisingly interesting things to say about Herbert's boredom quotient. Go read it. And when you're done, go read Herbert's latest column, about GOP dirty tricks in the state of California. Better yet, wait until midnight to click that link: that's when the Times paywall dies its long-awaited death and the whole world can read Herbert again.

Of course, the whole world will also be able to read Maureen Dowd once again. There's a cloud for every silver lining, isn't there?

Kevin Drum 1:10 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (117)

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Comments

It wouldn't be a terrible world if we could read a conservative columnist in the Times and say, for a change, "Man, why is he so boring?"

I thought that was George Will.

Posted by: mattstan on September 18, 2007 at 2:08 AM | PERMALINK

Man, my reading comprehension ain't what it used to be. I missed the part about "the Times" in the very passage I pasted.

Posted by: mattstan on September 18, 2007 at 2:10 AM | PERMALINK

I think that the dropping of the paywall is going to help make Herbert more prominent. He's not as flashy as Krugman, but the problem is that when he writes a good column, no one can link to him.

Posted by: Joe Buck on September 18, 2007 at 2:18 AM | PERMALINK

Token Negro?

Posted by: MonkeyBoy on September 18, 2007 at 2:29 AM | PERMALINK

Speaking for myself, it's the boring thing. I already know what the reasonable liberal answer is to most issues. This is why I don't read the Nation either -- generally, it only tells me what I already think. Krugman you read because, although he only has novel ideas about 50% of the time, he usually has a novel way of framing them the other 50% of the time. No, strike that, even Krugman I only ready about half the columns, skimming the others and determining they say what I already know.

One might wonder, then, how the blogs manage to do it. The answer, I think, is that I have to skim nearly a dozen blogs to find a few things worth reading every day. Kevin Drum manages a pretty good hit record because, in addition to the two reasons that draw me to Krugman, he's also interestingly wrong 50% of the time to boot!

Posted by: JD on September 18, 2007 at 2:35 AM | PERMALINK

"the millions of middle-class readers of the New York Times"

Millions? Maybe. Wikipedia says circulation is 1.1 million weekdays, 1.6 million Sundays. The website has 11.6 million uniques in a month - 300k/day.

Posted by: luci on September 18, 2007 at 2:50 AM | PERMALINK

Herbert's an affirmative action hire: he was chosen because he's reasonable, hard-working, liberal, and black. If he was reasonable, hard-working, liberal, black, _and_ exciting, he'd be the king of the pundits.

Unless you are going to come out against affirmative action, I don't see why you're complaining about Herbert: he's not unqualified, he's just not very good. And that's the best case scenario for affirmative action.

Posted by: Steve Sailer on September 18, 2007 at 3:02 AM | PERMALINK

I think Mr. Drum answered his own question: "Herbert, who is perhaps more reliably liberal and more reliably correct than any of the others". If you're more reliably liberal than the reliably liberal Times stable, then you simply have nothing to say that isn't a talking point.

I would take a somewhat softer line than Mr. Sailer does above: given the incredible emotional savagery with which affirmative-action supporters react to non-liberal blacks, Mr. Herbert's safest choice by far is to toe the line.

Posted by: sammler on September 18, 2007 at 3:11 AM | PERMALINK

"Boring" is a subjective observation. Still, people are entitled to their opinion, just as I have the right to say that I found the movie Titanic to be the celluloid equivalent of Cheese Whiz.

Have we really become that shallow and vapid as a people, that we're now so adverse to hearing truth speak to power?

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on September 18, 2007 at 3:13 AM | PERMALINK

Luci wrote: “Wikipedia says [New York Times] circulation is 1.1 million weekdays, 1.6 million Sundays. The website has 11.6 million uniques in a month - 300k/day.”

Luci, your calculation makes the incorrect assumption that nobody views nytimes.com more than one day per month, but actually, most nytimes.com visitors in any given month view the site many times. In fact, I recall reading several years ago that the New York Times has more online readers than paper readers, and I’m confident that the trend has continued in that direction.

According to The New York Times’ own article on ending Times Select: "The Times’s site has about 13 million unique visitors each month, according to Nielsen/NetRatings, far more than any other newspaper site."

Posted by: Joel Rubinstein on September 18, 2007 at 3:16 AM | PERMALINK

It's Herbert's fault that he is black and the white establishment pundits and white middle class lib bloggers pay him no attention....

Posted by: Disputo on September 18, 2007 at 3:27 AM | PERMALINK

I like the guy.

Posted by: merlallen on September 18, 2007 at 4:07 AM | PERMALINK

Steve Sailer: "Unless you are going to come out against affirmative action, I don't see why you're complaining about Herbert: he's not unqualified, he's just not very good. And that's the best case scenario for affirmative action."

Bob Herbert on his worst day is still far more talented than you can ever hope to be on your best.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on September 18, 2007 at 4:10 AM | PERMALINK

"more reliably correct than any of the others?"

There's your answer.

The ideal pundit/columnist is a seriously confused individual, with provocatively poor judgment, and excellent writing skills. Bob Herbert has excellent writing skills, but his judgment is sound and he's clear-headed.

Posted by: Bruce Wilder on September 18, 2007 at 4:11 AM | PERMALINK

Read the linked article. Frank I think has the answer ... Herbert doesn't consider his audience when he writes, that is his primary problem. Krugman on the other hand is passionate and is used to addressing students.

Posted by: reason on September 18, 2007 at 4:48 AM | PERMALINK

When does the wall go down?

It's still up, four hours after you posted, Mr Drum.

Posted by: Crissa on September 18, 2007 at 5:09 AM | PERMALINK

The Trojans paid no attention to Cassandra because she always said the most unpleasant stuff would happen (It was clear that anybody who was paying attention could have foreseen these things, too.), and she was always fricking right. Nobody wants that.

Posted by: rachel on September 18, 2007 at 5:12 AM | PERMALINK

Judge not, lest ye be judged....

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on September 18, 2007 at 5:51 AM | PERMALINK

Of course, the whole world will also be able to read Maureen Dowd once again.

Just in time for her inexplicable and relentless assault on Bill Clinton -- er, I mean, Al Gore -- wait, no, John Edwards!

Three cheers for your liberal media.

Posted by: scarshapedstar on September 18, 2007 at 6:53 AM | PERMALINK

Herbert is not quite as trenchant as Krugman, but I read every column of his, and don't find him boring.

Posted by: bob h on September 18, 2007 at 7:23 AM | PERMALINK

I read Bob Herbert. One of his most recent columns mentioned that nearly 100,000 Americans have been the victim of homicide since 2001. What an amazing, otherwise totally ignored fact of our life.

Frank's column makes the excellent point that many columnists are not powerful because they're interesting but are interesting because they are powerful. Bill Kristol isn't read because he's so lively; he's read because it gives the reader keys to what powerful people are thinking.

That's Herbert's problem. The Democratic party elite does not listen to him. He has no one's ear. There are no political institutions or powerful officials attuned to the issues Herbert is concerned with.

The GOP listens to its crazy right wing fringe. The Democratic party has no similar interest in issues that motivate its liberal base. And it has no concern with the truly disadvantaged.

Posted by: Franes on September 18, 2007 at 7:42 AM | PERMALINK

First, T.A. Frank makes what could have been a really interesting piece about Herbert as boring as it would have been had Herbert wrote it himself.

Second, c'mon, he's black and obsessed with covering the disadvantaged and disenfranchised. He is predictably "liberal" and virtually humorless -- which befits his subject matter. And he appears opposite funny, vicious writers. Mark Twain couldn't pass that test.

Given his profile (not Ivy league educated) and obsession (the poor and downtrodden), the only way Herbert will get read (with any real interest) by the average American is if he viciously and PERSONALLY attacks right wing hypocrites. But that's simply not his style.

Hell, if the vitriole of commenters on this blog were sprinkled randomly among any of his columns, it would triple the hits. Better yet, if we could cross the guy with Ann Coulter, we'd have a real winner. Oh, wait, Pauly already has that covered.

