This is a puzzle to me: Why do people hate David Brooks so much?
Sure, anyone who writes opinion for a living is going to get his fair share of abuse daily, without taking the trouble to go down to the demonstration.
But David Brooks? Among pundits, he is the most inoffensive of men. He both writes and speaks (in his appearances on PBS and NPR) with a reasonable, somewhat deferential, even self-deprecating tone. He’s thoughtful, not haranguing. He’s fair. You’ve got your views and he’s got his, and that all seems fine with him.
But man the way people (mainly on the left, I think, but I haven’t kept score, so I’m not positive) tee off on him! I’ve read screeds aimed at him that suggest a screw being loose somewhere, or perhaps a personal animus with roots of which I am unaware. They tend to be mostly written by people I’ve never heard of, and I find myself wondering if that’s it — are these people who just can’t stand that this (sort of) conservative has a gig they’d love to have at the ultimate “liberal” newspaper?
Or is it that he’s a type they can’t stand: The successful, middle-aged, moderate white guy who seems fairly comfortable with his role in life — kind of like me, you might say, before I got laid off — and is so low-key that his very imperturbability is a constant goad to them? Are the slings and arrows about trying to, for once, get a rise outta this guy?
I don’t know, but it seems to defy reason.
Take the latest.
Yesterday, Brooks had a column headlined “How We Are Ruining America.” Here’s its premise:
Over the past generation, members of the college-educated class have become amazingly good at making sure their children retain their privileged status. They have also become devastatingly good at making sure the children of other classes have limited chances to join their ranks….
There’s no bait-and-switch here. The whole column is about this class division, with most of it devoted to the ways, both overt and subtle, that the folks in the privileged class make sure “the children of other classes have limited chances to join their ranks.”
Wow, I thought. I almost wrote a post about this column, with a headline like, “Whoa! David Brooks is feeling the Bern today!” And because it was coming from Brooks, rather than the usual suspects, I gave the thesis particular attention.
It was a pretty decent, thoughtful, and empathetic column. I was bothered by one graf in it, though, where Brooks was talking about the subtle class cues that keep the uninitiated in their place:
Recently I took a friend with only a high school degree to lunch. Insensitively, I led her into a gourmet sandwich shop. Suddenly I saw her face freeze up as she was confronted with sandwiches named “Padrino” and “Pomodoro” and ingredients like soppressata, capicollo and a striata baguette. I quickly asked her if she wanted to go somewhere else and she anxiously nodded yes and we ate Mexican…
That bothered me for this reason: How on Earth is he to know for sure that the “friend” won’t read the column? And if she does, how is she not going to recognize the anecdote and feel even more humiliated than she would have been had they stayed in the gourmet joint?
But it didn’t ruin the column for me (although it certainly would for her).
This morning, I saw that the Web sort of went ape over that paragraph, and used it as a club to beat Brooks about the head and shoulders, with an occasional knee to the groin thrown in.
This bit from Slate sort of encapsulates the way others read that graf:
One thing that has happened in the past 40 years or so in the United States is that (inflation-adjusted) income for most people has stagnated while the price of housing, health care, and education has risen. Income for high earners has also continued to increase. Meanwhile, middle-class and working-class Americans are now less likely to “move up the income ladder” than they used to be—i.e. we’ve collectively become less likely to have rags-to-riches American dream trajectories during our lifetimes.
New York Times columnist David Brooks asserts Tuesday that this reduction in social mobility is not the result of aforementioned trends but because menus that involve foreign ingredients are too confusing to simple folk who don’t have college educations…
To which I have to say, no, that’s not what Brooks is saying. He’s saying that the very real barriers to upward mobility extend beyond the obvious, even down to small cultural signals that the privileged take for granted.
Which strikes me as coming from a guy who not only cares about this inequality, but thinks about it a good deal, and goes out of his way to look for ways that he might be part of the problem.
But boy, that’s not the way it plays in pieces such as this one (which calls him “the lunch date from hell”) or this one (“such an obnoxious snob”) or this one (“off the rails”).
To quote more extensively from that last one, to give you the flavor:
Come on in, I said. Moral Hazard, the Irish setter owned for photo op purposes by New York Times columnist David Brooks, stood dripping and shivering in my foyer. I half-filled his dog bowl with Jameson and he took it down in several big gulps.
“I had to get out,” he said. “It was starting to get crazy down there. Master’s off the rails and there’s nothing anybody can do about it. He walks around, day and night, mumbling to himself, saying weird stuff about community and prosciutto. People are starting to wonder. Douthat, the former houseboy, jumps into closets now when he sees him coming and Stephens, the new one, hides behind the sofa. Nobody wants to listen to 15 minutes on how Edmund Burke’s Reflections warned us against radicalism and balsamic vinegar. I mean, OK, hear it once and it’s interesting but around the third time, you want to talk about hockey.”…
And it wasn’t just the liberals who seem to make a fetish of trashing this guy. RedState got in on the act, too:
Brooks, the living equivalent of a Brooks Brothers store mannequin whose display rod was removed from his colon so he now thinks he walks around as “one of the people”, has long been oblivious to the working of those operating in a strata below his own. (He once referred to the Belgian beer Stella Artois as a “working class” brand.)
There’s something going on here that goes beyond the tone-deafness of that one paragraph. Whatever it is, it’s visceral, and it’s been out there awhile. I’ve been reading pieces like this one, and, to descend deeper into the gut, this one for years now…
“They have also become devastatingly good at making sure the children of other classes have limited chances to join their ranks….”
I would hate him solely for that line alone if I hadn’t read his Casper Milquetoast condescending “let me tell you how you should think” drivel before. He’s George Will without the thesaurus.
I’m a member of the college educated generation that he is apparently talking about. I know a lot of others who are in the same cohort. None of us are “making sure other classes have limited chances” to do anything. Maybe he is but he shouldn’t project his elitism on the rest of us who work hard to make a living, educate ourselves and our children, AND help people whenever we can.
His bio on Wikipedia reads like a textbook “how to become an East Coast elitist”… with a life spent in NYC, Philly, Chicago, Stanford, and Washington, D.C. He even has the requisite trophy wife as this little nugget from Wikipedia mentions “In 2017, Brooks married his former research assistant, writer Anne Snyder, 23 years his junior.[” I’m sure he’ll teach his young bride on the intricacies of ordering Pomodero.
