The Current State of Op Ed Writing or Things that Belong in a Hello Kitty DiaryPosted: May 1, 2013
Okay, so I was torn between using Hello Kitty Diary and Hello Kitty Litter Box in the title of this thread because I am so tired of seeing hacks get money and column space in what used to be the world’s great papers. Let’s face it! My cats’ litter box is a better use of a newspaper that’s filled with the inane ramblings of the likes of Ross Douthat, Maureen Dowd, David Brooks, George F. Will, and well, you get my drift. There were op ed writers with whom I disagreed but whose arguments, evidence, and writing style made for compelling reading and arguments. The group that’s left to us now should still be doing penmanship exercises in second grade.
So, obviously I was inspired to write this. I use the world ‘inspired’ loosely because it was more like I was influenced by the painful awareness of cats screeching in the alley looking for attention from other heat-seeking cats. The primary source of screeching came from MoDo today who Charlie Pierce promptly diced and sliced in “In Which MoDo Loses A Fight With James Madison” in his Esquire blog
Maureen Dowd has fashioned herself another Chronic Ward of a newspaper column today on her now-regular theme of what a wimpety-wimp-wimp Barry Obama is, and why she never should have let him take her to prom instead of the hunky Andrew Shepherd from The American President who, while admittedly fictional, never would take this guff from actual human beings like John Boehner and Eric Cantor and Louie Gohmert, to which latter we give the benefit of a considerable doubt on this score. From the available evidence (again), and for all the relevance her insights have on what’s actually going on in American politics, Dowd once again seems to be writing from an assisted-living facility on the far side of a world Beyond The Planet Of The Ultra-Vixens. First of all, she, along with Jonathan Karl, seems to be overly concerned with the condition of the president’s “juice,” which she seems to feel is less fortified with essential vitamins and iron than the juice of a president should be. And, somewhere in the Beyond, Freud gives up the business entirely and opens a cigar store.
Pierce offers this more succinct explanation.
Look, I make the same criticism of the president from time to time, but mine is based on what I believe is the obvious empirical fact that the Republican party has gone insane and that the president has been painfully slow in coming to realize that he is dealing with lunatics. I don’t find this “professorial” or “high-minded.” I just find it wrong. But, then again, I don’t measure politics by the inseam, either.
What is it about reality that most of the op ed writers don’t appear to get these days? Well, I stumbled across an equally good take down and explanation over at NY magazine written by Jonathan Chait called “David Brooks and the Role of Opinion Journalism”. David Brooks is the nearly the best example of an op ed writer that is a waste of good reading time. He has the dial set to 11 for vacuity nearly every day.
Brooks likes to veer frequently from the beaten path of topicality. He wants us to associate this habit with intellectual honesty. But why should we? One could just as easily think of it as an evasive tactic designed to spare him from confronting the uncomfortable pathologies of his own side.
Brooks goes further, smuggling into his schema notions not merely unrelated to but actually at odds with intellectual honesty. The detached writer, he argues, “sees politics as a competition between partial truths.” Well, yes, sometimes it is. On the other hand, sometimes politics is not a competition between partial truths. If you’re committed a priori to always seeing politics as a competition between partial truths, you will render yourself unable to accurately describe the times when it’s not and find yourself writing things that are provably untrue. Writing things that are provably untrue — rather than, say, being irritating — ought to be the central thing to avoid.
It’s a shame Brooks has done such an injustice to the topic, since the question of standards for opinion journalism is a pretty important and underexplored one. Straight news reporters tend to lump opinion writing of all forms into the same bin — punditry, essays, agitprop — and to therefore shy away from holding it to any defined standard. (This is why, for instance, the Washington Post blithely lets George Will misstate facts about climate science on its op-ed page.)
So, I would like to say that the standard for op ed “journalism” is there is no honor among thieves, but given their platform, it’s hard to just write off 99.99% of them as hapless hacks and ignore them. Chait actually offers up some common sense advice on how to make an argument instead of publishing your dreamy-eyed Potomac platitudes. Most of them are common sense like don’t set up and attack straw men and avoid reflexive equivocation and black-and-white moralism. These last two are staples of op ed pages today. Douthat is a lousy writer who specializes in his own specious form of black-and-white moralism to the point that I wonder if he ever leaves his house or was actually weaned by his mother. This glib last bit from Chait sums up the state of op ed writing today for me. I’ve edited it to what it should be.
If you’re going to write
a guide toopinion writingthat’s completely self-aggrandizing, you should probably own up to it.
Not only should you own up to it, you should stop pretending it’s anything else but self-aggrandizing twaddle. I’m tired of seeing endless self-pleasuring in high circulation papers. I am so not into that!!!
But, I see this as the main stay of today’s opinion writers. It is always about them and never about their topic, the actual good of the country or an idea, or the greater search for truth. WAPO and NYT excel at placing free range WATBs on their op pages who only engage in self-aggrandizing and who never see the world outside the thunderdomes of Manhattan and the DC beltway. Most of them are so comfortably snuggled into their socio-economic status they probably couldn’t tell a homeless person from a fireplug.
Thankfully, there are now blogs and there are blogger/writers like Pierce and Chait or I would be one very depressed Kat who would consider reading Romance Novels or Pop! Star Magazine in lieu of David Brooks or Maureen Dowd. They are all about on the same level of intellectual discourse and reality. And for that, the NYT put up a paywall and WAPO wants to still think of itself as the paper of investigative journalism. Douthat belongs on the pages of Catholic Voice or maybe some nice rag promoting the return of The Inquisition. None of these folks are the serious human beings they presume themselves to be.
Here kitty, kitty!!! I just changed your litter box and its nicely lined!!!