Posted by: Econobuzz on September 18, 2007 at 7:47 AM | PERMALINK

I think Frank made an interesting point at the end-- that Herbert doesn't aim his columns at any particular audience. It's as though Herbert is writing 'for the record'-- and while it's true that the Times is the 'newspaper of record' on the day it's published, it's for wrapping fish the day after.

Posted by: MattF on September 18, 2007 at 8:03 AM | PERMALINK

The only Herbert article I read was a few years ago about Aidan Delgado, a soldier in Iraq who alleged "to have witnessed egregious cases of abuse perpetrated against Iraqi civilians by American soldiers." (Wikipedia) The issue died. Was it because Herbert was boring? I don't know.

Posted by: Bob M on September 18, 2007 at 8:04 AM | PERMALINK

bob h: Herbert is not quite as trenchant as Krugman, but I read every column of his, and don't find him boring.

Come on Bob. If you're going to try to start off a controversy to make yourself more exciting you could do a lot better than the tired old "get caught being a blog sockpuppet" gig. Besides, using the name "bob h" just makes it look like you're desperate to get caught.

Posted by: toast on September 18, 2007 at 8:09 AM | PERMALINK

Look Bob Somerby is correct-the media elites are bored by the things Mr. Herbert writes about-it's as simple as that.

Maureen Dowd writes a vapid column about the "Breck Girl" and the media class goes all a twitter. Mr. Herbert writes about the 46 million uninsured-yawn.

Posted by: BobbyK on September 18, 2007 at 8:09 AM | PERMALINK

I like Herbert, always have (sorry, Frank). I was bothered when he was put behind the Times OffBase firewall. I'm glad he's back.

Why is he "boring"? Because he doesn't reduce complex issues of public policy to bumper stickers, rally chants, or FauxNews graphic slug-lines.

And because he's not an attention-whore like Dowd (scary facelift much??) of Thomas "Iraqis Can Suck This" Friedman.

Somehow, I think he can live with that

Posted by: Hemlock for Gadflies on September 18, 2007 at 8:09 AM | PERMALINK

Jesus this inane crap pisses me off. Whining that Bob Herbert isn't exciting and lacks influence is like saying that Bill Moyers should be more like Hollywood Extra, or complaining that Murray Kempton didn't change the world. My god, have we sunk this low? Herbert isn't "boring" (a subjective premise that Frank never proves), he's serious, which in the pre-Dowd/Brooks Era of Triviality used to be considered a good thing. He consistently writes about serious issues, like poverty—a reality that no one wants to hear about, especially Times readers—and unlike the exciting David Brooks, he doesn't lie, obfuscate, blather or pander to any constituency to make his point (and who by the way, is boredom personified—unless sheer mendacity is considered stimulating for the controversy alone.) I read Herbert not for bogus theories, catty gossip, or the latest beltway bon mots, but for food for thought, or simply to be reminded about issues that usually go ignored in the rest of the paper.

And why the fuck am I reading a lame piece on Bob Herbert's writing whose author says this: But, honestly, I don't read him either. I'll devour a Maureen Dowd column in which David Geffen trash-talks the Clintons. But I'll skip the next day's Herbert column... Jesus, one minute Krugman is too shrill, and the next Herbert is too boring.

If the Washington Monthly is so hard up for something utterly frivolous to write about, how about a hit piece on another Times columnist who's not only boring but totally irrelevant. I've literally never heard someone say, "Hey, did you read Nicholas Kristof today?" Never in my entire life.

And speaking of boring, Steve Sailer's predictable affirmative action sniping is getting really, really old.

Posted by: R. Porrofatto on September 18, 2007 at 8:10 AM | PERMALINK

I've always really liked Herbert, been surprised that the blogosphere ignores him, and was surprised to see the title of the T.A. Frank piece linked to on the keft-hand side of this site. I was thinking, "Is he referring to that NYT columnist I like?" (I'm not too up-to-speed on every pundit's name all the time).

Posted by: Swan on September 18, 2007 at 8:12 AM | PERMALINK

I'd rather not read Maureen Dowd or any of their other columnists beside Krugman and Herbert. They are all bad. Reading Dowd is often like watching an annoying Tom & Jerry cartoon. She's the next worst thing to the kind of conservative-panderer columnist who intentionally write subtanceless appeals to emotion.

Posted by: Swan on September 18, 2007 at 8:16 AM | PERMALINK

There must be something seriously wrong with me--I always enjoyed his column before NYT started charging for him--since which time I have abstained. In fact, I enjoyed him more than MoDo and her gigantic, fantasmagoric, technicolor ego.

Posted by: Helena Montana on September 18, 2007 at 8:19 AM | PERMALINK

A lot of people in a lot of fields sacrifice being correct for being exciting (i.e., neocons). I write a lot of things that are correct and are interesting/exciting, but people would pay a lot more attention to them if I was over 40 / had a phd. I think ignoring Herbert is part of upper-class racism which upper-class liberals are, of course, ashamed to acknowledge. They see a black guy writing and sort of think, "Fuck him. Of course he's not going to say anything great. I don't need to read him because I could say it better." It would be different if he was really outstanding. Then everybody would be falling all over themselves over him kind of to prove how much they like blacks (like they might do with a black person who is outstanding in another field). I know it's kind of problematic, because if liberal leaders/voices were to openly talk about their racism, it would easily be confused by less informed people with right wing racism which is of a more pernicious type and a totally different beast altogether. But liberals should acknowledge it at least to themselves so they can stop being such dicks. We're never going to get a better world unless you guys can figure stuff like that out.

Posted by: Swan on September 18, 2007 at 8:24 AM | PERMALINK

"Fuck him. Of course he's not going to say anything great. I don't need to read him because I could say it better."

Of course people aren't literally thinking these words, and I'm exagerrating a little to make my point clear. But search your feelings to see if this kind of captures your attitude towards people like Herbert or explains why you don't pay attention to him.

Posted by: Swan on September 18, 2007 at 8:26 AM | PERMALINK

I agree with Herbert's supporters here, especially R.Porrofatto. Kevin, you wasted five minutes of my blog-reading time this morning with your post on this critique of Herbert. I never read the vapid and attention-seeking Dowd; and Brooks is lazy, phony and has nothing to say that is the slightest bit new or of substance. Herbert writes well about important issues. Kevin, why highlight an attack on a liberal voice who does research and obviously writes with integrity? Your post really annoyed me!

Posted by: jan on September 18, 2007 at 8:28 AM | PERMALINK

Anybody who needs Herbert to be less liberal or more "interesting" to be able to read and enjoy him is a complete idiot.

"Hearing important stuff I didn't know? Boooring!"

Posted by: Swan on September 18, 2007 at 8:41 AM | PERMALINK

I like and admire Herbert. But an argument can be made that an op-ed columnist who is merely "liked" and "admired" by those who agree with him already is not really effective.

IMHO, I think Herbert's big problem is precisely what many of the folks commenting here most like and admire about him: his predictability.

I think predictability (read: boring) is the kiss of death in writing. For this reason, Herbert is routinely overshadowed by his less talented peers and not as effective as he could be.

Whatever their faults, Krugman and Dowd are not predictable -- for different reasons, of course.

Posted by: Econobuzz on September 18, 2007 at 8:45 AM | PERMALINK

This post me got me by surprise. I read Herbert, I find him a good writer who let me know of things I wouldn't have noticed before. I used to read some Dowd, and I stopped. I do still read some Brooks if I want to see how low he will go, and he always surprises me by going much lower than expected. Krugman and Rich are certainly more biting, sarcastic, and their columns are more witty. But does this make Herbert's boring? I think the fact that he's often overlooked reflects badly on the readers, on us, how we prefer to talk about problems in all parts of the world and forgetting the huge issues we have at home. I find Herbert refreshing, and stimulating, and his perspective and knowledge are always welcome.

Posted by: noone on September 18, 2007 at 8:49 AM | PERMALINK

As I read it, Herbert's sin is that of being an honest man who doesn't pander to this audience, when "everyone" knows that a little pandering is what grows your audience. Pffft.