This from the guy who knows more than any of us (except maybe Norm) about ordering craft beers… 🙂
Yeah, I don’t assume though that others wouldn’t be able to understand the complexity of ordering a beer.
Not sure how to take that…
I’m a beer geek, not a beer snob. I’m eager to share my love of good beer, but understand if you prefer a light lager. There are times when a Bud Light is just the right beer. My deeper prejudices against AB Inbev and Miller Coors (and Wal-Mart) is driven by their business practices. I prefer to shop local and small as much as I can.
“There are times when a Bud Light is just the right beer.” No. There are not, unless one is in a state in which one’s taste buds are deadened.
Although I will drink one on St. Paddy’s Day when they’re selling them in the Kelly green aluminum pint bottles. But that’s for the bottle. I’ve still got one of those in my closet from when my brother-in-law and I had such a great time in Five Points on March 17, 2007 — which was also my son’s wedding day.
I do enjoy an actual Budweiser, when that’s the best I can get. But I prefer a Yuengling. Or a Dos Equis Amber. Or a Michelob Amber Bock. Or a Guinness. Or a Newcastle.
Yep, all mass-produced. But it’s sort of like the reason I prefer Starbucks to the more boutique-y coffee shops — the standard is excellent, and uniform. To quote the heroine in one of my all-time favorite children’s books (she said it with regard to bread and jam), with those beers “I always know what I am getting, and I am always pleased.”
It’s not that I don’t like the local stuff at brewpubs. Sometimes I love it. But it’s more of a hit-and-miss thing. I’m often shocked, for instance, at what some people think an IPA should taste like….
As for “Not sure how to take that…”
As a compliment, Norm! I was citing Doug’s extensive knowledge of craft beers, as been above the knowledge of the rest of us, and then I decided it would be an insult if I didn’t mention you…
I don’t have extensive knowledge of craft beers – I will swiftly bow down to Norm on that topic any time. All I have is extensive experience drinking many different craft beers. I couldn’t offer any significant insight into the beer making process, the hop varieties, etc. I just try a lot of different beers (mainly IPAs) and separate them into Like/Don’t Like.
If I were a beer snob, I would have tried the small batch, craft IPA I saw on the menu at a trendy cured meat restaurant I was at in San Antonio two weeks ago. It was called “Archetype Historical IPA” and described as “Citrus, Vanilla, Funky Bitterness”. One 22 oz. glass went for $48! I had the Deschutes Fresh Squeezed IPA for $7 and was satisfied with that.
I can identify a few hops, but not most. And that comes from brewing beer rather than tasting. And I know what I like (IPAs as well). The Archetype sounds like an interesting brew. I’ll never pay $48 for a bomber of beer. I did pay $16 for a 12-oz bottle of 18 percent beer one time. It was very good, but not worth $16.00.
Another sunny, uplifting round of comments from Doug.
That’s me, Mr. Happy!
You should change your Twitter handle to “Sunshine.” Although you already have a pretty good one…
It’s comforting to know we have you here to balance them out.
I clicked on that Stella Artois link. Obviously Brooks was being way ironic, trying to channel his inner Tom Wolfe:
Bonfire of the Vanities is still one of my favorite books that I go back to every once in awhile. Wolfe’s description of the New York City upper class is great.
P.S. Tom Wolfe’s a W&L alum, as well.
Oh, I’m a huge fan of his — but I confess I don’t love his fiction the way I do his New Journalism. I think it’s because of his withering satire aimed at every single one of his fictional characters. He doesn’t seem to like, or have the slightest pity for, a single one of them. Really, think of a sympathetic character in Bonfire. I can’t; they’re all contemptible, starting with the ridiculous protagonist.
It’s the same problem I have with a lot of modern “quality” TV, including the stuff I love. There’s no one to admire or even care much about in “Breaking Bad” or “Game of Thrones.” I watch them anyway, but the lack of characters to like is wearying. As for “House of Cards” — those characters push you away so strenuously that I just quit watching about a year ago. They’re toxic, as are the plots.
My favorite books of his are The Right Stuff and The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. One of the great things about The Right Stuff is that he actually manages to let you admire the astronauts and Yeager, while still serving up his usual ironic detachment….
“Really, think of a sympathetic character in Bonfire.”
I love Sherman’s lawyer, Tommy Killian. All the references to the “favor bank” and how he interacts with the detectives is great. Heck, the detectives, Martin and Goldberg are great. I love the way Martin has all his Irish cop characteristics rub off on Goldberg, who’s Jewish, but actually thinks of himself more as Irish because of the Irish-cop culture he’s immersed.
Really, all the legal bits are great. I skip to those parts now, mostly.
I do love the skewering of the “social X-ray” as well. Because they’re not likable characters, the skewering is so delicious.
But they, too, are pathetic. They are thin, are they not, as a result of a desperate attempt to continue to be attractive?…
Yeah, Goldberg’s desire to be a donkey is sort of touching, but sort of pathetic, too.
What’s REALLY pathetic, though, is the relationship with The Girl With Brown Lipstick, which renders him contemptible.
Wolfe pins his characters down and puts them under a withering light like Joseph Blaine with his beetles. Only I think Sir Joseph has more affection for his beetles…
Did I remember that right? Goldberg’s the one who’s obsessed with the Girl With Brown Lipstick, right?
No, wait. I’m confusing Goldberg with Kramer. It’s been a LONG time since I read it.
But I seem to remember Kramer also being a guy very conscious of trying to be like the tougher, supposedly more macho Irish guys…
Yeah, Kramer is the Assistant DA and the Girl With Brown Lipstick is a juror on one of his cases. Kramer is definitely a sad-sack character. He’s a kiss-ass to the DA. Goldberg just sort of becomes an Irish cop because the Irish are the super-macho guys who have “The Right Stuff” as far as cops are concerned.
The donkeys. I get to say that because, according to my DNA, I’m 25 percent Irish….
Here’s the great part where he talks about the Harps and Donkeys:
Yeah, I love the line, “They used the word themselves, in pride but also as an admission.”
