Tom Slow-to-Judge Friedman
It took a hell of a long time, but NYT columnist Tom Friedman, the mustachioed, globetrotting centrist, has finally had enough. He's looked into the soul of the Bush Administration, and he thinks he smells a skunk. From today's column:
Personally, I think the president can reshuffle his cabinet all he wants, but his poll ratings are not going to substantially recover--ever. Americans are slow to judgment about a president, very slow. And in times of war, in particular, they are willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. But I think a lot of Americans in recent months have simply lost confidence in this administration's competence and honesty. What has eaten away most at the support for this administration, I believe, has been the fact that time and time again, it has put politics and ideology ahead of the interests of the United States, and I think a lot of people are just sick of it. I know I sure am.
Well, one scarcely knows where to begin. This cushioned insider with the gold-plated expense account, winner of no fewer than three Pulitzers, a man who prides himself on mixing the wisdom he energetically gathers from both the world's streets and its executive suites, has only just now figured this out? Much of the country arrived at this conclusion some months ago (at least), and most of the truly smart and informed electorate figured it out about...well, seven years ago, before this ninny named Bush was ever even elected. When he writes that Americans are slow to make judgments, I sense the possibility that he's really delivering a veiled apology that he's been far too slow.
Maybe it's his Minnesota roots, his prarie decency. But in his profession, that can also be a set of blinders (his gruff colleague Paul Krugman may be lacking in social graces, but his vision on Bush and lots of other subjects has been remarkably acute). Or perhaps it's a function of his fragile intellectual position as the one-time provincial who storms the Big Apple and later the globe, but who's always left with the nagging feeling that he must try to please those he thinks are somehow more sophisticated (I always get that feeling when I watch his manic TV appearances or flip through his silly high-concept, faux-profound books that attempt to reduce a complex world into simple metaphors that explain everything). Probably it's a little of both.
In any event, this comically late realization of his made me think of another kind of laughable journalistic tic: the way that beat sportswriters will lionize a star player, coach or owner until the day they're sent packing, after which you'd think they had been immediately transformed into a different person, one who must be attacked viciously because the crowd now demands it. To see this phenomenon practiced at its highest level, you've only to review the output of the entire PD sports staff pre- and post-Art Modell. For years, the salty, cigar-chomping New York ad guy was great copy. But when he moved the Browns to Baltimore, it was open season on him, his character, everything (a similar thing happened to Cavs coach Paul Silas, who seemed to go from genius to bum overnight, or in about the time it took new owner Dan Gilbert to work through his short-guy insecurities and send a signal that there's a new top dog in charge). But anyone who knew about Modell or thought much about his disastrous handling of the team from day one of his ownership (his ego-driven failure to defer to certifiable coaching legend Paul Brown) had to know what kind of guy he reallly was.
Only, these writers never thought to share this knowledge with their readers, at least until it was too late. Why venture into the unknown, ahead of the pack? It's so much easier to pick up the pieces afterward, and join the lynch mob.