I wouldn't take advice from TA Frank on a bet.

Posted by: sidewinder on September 18, 2007 at 8:54 AM | PERMALINK

Hey, I like Dowd, it's that guy Thomas Friedman that should stay forever behind the Timeselect wall. Who is going to miss that maniacal, egotistical moron? Nobody!

Friedman is like Bush - you just wish he would go away. We've had enough Bushie and Friedman to last us well ino the next century. Go home Friedman - go help Bushie set up his new Freedom Office in Dallas, Texas. The "You break it, you own it" little shop of horrors in downtown Dallas right off the LBJ Freeway. Get your Vietnam Redux right here folks.

Posted by: Me_again on September 18, 2007 at 8:59 AM | PERMALINK

In the Monthly article, Bob's first comment on his own work betrays his problem "in a nutshell," as he might say: "The media tend to be drawn like a magnet to power." Aaaaaaaaaaagh!! Not just a smug, self-serving mastery of the obvious, but one expressed in a cliche!! Then he gasses on about the powerful and privileged -- from his perch in the Trump Tower!! The fact that he fails to grasp the irony of this -- or to engage in any introspection when asked about his work -- tells you right off that we are not dealing with a good writer or even a strong intellect here.

If a liberal columnist can't even get liberals to read him, especially during the past six years, when their values have been under assault from all three branches of government and a largely complicit media, then it is without question his fault.

Bob Herbert's columns read like earnest, middling high school book reports. He doesn't deserve his spot at the Times. Neither does vacuous, shallow, predicatable Maureen Dowd or David Brooks, a smearmonger who, with a lot of help from the mainstream media, has repackaged himself as a respectable pundit, despite alternating between saying absolutely nothing and lying outright. But at least they generate readership -- God knows it mystifies me, but it's true -- so from the Times' perspective, they earn their keep. Bob Herbert adds essentially nothing. That said, he'll never be fired.

Thank God for blogs, where we can read columnists the Times would never be smart enough to hire -- even if they ditched some of the talentless hacks they have on staff now.

Posted by: sullijan on September 18, 2007 at 9:02 AM | PERMALINK

Herbert is boring, covers the same ground all the time and in the same way, always from the same perspective. He never finds anything new to say, never challenges his own instincts and those of his readers.

He assumes people who disagree with him are mean-spirited or uncaring, never considering that they may share the same outrages and have similar goals but believe the issue may be less a matter of not doing enough, but trying to do the wrong things to build a better world.

Any interesting writer either questions his or her own assumptions occasionally, challenges the reader's comfortable groove, or uses humor effectively to advance understanding or argument. Herbert never shows the slightest inclination to do any of the above. No matter how much I may agree with him, I never find him a compelling read.

Posted by: Sparky on September 18, 2007 at 9:04 AM | PERMALINK

I wonder why the Times would hire a columnist like Herbert when the intellectual giants like Jonah Goldberg and Rich Lowry toil in obscurity.

Posted by: gregor on September 18, 2007 at 9:18 AM | PERMALINK

I wrote:

"But liberals should acknowledge it at least to themselves"

Acknowledge it privately in their own minds, that is, not on their blogs or in conversations. Most people would probably be (rightly) too embarrassed by liberal racism to show they agree with you, anyway, which will just make you (wrongly) think it doesn't really exist, except for you.

There are a lot of writers who write without humor or pizzazz who are still appreciated by a lot of people. The idea that Herbert has to put more shobiz in his writing to be appreciated is unrealistic and stupid. Especially the smart, liberal readers of the NYT should be able to get along reading Herbert.

I personally think that a white person who was the closest thing to a white Herbert, writing about the things he writes, would be the affirmative action hire (white upperclass affirmative action, that is). I prefer Herbert to a person who perhaps had more powerful social connections, could give us more bon mots, and had a so-called "better" education. Who's to say that same person wouldn't also feel the need to make one out of every few columns, instead of the Herbertian stuff, something like: 1) their 17-year-old-spoiled-brat-rich-NYC-kid-esque rant, full of aphoristic gender-studies stupidisms, profoundly and importantly explaining why although they want to have sex with people of the opposite sex, they want a homosexual identity for the liberal "cool" points of it, so somehow in their inner soul they're a homosexual even though they don't really want same-sex partners; or 2) a bunch of quack-claims about organic foods. I'd like to be that person's editor: "Please, we can't print this column. This is just a waste of people's time." I would trade everyone the NYT has on their editorial board now for five really smart, liberal black journalists (I'm sure there are many blacks who could do a similar job to Herbert and Krugman)- problem is, you'd have to put "ghostwriter" portraits of white faces above their columns to get people to read and be interested in them.

Maureen Dowd's job should be "serial monogamist," given her vampiric attitude towards men, rather than an editorialist. If she could just stop caring what people would think of her, she could probably be happier catching men at a bar (going through the dance of getting them to act like they care about her absurd rants to show they have sufficient interest in her) marrying them, and then divorcing them to find another, since her columns read like a reflection of the mind of someone who obssessively thinks about exploiting men for the resources they have.

Posted by: Swan on September 18, 2007 at 9:26 AM | PERMALINK

Regardless of all else, Bob Herbert deserves his due for being the only national journalist of any prominence to focus on the shocking, awful, railroading of the Black citizens of Tulia Texas on trumped-up drug charges.

Posted by: Steve on September 18, 2007 at 9:28 AM | PERMALINK

I think predictability (read: boring) is the kiss of death in writing.

This is the problem with journalism-- it's full of people who believe themselves to be "writers" who want to be "unpredictable." That rewards a sort of knee-jerk (ironically, predictable) contrarianism and low-quality attempts at purple prose.

I agree with the guy who's saying that Bob Herbert's problem is that he's "writing for the record." Conservatives I know don't tend to find much fault with him. On the other hand, they hate Paul Krugman. This indicates to me that Herbert is doing something wrong when the people opposed to everything he stands for are content to give him a smile and a pat on the head.

Posted by: Tyro on September 18, 2007 at 9:35 AM | PERMALINK

BTW, regarding the Somerby point I make above. TA Frank proves it perfectly by writing the following(obviously without even realizing it)


But, honestly, I don't read him either. I'll devour a Maureen Dowd column in which David Geffen trash-talks the Clintons. But I'll skip the next day's Herbert column...

Oh yes much more interesting-keerist.

Posted by: Bobbyk on September 18, 2007 at 9:45 AM | PERMALINK

I've found that Herbert's columns have been getting harsher in recent years. His rants on the proposed legalization of prostitution in Las Vegas were great.
But I've also found that there are a lot of great black columnists out there toiling in the weeds and being ignored. One of the most powerful writers in the country is Leonard Pitts. Why is he toiling in obscurity even though he won a Pulitzer for commentary? Why hasn't the Times or the Washington Post snatched him up?
And my hometown hero is Colbert King, who does better local investigative reporting than the entire Metro staff of the Washington Post. Yet he has only one column a week -- on Saturdays.

Posted by: lou on September 18, 2007 at 9:50 AM | PERMALINK

Contrary to what Frank says about many liberals, I regularly read Herbert when I come across him, and like him.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on September 18, 2007 at 9:51 AM | PERMALINK

Hey, I really like Bob Herbert--his columns clearly articulate the merits of justice and compassion

Posted by: Josh Ellsworth on September 18, 2007 at 9:54 AM | PERMALINK

Wonder, if Consider Wisely Always, heard the Repug on C-Span a while ago? I had gone into the living room to try and find Maureen Dowd's latest column - To no avail, but, she had written one of her, "I'll get in snide remarks about all concerned, Dems and Repugs, while aiming at the White House".

However, C-Span was on and some Repug called in to say that we should withdraw from Iraq - They would better suited to plugging our pourous borders and wiping out the Communists and Socialists from the ranks of the Democrats. I suppose, to him, he means the entire party.