You have to be really sure of your subject to write a sentence like that…
I’m rewatching the early episodes of “The Wire” now (for some reason I stopped watching a couple of years back in the third or fourth season, and lost track of where I was, so I’m starting over, and enjoying it.) There’s a lot of that donkey in Jimmy McNulty. In fact, the whole world the show paints is similar to the demimonde Wolfe described in Bonfire…
Very similar cultures. And you even have a similar character to Goldberg. Jimmy’s partner Bunk is a black guy who gets drunk with Jimmy, has his back with the Irish loyalty, and otherwise adopts the Harp mentality.
Here’s Cole’s Wake, one of my favorite scenes from The Wire, showing the cops’ pride in, and admission of, their Harp and Donkey culture.
Caution: STRONG language.
Conversely, there’s also the snobbery that people from, say, South Carolina have for New Yorkers: It’s the reverse snobbery of small town folks, generated by their own insecurities.
I was raised in a small town so I have an idea of what you’re talking about, you’ll get someone from a larger city move in and it doesn’t take long for them to start complaining about everything in the small town because of their superior attitude. Things in the larger cities aren’t always better. If someone from Detroit moves to Chapin, should Chapin bend over backwards to become the next Detroit?
You wouldn’t happen to be from New York would you?
Yep, I know what you mean. When I was news editor of a small-town paper more than 30 years ago, I used to have to struggle to keep good reporters down on the farm (in those days, a small-town paper had more reporters than The State does now, and some of them were quite good).
And while I hated hearing them say disparaging things about our town and part of the country, I couldn’t help cracking up at how one friend from New York (now with The New York Times) had about the community: “It’s not the heat; it’s the stupidity.”
Actually, that might not be fair. It WAS a sort of general complaint about living there on one level, but I seem to recall she mostly said it when some local newsmaker really did do something stupid.
It was a guilty pleasure. I didn’t like her saying it, but it cracked me up…
My definition of a true small town (less than 1000 people) is one that doesn’t even have a newspaper… or one that is put out more than weekly and many times the reporter is also the editor, advertising executive and printer operator.
That’s pretty small, all right. But that describes a town a good bit bigger than that, too. Even when newspapers were thriving, a town usually had to be well over 30,000 to support a daily paper…
I take that back. To check myself, I looked and saw that Orangeburg, which has a daily, is only about 13,500.
Huh. That’s surprising. And atypical, I think.
Normally, the threshold is more like Sumter, with 40,000.
I’m thinking maybe SC’s tough annexation laws must be keeping O’burg’s boundaries artificially small…
As someone born and raised in SC/NC, who went to college in SC, then lived for a time to the DC area, I have to say that, save for family, I generally preferred the company of folks in the latter simply because they were more curious about the world and therefore tended to be better informed about it than the average South Carolinian. Of course the average level of education there is higher, but it’s the general lack of curiosity of so many folks down South that grates. And when pressed on it, they often try to style their ignorance as an asset – which can take a lack curiosity to a dangerous level.
Word of the Day: bumptious
It’s a good ‘un…
Yep, good evidence of the small town insecurities I mentioned.
“Yep, good evidence of the small town insecurities I mentioned.”
What’s more likely is in a larger population your ignorance is just less noticeable.
I can honestly say our family attempted to assimilate as Yankees from “up north”. We got the same treatment at church, on our kids baseball teams, schools, etc. We moved to South Carolina for a reason, not to impose our ideas on the people here.
Yeah, I was always an outsider when I worked at papers in Tennessee and Kansas. And I was comfortable with that. It’s a status you get used to as a Navy brat moving every year or two, and it’s a proper role for a journalist — the disinterested spectator.
It really took an adjustment for me to live and work in a place where I was born (but did not grow up), and where most of my relatives lived. To have news sources tell me they knew someone in my family, or to have relatives comment on something that I wrote for the paper — it was pretty uncomfortable. George’s worlds were colliding, and George was getting upset!…
Absolutely… if they don’t know your Great Great Grandpa and what regiment he served in in the War of Northern Aggression, you are considered unworthy. Oh they’ll smile and say “How y’all doin’?” but never give you that extra slice of cornbread down at the church social.
Aw, you don’t need that extra piece of cornbread. Not good for you, all those carbs. And I’ll bet there’s bacon grease in it. Welcome to the buckle of the Stroke Belt…
You know why all those Southern gentlemen wore their pants up around their armpits… because it was less embarrassing than having to buy a size 60 belt.
For most of my life I’ve felt a bit of the reverse of this. In my grandmother’s small town, I do have this kind of cred. They think I’m good people. They know all about my ancestors and that we’ve all been good church going people forever, etc. But I feel a bit like an imposter or an infiltrator or like I am deceiving them. Because I don’t feel that most of my attitudes match theirs.
That dichotomy of attitudes that Chuckie described up there – I identify more with the curiosity indicative of the not from here. I’m really not sure how that happened – I have never lived anywhere else except The South, and mostly here in the South. I am not alone – I have friends equally as curious and as mystified by surrounding attitudes as I am – but it is definitely a minority.
I do wonder about this. What makes certain attitudes prevailing, and what makes outliers?
I’m always saying Bennettsville is my hometown, but if you walk around the court square and ask people about me, they probably won’t know me at all, or — if they’re lawyers or others who tend to be up on such things — they might say, “You mean, the newspaper guy?”
It’s home to me because it was the place I returned to almost every summer (except when I lived in South America) while I was growing up. So it was a constant. But if you’re only in a place for summer vacation, you’re not really fully a part of the community’s life. If you don’t go to school there or work there, you’re a visitor. I did attend school there in the 9th grade while my Dad was in Vietnam, but I doubt many of my classmates remember me well, if at all. They were there K-12; I was just there that one year.
A number of years ago on a visit to B’ville, I got some feedback that made me think that to a lot of the older folks, especially those who are members of Thomas Memorial Baptist Church, I’m remembered as the kid who yelled out in church once in 1957. I knew that I would never forget it, because I was so extremely embarrassed by the laughter after my outburst. I was very surprised to learn that other people remembered it 40 and 50 years later.
