Saturday, December 04, 2004
SAFIRE WANTS OUT, THE TIMES WANTS A PHOTOSTAT COPY OF SAFIRE, WHY IS THAT?
Media Matters has been following the story on William Safire's impending departure from the op-ed (opinion-editorial, for those who asked) pages of the New York Times. They link to an article from New York magazine (by Kate Pickert) that apparently has kicked off the discussion regarding whom should replace Safire (http://newyorkmetro.com/nymetro/news/people/columns/intelligencer/10567/index2.html). (Media Matters' web site is http://mediamatters.org/ and their postings on this topic include
http://mediamatters.org/items/200411290010, http://mediamatters.org/items/200412030002 and http://mediamatters.org/items/200412030008.)
Media Matters has done a great job outlining problems with possible replacements such as Christopher Caldwell, Robert Kagan, David Frum, Fred Barnes, the Times' own John Tierney,
Charles Krauthammer and Richard Brookhiser. For information on why these choices are questionable please refer to links above and continue to visit Media Matters because this is a story they'll continue to cover.
But they're covering the media and covering the printed speculation. I want us to step back a moment. We're talking about the op-ed pages, so let's hear from a voice on the op-ed pages.
Maureen Dowd on Brian Williams replacing Tom Brokaw in "It's Still a Man's World on the Idiot Box" (http://www.nytimes.com/2004/12/02/opinion/02dowd.html?n=Top%2fOpinion%2fEditorials%20and%20Op%2dEd%2fOp%2dEd%2fColumnists) :
"I honestly thought, eight or nine years ago, that when we left," Mr. Brokaw said, referring to himself, Peter [Jennings] and Dan Rather, "that it would be the end of white male anchor time."
Nah. Those guys are hard to kill off. Indeed, white men are ascendant in Red State America.
As my mom said, discussing her belief that Martha Stewart had been railroaded by jealous men, "If men could figure out how to have babies, they'd get rid of us altogether."
The networks don't even give lip service to looking for women and blacks for anchor jobs - they just put pretty-boy clones in the pipeline.
Apparently "those guys are hard to kill off" on the op-ed pages of the New York Times as well.
Why aren't any women mentioned? Why aren't any people of color mentioned?
Maureen Dowd replaced Anna Quindlen. Is there room for only one woman as a regular columnist on the paper's op-ed pages? Is African-American Bob Herbert the only "dash of color" the Times feels the need to offer?
Am I hallucinating or didn't the Times use front page space, editorial space and op-ed space to argue that the Augusta National Golf Club should be opened to all? Am I remembering wrongly, or didn't the Times editorialize on whether Tiger Woods should participate in the Masters?
The New York Times suggested in an editorial Monday that Tiger Woods skip the Masters next year because of the all-male membership at Augusta National Golf Club.
"A tournament without Mr. Woods would send a powerful message that discrimination isn't good for the golfing business," the editorial said.
What was all that about? I kind of thought it was about the need to be inclusive. Was it all just to get one female golfer into a tournament? I don't think Martha Burk was arguing that it began and ended with one female golfer being admitted to Augusta.
But here we are, over thirty years after Safire began as a columnist for the Times, debating his replacement and we're only being offered white males. From the New York magazine article:
“I’ve gotten much advice from people who aren’t columnists about who would be good,” says editorial-page editor Gail Collins.
Has she? Has she really? Maybe she has. If so, it's not reflected in New York magazine. But if Collins has received "much advice" has no one raised the issue that women and people of color are people too?
Is this news to the Times?
Let's give credit to Collins for bringing two white women and one African-American male onto the op-ed pages during Maureen Dowd's vacation this year. Judging strictly by their rankings on the Times' most e-mailed countdown, Barbara Ehrenreich was the most popular of the three. Not only that, she rivaled the regular op-ed columnists.
But her name isn't being mentioned? One would think when a guest op-ed writer regularly cracks the top ten of the most e-mailed pieces in that day's paper, someone would say, "Hey, too bad we don't have a permanent slot we can offer her?" Or that when Safire's departure is known, Ehrenreich's name doesn't pop into anyone's head.
Ehrenreich may not want to be a regular columnist for the Times. She already writes a regular column for The Progressive (http://www.progressive.org/). And, in fact, Matthew Rothschild noted during this period that her column was absent due to her subbing for Dowd in the Times.
Ehrenreich worked hard and she might not even want the job.
That's not the point in mentioning her. The point is, did anyone consider her? She proved she could do that job, she was popular with readers and here's an opening so why isn't her name
Or the name of anyone who's not WHITE or MALE. And let's note too the age factor in the nominees. So more op-eds from the Times written by people basically in their forties? Guess there's no real concern over reaching out to younger readers?
It's really interesting the way this is unfolding. And that's not a criticism of Media Matters. They are dealing with the possibilities being mentioned. They cover the way the press reports things. But I want to move away from that to ask why are the nominees so non-inclusive? Why are they all basically the same race, the same generation, the same gender? Or for that matter, presumably the same sexuality?
What do these GUYS offer the Times?
Apparently that they'll churn out columns similar to what Safire wrote.