Posted by: thethirdPaul on September 18, 2007 at 9:58 AM | PERMALINK

The worst part is that Bob Herbert didn't used to be boring. He was terrific when he was with the NY Daily News years ago. He wrote what is still one of my all-time favorite lines when he called Ed Meese "a boil on the buttocks of America."

Posted by: AndrewBW on September 18, 2007 at 9:58 AM | PERMALINK

Effective, middle-of-the-road policy solutions that actually work for most Americans tend to be only mildly interesting. So a responsible advocate for such solutions is likely to be tagged as boring.

It is in the nature of our current media environment that extremes are preferred, even if those extremes offer destructive policy "solutions." So Herbert is perhaps just a reasonable adult among a sea of loud-mouth adolescents.

Sweden is boring, Iraq is interesting. But where would you rather live?

Posted by: McCord on September 18, 2007 at 9:58 AM | PERMALINK

The question is: why do people read Maureen Dowd or David Brooks instead of Bob Herbert? Why do people eat Doritos rather than raw broccoli and carrot sticks? Why do people watch "American Idol" instead of an informative PBS documentary? Why do people read JK Rowling instead of Tolstoy?

Basically, people are lazy and are looking for instant gratification. They don't want anything that requires work (be it thinking or digestion).

Posted by: Daryl McCullough on September 18, 2007 at 10:09 AM | PERMALINK

This is the problem with journalism-- it's full of people who ... want to be "unpredictable." That rewards ... contrarianism and low-quality attempts at purple prose.

Posted by: Tyro

I agree up to a point. But there are ways to make one's writing unpredictable that don't involve resorting to contrarianism or purple prose. And ways that don't require sacrificing one's values either.

I am sure that there are writers and editors -- maybe some on this blog -- who could take any of Herbert's columns and make it a more interesting read without compromising who he is and what he cares about. That is, I think modest changes could be made that would leave all those who currently read and enjoy him satisfied but simultaneously appeal to a new audience.

Many of his columns merely "preach to the choir." Perhaps I'm wrong, but I think some minor editing could change that without altering his message.

Posted by: Econobuzz on September 18, 2007 at 10:09 AM | PERMALINK

The worst part is that Bob Herbert didn't used to be boring. ... He ... called Ed Meese "a boil on the buttocks of America."

Posted by: AndrewBW

While it may offend some die hard Herbert readers to suggest this, let me posit that the difference between a column that calls Ed Meese "a boil on the buttocks of America" and one that refrains from uttering that colorful truth is the difference between a column that is read religiously by 200,000 readers and one that is read avidly by 1,000,000 readers.

Posted by: Econobuzz on September 18, 2007 at 10:17 AM | PERMALINK

Conservatives I know don't tend to find much fault with him. On the other hand, they hate Paul Krugman. This indicates to me that Herbert is doing something wrong when the people opposed to everything he stands for are content to give him a smile and a pat on the head.

Because Krugman is more of a threat because you guys will actually read him. Jewish people will read him because he's a Jew, and unfortunately there are Jews who take their pride to the level of thinking that everyone who's not a Jew is a schmuck. Another obvious difference between Krugman and Herbert is Krugman has his expertise. This enables him to say things Herbert can't say and give opinions Herbert can't give. That makes his column interesting and exciting. But Herbert is not really so far below Krugman. He's like Krugman without an economics Phd, and maybe his writing is a little more dry. Maybe Krugman is just more excited because having the extra education, he has an added perspective on how wrong everything Bush is doing is.

Posted by: Swan on September 18, 2007 at 10:20 AM | PERMALINK

I dunno, in the aftermath of the second Bush election when we were all down in the dumps I read many a fine Herbert column and saved them in my email that helped keep me afloat. One of several things on the internet/blogosphere that were doing that for me (I'm not much of a Daily Show guy although I find it funny, just because i'm not much of a TV guy) but I know I read tons of great, compelling Herbert columns from around that time.

Posted by: Swan on September 18, 2007 at 10:27 AM | PERMALINK

Herbert is one of the very best columnists for people who actually care about the state of the nation. For MoDo fans, however, he just doesn't have enough triviality or pointless, infantile wordplay.

I blame Seinfeld.

Posted by: calling all toasters on September 18, 2007 at 10:40 AM | PERMALINK

I read Bob Herbert every chance I get and am always irked at the Times for locking him behind their firewall. He is NOT boring; rather, he is serious. I heard the same complaints from high school seniors when I was teaching high school English classes: This is boring!---a comment made about any serious or thoughtful piece of writing. To say Bob Herbert is boring is to think like an adolescent. It is a very sad commentary on the decline of our society that thoughtful writers can be dismissed as "boring," especially in a publication that purports to present a serious liberal viewpoint. I am a long-time subscriber to The Washington Monthly and frankly, my heart sank as I read this wretched hit piece. Callow, cheap, shallow, ego-centric---all the worst traits of adolescents prevailed here; the point of view in this article does not represent that of thoughtful adults. Did the writer go out in the country and ask for the reflections of thoughtful readers?

Posted by: applecrisp on September 18, 2007 at 10:50 AM | PERMALINK

I like Herbert a lot. He and Krugman are the only reason to read the Times op-edge page. I think the reason he doesn't get more respect is a class thing. Herbert is working class. He doesn't have the glittering Ivy League credential and its polish and nattering "right crowd" social network. His columns are craftsmanlike--serious, earnest, diligent--and his judgments are sound. He isn't cutting edge, though: He's solid, reliable.

I don't think the problem is Herbert. I think the problem is the readership of the NYTimes who figure that solid, reliable is bor-ring! They want fads, charisma, they want social mobility: Who is In? Who is Out? I mean, like, that opinion is so last year!

Posted by: PTate in FR on September 18, 2007 at 10:51 AM | PERMALINK

Token Negro? Posted by: MonkeyBoy

Unfortunately, probably true. At least he's not as bad as Juan Williams. What an Uncle Tom or 'ho, who strokes whomever it is he happens to be interviewing. Wouldn't rock the boat at amusement park. I was apoplectic a few years back when he was interviewing Rumsfeld and pitched them softer than T-ball. Asks a question, Rumsfeld gives a completely weasely answer and Williams just plows on incapable, apparently, of asking the obvious follow-ups.

Posted by: JeffII on September 18, 2007 at 10:52 AM | PERMALINK

One of the most powerful writers in the country is Leonard Pitts. Why is he toiling in obscurity even though he won a Pulitzer for commentary?

Posted by: lou on September 18, 2007 at 9:50 AM

The paper I work for in Virginia carries Pitts' columns, and he's a wonderful read -- intelligent, populist, forceful. And just when you think he's a doctrinnaire black liberal, he'll come at you from a perspective you wouldn't expect. Herbert's a thoughtful columnist, and his heart and mind are in the right place; I only wish he wrote with Pitts' verve and sparkle.

Posted by: Vincent on September 18, 2007 at 11:03 AM | PERMALINK

Whatever. Herbert's columns exposing the bullshit that went down in Tulia was one of the best things that ever happened. I love The Kruggmeister, but Herbert actually got some results with those columns. Please give the man some well-deserved props for that at the very least.

Posted by: ed on September 18, 2007 at 11:15 AM | PERMALINK

If you have ever taught to lower division undergarduates in any college, you will know that this demand to be entertaining has permeated many places where it should not be. Why should a professor teaching the intricacies of flows on a differential manifolds be required to be funny?

Herbert talks about serious issues. There is no need for him to be entertaining. It is the reader's fault that he does not have a following.

Posted by: gregor on September 18, 2007 at 11:18 AM | PERMALINK

Frank's essay rang true for me: Bob's got my respect but rarely my attention. TAF's thesis--that it's the world's fault--reminded me of Antigone, which is basically a play about how no one ever listens to the reasonable and moderate people (Ismene, Haemon) because power, by its very nature, demands the kind of narrow intensity (Creon, Antigone) that hurtles passionately and blindly toward the abyss. If a prophet shows up (Tiresias), we won't listen to him until everyone else is ruined or dead. Which, if you think about it, makes Herbert an apt chromicler of a tragic age.

