The Op-Ed pages of the New York Times, still the most influential and prestigious newspaper in the country, do not feature a regular column by a feminist, a Latino, an African-American woman, an Asian American, a young person, a Muslim, a lesbian or gay man. Or anyone from the working or laboring classes, for that matter.
Nonetheless, Publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr. and Editorial Page Editor Andrew Rosenthal did feel it necessary to add another rich, right-wing white male to these pages. And not just any neocon, but William Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, Fox News bloviator and high-profile Bush propagandist.
Times Public Editor Clark Hoyt noted that the appointment was made to balance the “left-leaning” op-ed page.
Left-leaning? A left-leaning op-ed page would be staffed by Mark Crispin Miller, Laura Flanders, Michael Moore, Salim Muwakkil, Katha Pollitt or Matt Rothschild (to name just a few) – not David Brooks, Maureen Dowd and Thomas Friedman. So here is another example of how the right has succeeded in shifting our national common sense about the political spectrum.
Liberals like Bob Herbert, Paul Krugman and Frank Rich (who actually do their homework and present what are known as “facts”) must be balanced by those who are much farther to the right than these guys are to the left.
But at least that keeps those really dangerous voices from In These Times, The Progressive, The Nation and the rest of the independent press successfully quarantined – voices, I hasten to remind us all, that were consistently correct about the consequences of an invasion of Iraq.
The negative reaction to the Kristol appointment was swift and overwhelming. Hoyt reported that of the nearly 700 messages he got, only one praised the choice.
And Rosenthal’s mailbag exploded with vitriol. One reader called Kristol “a piece of filth” who should be “hung by the ankles from a lamp post and beaten by the mob.”
The appointment of Kristol was especially outrageous because he was such a flak for the war in Iraq, peddling the lies and fantasies that got the country into this mess.
Kristol had also proposed, on Fox News in 2006, that the Times be prosecuted for running a story about a secret government program that pried into Americans’ banking records looking for terrorists, and he called the paper “irredeemable,” making one wonder why Sulzberger and Rosenthal hired someone who likes to spank them.
Remember, this is a one-year “try out.” And while the Times feels it needs another conservative on its pages, does it really want a laughingstock?
In 2003, Kristol told Terry Gross on NPR’s “Fresh Air” that it was nothing more than “pop sociology” that the Shiite and Sunnis in Iraq didn’t “get along.”
And just before the war, Kristol predicted that “democratizing the country should not be too tall an order for the world’s sole superpower.”
Then there are the recent whoppers. In his first Times column, he predicted Sen. Hillary Clinton would lose the New Hampshire primary, and incorrectly attributed a comment made by conservative Michael Medved – regarding former Gov. Mike Huckabee’s likability – to conservative Michelle Malkin. He apologized the following week.
So let’s follow the lead of “The Daily Show’s” Jon Stewart who, in the wake of the Times appointment, played a soundbite in which Kristol predicted that former Sen. Fred Thompson would be a “formidable” presidential candidate and then asked “Oh, Bill Kristol, are you ever right?”
Between August 1998 and June 1999, Kristol made 85 predictions, of which 49 were correct, according to a “Pundit Scorecard” in the now-defunct media criticism magazine, Brill’s Content. OK, some may think that’s not bad. But to add to the fun, Brill’s brought in a 4-year-old chimp that was asked pundit-like questions, to which he shook or nodded his head, and the chimp beat out Kristol in accuracy.
“If you really want to know what’s going on, read Kristol and believe the opposite,” suggests Tom D’Antoni on The Huffington Post. James Fallows of The Atlantic pointed out Kristol’s “breathtaking banality” as a columnist. An unnamed reporter at the Times told The New Republic’s Gabriel Sherman “the first column was crap.”
Kristol is a mean-spirited and dangerous propagandist, but he’s also really a dope and a stooge, and this is what the Times should be reminded of on a very regular basis.
Susan J. Douglas is a professor of communications at the University of Michigan and a senior editor at In These Times. She is the author of In Our Prime: How Older Women Are Reinventing the Road Ahead.