Given the increasingly flimsy state of the New York Times opinion page, I'm thinking that the Gray Lady's editorial team might want to take a page out of any Major League Baseball manager's playbook and send up some pinch hitters. They do a variety of this when they invite guest columnists to fill the space left by vacationing regulars. But my idea is a bit different: when faced with having to run a column that is self-evidently awful, why don't the editors avail themselves of the option of rolling the dice a bit, and inviting an up-and-coming writer to produce a 750 word opinion piece--at the last minute--on something that actually matters. I mean, it couldn't be that much worse than what they run right now, could it?
To be direct: the Times opinion staff is tired and out of touch. Take David Brooks, whose Monday column, "The Mother of All No-Brainers," was apparently referring to itself. It offered the following assertion, intended to be a self-evident statement of common sense:
If the Republican Party were a normal party, it would take advantage of this amazing moment. It is being offered the deal of the century: trillions of dollars in spending cuts in exchange for a few hundred million dollars of revenue increases.
Trouble is, Brooks' numbers were off...by billions of dollars. The Times later posted this correction to the bottom of Bobo's piece: "An earlier version of this column misstated the amount of revenue increases needed in exchange for spending cuts. It is a few hundred billion, not a few hundred million." Oh, whoops! This might not have been so bad but for the fact that for conservatives, Brooks' error opened the door to renewed outrage at the possibility that the country's rich might actually be asked to contribute their share to the American recovery.
Then yesterday, Nicholas Kristof abused the world's most influential editorial page by running a top-ten list of books recommended for this year's jaunt to the beach. "I guarantee pleasure," Kristof promised, "and also bragging rights at your next cocktail party. And if your kids read these, I bet they’ll ace the SAT." Bragging rights to what, you might ask. That you actually read a book that wasn't The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo? Admittedly, though, Kristof's list is a step up--but only a step--from that produced by the collective mediocrity that is the Times magazine staff, which published its "best book" list earlier in the week.
But then today, Maureen Dowd took things even further, devoting a whole column in the Sunday edition to discussing the possibilities for Martin Scorsese's new flick on Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. It's not as if we're experiencing a slow news cycle or anything. Why does the Timesput up with this sort of thing? More importantly, why do they then foist it on their readership? If Dowd feels inspired to comment on Hollywood, fine. Put it in the Arts section. But don't waste space, or my time, by running it in the back pages.
Instead, it would be refreshing to see some new voices mixing it up with provocative, well-informed, and timely arguments--the sort of content that Times' opinion leaders are supposed to be churning out, but rarely do (and I won't even get started on Tom Friedman). This would also have the benefit of getting more for the money from their op-ed superstars who would no longer be allowed to dial-in nonsense to fulfill their weekly quota if they hoped to continue to see their names in print.
What would be cooler still is to see printed at the bottom of such pieces not "Maureen Dowd is off today," but "Maureen Dowd is really, really off today, so we chose to run this instead."