Posted by: McBrie on September 18, 2007 at 11:20 AM | PERMALINK
Bob Herbert and his fans disagree with me, naturally. Herbert would say that he has helped shift public opinion on issues such as the suppression of black votes in Florida, the rendition of Maher Arar to Syria, and the death penalty.

He might be inclined to say that, but I think he'd be hard pressed to show that the general public -- as opposed to liberal activists -- are even aware of the first two; OTOH, he might be right on the last, there seems (though it might be a media/policymaker illusion, I haven't seen polling data) to have been something of a shift on the death penalty over the last several years, and he may have played some role in that.

Posted by: cmdicely on September 18, 2007 at 11:34 AM | PERMALINK
Herbert talks about serious issues. There is no need for him to be entertaining. It is the reader's fault that he does not have a following.

If you are attempting to communicate things that are important to you, its your responsibility to figure out how to effectively reach your audience.

Posted by: cmdicely on September 18, 2007 at 11:37 AM | PERMALINK

Who? I only read Pat Buchanan. Recommend the same for liberals to get edumacated.

Posted by: Luther on September 18, 2007 at 11:38 AM | PERMALINK

If you are attempting to communicate things that are important to you, its your responsibility to figure out how to effectively reach your audience.

Well, no. This may be true for a politician or an advocate. Not necessarily for a columnist.

Posted by: gregor on September 18, 2007 at 11:48 AM | PERMALINK

Herbert talks about serious issues. There is no need for him to be entertaining. It is the reader's fault that he does not have a following.

Posted by: gregor

I always understood the purpose of writing a column on the op-ed page of a major newspaper was to sway opinion. IMHO, Herbert -- who admittedly takes on very serious, important subjects and is an otherwise excellent writer -- has to be judged on (a) whether open-minded folks (not just we true believers) read his column and (b) whether he is successful in getting them to question their initial assumptions. The criterion of success and effectiveness is NOT whether we who agree with him like and admire him.

After all, he is not teaching astrophysics; he is trying to persuade folks who don't care about his issues to care about them. His column is not a required course in some esoteric curriculum where teachers can be forgiven if they take their students' interest and motivation for granted.

Dismissing his (marginal and forgivable) shortcomings by blaming the reader and maintaining that he doesn't have to be "funny" or "entertaining" really misses the point, I think. It is his responsibility, and in his interest, to be as effective a messenger as possible.

Posted by: Econobuzz on September 18, 2007 at 11:49 AM | PERMALINK
Well, no. This may be true for a politician or an advocate. Not necessarily for a columnist.

A columnist is either acting as an advocate, or just doing whatever is necessary to get a paycheck. In the former case, the obligation is there. In the latter case, the only thing necessary is to keep happy the people responsible for deciding who gets to keep space in the paper and collect a paycheck.

Posted by: cmdicely on September 18, 2007 at 11:51 AM | PERMALINK

Why should a professor teaching the intricacies of flows on a differential manifolds be required to be funny? Posted by: gregor

Actually, he or she probably doesn't have to worry about it because you've presumably have an "audience" that actually wants to be there. Now if it's Intro to Global Politics, get out the grease paint and whoopie cushion.

Posted by: JeffII on September 18, 2007 at 11:56 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin, it pains me to say it, but you are the Bob Herbert of the left Blogosphere -- reliable, never going too far out on a limb, always wearing Sensible Shoes.

Posted by: Doofus on September 18, 2007 at 12:06 PM | PERMALINK

**

Posted by: mhr on September 18, 2007 at 12:08 PM | PERMALINK

A columnist is either acting as an advocate, or just doing whatever is necessary to get a paycheck. In the former case, the obligation is there. In the latter case, the only thing necessary is to keep happy the people responsible for deciding who gets to keep space in the paper and collect a paycheck.

A columnist could choose among a number of roles, not just the two that you mention. He could, for example, be a propagandist and a liar, like most conservative columnists are, or just a person who presents his understanding of the issues that no one cares about but should, as apparently Herbert does, or be just a buffoon, like Jonah Lucianne.

Look, liberalism needs all sorts of people. I don't know what Herbert's objectives are, but he seems to be happy to just write about things that interest him, and he doesn't care if other are swayed by him. So long as his opinions are based on facts and logic, and address the issues of the day, all glory to him.

Posted by: gregor on September 18, 2007 at 12:08 PM | PERMALINK

swan: "Jewish people will read him because he's a Jew..."

And people don't 'read' you because they are not bird-brains.

Posted by: Kenji on September 18, 2007 at 12:14 PM | PERMALINK

Ah, mhr explains it: Bob Herbert is a terrible columnist because Eugene Robinson wrote something foolish about the Duke lacrosse team. Now I understand!

Posted by: Daryl McCullough on September 18, 2007 at 12:16 PM | PERMALINK

Frank Rich is every bit as ideologically predictable, yet I find myself turning to Rich's column first when I get the Sunday Times, whereas half the time I skip Herbert. Why? Rich has a knack for taking a lot of events and synthesizing them into trenchant and entertaining prose. Probably has a lot to do with his former job as a theater critic. Krugman's columns are interesting mainly because his perspective as an economist frequently provides a different take on events. Herbert, on the other hand, is frequently boring, even though I agree with him 90% of the time.

So many columns, so little time, requires a bit of triage. Sorry, Bob.

Posted by: Django on September 18, 2007 at 12:17 PM | PERMALINK

Liberal ISSUES are boring. Conservative issues are all about screwing somebody over which is rather interesting if nasty.

So did he actually TELL Herbet "if you want people to give a shit about you, you need to have your readers in mind?"

If he really doesn't even think of his audience well I can respect him for that but it makes me not like him.

Posted by: MNPundit on September 18, 2007 at 12:24 PM | PERMALINK

Django: Herbert, on the other hand, is frequently boring, even though I agree with him 90% of the time.

I find Herbert boring much of the time because I agree with him, but it's hard to fault the man for being so intelligent as to agree with me.

His latest columns on the problems of legalized prostitution are interesting precisely because I'm not predisposed to agree with him. I do wish he'd cite more concrete facts and figures though, as I can be persuaded.

Dowd, Brooks and Friedman are an embarrassment. None of them could get an honorable mention on a high school debate team. That leaves Krugman as their best columnist and Herbert as #2. If I ran the NYT I'd fire the three clowns and see if I could find a couple of real conservatives (perhaps the EPA would assist in saving this endangered species).

Posted by: alex on September 18, 2007 at 12:39 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, you're boring and everyone reads you. I don't think boringness is the answer we're looking for.

Posted by: Boronx on September 18, 2007 at 12:45 PM | PERMALINK

frank's article is as trivial as they come. it reminds me of why i gave up my washington monthly
subscription a couple of years ago.


the article is just journalistic gossip -

will brian williams .....?

why does katy couric do (or not do) ....?

why is bob herbert boring?

does marty peretz floss?

will maureen dowd's powerful friends help her get another pulitzer?

junk journalism.


frank has manufactured a subject to write about; and i do not mean herbert; i mean frank's scarecrow of an assessment of herbert.

there are two and only two political columnists i always read at the new york times - paul krugman and bob herbert.

i read them both for the same reason, they will always deal from a position of intellectual honesty.

that is NOT true of the always self-serving frank rich,

it is not true of the execrable republican stooge and pseudo-intellectual, david brooks,

it is not true of the shrewish and demented maureen dowd

it is not true of the that mincing lightweight, gail collins.

two other times columnists i always read enjoy are in the business section - floyd norris and gretchen morgenstern.

i read them for the same reason i read herbert and krugman - they exhibit rock-solid intellectual integrity.

i don't give a rat's ass if herbert is considered "boring" or not.

i don't care what "those who are with it in new york or in journalism" think of herbert or say about him.

i don't give a damn for frank's contrived "statistics" or his trivial discussion of who's really "important".

i only care that there are a very few straight-from-the-shoulder columnists at the nytimes who are a pleasure to read and who inform me in ways that are becoming increasing rare in the world of "star" journalism.

and don't tell me franks is making some ironic point. what he is actually doing is playing both sides to the middle - frank rich style.

after all, it's frank who gets the attention, isn't it.

