Half a year has passed since we pointed out the obvious: the New York Times has a columnist problem. (The columnists are bad, is the problem). The paper's made major editorial changes in the intervening six months. So has the columnist problem been solved? Not a bit.
Sadly, the Paper of Record is still plagued with some of the most vapid, uninteresting, and downright bad writers ever to occupy such a valuable piece of media real estate. Let's see what progress has been made, based on the most recent columns. From best to worst:
The Old Guard
- Paul Krugman is still the paper's lone columnist able to write engagingly on a topic on which he possesses actual expertise while holding a righteous viewpoint seemingly uncorrupted by the access and influence offered by his position.
- Joe Nocera is still able to write about business issues in an interesting way, though he has an unfortunate tendency to fall into business guy hero worship. Writing an entire column about Harold Burson without mentioning the fact that the PR firm he founded is evil is quite a feat.
- Nick Kristof is still competent, thoughtful, earnest, and completely lacking in flair.
- Gail Collins and Roger Cohen are both still okay, although you can't recall anything in particular either of them have ever written.
- Maureen Dowd is still Maureen Dowd. "Maybe it's the Mario Lanza in him. But Nino Scalia relishes being operatically imprudent." Oh, does "Nino" relish that? Nino Nino Nino? Shut up with your fucking nicknames. All. The. Time. God.
- David Brooks is still the pompously precocious child of Maureen Dowd and Niles Crane. His growing pop science tendencies have made him all the more self-assured and insufferable.
- Ross Douthat is still a weird little Bible-stroking geek at the nerd table in the College Republican Convention cafeteria. Smart enough to understand what's wrong with the Republican Party, yet will never leave it. You're an affirmative action hire, Ross. Think about that.
- Thomas Friedman is still the absolute worst. The strangest thing about Tom Friedman's longevity is the fact that he only has one single column, which he writes over and over in slightly different permutations, like Taco Bell rearranging its six ingredients in different ways and calling them new things. Do you think that if we peered into his latest column, this would hold true? Let's see... would it contain a logically nonsensical sentence followed by the coining of a nonsensical new McPhrase? "Think of how many jobs - makeup artist, receptionist, camera person, producer-director - have been collapsed into one. I raise this point because there is no doubt that the main reason for our 9.1 percent unemployment rate is the steep drop in aggregate demand in the Great Recession. But it is not the only reason. "The Great Recession" is also coinciding with - and driving - 'The Great Inflection.'" Okay, but would it also contain a seemingly random list of internet-related terms, offered as a catch-all explanation for any phenomenon that Tom Friedman does not fully understand? "I wrote about the connected world in 2004, arguing that the world had gotten "flat." When I made that argument, though, Facebook barely existed - and Twitter, cloud computing, iPhones, LinkedIn, iPads, the "applications" industry and Skype had either not been invented or were in their infancy. Now they are exploding, taking us from connected to hyperconnected. It is a huge inflection point masked by the Great Recession." Never change, Tom Friedman. (You won't).
The New Guys
- Mark Bittman is still a pretty fair writer and thoroughly knowledgeable on his subject. But that subject is food. And food is all that he writes about. He is somewhat limited. To food.
- Bill Keller is still, amazingly, against all good reason, writing angry-old-man editorials about the deleterious effect of the internet on various facets of life. Online colleges? "Presumably, for the Friday kegger you go to the Genius Bar." LOL. For the love of god, Bill, please stop writing about the internet. Just write about politics again, or whatever. Not that that's more interesting, but it would be less painful for everyone. Unless you do something crazy like advocate an ill-conceived foreign war.
- Frank Bruni is still a horrific disappointment. It seems that his columns are actually getting more childlike, simplistic, and pointless, if such a thing is possible. Frank Bruni's latest insight into the crucial 2012 election: Chris Christie is not too fat to be president. We'll just leave that there.
The world's most influential newspaper, ladies and gentlemen.