Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Friedman travels the four corners of the earth but finds just one metaphor

Tom Friedman has always seemed to me facile, and this New York Times piece that argues exhaustively that "the world is flat" does nothing to allay that sense for me.

I have three basic gripes with Friedman. The first point is substantive: I never learned anything from him. True, I'm a professional and he's a popularizer, so maybe that's just a sour grapes kind of unfairness. (Then again, maybe not; the Economist, reviewing the book from which this excerpt is drawn, put it perfectly: "Mr. Friedman's problem is not a lack of detail. It is that he has so little to say.") To see what I mean, just compare his column to, say, Krugman's. Krugman may be a cassandra, but at least he has something to say. To be clear, the point here is not ideological: I also find myself learning from David Brooks, and even from Charles Krauthammer -- though in the latter case, I learn from him in the same sense as a doctor learns when he observes a patient with an unusual disease. Secondly, I find Friedman's hail-fellow-well-met writing style irksome. (Sample: "I wish I could say I saw it all coming. Alas, I encountered the flattening of the world quite by accident. It was in late February of last year...") True, he's not as egregious as MoDo, because he doesn't feel compelled to prove his rhetorical cleverness in every column. Finally, Friedman's politics infuriate me. He always steers just slightly to the left of whatever the powers that be have in mind. While I suppose this position could be seen as a strategy for maintaining access and keeping yourself getting heard, in these exciting times (in the Chinese sense), it comes off as merely unprincipled.

Friedman has the best job in the world, one with as great a potential for impact as anyone who writes for a living can hope to have... and he just squanders the opportunity, column in and column out.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well written and one of the best descriptions of what annoys me about Friedman; you are not alone in your perception.

I've considered Brooks to be one of the slickest polemists to enter the beltway. I call him "Stinky" and his Colmsian foil Mark Shields "Puddin-Head"

These lowbrow nicknames show the esteen I have for Jim Lehrer's circus of intellectual-esque apologia for power.

Any "reporter" making more then 100k a year is probably untrustworthy for analysis. The best have always been poorly paid blue collar sons and too damn principled to spin for the rich.