Posted by: orionATL on September 18, 2007 at 12:54 PM | PERMALINK

It's a pity that Herbert doesn't write more like this random sampling from a famous New York City columnist:

Nearly $2 trillion in tax cuts were passed just a few months ago, but that was not enough. True greed knows no bounds. Forty years after the inauguration of President Kennedy, the most favored and least needy among us are proving themselves to be masterful at finding what their country can do for them.
---
The anger in the neighborhoods is not being heard. There was a flurry of well-publicized protests after the Diallo shooting but that's over. The cops continue to do what they want, much of it lousy. The Mayor says we're not as bad as some places, which is a comfort, I guess. A man who beats his wife is not as bad as one who kills her.
-------
The lives of the homeless, in the view of the mayor, are not wretched enough. So here comes the threat to drive them out of the shelters and into the streets if they don't shape up and go to work, and the terrifying threat to snatch children from their mothers and dump them into foster care, and so forth and so on. As this is the United States of America, Rudolph Giuliani has had trouble imposing the full measure of his cruelty on the poor, but he keeps trying.
------
I may have missed something. Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, the undeclared Republican candidate for U.S. senator, is running a television ad in upstate markets that highlights -- I have trouble typing this -- the mayor's compassion.
It's a short ad.
The tag line says: "The compassion that leads to freedom. New York's Rudy Giuliani."
It is running upstate because, presumably, if you showed this thing in any of the five boroughs viewers would be rolling on the floor.
---
So Mr. Giuliani has simply decided to declare himself sweet. Forget the snarling rejoinders, the management by terror, the humiliating personal attacks. You do what you have to do. This is about chutzpah, not compassion.
I am curious. I wonder when it was that the mayor of New York misplaced his humanity.
---
And what about all those men and women, some of them barely out of childhood, who are lying awake nights, hardly able to move their broken, burned and paralyzed bodies? What do we tell them as they lie there, unable to curb the pain or fight off the depression, or even begin to understand the terrible thing that has happened to them?
What do we tell them about this war that their country inflicted on them for no good reason whatsoever?
---
A Page 1 article in The Times on Tuesday carried the following headline: "Liberal Hopes Ebb in Post-Storm Poverty Debate."
I might have started laughing if the subject weren't so serious. Who in their right mind - liberal, moderate, Rotarian, contrarian - could have possibly thought that George W. Bush and his GOP Wild Bunch (Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, Tom DeLay et al.) had suddenly seen the light ("Eureka! We've been wrong!") and become serious about engaging the problem of poverty in America?

Posted by: R. Porrofatto on September 18, 2007 at 1:04 PM | PERMALINK

I like Bob Herbert's column. T.A. Frank and a bunch of Beltway pundits don't like him. Herbert speaks truth to power. The Beltway pundits don't. It's hard to get some people to read the painful truth. That's pretty much what I get out of this discussion. Not much new there.

Posted by: Jim C. on September 18, 2007 at 1:09 PM | PERMALINK
A columnist could choose among a number of roles, not just the two that you mention. He could, for example, be a propagandist and a liar
A columnist could choose among a number of roles, not just the two that you mention. He could, for example, be a propagandist and a liar, like most conservative columnists are, or just a person who presents his understanding of the issues that no one cares about but should, as apparently Herbert does, or be just a buffoon, like Jonah Lucianne.

All three of those appear to be subcategories of "advocate" (the first two clearly are; the last is less clear -- "buffoon" could just be "entertainer", but the example you cite suggests that its a subset of the "propagandist and liar" category, itself a subset of "advocate".)

If are presenting things because you think its important that people react differently to them than they heretofor have, you are an advocate, and reaching the audience is an important part of your job, otherwise you are just engaging in (well-paid, in the case of a major columnist) wankery.

Posted by: cmdicely on September 18, 2007 at 1:14 PM | PERMALINK

Per usual, I find myself agreeing with R. Porrafatto.

Some of Hebert's critics above say that they see him as telling them things they already know. Is that a fact? So you knew all about the actual story with black voter repression in Florida? Or that he, almost alone in the major media, wrote about John Kerry and Ohio? I'm sure you all knew about Tulia, TX. Or his column on Aidan Delgado, who had been stationed at Abu Gharib? Or Hector Delgado, a solider who was badly wounded in Iraq.

Shit, HBO has a documentary about wounded soldiers and it's riveting tv. A writer paints a portrait of their sacrifice and he's just telling you what you already know.

He captures and writes about the things liberals used to give a shit about: poverty, the poor, the dispossessed, the people who need an advocate -- not weepy tears. His blind spots are generally the same of most of his cohort, he doesn't see the damage done by the media to the narrative -- but he's a throwback to Pulitzer's ethos that the job of newspapers is to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.

That you find him boring is, of course, a matter of taste. That you ignore the actual substance of his writing and claim its things "everyone already knows" shows that you don't read him at all.

Posted by: Jay B. on September 18, 2007 at 1:26 PM | PERMALINK

I think the Frank article, a lot of the discussion here, and the general lack of interest in Herbert's columns isn't a bad reflection on Herbert, but on the herd mentality that inhabits most of the progressive blogosphere. Herbert is not a boring writer. I find Herbert's columns very well-written, and interesting. He seems to be a man who does his homework and often is covering a beat that is too often ignored. Who else writes as often, and with as much passion, about the disempowered and less-fortunate in our society? He's a true progressive, perhaps the most consistent and best progressive voice in all the media, and just because people choose to ignore what he has to say does not make him boring. Please.

Posted by: JJF on September 18, 2007 at 1:28 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely

Not to take this too far, especially when arguing with a legal mind, but your argument is somewhat circular: you assert that a columnist is either an advocate or a wanker, and then force the counterexamples into 'subcategories' to fit your assertion. I would not categorise a propagandist and a liar as an advocate, as that would be a too benign a characterization for the warmongers of the right.

One way of reaching an audience is to write passionately about issues, with facts and logic on your side. Herbert does do that. That some think that his columns do not have the intended effect is another matter.

Posted by: gregor on September 18, 2007 at 1:34 PM | PERMALINK

By the way, it shocks me that a number of posts here have asserted that Bob Herbert MUST be an affirmative action hire: He's boring, doesn't say anything new! I just wonder what it would be like to live with the awareness that every time someone considered my job performance, they would assume that I didn't have quite the "right stuff" but held my job because of my race.

You know, Maureen Dowd has never said anything of value. She has often been mean and pointless. Do people assume she's an affirmative action hire as well? Does she keep her NYTimes job because she is a woman?

Posted by: PTate in FR on September 18, 2007 at 1:36 PM | PERMALINK

Bob Herbert came up at the time of the black tax--you know, twice as good and half the pay--and had to write a column that was bullet-proof: facts, intelligent argument, practically footnoted, or back to the night court beat. He may seem dull in the age of making sh*t up and so what, but it's nice that Times still publishes stuff for adults to read.
TA Frank writes a book with more holes than a rusted colander and gets to be a pundit. Fine. But his column tells you far more about him than Herbert, and I guess that's the point now.

Posted by: Steve Paradis on September 18, 2007 at 1:40 PM | PERMALINK
Not to take this too far, especially when arguing with a legal mind, but your argument is somewhat circular: you assert that a columnist is either an advocate or a wanker, and then force the counterexamples into 'subcategories' to fit your assertion.

Actually, I admitted that at least one of the asserted alternate roles ("buffoon") might be an entertainer rather than either an advocate or time-clock puncher (my reference to wankery was to advocacy without working to reach the audience, not the alternative to advocacy), though the specific examples cited seem not to fit that interpretation.

And I don't think there is any stretch involved in noting that both dishonest propaganda and attempts to get people to care about issues that they currently don't but the author thinks they should are both "advocacy" as the word is usually used, and both require, to be effective, efforts to engage the audience.