If I’m widely known in my “hometown,” it’s likely for that…
I’ve told that story about yelling out in church before. Here it is again:
I say 1957; it could have been ’58. I was 4 at the time, but I didn’t turn 4 until October of ’57…
On David Brooks, the times I’ve seen or read him lately give me an impression of a guy who has gone through and is still open to some questioning of his assumptions, values, and approaches to life. I would assert that anyone who begins to take religion more seriously and isn’t afraid to let it change him or open him up will make most of us at least somewhat uncomfortable. People who are in battle mode constantly can’t stand someone in the foxhole with them who might ask “It it right to kill these guys?” The polarized are going to try to discredit the source whenever the questions or answers they hear don’t fit into binary boxes. Who among us isn’t prone – even doomed, to insensitivity toward either groups or individuals. It’s just easy to point it out in someone whose words or ideas we’d rather not confront directly. I’m not a Brooks fan, but I think he’s trying to break out and grow – it just happens to be toward a kind of nuanced center. Very dangerous ground.
Yeah, tell me about it. You tick everybody off when you try to occupy the center. And maybe that’s part of his appeal to me — he’s trying to advocate for the radical center, too.
Good points, Harry…
Yeah, sorry about the digression on Wolfe, Donkeys, and The Wire (although that’s part of what I like about this blog – we can start one place and get far afield quite quickly).
To answer your original question, I think it’s pretty simple. The base left dislikes Brooks because he’s a center-right elitist. The base right dislikes Brooks because of the same reason.
I think it’s just something about so many of Brooks’ columns going for these enormously sweeping grand sociological pronouncements, like he’s going for the Grand Unified Theory of Human Behavior with every column.
Yeah, but that appeals to me. It’s probably a big part of why I like his work. He doesn’t always succeed, but I like that he’s reaching for that overarching truth. And sometimes it clicks.
It’s partly because I myself am about forests rather than trees. It’s a form of perception I value more. Some here will say I should focus on the trees a bit more, but I don’t like to. It’s the overall picture of the forest that draws me…
Yeah. I get a great view of the forest; I just keep bumping into these darned trees. Problematic mindset, but, I’m probably stuck with it.
A lot of folks with decent educational backgrounds don’t get the foodie terminology – choose to be both ignorant and apathetic about it. But a whole lot of us don’t go for trendy stuff much anyway.
Sounds like he missed his calling as a Evangelical minister.
Yes, every idea is so very important, and these grand revelations (like the one about his friend and the deli) so often boil down to Anthro 101. Yes, groups of adopt behaviors that identify them with one class or subset or another within their society. People on the rungs of the ladder often use these to identify people as “other,” whether it is for exclusion or something more benign. Brooks’ friend isn’t entirely put off by such signals or she wouldn’t have been having lunch with someone who is very likely transmitting constant signals of affluent well-traveled well-educated Northeast.
“Groups of people” – I shouldn’t do this from my phone
What’s a striata baguette, anyway? I know what a baguette is, but striata?
I guess I’m just a prole.
What’s a prole?
It’s a fancy kind of meat that you can order at the gourmet sandwich shop David Brooks eats at. 🙂
I saw Prole Sandwich open for Procol Harum in Albert Hall 50 years ago today!
I remember that, Striata Baguette was their lead singer.
I know this isn’t an open thread, but this is interesting.
If the president uses social media to further his agenda, can he block critics on that platform?
Apparently Trump thinks it’s ok to troll everyone else, but not ok for anyone to troll him.
Wow, another one! I just keep finding these. It’s the column that launched a thousand columns, or blog posts at least. This one’s about “gabagool.”…
Generally, Brad, I agree with you on this. My one problem with the column (and it’s a mild one) is the cultural determinism–the insistence that culture is more important than economic disadvantage in limiting opportunity. That sets a lot of people off–including me, normally, since I have big problems with cultural determinist arguments generally, and have spent much of my career going after such arguments when used to explain southern poverty and economic backwardness. Brooks can sometimes be insightful, but it’s basically a lazy approach to the issues he addresses.
Two commentaries on the column that might interest you: Dan Drezner in the WaPo notes that cultural cuing can work the other way as well, getting refined idiots into positions they shouldn’t enjoy (Guess who his prime examples are?). And Alyssa Rosenberg, also in the WaPo, gives a nice etiquette lesson in how to introduce people to strange new foods; as she notes, it can be a problem as well with educated elites dealing with popular and ethnic foods. Her prime example? Her first encounter with Nashville hot chicken! And she’s right–you need instruction in advance if you’re going to survive (I’m a local, and self-educated, but it wasn’t easy).
It was Alyssa Rosenberg’s column that alerted me to all the criticism of Brooks. I didn’t cite her piece, though, as she really didn’t fit into the “hate Brooks” category…
And frankly, Nashville hot chicken was a new thing to me. I don’t remember it from spending time there back in the day. But then, I’m allergic to chicken, and pretty much pay zero attention to chicken-based cuisine (which sometimes seems to me to be every other dish served in America)…
It was pretty obscure even here, outside of a few (black) neighborhoods. Its big breakout occurred fairly recently–I suspect as a byproduct of Nashville’s improbable emergence as a culinary capital. I only started eating it with the opening of Hattie B’s, which is a convenient walk from my office at Vandy. As with any food cult, there are arguments about who does it best; the gold standard is generally considered to be Prince’s, the original hot chicken place in North Nashville, with some denigrating Hattie B’s as entry-level. I think it’s just fine, but the real aficionados push the heat up higher than my gastrointestinal system can tolerate.
Here’s another one — it’s got a funny picture and everything — and here’s an excerpt:
I’m really curious to know how many people out there wrote column-length pieces about this one column. Not curious enough to try to count them, but curious…
Basically, every column he writes is likely to be subject to the kind of reaction I had on that Edwards column back in 2007, with thousands of strangers stirred up and mad at him over something that really shouldn’t cause such an overheated reaction.
The most fascinating thing about it is the way people will Google and find out one thing about you, and then write or comment on the basis of that one thing like they know you and have special insight into you…
It’s kind of creepy, really. Sort of makes you not want to attract that kind of attention, so you can just do your job without all the hoopla…
Yep, ever since you wrote that article in support of the Blue Laws back in the 80s I just can’t possibly find anything you say credible. 🙂
You’re joshing, but you just never know what’s going to push people’s buttons.
