Goodbye to All That
While I never actually admitted it, when I'd do my erstwhile long column on Sunday morning/afternoon, I'd poach from Frank Rich's column for ideas on where to go. Actually, "poach" perhaps is a too-larcenous word: Perhaps I should say I took cues from Rich's weekly Op-Ed and zig-zag off on my own lonely tangent ("The road less traveled"? I usually need a machete to go where I'm going.). And today, I'm about to do it again.
I was a relatively late newcomer to Frank Rich's genius. I didn't begin to read the Op-Eds until I became a political blogger over six years ago (rivaling Rich's 17 year-long tenure at the Times in blogger years). Later, when that venerable institution made the colossal blunder of trying to put their Op-Ed columnists behind the velvet rope of Times Select, thereby making them available only to paying subscribers, my interest in the Op-Ed, and Rich's canon, really took off. Back then we bloggers would vie to see who could poach Rich's byline first and get the coveted link (and maybe, Oh God, the Big Headline) on Buzzflash when it was still Buzzflash.
Rich didn't have the brutal elegance or write the perfumed poison pen belles letters of a James Wolcott nor did he turn into some tiresome nickname-slinging insider like Maureen Dowd. Somehow, over the course of nearly 20 years, he'd avoided espousing controversial, and bigoted, opinions that would end his career. It's to his enduring legacy that he never suffered the same fate as Helen Thomas.
Any newspaper is bigger than the sum of its parts but that hasn't been the case of the NY Times. They are no bigger than the sum of its parts, especially since Frank Rich has now passed into its hallowed Halls of Posterity. Rich, as one could expect, made a graceful exit, taking only one potshot at his former employer when he wrote in his swan song Op-Ed, "Neither it nor any other institution is infallible, as was illustrated most recently during the run-up to the Iraq invasion."
Indeed, not only had the NY Times dropped the ball on that, as it had during Vietnam, but also on 9/11, Afghanistan, Hurricane Katrina (.pdf of the original article, not the silently-amended one in the Times' archives), etc. Judith Miller, in fact, was so embedded with the weapons inspectors and the Screaming Eagles that she was practically writing policy and was squarely in the middle of the Valerie Plame outing. And who that follows the Times can forget the fake articles of Jason Blair?
Not only that, to this day they're still censoring the late Molly Ivins because of a PG-13 joke about "chicken pluckers," hardly the grudge that one would expect for a newspaper branded for decades by conservative mouth breathers as being a bastion of liberal propaganda. Like Rich, Ivins, the ultimate liberal pundit, felt the Times was too claustrophobic and creatively stifling.
For 17 years virtually every Sunday, Rich produced hundreds of articles skewering Bush, the right wing and outrages that helplessly swam into his eagle-eyed ken. Making relevant connections between seemingly unrelated news items, Rich forced us to expand our outlook and to acknowledge the deeper connective tissue that drives our country and its policies. Rich was often at his best when he'd briefly slip into theater/movie critic mode and make some spot-on cultural reference such as the article almost exactly a year ago about Wall St. crooks running roughshod on Main Street and the late Stieg Larsson's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.
Four and a half years ago, when Obama still hadn't served out his third year in the US Senate, Rich had warned us that the junior senator from Illinois was "not a miracle elixir." Obama's two plus years in the White House has proven Rich to be a prophet in a par with Nostradamus and Edgar Cayce.
With Rich's departure after today's column, the NY Times has gotten a lot poorer. Maureen Dowd's never been the same since winning a Pulitzer for helping to almost take down the Clinton administration over a blow job. Bob Herbert's just tiresome. Paul Krugman's good for economic viewpoints but his acumen has been noticeably absent since the start of the Obama administration. And not too many of us are sufficiently intrigued with Middle Eastern/Asian affairs to much care what Nick Kristoff says about anything.
As the Times' Opinion Editorialist-at-Large, Rich spanned this great nation, its policies, its prejudices, its triumphs and its stupidities with sartorical humor and always controlled outrage. With a last tongue-in-cheek observation, Rich wrote, "That’s one reason America is so thrilling to write about." In other words, as the Chinese say, "May you live in interesting times."
The problem is, The Times isn't nearly as interesting now that Frank Rich has fled to New York Magazine.