Well, They Still Have Maureen Dowd



Having had a somewhat longer commute than usual the past few weeks, I have once again become a daily New York Times reader, often to my considerable chagrin.  For the last 15 years or so, as my local newspaper, the Oregonian, got thinner and thinner, I readily coughed up the extra cash for something that would last longer than a cup of coffee and a trip to the bathroom.  My choices were the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and the Grey Lady, so I picked her.  It was, despite Maureen Dowd, Ben Stein, Tom Friedman, Judy Miller, Deborah Solomon, Elizabeth Bumiller, Frank Bruni, Jodi Wilgoren, and William Safire, not the worst choice I could have made.  After all, Paul Krugman’s lonely opposition to Bush’s onslaught on America will forever be remembered, if only for its singularity at the time, as a balm to many worried mornings of “smoke ‘em out” and whatnot.  Then, there was Frank Rich, whose fame (and astuteness) as a theater critic warranted him a reverent mention by the cynical playwright/murderer in Ira Levin’s “Deathtrap,” (a play I produced here in 1987), but he by then had blossomed into a searingly perceptive analyst of America’s Right (as well as the craven and compromised media that love it), which he continued to be until a couple of weeks ago, when he left to join New York Magazine.

It was a fitting move; New York Magazine, to which I subscribed for many years, was born out of the ashes of the New York Herald Tribune, whose Sunday magazine arose in the late 60′s, offering a haven for talent and journalism that the New York Times didn’t think was “fit to print.”  Seriously, a Sunday New York Times for SIX BUCKS without Frank Rich?  And a (hilariously inept) paywall, to boot?  Something, I thought, must be seriously wrong on 42nd street, and today, more evidence piles up.  Bob Herbert, it turns out, is bailing out as well.  Though Herbert was never my favorite columnist, his dogged focus on racial and economic injustice sometimes led him away from more stark and timely outrages and his earnest and plain-spoken style lacked the rapier wit of Krugman and Rich, in a paper laden with ads for furs, jewels and expensive watches, it was nice to read somebody who recognized, and compellingly wrote about, the very existence of poverty and injustice in America.  And now he’s gone, too.

This leaves an op/ed page feebly dotted with such glittering journalistic jewels as Maureen Dowd and Tom Friedman the only “liberals,” aside from Krugman (who has a day job at Princeton, thankfully), on a page so degraded that it unashamedly prints the execrable, adolescent caterwauling of Ross Douthat (!), who replaced the also pre-disgraced, but nonetheless hired, Bill Kristol in the right wing slot.   Pre-disgraced William Safire preceded them, so I guess there’s a pattern here…  At the New York Times, IOKIYAR rules.

The question, then, is who will replace them?  Unlike, say, The WaPoo, which is now primarily a Graham family enrichment scheme solely dedicated to promoting the Village values of war-making abroad and austerity at home, the NYT does depend on millions of Americans ponying up the cash to read it, and virtually none of these people do so because they like Ross Douthat and nuclear power.  No conservative would be caught dead spending two bucks daily, six bucks Sunday, for the “far left” New York Times, so it might be a good idea not to cater to them quite so much, at the expense of those who actually read and support the paper.

Newspapers are, by their nature, conservative institutions, in the true sense of the word, and that is why columnists like David Broder and Mike Royko, to name just a couple, continued writing until the grim reaper got them: readers develop relationships with columnists no wise publisher would ever want to sever.  Once, this arrangement was born of competitive pressures; in today’s monopolistic environment it survived, until recently, as tradition.  Those days are clearly over in this age when even big, once-powerful papers like the NYT struggle for survival, and let go the voices that personified them.

I don’t know who will replace Rich and Herbert, but if history is any guide, they will be disappointing, indeed.

UPDATE:  Well, it looks like Joe Nocera, one of a precious few good reporters in the business section, will be moving to the op/ed page, which is good, I guess, but it weakens the business section while not bringing any new voices to the paper as a whole.  On the bright side, such a move will surely save money…  Will they pass the savings on to their readers?



  1. daphne says:

    Herbert’s leaving too? I’m still in withdrawal over Rich, though he is joining the NYM fairly soon. Well, think of it this way: with fewer columnists worth reading the temptation to pony up funds to enter that pay wall is that much less. Though you may believe Krugman alone merits it, and I’d be hard pressed to disagree.

    • cocktailhag says:

      Well, Krugman only writes on Mondays and Fridays, which is well below the 20 visits per month that us cheapskates can get for free online. And, maybe they’ll hire Amy Goodman, Glenn Greenwald, or somebody. (insert drink-spray here…) For the time being, I plan to save my money. (Fur season is always just around the corner…)

      • daphne says:

        Oh, I didn’t know we were still entitled to some freebies. Considering that Krugman will become the only columnist deserving of my eyeballs, so much for my dilemma.

        • cocktailhag says:

          Just be careful of links, like at FDL, that can lead you to story you’ve already read, which counts against your 20. Best to pore over the front page and only click what you’re sure you want, especially early in the month. Danged if I’ll ever pay $15 a month to remind myself how much I loathe MoDo, so I already have a Strategy.

      • Ya right. Glenn Greenwald writing for The New York Times – That’ll be the day.

        • cocktailhag says:

          Yes, Hell would be freezing over, but thankfully I have furs. But, if they were still even vaguely interested in providing a good product for the ever-increasing money they want, you have to admit it would be smart. But they don’t think that way, as we know. More’s the pity.

  2. The Heel says:

    Maybe Michele Bachmann can step up to the plate…

    This is funny:

    Somewhat distorted and too long but cute.

  3. retzilian says:

    I’ve newly bookmarked New York Magazine online to wait for Rich’s new contributions, although I was sometimes disappointed with him. I had a few rituals over the years, myself. Years ago, I subscribed to the Sunday Times (tree-killer edition) and took most of the week to read it. I also had the New Yorker delivered for a few years, but with all the moving I did, stopped accumulating magazines. I subscribed to Vanity Fair, of course, but now I read the online edition – can’t bear to have all those glossy pages sitting in a pile in my living room anymore.

    I have also grown to love Esquire after having been introduced to it a few years ago.

    For the past 4, 5 years on Sunday mornings, I did look forward to “The Week in Review”, and the op-eds. I read MoDo, hate her, but read her out of some sort of Irish masochism, I guess. I always read Bob Herbert, Gale Collins, Rich and Krugman, of course, but if I keep my clicks down to 5 a week, I don’t have to pay. I will never pay for it again.

    There are so many better news sources out there: McClatchy, The Guardian, BBC, all the “underground” sites that I enjoy, who needs the Grey Lady?

    • cocktailhag says:

      Well, I guess I’m nostalgic, but I do miss something that was good gone bad. Definitely read nymag. You’ll like it. (They printed two out of two letters I sent them…. so I’m biased.)

  4. Smid Hurtman says:

    Both Rich and Krugman are required reading for psychiatric students at most major medical schools.