I didn’t think I was saying much when I said it would be great if once again we could have one day a week when nobody expects us to do business because we CAN’T do business…
And that John Edwards column was a particularly insignificant one in my mind. It only came into being because I wanted to add the next Monday onto a week off I was taking from work, but I felt like I ought to give the team something in return, so I said “Tell you what. I’ll write an extra column, and y’all can run it that Tuesday.” It wasn’t something worth a Sunday (my normal column day) in my mind; I was just trying to save someone else from having to write something for Tuesday.
This topic had been on my mind for several months, ever since I had said I thought Edwards was a phony on my blog, and someone had challenged me on it, so I had said something like “It’s based on a number of incidents, and I’ll have to think back to answer you.” So I spent an hour or so in The State’s database reminding myself of details of those incidents, whipped out a column, and then had to spend more time cutting it than writing it, since I was trying to cram details of three incidents into one column.
Then I sent it in on Monday morning and went about my business.
When I arrived at the paper Tuesday morning, someone from the newsroom greeted me before I entered the building with the news that the column was causing a huge stir far beyond South Carolina.
I was utterly unprepared for that. It was only later when I read the coverage that I realized people were reacting that way because it was written by the editor in charge of endorsements at the largest paper in the one state Edwards HAD to win early on. I hadn’t thought of it that way. I thought I was just enlarging on a subject that had come up on my blog…
Even the Onion’s AVClub jumped on it. http://www.avclub.com/article/explaining-david-brooks-column-stupid-coworker-who-257938
Wow, that reads like it was written by someone completely lacking in education himself:
“A coworker,” singular, followed by “they,” “their,” “them,” “them” again, “their” again, “their” a third time, and back to “they.”
Surely that was for comic effect, right? But it didn’t work. I found reading the paragraph so excruciating I couldn’t see the humor…
That’s gotta be it, right? The point of the piece is to cruelly mock people who use “they” after singular antecedents, taking it to excruciating lengths. Right?
Well, there’s nothing funny about those people. They should all be sliced up deli-thin and served in fancy, artisanal sandwiches.
I was being way Swiftian there. Y’all all got that, right? 🙂
WordPress spellcheck didn’t know the word, “artisanal.”
That makes me think more highly of WordPress spellcheck…
Wish I could say. It confused me enough that it was under AVClub’s “Newswire” and not The Onion proper. The double layer of sarcasm was more than enough to throw me off, especially when it was the first article I saw on that story.
I had to Google it just to make sure it was a real story and not a mistake when one of the Onion’s employees hit the publish button.
The trendy thing to do these days is to use “they” to disguise the gender of the person being referenced. Or to just reject the subliminal male dominance of using “he”…
Right. Which is something I utterly reject. As a journalist, I’ve always been in favor of communicating as much information as possible as economically as possible.
When you can tell your reader someone’s gender by using “he” or “she” instead of “they,” why wouldn’t you? You’re communicating MORE information in LESS space.
Of course, my example here has to do with hypothetical people of unknown gender — in which case I vastly prefer the somewhat awkward “he or she” construction to committing the sin of number disagreement…
I also lament the lapse of the standard news convention of sharing people’s age on second reference, along with the last name: “Smith, 43, is a big fat idiot.”
Communicate that and the person’s gender and you’ve taken a step toward describing the person you’re writing about. (With a lot of people, phrases such as “big, fat idiot” are also helpful, which is why I included it.)
And now I’m reading what Doug said again and reacting more strongly to the word “disguise.”
Since when is the purpose of language to hide information rather than reveal it?
Yeah, I get it. We’re talking ideological motivations here. Which reminds me why I despise ideology…
Not saying I agree with the practice – but perhaps just like with age, the new embedded concern is that the reader will apply some preconceived bias about the person based on gender.
For example, if I write “I went to the gym with my friend and they bench pressed 100 pounds for the first time”. Replace “they” with “he” and then “she” and see if you respond differently. Maybe not a good example…
Well, either he’s a wuss or she’s fairly strong. 🙂
Of course, if your friend is 8 years old, it’s impressive either way.
The point of telling a story is to communicate fully with the reader, to give HIM or HER all the information you can as economically as possible.
If HE lifted 100 pounds for the first time, the story tells you one thing — and perhaps it will lead into a story about how this guy’s had a terrible medical condition, so it was a triumph. Or not. If SHE did it, it’s a different story.
I just can’t imagine a legitimate reason to leave your reader hanging wondering which it is….
I too am annoyed by this trend, but I do also accept that language is a living thing and language usage changes, and if this becomes an accepted widely used new construction that people en masse use and understand, then it is a valid language construction, even if it annoys me very much.
I think that part of the motivation or perceived need to have a genderless singular pronoun comes from the acknowledgement of gender identity issues, i.e. there is a growing class of people who don’t want to be he or she or don’t know which they want to be or were born one and want to be the other and knowing how to refer to these people is problematic so having a neutral pronoun is convenient. This is all odd to me. I’m not defending it. Just relating that this phenomenon is occurring.
My feeling is if we need a new word, lets get a new word, but ‘they’ was already taken with it’s already non-singular meaning. So why confuse things.
But apparently the change is coming, see:
First Trump, now this.
That’s it. The AP and I have split the blanket. I’m going to start using the Oxford comma, and see how “they” like it…
That is just unconscionable. Why even have a freaking stylebook?
AP style used to be about using the language to communicate clearly. Now, apparently, it’s about hiding information.
As Cool Hand Luke might say, “Callin’ it style don’t make it right, boss!“
It’s the same level of curiosity and amazement I have when seeing how many columns are written about a single Trump tweet.
Just to help you separate the two things: Donald Trump is president of the United States, and what the president of the United States says has greater weight than what anyone else on the planet says (something he has not figured out, or he’d give up Tweeting).
Meanwhile, David Brooks is just this guy, you know…
See the difference?
It depends on what the nature of the tweet is. One that is just a goofy GIF of Trump clotheslining a character with a CNN head probably doesn’t warrant three days of 24×7 media coverage. But that’s just me.
And that tweet required literally thousands of man hours to track down the source of the animation, the background of the creator, the threat to expose him by CNN, the backlash against CNN for the threat, and the analysis of the backlash.
Meanwhile, life is actually happening for the rest of us. Trump has got the media on the end of his puppet strings… and they love him for the ratings he brings them. Ratings = $$$$$ That’s all this is about.
Doug, you seem to be confused about something.
