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.
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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.
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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.