CUT AND PASTE AND CUT AND PASTE AND

Ben Mathis-Lilley has done a piece for Slate in which he undertakes an unpleasant task that, I would guess, many of us in the Writerly World have thought about but abandoned. In the fabulously titled, "Sweet Jesus, Will the NYT’s Conservatives Ever Write About Anything but the “Intolerant Left” Ever Again?" he actually goes over a year's worth of dreck from David Brooks, Ross Douthat, Bret Stephens, and the newest (and just over-the-top cartoonishly stupid) hire Bari Weiss to show every example of these highly paid writers churning out some slight variation of what is functionally the same piece. Lately it's not just a common trope – it's literally all they write about.

Of the four, Douthat is bravest about branching out into other subjects. Weiss is brand new, so perhaps it's fair to give her a larger sample size before concluding that this is all she will write (don't hold your breath, though, since this was her bread and butter before being hired). Brooks and Stephens, though, are making what I can only assume are substantial six-figure salaries to submit the same thing week after week. Is no one above them in the chain of command bothered by this? It isn't just lazy and intellectually dishonest (note: it is definitely both of those things), it's also spectacularly boring. I mean, absolutely goddamn tedious. Painful at this point. If you really did need to read this argument for the ten-thousandth time, you could get it in any college newspaper from any college Republican chapter vice-president.

That said, I'm about to stun myself and offer a weak…not defense, but understanding of why these columnists keep doing this.

High-end legacy media like the Times, the Atlantic, etc. are in a tough spot as far as hiring Conservative Voices. They *have to* have a couple conservatives on staff for reasons of balance and ideological fairness. For years, the culture of conservatism made it relatively easy to find the kind of conservative that would not be repellent to liberal readers – think Buckley, Safire, Irving Kristol, and that generation. Blue-blooded liberal readers may not have agreed with these guys often, but they were not offended by them because they had all the right – for lack of a better word – manners. They were Ivy Leaguers who could be counted on, in short, to represent the right's viewpoint without embarrassing the paper. They weren't some John Birch Society rustic rubes screaming about The Jews; they were Country Club conservatives and at the very least they could express ideas considered acceptable for cocktail parties and use big words to do it.

You could read it, in short, without wanting to vomit.

Today's right wing columnist is far more Westbrook Pegler than William Safire, more Father Coughlin than Irv Kristol. There simply aren't that many George Will types around who can do "From the Right" without absolutely embarrassing the paper or network. The people today who can do this – Steve Schmidt, Bruce Bartlett, SE Cupp, George Will, Bill Kristol, etc – are consequently in high demand. Not because they are brilliant, but because they have the requisite elite mannerisms to avoid repelling viewers like the Lou Dobbs, Glenn Beck, Bill O'Reilly, or Sean Hannity style braying jackasses do. So, in short, the NYT's options are pretty limited. They're not sampling from a very large pool of potential candidates.

Once these people are hired, what are they really going to write about during the Trump era? They're smart enough not to tie themselves to defending Trump, and in truth they probably find him hugely embarrassing anyway. George Will or Ross Douthat are not going to write for an audience of globe-trotting successful readers, "Yeah, fuck other shitty countries amirite!" They're forced to confine themselves to either focusing on policy that isn't really being debated at the moment – pretending Trump didn't happen, in other words – or tone policing.

Tone policing has tremendous appeal for a weekly columnist. It circumvents the need to learn about policy or be up-to-the-second on current events. Hell, you can write two or three of these "OMG campus liberals are mean" things and keep them in the hopper for months if necessary. Talk about evergreen. Maybe update a link or two and boom.

Right-wing columnists at places that expect their output to be Respectable – written well, not embarrassing, not baldly racist, etc. – are in a kind of holding pattern right now. The only way they can write columns about current events without having to tackle the difficult problem of the right's embrace of Trump is to create a straw man and tear it down over and over. Since newspaper readers skew much older, picking on The Kids These Days seems like as good a dice roll as any.

That said, please for the love of god stop writing this same goddamn column.

Be Sociable, Share!