When journalists spend all those hours, you seem to think it’s taking them away from other things they need to be doing. Like cutting the grass or fixing that step on the back deck.
No. See, this is their job. Getting to the bottom of what public officials say and do and what it means and what happens as a result of what those public officials say and do… all of that is an enormous part of the job.
And the higher up you go in the political food chain, the more journalists will be devoted to what those public officials say and do, for the very simple reason that it affects more people. And the highest point is president of the United States.
Sometimes, what the president has to say is momentous and poetic and inspiring, like the Gettysburg Address. Sometimes, it will be stupid and scattered and incoherent, like Trump’s Tweets. But either way, it is the journalist’s duty to examine and do everything possible to figure out those words.
The result may not tell readers anything more than the fact that the president’s Tweets — published statements released to the entire world, available to millions of times as many people as heard Lincoln’s speech — ARE stupid and scattered and incoherent, but you know what? That’s something readers/citizens need to know.
You may say that everyone already knows that, so why don’t we just ignore him from here on? But first, journalists can’t do that. It would be grossly irresponsible to start ignoring what the most powerful man in the world has to say.
Second, polls continue to show that about 40 percent of the electorate still haven’t figured out that Donald J. Trump is grossly unfit for the job — completely out of his depth; morally, temperamentally and intellectual unprepared for what it entails.
So obviously, the truth about Trump, which in great part is communicated by his Tweets, is still news to a lot of people — news that hasn’t quite gotten through to them yet….
If the present circumstances were different, I would agree with you. But considering the competition for ratings and the need to increase them so the bottom line is profitable, cable networks like CNN are going overboard. Tracking down the source of the clip is one thing but then the threat to expose him and then harassing his father to the point of the reporter getting punched out is “A Bridge Too Far”.
The press or media if you prefer should hold any public official accountable and party affiliation should never enter the picture but the “press” you were part of doesn’t exist anymore if you include CNN, FOX, MSNBC, ABC, CBS, NBC, and any other for profit broadcast or print media that is clearly biased either liberal, conservative, Democrat, or Republican.
The media have become an entertainment centric business instead of the pursuit of the truth for the sake of pursuing the truth. I could care less who made the video clip, all that is important is that Trump re-Tweeted it apparently much to his delight. So what if one of his supporters made it, he is not the POTUS, Trump is and his approval of the video clip is the key. Then to go after the father by a reporter who simply wouldn’t take the father’s answer and refusal to be further interviewed was completely out of the realm of what a responsible reporter should be about.
CNN is enjoying the highest ratings it has had in years and I agree with Doug, ratings = $$$$. Otherwise, if CNN continued to lose viewers and in turn revenue, sooner or later, the plug would have been pulled.
It would be great if reporters were neutral and their reports were not laced with well placed key words intended to sway the reader one way or the other.
Donald Trump is a loud-mouthed, in-your-face product of Brooklyn who was born into wealth, influence, and power. He has never had to struggle, know hardship as we understand it in the context of wealth, go hungry, need clothing to wear to work, or any of the other every day difficulties people across the social and financial spectrum experience.
“considering the competition for ratings and the need to increase them so the bottom line is profitable, cable networks like CNN are going overboard…”
See, I can’t speak to that. And I have nothing to say in defense of FOX, MSNBC, ABC, CBS or NBC.
My advice? Read. Don’t try to become informed by watching TV. Video can be a great supplement to news — so you can watch a speech or catch the tone of voice in which an important thing was said or watch an actual, physical event happening. But don’t rely on it alone to make you an informed citizen….
That he is possibly unfit could be determined by looking at the tweet. All the rest is wasted effort. I wish reporters would spend 10% of the time they spend on Trump’s handshakes on actual corruption in government.
Doug, there are countries where public corruption is an enormous problem, which undermine the whole country and its economy and its ability to interact productively with the world. You can find them in Latin America and Africa, as well as Central Asia and some other places.
Does that mean there’s no corruption in Washington (which is where the reporters in question work)? Of course not. But it’s here and there in dark corners. Corruption doesn’t make up the whole government the way it does in some places.
All of the corruption the best reporter in the world could find in Washington would not add up to the harm that one idiot in the Oval Office can do, to this country and the world.
Sure, go find bad docs scamming the Medicare system, or bad officials helping them do it. Expose them; root them out; fix the problem.
But don’t take your White House reporters’ eyes off this guy for one second to do it.
Yes, I know that to you, government IS corruption, and that’s a drum that should be beaten all day every day. Kind of like The Nerve with their “Where government gets exposed” tagline (because government is entirely bad, and every bit of it is something that needs to be “exposed” rather than “covered”).
But you know what? You want to find the biggest single dishonest, corrupt scammer in the whole government? It’s our president. Others are amateurs compared to him. What David Frum wrote about him — that he ran for this office in order to become the richest man in the world — may not be right, but it is believable. It makes more sense than a lot of other explanations. I mean, seriously — why does a guy who is completely uninterested in the things government does, a guy who is ALL about making more money for himself — want to run a government?
So if corruption is your thing, watch this guy…
I think that is what is happening, Doug.
The revelation of the Trump Organization’s equity sources and to whom debt obligations are owed is going to be very compelling reading. You know that disclosure by Trump of his tax advisor’s “opinion” that no significant business ties to Russia exist is going to be undone as fast as Don Jr.’s explanations of his Russian meeting. right? If we find out about these payments it will be because of dogged journalism; and only because of that kind of effort to get to the truth.
Brad, I don’t watch any of the cable or network channels for news, only for some series I find entertaining. When I do watch any of the televised news, it is usually for weather or something specific that is next to impossible to spin one way or the other.
I read the NYT, WaPo, Post & Courier, the local newspaper, and other news sources on the internet that offer a wider and often conflicting take on events of the day. The only reason I know CNN is enjoying the best ratings ever is because of the internet reliable sources.
When at the end of the day I sit down with my wife and dog to relax after my walk or workout, we watch PBS, some network series if it is interesting and not an insult to our intelligence or use the ROKU to get Netflix, Amazon, and a couple of other choices that offer anything better than the trash on so many of the channels on DirectTV.
Pollution of the mind is a malady I prefer to avoid.
Here’s today’s headline from cnn.com:
“Trump tells Brigitte Macron: ‘You’re in such good shape”
That’s a news story. ‘Nuff said.
