Sunday, March 11, 2007

David Brooks: “Blogger”

Almost a year ago, now, Nicholas Lemann wrote a piece in The New Yorker called “Amateur Hour: Journalism Without Journalists.”

Though he was directing his words at bloggers, Lemann could have been talking about David Brooks.

In his last two columns, Brooks has sounded more like the stereotype of a blogger than even the most narcissistic and pajama’d generation XI-er creating worlds completely out of imagination.

Even though he really is no journalist and doesn’t claim to be one, a person would think that Brooks would feel a certain responsibility to truth—of at least research and fact-checking. After all, his column originates in The New York Times, a venue that prides itself on the care it takes with the information it presents (though, it must be admitted, it has had notable failures these past few years). As a result, most people who read Brooks’ columns do assume journalism has something to do with them.

But, no. What we have, there on the Op-Ed page of the most renowned paper in the country, is amateur babbling—worse… it’s agenda’d babbling, fed by the talking points of the powers-that-be in Washington.

In Wednesday’s column, Brooks even admitted as much—though accidentally. He had once gone off-message, he recounts, and received a chiding phone call from Scooter Libby, basically telling him to get with the program even and present the positive spin though, as Libby admits, “I can do the negative spin just as well.”

Like an unsophisticated blogger, Brooks wasn’t aware of all the information he was letting slip in that column where he was trying to wax nostalgic about the wondrous people who inhabited the White House in the heady days after 9/11. Libby, he says, is a “good man,” who (if anything) is suffering the consequences of the “feverish sense of mission” White House staffers once felt.

Brooks follows that with a laugher:
Staff members in those days went to work wondering whether this would be the day they would die. There was a sense that any day a bomb might wipe out downtown Washington.
As one who was within sight of Ground Zero on 9/11 (though I did not see anything but smoke), I find Brooks’ description of the attitudes in DC unbelievable—nothing more than self-serving nonsense. And insulting to the rest of us in New York or DC (not to mention the rest of the country). If anyone was under threat of another attack, all of us were. Brooks is setting up a nostalgic dream with no relation to the truth, a “those were the days” wish for the heady days before the American population realized it was being hoodwinked into supporting an agenda that had nothing to do with terrorism anyway. (Just wait: you’ll see others promoting this same vision, a new way of excusing the excesses of a venal and dishonest administration—they were heroes, we’ll be told again and again).

Oddly, Brooks ends the column with this:
Wisdom comes from suffering and error, and when the passions die down and observation begins.
As Brooks knows (on some level) there was no real idealistic passion involved in what was going on in the White House in the time between 9/11 and the start of the Iraq war. Instead, there was a deliberate attempt to mislead the American public so that the terror attacks would be conflated with a new “threat” from Iraq, creating a “necessity” for war. That aside, what’s peculiar about this statement is that Brooks seems to think that he and the White House he shills for have suffered (I will admit, they certainly have been involved in “error”). Not even Scooter has suffered—and he won’t. As Frank Rich writes, a pardon for Libby is a foregone conclusion.

In today’s column, accompanying the one from Rich, Brooks does what a stereotypical “blogger” does… a couple of quick searches followed by babbling. He includes things like this:
Kevin Drum, who is actually older than most bloggers, says the difference is generational. Klein’s mind-set, he says, was formed in the 1970s and 1980s, but “like most lefty bloggers, I only started following politics in a serious way in the late ’90s.”
”Actually older than most bloggers”? Does Brooks have any idea what he is talking about? Does Drum? Both of the are blowing wind here. “Lefty bloggers” range in age—there’s no generational profile that backs up Drum’s or Brooks’ contentions that bloggers are either young or new to politics. Both of them are assuming the truth of stereotypes, something that the stereotypical “blogger” of Lemann’s article might do, but not something one would expect of a “journalist.”

Brooks is trying to make an odd and nonsensical point. At the end of his article he writes:
The left, which has the momentum, is growing more uniform
Yet he has spent most of the column trying to show just the opposite:
Neoliberals often have an air of perpetual youthfulness about them, but they are now in their 40s, 50s and even their 60s, and a younger generation of bloggers set off a backlash. If you surf the Web these days, for example, you find that a horde of thousands have declared war on the Time magazine columnist Joe Klein.
According to Brooks, “neoliberals” arose in the 1980s, taking power as the Clinton administration. Now, Brooks claims, the “horde” of bloggers is out to get them… yet the left is somehow “growing more uniform”? He tries to justify this by claiming the new, younger ones are returning to a pre-“neoliberal” mindset, but even that is no indication of uniformity.

I guess it’s just that Brooks, like that stereotypical blogger, writes off the top of his head, not bothering to look back, not bothering to rewrite, not bothering to think.

Memo to The New York Times: Take David Brooks off of your Op-Ed page. Get someone to show him how to set up a blog on Blogger, and let him drift down to the level where he belongs. Give your high-profile platform to someone who deserves it, someone (a conservative, if you must) who thinks and writes with care, originality, and precision.

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