38 Responses to “CUT AND PASTE AND CUT AND PASTE AND”

  1. Ellis Weiner Says:

    Good points. You might also mention that the ranks of right-wing "thinkers" were decimated by eight years of the indefensible George W. Bush administration, which started with 9-11, went insane with Iraq, and ended with the financial meltdown. At least, in olden times, conservative writers had Communism to deplore. Now that the Republican Party is a motley mob of corporatists, gun nuts, bigots, homophobes, and imbeciles, what's a pundit to do?

  2. Matt Says:

    They *have to* have a couple conservatives on staff for reasons of balance and ideological fairness.

    Why, exactly? They very rarely have anybody to the left of Paul frickin Krugman on the other side of the aisle. NYT can get a "but we HAAAAVE to" pass on hiring Nazi sympathizers once they've got a "capitalism should be plowed under the mighyt feet of the proletariat" columnist on staff.

    Until then, they're just pandering to fascists. Fuck 'em.

  3. geoff Says:

    @Matt, CORRECT!!! I'm afraid that what the Times is doing is "getting with the fucking program", much like they did in, uh, I dunno, 2002?

    As for Bill Kristol, I don't know how he's able to type with all that fucking blood on his hands. Same goes for David Frum: fuck those guys.

    (Thanks, Ed! Not mad at you, just the world : ) )

  4. jcdenton Says:

    Generally speaking, the NYT/Atlantic know their audience quite well. Prior to twitter, where the callouts are quick and the ratios severe, this kind of neoliberal "adults in the room" centrism was pretty acceptable. The same kinds of people who desperately fetishize "bipartisanship" and "the moral high ground" were fine with the NYT convincing them in measured tones that charter schools, broken-window policing, gentrification, low min wages, and the Iraq War were all things we just had to compromise on and accept. The NYT, despite claiming to be a leftist newspaper, is really just reflecting the centrist, collaborationist political beliefs of its centrist audience.

    @geoff

    Anna Navarro, Bill Kristol, David Frum, Molly McKew, Andrew Sullivan, George W. Bush and other assorted right wing war criminals and trash are now part of the #Resistance. Another data point in the idea that many centrists don't really disagree with *what* Trump is doing so much as they disagree with the vulgar tone he sets while doing it. W murdered half a million people in a phony war, but he's going to show up on Joy Ann Reid's show sooner or later.

  5. democommie Says:

    "There simply aren't that many George Will types around who can do "From the Right" without absolutely embarrassing the paper or network."

    George Will and the rest of the crowd that he came up with were the guys who started the Overton Windon on it's rightward march. Fuck all of those assholes.

    Mike Royko wouldn't be sitting having a beer with any of those jerkwads;

  6. democommie Says:

    @ Matt & Geoff:

    Yes and HELL YES!

    "Anna Navarro, Bill Kristol, David Frum, Molly McKew, Andrew Sullivan, George W. Bush and other assorted right wing war criminals and trash are now part of the #Resistance.".

    Every one of those people contributed, directly, to the rise of the New Know Nothing Party. They've a lot to answer for.

  7. Ten Bears Says:

    "Anna Navarro, Bill Kristol, David Frum, Molly McKew, Andrew Sullivan, George W. Bush and other assorted right wing war criminals and trash are now part of the #Resistance.".

    Are you on drugs? Have you been drinking"

  8. Katydid Says:

    Ed, I'm letting the point of this totally fly past me to pick out something that's been bugging me; the idea that "elite" is bad. Would you hire Dr. Nick Riviera to fix a broken bone? Larry, Darryl, and Darryl to do any home repair?

    My elderly parents are Fox addicts (what, is this mandatory?) who have endless doctor appointments in offices that play nothing but Fox, and the break room at work has a tv that's perma-tuned to Fox. Whenever I'm subjected to their morning shows, what appalls me most is how absolutely transparent the talking heads are about how abhorrent they are. Idiocracy is here right now, my friends.

    When I watch Brooks on PBS Newshour, there are times I can kind of see where he's coming from, why he holds the opinion he does. I don't agree with him, but I can tell there was some kind of thought process going on. The clowns in the clown car? Not so much.

    This has nothing to do with country clubs or some fancy-schmancy manners that are anathema to regular 'Murkkkuns.

  9. Leading Edge Boomer Says:

    I think Ed's set of useful conservatives is too large. George Will used to have something to say. Now he's an old "Get off my lawn!" curmudgeon.

    Bill Kristol is reliably 180 degrees wrong about any subjects he writes about. I suppose there's something useful in that.

  10. geoff Says:

    @Katydid, Brooks is what the sainted Monty Python referred to as an UPPER CLASS twit, as opposed to the doltish hate spewers of Breitbart, etc. Better elocution, same warmongering idiocy ; )

  11. Bette Says:

    I seldom post here (or anywhere for that matter), but today on Twitter, David Roberts gave a long explanation for the conservative writers in the NYT, then I saw your piece. Here's his thread, unrolled.
    https://threadreaderapp.com/thread/972915124032888832.html

  12. Safety Man! Says:

    The mono-column does have the benefit of having some truth behind it, in that people of all political persuasions are perfectly capable of being jackasses. When the Right is openly flirting with Facism (don’t even argue that after Charlottesville, et al.) it’s harder to see on the Left, but I promise that there are some legitimate grievances on all sides, I.e. Crazy Uncle may have some legit points somewhere deep underneath just being angry that “the gays” can marry now.

  13. teve tory Says:

    Ed, seriously, David Roberts just laid it all out

    https://twitter.com/drvox/status/972915124032888832

  14. Katydid Says:

    @geoff; I adore Monty Python, but I disagree that Brooks is an upper-class twit. He's merely capable of speaking in complete sentences and refraining from shrieking or using foul language on-air. I mean, that's a super-low bar to clear.

  15. Bitter Scribe Says:

    George Will and the rest of the crowd that he came up with were the guys who started the Overton Windon on it's rightward march. Fuck all of those assholes.

    Mike Royko wouldn't be sitting having a beer with any of those jerkwads

    Royko called Will a "lapdog" after Will was caught coaching Reagan for his debates with Carter (and later effusively praising Reagan's performance in his column).

  16. Mike's Blog Round Up – NEWSFUZZ Says:

    […] Gin and Tacos – NYT conservatives just cut and paste and cut and paste … […]

  17. Brewlord Says:

    There are websites that can emulate Tom Friedman columns and Deepak Chopra aphorisms. I'm starting to suspect that David Fucking Brooks has been replaced by an AI

  18. Butch Says:

    I sometimes wish someone would pick up Daniel Larrison. Conservative to libertarian and I usually disagree with him, but at least I come away feeling like there's a functioning brain behind his comments.

  19. Brian M Says:

    Butch: Daniel Larrison is amazing. He is CONSISTENT in his paleocon skepticism of both "cruise missile liberals" like the Peace Prize President and his self-anointed War Sow successor to be and right wing no-knowthingism. He eviscerates the Trump Administration and the War Party on an ongoing basis.

    On foreign policy, I DON'T disagree with him very often. We gotta stop trying to RUN THE FUCKING WORLD. We can't even run the United States very well.

  20. jcdenton Says:

    @Ten Bears

    I've noticed myself drinking more since Nov 8th, 2016, yeah. I think we all have. Certainly at this point is more gin than tacos.

    But you really should the kinds of accolades that crew is getting from the Dems! Everyone seems to have the historical memory of a fruit fly. Again, a lot of this is about performance, not policies. No one is substantively challenging Trump's imperialism, because it looks a lot like Obama's and W's imperialism.

  21. jcdenton Says:

    *Certainly at this point, Ed is more gin than tacos.

  22. Butch Says:

    Brian, on foreign policy you're absolutely right. I don't disagree with him often on that front, and really need to read more of him.

  23. Camembert Says:

    So . . . why have an opinion section?

    I'm not kidding. We have the internet. We have blogs. There are lots of smart people saying interesting things about what's going on. Folks can find the ones they enjoy. Does anyone buy the NYT for the opinion section? Most people I know *don't* buy it because of that, but do appreciate the news part. So why not just shut the entire thing down? Save a ton of money, stop pissing off your readers.