And in terms of corrupt presidents, the gap between Trump and Hillary would have been measured in millimeters.
We would never use the metric system. 🙂
And that’s not the only reason it’s nonsense.
I believe Trump’s comments on the wife of the French President are newsworthy in that they reflect upon a man who continues to be unable to contain his boorish, undiplomatic and incendiary stream of consciousness – even after knowing better ought to have been pounded into his skull. That it has not is indicative of someone incapable of change, let alone growth. That’s not something that should go unreported by the news media.
Has anyone asked the premiere dame of France whether she was offended?
Mark’s right on this. Given Trump’s history of groping and outrageous “locker room” talk he should never say anything that even hints of an inappropriate comment. Yet here he is creeping everyone out.
People are starting to figure Trump out. First it’s the Russians with all their flattery of the president. Then the Saudis chimed in. Macron has discovered that the best way to extract favoritism from the US is to simply to appeal to his enormous, narcissistic ego. Don’t be surprised if the Louisiana purchase is returned to France and Alaska becomes part of Russia.
Quick – what was the focus of the meeting between Trump and Macron? Do you think anything besides Macron’s wife was discussed?
Right at this moment on CNN.com, front and center at the top of the page is a video of Trump and Macron shaking hands with the headline: “The never ending handshake between Trump and Macron”.
I suppose that is also newsworthy. Certainly front page stuff.
The media has you guys programmed perfectly. I’m guessing there must be some subliminal messages that are triggering the brainwashing.
“Quick – what was the focus of the meeting between Trump and Macron?”
I think they discussed French military readiness and NATO commitments. I actually have some of the transcript from Macron discussing it:
“And zis is ze nouveau main battle tank, the De Gaul. It has four reverse gears, and one forward, in case ze enemy gets behind us. And, oui, all parts are interchangeable wis ze German mbt. Easier to collaborate, non?”
“Media have you guys programmed perfectly.” It’s a plural noun.
I almost said this when you mentioned it before. I’ll say it now: There you go watching TV for news again.
I have a lot of problems with TV news, but probably the greatest speaks directly to your point — and it’s something TV people can’t really do much about. It’s the nature of the medium.
You mention “front page stuff.” That’s the thing. Whatever is on TV at a given second isn’t just “front page;” it’s all there is. It’s the only story in the world at that second. Oh, they TRY to show you more than one story at a time, with the chyron crawl. But it can’t do what print can do: Present all of the news to you at once, with placement giving you hints as to importance (Is it on the front page? If so, where on the front page?), and you can choose what you read.
The better websites do the same.
But TV — broadcast and cable TV — can’t do that. They’re all about the NOW, and your attention at a given second is on one story…
““Media have you guys programmed perfectly.” It’s a plural noun.”
David Brooks would be proud of you for helping out the illiterate lowlifes out here. By the way, I know the “correct” way to use it but choose not to. I don’t like how it sounds your way. Same for data/datum. Data IS is fine with me.
I don’t watch CNN on TV. The story was featured on their website which probably gets more views than the TV arm does.
Trump’s not the only sitting US President to have an interest being seen with Macron’s wife. Remember this photo of Obama while at a funeral?
That’s not Macron’s wife. That’s the prime minister of Denmark. And the British P.M., of course, getting in on the act…
Brooks has a good one today, “Moral Vacuum in the House of Trump“…
Weird analogy there: insecticide killing a moral code.
Doesn’t that make the moral code some sort of insect you’re trying to kill? I’m not sure that’s the analogy I would have gone with.
That comment of Brooks’ needed some editorial honing…
How about this:
That gives him an air of being dashing. He’s a coward. I would prefer:
Trump and his close associates have fled from every moral code that appeared on the horizon with the weather gague. Whenever morality and ethics began a pursuit, Trump has spread every scrap of canvas available, and cracked on like smoke and oakum in the opposite direction. In an effort to elude any ethical code, he has seen fit to dispense with this cannons, pump his fresh water over the side, and has otherwise taken every action possible to avoid being ensnared by any moral or ethical code.
He’s a scrub.
An alternative view : Trump has sprayed insecticide on the cockroaches that inhabit Congress and the media.
No, Doug, Trump has shown he and anyone who has followed him into “service” to our country is far worse than what constitutes normalcy in Washington. He has broaught a new low, a new level of degeneracy to a place that is, in fact as you say, in dire need of ethics and service. Trump is not the politician to do that – he doesn’t have a single redeeming quality, actually.
Yes. Sometimes he irritates me greatly, but he did well with today’s piece.
And in other news – Don Jr.’s Russian meeting now included an former Russian intelligence agent… I wonder if he made it onto Kushner’s three times-revised security clearance form?
It’s more like this pathological lying – or lying by omission – is a hardening of the arteries for the Trumps.
Let’s go through an “and then…” analysis. I assume the intent is to prove without a doubt that the Russians influenced the election in order to ensure Trump’s victory.
So some Russians met with Trump’s son. And then what happened? Let’s say they gave some damaging information to Trump Jr. about Hillary. And then what happened? Let’s say the Trump campaign vetted the information and determined it was true. And then what happened? Let’s say this was information that NOBODY else had, was unknown in the media. And then what happened? Now I’m running out of hypotheticals. Did they run some television commercials with that information? I don’t think so. Did Trump bring it up in the debates? I don’t think so. Did the Trump campaign release it to the media? I don’t know — and if they did, did the media publish it?
I’m trying to make the leap from a meeting with a couple Russians leading to multiple blue states flipping their electorate to vote for Trump. Help me out here.
For the record, I am inclined to agree that it is likely absolutely no dirt on Hillary was shared with the Trump campaign. I’m on record here days ago saying that.
I think what we have here is the Russian’s probing just how interested the Trumps’ would be to collude with the Russians. Just taking the meeting and showing up told them what they wanted to know. Plausible deniability is the mantra, remember. So at that point the Russian attorney just bumbled around for a while; having already seen the answer for her own eyes – and had the perspective validated by her “overseer”, the so-called lobbyist (spy).
Hence the newfound boldness of Trump’s Hillary claims that began to heat up just days later. And the email dump onto Wikileaks… The rest is history, if you don’t follow; reread the timelines.