But Sally e-mails that she was told David Brooks was brought on as Safire's replacement. "They knew Safire would be stepping down in the near future and they wanted to grab someone who could write well then and not hustle once Safire made his departure official."
If Sally's correct, then why the hustle now? Only a sense of panic could lead to these names being tossed around. Serious thinking would result in asking questions. Not just of where are the people of color, where are the women, etc. But also a really basic question of why does the person replacing Safire HAVE TO BE A CONSERVATIVE.
Joe e-mails that his understanding was David Brooks came in to fill Bill Keller's spot (when Keller got promoted to executive editor of the paper). Good point. When Keller left the op-ed pages, there was no need to replace him with a fellow moderate. Now Safire's leaving and we're under some impression that only a conservative can replace him?
How did that happen?
Don't offer up "balance" because balance goes beyond ideology. Balance includes perspective and people from different ages, different genders, different races, different everything -- all of which can bring a different perspective to the op-ed pages.
The Times is supposedly a "leftist" paper. You hear that Maureen Dowd, Paul Krugman, Thomas Friedman, Nicholas Kristof and Bob Herbert are all of the "left."
Maureen Dowd is a professional contrarian. It doesn't matter who's in office, the role she's assigned herself is to debunk the hoopla surrounding them. (Which is why many on the right loved her columns in the nineties when Clinton was in office. And why they hate her columns now that Bush is in office.) At her best, she brings a critical eye to bear on "conventional wisdom" and puts it into a pop-culture brew that's easily understood.
Thomas Friedman? He may claim the left (or he may not) but does the left claim him? The last word on the wonders of outsourcing, a war cheerleader (though he's had reservations since he returned from his vacation) and he's somehow speaking for the left?
Bob Herbert? Here is the perfect example of where someone can bring a different perspective.
Minority issues (not just regarding African-Americans) are regularly dealt with in Herbert's op-eds. There are times when he's the only columnist addressing them. Herbert's interest is in what's not being covered -- whether it has to do with a race or not. He's the one holding the flashlight, shining it under the bed and asking, "Who slid that there?"
Nicholas Kristof. What we can say about Nicky K that he couldn't say himself at much greater length? Kristof has an eye for international issues. It would be nice if he was aware
that just because he makes one of his "feminists have ignored this problem!" statements doesn't make it true.
After detailing a large number of feminist organizations (and female desks and chairs at other ogranizations) alerting her to global issues, Katha Pollitt writes in The Nation (http://www.thenation.com/doc.mhtml?i=20040301&s=pollitt):
I'm reminded of these good people because the New York Times's Nicholas Kristof is once again accusing American feminists of ignoring Third World women and girls. Last spring, he discovered obstetric fistula in Africa--the tear between the birth canal and the lower intestine that can happen during protracted labor and that, unless corrected, condemns a woman to a lifetime of physical misery and social ostracism. Kristof profiled Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital in Ethiopia and wondered why "most feminist organizations in the West have never shown interest in these women." Perhaps, he wrote, "the issue doesn't galvanize women's groups because fistulas relate to a traditional child-bearing role." Right, we all know that feminists only care about aborting babies, not delivering them safely. The Times got a lot of letters (and published some, including one from me) pointing out that feminists, in fact, were behind numerous efforts to combat fistula and other maternity-related health problems in Africa, including the work of the UNFPA, praised by Kristof, whose funding was eliminated by the White House to please its right-wing Christian base.
You'd think he'd learn. But no. Now Kristof is complaining that American women's groups such as NOW and Feminist Majority don't care about sexual slavery and the trafficking of women and children for commercial sex. In a series of columns, he describes his efforts to "buy the freedom" of two Cambodian teenage prostitutes living in a sleazy brothel in Poipet and to get them home to their families. Evangelical Christians, he argues, care about girls like these; feminists are too busy "saving Title IX and electing more women to the Senate," he observed in a Times online forum. Right, why should American women care about equal opportunities and electing to office people who think contraception is as important as Viagra? Never mind that putting more feminists in the Senate--not more "women"--would mean more help for the very causes Kristof supports!
Pollitt's right (and the column's worth reading so, please, check it out). Kristof is our voice from the "left?"
Paul Krugman has done a wonderful job detailing problems with our current administration and he is left or left-leaning (as he himself admits). But Krugman's also made comments indicating that when he returns from his vacation, he'll be focusing on economic policy.
Where's that vast left wing of the Times? The one that poor Davey Brooks can't take on with just his column and, therefore, needs a Safire substitute to stand by his side?
I'm not seeing it and, judging from your e-mails, you aren't either.
"Maureen Dowd has never written about abortion!" exclaims Maggie. "If Dowd self-identifies 'feminist' more power to her but I haven't seen anything in her writing to suggest that she's a feminist."
"Anna [Quindlen] addressed abortion, pregnancy, wage discrimination based on gender and other issues that apply to my life," offers Abhilasha. "Dowd's slamming Judy Dean for the way she dresses or taking a 'so what, that's the way it is' attitude to the backlash. If I ever met her, I'd tell her she writes like a man and, sadly, she'd probably be flattered."