  24. Camembert Says:

    Brooks is less fun once you understand he's just another gibbering white supremacist.

  25. defineandredefine Says:

    Not the point, I know, but it doesn't seem like that many people in the mainstream are talking about right wing identity politics. That's concerning to me because it's far more dangerous. It's also important because, had there not been piles of folks blowing the dog whistles, I would wager we wouldn't be stuck with the tangerine twit in the white house.

  26. Brian M Says:

    has anyone been following the show HOMELAND? Interesting and perhaps not as entertaining a television show as I might like, as it is too "real" (a real in which Hillary won, of course).

  27. Emerson Dameron Says:

    Facts don't care about Bobo's feelings.

    https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/3/12/17100496/political-correctness-data

  28. Eric Titus Says:

    The NYT op-ed section is a weird place anyways. Half of what goes on is bland "centrists" working themselves up over how things are these days, the other half is "progressives" offering talking points that anyone with an internet connection has already heard. For some people, these are cathartic things to read.

  29. Edward Says:

    The "left" and the "right" are not well defined these days. It is more a question of who is "in" with the system and who is "out" with its wars and corruption. You will not find the "outs" at the NYT. Two good anti-war conservative websites are antiwar.com and unz.com; these websites feature both "left" and "right" writers.

  30. Rosies Dad Says:

    Give Bret Stephens credit for writing a column in which he coherently explains why we'd be better off if the 2nd Amendment was repealed (even as he recognizes that there isn't a chance in hell of it happening.).

  31. Mike's Blog Round Up – Liberal View News Says:

    […] Gin and Tacos – NYT conservatives just cut and paste and cut and paste … […]

  32. Dave Dell Says:

    Here in Nebraska the Journal Star (a paper suitable for wrapping fish) has eliminated the Monday editorial page. Having done that they very occasionally run two G. Will columns on the same day. I haven't read Will in years. Makes my blood pressure rise just to see his thumbnail.

  33. Tim H. Says:

    https://www.politicalorphans.com/the-article-removed-from-forbes-why-white-evangelicalism-is-so-cruel/
    The linked essay has some interesting points to bear in mind when thinking about contemporary conservatism, which seems inextricably bound to the lost cause… I suppose we should be thankful they don't wear the robes in public…

  34. Deggjr Says:

    When Scott Walker was a Republican primary candidate there was a brief movement to finesse the fact he doesn't have a college degree. Megan McArdle wrote a column with two main points; 1) George Washington didn't have a college degree, 2) she herself had trouble with her college French courses.

    The Chicago Tribune printed that column.

    At the same time, PolitiFact Wisconsin printed a well-researched, detailed article about Scott Walker's college career. It turns out he registered for 8 semesters and only earned 3/4 of the credits required for graduation.

    I asked Marcia Lythcott, Chicago Tribune Commentary Editor, why the Tribune printed Megan McArdle's column but not the far more factual PolitiFact article.

    "Megan’s op-ed was not meant to be a news story."

    "… a lot of readers/subscribers thoroughly enjoy her columns. "

    Oh. I thought I was paying for a search for truth. Never mind.

    I assume the New York Times has the same constraints.

  35. Katydid Says:

    @Deggjr; conservatives on the whole distrust education and are openly derisive of college–Remember when Sarah Pallin could still get people to listen to her, and she bragged that one of her many, many kids went to "hair school", which was far better than college because shut up, that's why?

  36. Deggjr Says:

    Katydid, to be clear, I think Ms. Lythcott's answer is revolting. The only possible (limited) value in her view or the NYT view is to know that people actually think that way.

  37. democommie Says:

    "I'm starting to suspect that David Fucking Brooks has been replaced by an AI".

    AI would not sink that low.

  38. | Does conservatism have a point? | Acid Test by Quixote Says:

    […] on by David Roberts, Ed Burmila, neither of whom I disagree with at all in their analysis of what modern "conservatism" […]