One way of reaching an audience is to write passionately about issues, with facts and logic on your side.

That's certainly a good starting point, though its often not enough, alone.

Herbert does do that. That some think that his columns do not have the intended effect is another matter.

I think you're arguing a different point, here: not whether its Herbert's job to reach the audience effectively, but whether he is, in fact, working to do so, and maybe whether or not he's actually doing so.

I don't regularly read Herbert, and the columns I have read have been a mixed bag. I don't have really strong opinions either way on whether Herbert is effective at reaching the audience, so I'm not going to argue that point.

Posted by: cmdicely on September 18, 2007 at 1:46 PM | PERMALINK

"The New York Times (or any other major paper that professes to care about America's dispossessed) owes it to readers to find the sort of columnists who can wed the sentiments of Bob Herbert to the influence of William Kristol."

Here's my nominee: Robert Reich. He came to our small town (population about 1500) and gave a barn-burner of a speech.

He may not want to be tied down to a column, though.

Posted by: Cal Gal on September 18, 2007 at 1:56 PM | PERMALINK

I like Bob Herbert's columns. I always have, and I've recommended them to other people or blogged about them before. I think he's sensible and reasonable and he's a good writer, and I've always liked what writes about.I only stopped reading him when he went behind the wall and I didn't want to bother getting on Lexis Nexis or Westlaw to look at his columns. Now that he's going to be free again, I'll be reading, recommending and blogging him regularly again.

Posted by: Xanthippas on September 18, 2007 at 1:58 PM | PERMALINK

The wall goes down around midnight tonight, I think.

Posted by: Cal Gal on September 18, 2007 at 1:59 PM | PERMALINK

Kenji, if you think that Jewish people are the only ethnicity that never favor their own ethnicity to the point of it being a fault, you are a fool. It's pretty clear that the Jewish community is often a relatively insular ethnic community and certain attitudes with either go along with doing that, or often are unintentionally fostered by it, unless you make efforts to counter it. I'd love to see you offer me some evidence that Jews generally take efforts to counter their pride and insularity from turning them into assholes, because I've lived in NJ (not exactly Idaho) and near lots of Jews my whole life, seen lots of media about Jews, known lots of Jews, and never heard anything about Jews taking special efforts so they won't become the ones who favor their own ethnicity to a fault, despite the fact that their community ethincally self-centered and favors its own people. The impression I get is quite to the opposite.

Posted by: Swan on September 18, 2007 at 2:08 PM | PERMALINK

No offense to Jewish people here, but I've known lots of us ardent liberals, and my experience as I'm sure reflects common knowledge is that a lot of us are Jews. NY Times is a product that's consumed by ardent liberals, so that is why it matters.

Posted by: Swan on September 18, 2007 at 2:11 PM | PERMALINK

I read Frank's piece, and it was a little painful. I agree with some posters that the subject appeared to be a little lame, but on the other hand he has a very valid point when he quotes the links or mentions of Herbert compared to other writers. You may agree or disagree over whether Herbert is boring, but is anybody refering to him or talking about what he said? That is Frank's question.

The reason it was a little painful is that for some reason I notice my own NYTimes Op-Ed reading behavior, and have wondered about it. What I picked out of Frank's piece was the email from the guy talking about "deposits" and "withdrawals"--that if he hurts us twice a week we'll start to turn away. I think that characterizes how I feel about it in a way I'm not too proud of.

I generally read on-line, and I don't always read every day, so I scroll down to the list of authors where it shows who writes on what days, and I think well, gee, it's Monday and I haven't read anybody since Thursday, who should I read? I always read Frank Rich and Paul Krugman. I often read Friedman depending on the topic (more Middle East, less world-is-flat). I often open Dowd's just to see who she's skewering today, and I skip Brooks unless someone else mentions him and it sounds interesting (doesn't happen too often).

When I first started reading it I read them all every day. Herbert and Kristof are the ones that really go for the gut and cause the most guilt (the I-ought-to-respond-to-this-somehow reaction). And they are the ones I find myself not going to very often anymore. My impression of both of them is that often their column seems to be more of the same, been there and heard about that, and then sometimes they'll write something really really good and you're really glad you read it. So if you don't read all the time you could miss that. And yet when I "open the paper" so to speak, I often choose not to go there.

One thing I think the NYT web site could change that would be helpful is that you only get the little subject blurb for today's pieces. In order to see what someone wrote about yesterday, you have to link over to their page, and lots of times I don't bother. More blurbs, I say. Anyway, I think it was interesting food for thought.

Posted by: girl named sue on September 18, 2007 at 2:12 PM | PERMALINK

PTate writes:

By the way, it shocks me that a number of posts here have asserted that Bob Herbert MUST be an affirmative action hire...

Only two posts made that suggestion. One of those posts was from Steve Sailor, who doesn't count.

Posted by: Daryl McCullough on September 18, 2007 at 2:22 PM | PERMALINK

Jay B.,

Back atcha. I'd add names like John Padilla, who got the shit kicked out of him by cops and lost sight in one eye because he'd witnessed their unmarked car with no lights on plow into another. He volunteered to tell them what he saw but it seems they didn't want him to. To the tune of an $8.2 million judgement against the city and the Police Department. Yeah, sure, that story was plastered all over the media.

What Herbert does is called journalism, with a lot of flat-out old-fashioned reporting. One of his columns on Katrina was simply an interview with victims—didn't have a lot of clever asides, but if you care about people it was anything but boring. In the sea of ersatz journalism we drown in now maybe the T.A. Franks of the world just can't recognize the genuine article anymore.

Posted by: R. Porrofatto on September 18, 2007 at 2:32 PM | PERMALINK

I am under the impression that Swan is in love with the sight of his or her own text. The internet equivalent of loving the sound of ones own voice. He started posting one day, and I started ignoring the posts the next. I am utterly confident that I have not missed a damned thing.

Posted by: Isle of Lucy on September 18, 2007 at 2:49 PM | PERMALINK

JeffII, it's you and shortstop and Blue Girl who are digging if you're talking about credibility. Your latest stupid comment will be obvious to everyone as pretending that a wild fiction (that every liberal out of the millions of liberals in America have to agree with JeffII on every issue at the same time in order to be liberals) is true. Your baseless ad hominem against me undermines your credibility further, as it should be obvious to everyone who reads my comments regularly that I have no anti-Jewish or racist agenda (rarely have occasion to even mention Jews or miniorities) and I am the furthest thing from a racist.

Kenji wrote:

And people don't 'read' you because they are not bird-brains.

For people like Kenji, another great reason not to like what I write will be because I like We Built This City by Jefferson Starship. Not everyone wants to build a great city on rock n roll.

"It's not my revolution if I can't dance." ~Emma Goldman

"I spit in the face of people who do not want to be cool." ~Carlito, WWE professional wrestler

No one ever said changing the world wouldn't be a slog, or would be pleasant or painless, people. I'm just telling it like it is. For people who think that a better world is going to be delivered to us wrapped up on our doorstep one day like a gift from Mommy and Daddy or a lover or Santa Claus, and without a lot of thinking, work, or self-examination, I hope you will all resign yourselves to licking envelopes or something and not make decisions or try to do thinking for us.

Posted by: Swan on September 18, 2007 at 2:56 PM | PERMALINK

After 31 years as a writer, editor and speaker, I should be inured to the brand of blinkered, self-absorbed puling on display here. Actually, I should be grateful to folks like sidewinder and Gregor-- they help keep me employed.

But because I actually care about sharing ideas, it drives me up the wall. To boil down a two hour-seminar to ten points (some of which I'd figured out by age 16):

1. It's your job to make people care about what you say.

2. If they don't, it's your fault.

3. If you want the audience's response to change, change your presentation.

4. Unless you're writing comments on a web site, the audience is paying YOU to reach THEM. They're your bosses, you self-important idiot-- quit whining and do your job.

5. Topic and presentation are completely independent. One does not dictate the other. Since Simon Wiesenthal and Richard Feynman managed to integrate humor into their messages, don't tell me it can't be done in yours.

6. Serious and dull are not synonyms. You can be completely serious and still write lively prose.

7. An expert can explain a complex subject simply. Yours is not an exception to that rule-- you merely don't know enough about it to do so.

8. A skilled communicator can make an abstruse issue seem compelling. If you can't do it, you need to improve your skills.

9. Metaphor and humor are tools used to bring your ideas to your audience. If you dislike using them, it's because you're too pompous or lazy to move toward them-- you want them to come to you.

10. Society is frequently shallow, unserious and insipid, but people like Feynman, Wiesenthal, Stephen Hawking, John Kenneth Galbraith, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Tracy Kidder, Robert Caro, Strunk and White, John McPhee and Paul Krugman (to name a few) manage to get their points across.

Herbert says he models himself after Harry Truman, without noticing that Truman used sharp rhetoric, short sentences and simple words. He seems to feel he would cheapen his subject by writing about social injustice less studiously.

I would find that amusing, if he weren't occupying the most valuable spot in the world to advocate change. The only thing I can say for him is that he doesn't whine (as some people here do) about the lack of attention he gets.

To answer the question Frank's editor asked, the only reason I wouldn't fire Herbert is that I'd be scared to see who they'd hire to replace him.

Posted by: Woody Goode on September 18, 2007 at 2:58 PM | PERMALINK

He started posting one day, and I started ignoring the posts the next. I am utterly confident that I have not missed a damned thing.

Whoa! See how they help each other out.

JeffII, pretty well known that NYT is a relatively liberal paper, despite whatever odd pressure is possibly being exerted on their editors of late. It's still the largest outlet for people to get Paul Krugman. Without him, even a lot of people like us regular readers of Left Blogistan wouldn't know much about what's going on. Thanks for your ridiculous lie to expose yourself as a bad person.

Posted by: Swan on September 18, 2007 at 2:59 PM | PERMALINK

Bob Herbert is a great writer. Unfortunately, he's also a decent, ethical, and clearheaded man. He has a level tone, too. Clearheaded, ethical, and decent = boring, I guess.

Posted by: mg_65 on September 18, 2007 at 3:09 PM | PERMALINK

Hey JeffII, go a little easier on me- I didn't take the John Birch Society Vebal Kung-Fu Course For Young Republicans Who Are Going To Hang Out On The Liberal Internet. I am just a normal, non-psycho guy, unlike you.

Posted by: Swan on September 18, 2007 at 3:22 PM | PERMALINK

I just have to offer this an aside. Liberal bloggers spend a lot of time bitching about the insularity of media, and regularly flaying columns by the likes of Dowd, or Friedman, or Richard Cohen or David Broder, etc., etc. But then you've got the likes of T.A. Franks, a guy who's clearly sympathetic to Herbert, admitting that he rarely reads his column. Franks admits to being part of the Beltway crowd, but what's the excuse of liberal bloggers and commentators on this thread? It seems to me like a lot of people who want to bitch about columnists like Friedman or Dowd also spend most of their time reading them (so they can bitch about them I guess.) Well here's a not very original though for you guys: STOP READING THEM. I simply don't understand the never-ending blog posts bitching about these people, while writers like Herbert go ignored. How many times do you have to write that Richard Cohen is a tool? If he gets your goat, don't read him. I don't. That may make me ignorant I suppose, but at least it frees up time for me to read GOOD writers and columnists.

Posted by: Xanthippas on September 18, 2007 at 3:33 PM | PERMALINK

Bob Herbert is badly served by the Times's headline writers. Usually when I read one of his columns, I find it well-informed and moving. But I can seldom get past the astoundingly off-putting headlines they provide him.

Posted by: Cap'n Chucky on September 18, 2007 at 3:41 PM | PERMALINK

I often wonder why Herbert's columns aren't treated as news, and handled by reporters. Example: The Tulia pieces. Also the recent columns about black NYC kids being harassed by police. Why aren't these topics news? (I also wonder this about much of Kristof's work.)

I'm always negatively impressed when Herbert plays Hardball. Push-back has he none. For me, there's a trace of Frank Rich here; some Times libs are too high-and-mighty to stoop to choosing between Dem and Rep pols. Herbert was still trashing Gore in silly ways late in October 2000.

Posted by: bob somerby on September 18, 2007 at 3:52 PM | PERMALINK
JeffII, pretty well known that NYT is a relatively liberal paper

Well, its a myth widely trumpeted by the Right, at any rate (usually in the context that "even the liberal New York Times supports ").

Its liberal compared to, say, the Washington Times or the New York Post, and fairly centrist among major US dailies (meaning that, like most of them, it leans noticeably to the right, but not as pathologically and thoughtlessly so as the dedicated mouthpieces of the Right-Wing Noise Machine.)

Posted by: cmdicely on September 18, 2007 at 4:31 PM | PERMALINK

Woody Goode, the editor, is wrong. Hebert has reached people and helped change things in positive ways that the rest of the hacks at the Times couldn't dream of.

In this specific case, Tulia. Hebert (to Goode) "wasted" his space hammering the idiotic charges against dozens of blacks in that town. Now, it was the Texas Observer which initially broke the story (full disclosure, I used to write for the Texas Observer), but Hebert was the higher profile writer that brought home the injustice to the nation.

That one story, which eventually ended in vindication for dozens of people railroaded by the system, puts Hebert far, far, far above -- in terms of positive action taken -- the likes of Rich, Dowd, Friedman and Brooks, who for all their cleverness (or whatever it is people think Friedman brings to the table) have never done a good turn for anyone.

As a newspaper man Woody, I would have thought that would have been more compelling to you, than the flash and bash types. Then again, maybe that's the reason why newspapers are going down the drains. There are so few columnists who speak for the common guy anymore.

Once there was Breslin, Royko, Kempton, I see Hebert in this mold, blue-collar, liberal, populist. But that's a dying craft, for sure. A dying breed.

Posted by: Jay B. on September 18, 2007 at 5:03 PM | PERMALINK

Sigh, remember I.F. Stone?

Posted by: Kenji on September 18, 2007 at 5:52 PM | PERMALINK

JeffII, it's you and shortstop and Blue Girl who are digging if you're talking about credibility.

How the hell did Shortstop and I get dragged into this? We weren't even here, it's been days since either of us even acknowledged your existence. In fact, I had to come to the thread in IE to actually see your pearls of...whatever. I run Firefox with Cleeks plug in, and when you spew, my screen makes random comments about the virtues of pie. I find you much more readable that way.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on September 18, 2007 at 8:35 PM | PERMALINK

"Herbert has a combination of skill and experience that most of us could only hope to match." What a lame line in a lame article. The author manages to avoid the elephant in the room - the single most obvious explanation for why the New York Times needs a Bob Herbet on its op-ed page.

Posted by: Dallas on September 18, 2007 at 10:46 PM | PERMALINK

Daryl McCullough: "Only two posts made that suggestion. One of those posts was from Steve Sailor, who doesn't count."

You're right! I just counted. It turns out to be--to me--an interesting example of how repetition of a word over and over distorts perception. So that's a relief.

Note to self...this is Washington Monthly. Not your average readership.

Posted by: PTate in FR on September 19, 2007 at 3:35 PM | PERMALINK

Herbert is deep, but he writes in shallow times.

Posted by: William Gordon on September 19, 2007 at 4:07 PM | PERMALINK

It's partly because he's black. Don't pretend it's not.

Can you name a single influential member of our media elite who is black? People don't listen to Clarence Page or Eugene Robinson either.

Just admit it: this country has no interest in hearing black people say interesting things.

Posted by: Observer on October 4, 2007 at 1:32 PM | PERMALINK

Having no interest in hearing black people say interesting things is a form of shallowness. That does not preclude it being a form of racism -- Itself a form of shallowness.

Posted by: William Gordon on October 5, 2007 at 4:00 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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