I don't know whether Dowd would be flattered or not. I do know that with the absence of a feminist voice (and feminist jabs via Nicky K), a spotlight's shined on Dowd since she's the op-ed pages' only female columnist. She can represent her gender or her not, it's her choice. But feminists aren't represented in a regular column.
Shouldn't that be an issue? As opposed to chasing after some middle-aged, white, male conservative, shouldn't the Times be asking itself what's missing from the op-ed pages?
A feminist voice is missing. How about a column dealing with working class issues? Papers used to have reporters assigned to the "labor beat" but these days the business section usually focuses on investors, managers, CEOs, etc. Could the paper use someone who would devote columns to labor issues?
The Times is obsessed with the "red" states myth. (See earlier blogs on this post. Or, for that matter, Bob Somerby's The Daily Howler at www.dailyhowler.com) And with "values."
Maybe it's time to find a columnist who could provide a spiritual perspective in each column? (That's not to suggest that any of the columnists at the Times lack spirituality, just that their "beat" isn't spirituality.)
Readers of this blog are familiar with Robert Kagan (one of the names offered to replace Safire). So the Times is comfortable considering a man whose wife (Victoria Nuland) works for the administration? That's interesting. Some readers suggest that Elisabeth Bumiller's "White House Letter" already provides "a pipeline" for the administration.
With Abu Ghraib, a war waging and a host of other issues, might it not be time for the paper
to provide a columnist who knows Constitutional law?
During the boom-boom-stock-market-nineties, Krugman was hired to offer an economic view. Perhaps in this decade we need someone writing on civil liberties? David Cole? Nancy Chang?
The New York Times isn't Charlie's Angels. By that I mean, there's no need to search for a blond with a great deal of teeth to replace Farrah Fawcett. The Times shouldn't be looking for someone who's like Safire. They already have David Brooks to represent the conservative viewpoint.
Yet they seem to think that they just need some man with the same positions as Safire, with the same race as Safire and just a few decades younger -- then suddenly we'll all be rushing out to buy Davey Frum's bikini poster and saying, "I like that his hair is similar to Safire but without the feathering!"
On this basis a decision will be made?
Who's making the decision? I doubt it's Collins. Gail Collins will have a say. She will make recommendations. But I doubt the decision will be made by her. (I could be wrong.)
Who is Gail Collins?
She's one of "50 Women Who Made a Difference" according to Ms. magazine's Winter 2003/2004 issue. Fifth listed of fifty, in fact.
On page 54, we learn that she went from political columnist (regional, not national, she focused on New York) on the pages of the Times to "the editorial page's first female editor."
She's "committed to truth and substance." (Please no e-mails on that, I'm quoting Ms.) She's written books including America's Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines -- a book that "includes the feminist insights -- and minority women -- that most text books leave out." And what of what is left off the Times' op-ed pages?
The blurb on Collins ends with this note: "In her work at the Times, Collins continues to bring her extraordinary sensibilities to an important page."
Let's hope so. Let's hope the names being offered by the press don't represent a comprehensive list. Let's hope that Collins, at least, is arguing the points raised here -- asking how offering yet another conservative voice to the op-ed pages is needed for the paper or for the nation?
David Brock (of Media Matters) notes inThe Republican Noise Machine (p. 139):
Of the top ten columnists, carried in papers with a combined circulation of over ten million, six were conservatives, three were liberals, and one was a centrist. The top two columnists, James Dobson of the right-wing group Focus on the Family, and Cal Thomas, a former official of the Moral Majority, present Christian Right views in more than five hundred newspapers each, while the Christian Left has virtually no voice in American media. Robert Novak and George Will came next, followed by Ellen Goodman, the sole liberal in the top five.
Do we really need another William Safire? Is that sort of "insight" missing from the national discussion? Is Brooks unable to hold his own next to Krugman and, possibly, Herbert?
That's what the list being bandied about suggests. And if the Times want to try arguing that they hire the 'best person' for the job, then why isn't that reflected with the list?
Why is it okay to challenge sexism, racial discrimination and other social ills that damage our country's very fabric on the editorial pages but, when selecting the person to replace Safire, we're focused on a group of middle-aged, white, apparently straight males who all share similar views to Safire?
I believe Collins will make recommendations. I hope she will make wise ones. Otherwise, what's the point of being a "first" ("the editorial page's first female editor")?
Collins will be criticized for whomever gets selected. That comes with job and I won't shed tears for her. But I would hope that she'd argue for someone who could bring a voice that's not heard on the Times op-ed pages currently.
I'd hope that, knowing she'll be criticized regardless, she'd advocate someone who wouldn't have been suggested by the many males who preceeded her. Otherwise, what's so great about being the "first?" If you're going to do same things the same way they were done before you, what's the point? Invent a computer program already, one based on past decisions, to do the task because, otherwise, you're not making a difference.
And all the books she might write about voices lost to/in history don't help a great deal with giving voice to those living persons who are not heard currently.
Collins can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. And I'd also suggest you e-mail Arthur Sulzberger Jr. since, as publisher, he will probably be the deciding factor on this decision. Sulzberger can be contacted at email@example.com.