You mean the Wikileaks dump of the actual DNC emails that exposed what the Clinton was doing to rig the primary against Sanders? That factual information? The information hackers got my sending John Podesta a “click here to enter your email password” email?
Did they also shoot a blowdart into Hillary’s neck that caused her to pass out at the 911 Memorial? And then change the locks on her door in late October so she couldn’t leave her room to campaign in Rust Belt states? Now I’m getting it. it was an ingenious plan.
It isn’t a binary world.
Remember the Russian malware that got out into the wild last month? That’s what happens. Strategy is a plan. The strategy was to deminish the standing and credibility of the US. The unfolding of events cannot be anticipated. It just flows. The trick is to maximize the number of “wins” one can achieve irrespective of the results, not focus on targeting some specific outcome. Actually, to Putin, the outcome doesn’t really matter. He benefits from the disruption. And infighting. He had two perfect stooges, I will grant you that.
Perhaps this will help you understand why nothing seems to have resulted from the Don, Jr. meeting with Veselnitskaya: http://cannonfire.blogspot.com/2017/07/courtroom-quality-evidence-that-trump.html
I will offer an alternate scenario in which Team Trump did get the promised info. Trump had said on the night of June 7 — the same day that Junior had scheduled the June 9th meeting with Veselnitskaya — “I am going to give a major speech on probably Monday of next week (June 13, 2017) and we’re going to be discussing all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons. I think you’re going to find it very informative and very, very interesting.”
Since there was nothing incriminating in the 33,000 emails Trump claimed Hillary “bleached”, the promised “Monday of next week” speech was never made.
In other words, Donald Trump, Sr. was fully aware on June 7, 2016 of what Donald, Jr. was up to and was eager to hit Hillary with the dirt he hoped the Russians would deliver on June 9, 2017.
Yep, the timeline fits. It’s not plausible that Trump Sr. did not know about the meeting. Three of his top associates (2 of them relatives) met with a Russian attorney who was in town defending a Russian oligarch for money laundering. The meeting was arranged through another oligarch friend, his son and some weird dude named Rob Goldstone, a UK music publicist. Trump is clearly lying about this.
For the sake of argument let’s just assume there is no crime involved in any of this. Even so why do people defend this serial liar so stridently? (And lets further assume Hillary Clinton personally killed Vince Foster, led the attack on the Benghazi consulate that killed ambassador Stevens and posted the nuclear launch codes on her email server. Any answer won’t involve her).
“Since there was nothing incriminating in the 33,000 emails Trump claimed Hillary “bleached”…”
Statements like this drive me up the wall.
First, how can you possibly know what was in a document that has been destroyed? Second, what inference do you take when a document is destroyed after a subpoena is issued for its production? Third, it was deleted using “BleachBit“. I mean, good gracious, I don’t like re-litigating nonsense like this since Hillary Clinton will never be President, but come on.
Spin whatever theories you like about Trump, but try to live in reality with regard to the issues surrounding Hillary Clinton.
I mean, I let all sorts of wrong stuff in the comments here slide all the time, but I just had to correct the record on that whopper.
If you don’t like re-litigating Hillary Clinton stuff then why re-litigate Hillary Clinton stuff? I think you DO like re-litigating Hillary Clinton. Right now it’s all conservatives have.
Hey, I know EXACTLY what’s in a document that’s been destroyed!
David Brooks likes to pose as a common man when he’s anything but. He once famously criticized Obama for not being the kind of guy who would be comfortable at an Applebee’s salad bar. Applebee’s doesn’t have salad bars. Which Brooks would know if he was the common man he likes to pose as.
This is to address the Applebee’s salad bar comment “controversy” Brooks made about Obama. All Applebee’s locations are franchises and are not corporate owned. According to Applebee’s corporate, depending on the franchisee, a salad bar is an option if the franchise owner wishes to have one. I know for certain I have dined at an Applebee’s that did have a salad bar. Criticizing Brooks over something so trivial is indicative of the extent critics will go to make a point. Find something substantive like Brooks defending Trump for not releasing his tax returns then criticism will be valid.
Of course Brooks has lost touch with the “common man” the same as most columnists who are part of the elite circle in NYC who seldom venture outside of their own “tribe” that includes both conservatives and liberals alike.
Well I’m late to this thread. I was out of town last week. But maybe someone will still see this. It’s alright if not.
I like David Brooks. I don’t know what that makes me, weird guess.
The only thing that bothered me about the column was that he preemptively aborted the trip to the deli instead of giving his friend a chance to grow. Maybe she wasn’t uncomfortable. Maybe she would have liked to learn what those things were. Though I do respect his empathy, his response may have been overreaching.
Though it’s not an easy situation to navigate empathetically since reactions can be so different. With the best intentions, whatever path you choose may unintentionally offend of insult someone. I think It’s still laudable to have the empathy to be aware of these things and worth it to make the effort to ease discomfort and increase communication as best you can, even if it goes awry.
Right or wrong, my instinct in those sorts of situations is to pretend that I am also confused about some of the ingredients. I would maybe comment, ‘I wonder what that is’, or ask ‘do you know what that is?’ or comment, ‘I’m not sure but I think ‘blah blah’ is a cheese’ to hopefully make the person feel less different in their possible ignorance and give an opening for them to learn about it if they want to.
But I still don’t fault David Brooks for being aware of these differences and caring to try to ease someone’s perceived discomfort.
Scout, I always read your comments, partly because I often agree with you. I, too, like David Brooks. No one is perfect, and that one paragraph was a bit uncomfortable. But I am always interested in his “moderately conservative” perspective.
Also, I always read Doug’s comments, partly because I often do not agree with him. Understanding his thinkig helps me avoid confirmation bias.
That’s the beauty of the commentary… I doubt anyone here has changed the minds of anyone else in all these years on anything meaningful, certainly not the mind of our host. We each have arrived at our viewpoint via our experiences.
Actually, my views are fluid and are influenced by people like you, and many (if not all) of the other regulars. I read the blog to be flexible, to understand other points of view.
I often agree with you too, Bob, and I do here as well. I find that reading and engaging with others of differing viewpoints here does affect my views and as well as my respect for others with differing viewpoints.
In his column today, “Getting Radical About Inequality,” Brooks expands on the theme of the much-mocked column.
I like what Ross Douthat had to say about it: