Two columns diverged on the Times op-ed page!


Foo-foo piddle versus existential cultural threat: We were struck by two columns in today’s New York Times.

One column was written by Anna Sauerbrey, a guest contributor from across the waters. It sits beneath a solid black graphic which features a stick figure and this one word: FARFROMDUDEN.

The headlines on Sauerbrey’s column say this. We’re sure her question matters:

How Do You Say ‘Blog’ in German?
Why Europeans should embrace linguistic cosmopolitanism.

Should Europeans embrace linguistic cosmopolitanism? Offhand, we’d have to say we’re farfrombeingsure. Nor did we read this particular column, even though Sauerbrey is an editor for the opinion page of the daily German newspaper Der Tagesspiegel.

Perhaps the column is very significant. It struck us as the kind of foo-foo fiddle-faddle the New York Times likes to wave about, messaging readers that they are cosmopolitan and rather sharp.

As a general rule, Times readers don’t strike us as cosmopolitan or as especially sharp. Beyond that, they live in a country whose intellectual culture is utterly, crazily failing.

Nicholas Kristof writes today about that ongoing implosion. His column appears right next to the one about the FARFROMDUDEN.

This is the way Kristof starts, headline included:
KRISTOF (9/26/13): Suffocating Echo Chamber

When Senator Ted Cruz of La Mancha jumped on his trusty steed and charged the windmills, he explained: “Everyone in America knows Obamacare is destroying the economy.” He added that accepting the Affordable Care Act would be like appeasing the Nazis.

Cruz is a smart man, and maybe this is just disingenuous demagoguery. But there’s a scarier possibility: After spending too much time in the Republican echo chamber, he may believe what he says.

In the 1990s, as conservative talk radio spread across America, liberals felt victimized. But, in retrospect, the rise of talk radio, Fox News Channel and right-wing Web sites may have done greatest harm to conservatives themselves.

The right-wing echo chamber breeds extremism, intimidates Republican moderates and misleads people into thinking that their worldview is broadly shared.
We agree that “the right-wing echo chamber” is bad for conservatives and other living things. But uh-oh! Later in his column, Kristof dared to say this:
KRISTOF: Of course, the left has long had its own version of this problem as well. After Richard Nixon’s 1972 landslide re-election, Pauline Kael of The New Yorker famously said she was mystified because she knew only one person who had voted for Nixon. MSNBC and The Huffington Post have become cocoons for liberals, just as Fox News is for conservatives.

Both Fox News and MSNBC rely more on punditry than on reporting from the field, and I remember once early in the Iraq war when I was with American troops watching on Fox News Channel as blowhards in the studio claimed that Iraqis were welcoming us with flowers. We watched, stunned, wondering what war the network was covering.

Research suggests that the echo chamber effect is disproportionately a problem on the right, leading inhabitants to perceive a warped reality...
Needless to say, complaints have flooded the pundit in comments. How could he think that similar problems might exist on the left at all?

We were struck by the contrast between these two columns. The one column seemed highly foo-foo, like a fair amount of material in the Times. Just check out this piece in today’s Fashion & Style section: “New Beauty Goal: Plumper Cheeks.”

Not that there’s anything wrong with them!

Kristof’s column struck as a bit of a polar opposite. Our nation is imploding under the weight of the tribal lunacy he is discussing. As we thought about his column, we were struck by how primitive a first pass at this problem Kristof is making today.

By now, how is it possible that some version of this column hasn’t appeared at least 300 times? Why hasn’t a lengthy discussion of this problem already taken place on the Times op-ed page?

We may build next week’s reports around this primitive Kristof column. For today, if you seek amusement, just review the comments to Kristof’s piece.

Note how many liberals are sure, so sure, that no such problem could exist over here in Our Own Perfect Tribe. Could suffocation in echo chambers explain reactions like that?


  1. Nice analysis, I would not have read Kristof had you not commented having found him impossible too often before.

  2. Sorry to dissent, but as much as MSNBC gets on my nerves on a nightly basis, I still think their "tribalism" is more nerdy and fact-based than anything to be found on the more id-centered Fox News.

    That Maddow & Co. risk becoming more and more like their counterpart -- what was it Nietzsche said? -- is worrisome and discouraging, but they've still got a ways to go. I think some of the West-side bleeding hearts commenting on Kristof's column made some decent points.

    Furthermore, I hope to hear about Kristoff's column on our own true network tomorrow. Clearly, his using Don Quixote as a metaphor for Ted Cruz just because his father was Cuban is RACIST!!!!!!

    1. Oh, you bet they got a long ways to go! And many years of catching up to do.

      That's why I find this whole false equivalency game that has become the theme of this blog so disingenouous. "Ignore all the crazy things Sean Hannity says on Fox. Maddow said this last night which wasn't totally 100 percent accurate if you spin it the right way, and thus they are equally as crazy! And that makes her just as much a part of the "problem" as Hannity. So that is what I will devote my entire blog to."

      I do agree with Kristoff that both MSNBC and Fox are cocoons where you can go to hear opinions you already hold, as John Oliver famously said about the Internet and its many, many blogs.

      But to say they are equi-distant from the center of a scale of fair comment tells us more about where the writer stands on that scale than about Maddow or Hannity.

    2. I don't think that Bob is arguing equivalency. I read him as arguing that a resort to propaganda and other forms of BS, where the facts are shaded and the other side is demonized, isn't helpful to "progressive interests," or to the population as a whole. He sees MSNBC as contributing to the "red v. blue" framework that enables the 1% to continue its ways without drawing attention to how the bottom 99% (both red and blue) are getting ripped off.

    3. Exactly, Johnny -- and one good way to *ignore* that valid point is by pretending it's an equivalency game: "It's wrong for Somerby to point out the failures of MSNBC because FOX are so much worse."

      Related, but even more stupid and transparent is the "What, does Somerby think we should fight with one hand tied behind our backs?" -- AKA The other side is full of shit and I think that works for them, so we should be full of shit too!

  3. Remember, Fox News created the MSNBC market, which would not exist without rightwing slanted news.

    And that's the difference: MSNBC is market driven. MSNBC started in 1996 just as Fox did, and MSNBC tried to compete as a conservative angled outfit...Actually had Ann Coulter and Laura Ingraham on board.

    That didn't work and they floundered around sort of competing with CNN until 9-11 came along and they went back to conservative angles...Remember they canned Phil Donahue for opposing the Iraq invasion and hired some loonies.

    But Olbermann was on board to ridicule the Iraq debacle backlash and lead MSNBC to its market position as the responding voice against the right dogma and propaganda machine.

    Stop the right wing hysteria and MSNBC will have to find a new angle or suffer.

  4. I'm surprised that the usually ever-vigilant Mr. Somerby failed to point out that Kael knew she lived in a bubble and was making a joke, not actually being "mystified." The actual quotation: "I live in a rather special world. I only know one person who voted for Nixon. Where they are I don't know. They're outside my ken. But sometimes when I'm in a theater I can feel them."

  5. Egads. There are other forms of "disproportionately" than 100/0. Like maybe 99/1 or 80/20. The most remarkable part of this column is the existence of a sentence that suggests it might not be a law of physics that the political center is exactly 50% from each end in every possible multiverse.

    And i'm still waiting for the "more harmful to conservatives" part. "maybe briefly out of power 20 years down the line" does not qualify as more harmful. If you want perfection in liberal media, the first step is to demonstrate that when conservatives did it much earlier and much worse, they ended up utterly destroyed.

  6. I think if Somerby would take the time to analyze just the demographics of the two "tribes" he would find that it isn't quite so easy to categorize them as equally nutty -- or to categorize them as anything at all.

  7. OMB (When in Doubt, Cue the Blog Commentariat)

    "For today, if you seek amusement, just review the comments to Kristof’s piece.

    Note how many liberals are sure, so sure, that no such problem could exist over here in Our Own Perfect Tribe. Could suffocation in echo chambers explain reactions like that?"

    BOB is getting lazy (as so many real and wannabe journalists do).
    Last time he referenced the comment galleries it was Ta-Nehisi Coates and he did a thorough job of pouring through over 200 to inform us with his noted stellar accuracy that not a soingle one of them noticed, as BOB did, that Coates had flipped on the issue
    of Trayvon Martin being targeted because of race and his death was a murder. This is laziness approaching the appalling slothfulness of the NYT reporter who failed to compare the number of elected women officials in Los Angeles City Hall to the state's congressional delegation.

    This time we just get BOB suggesting "many liberals" are sure there is no problems on their side of the opinion media fence. This is the trouble we have pointed out with wannabe journalists covering something so simple as a commentary thread. How many liberals BOB? What percentage of the commentariat in total do they make.
    BOB doesn't even make an effort this time to tell us the silly things "regular commenters said" or which were favorites of the elitists which run the NYT.

    I, of course, being a busy commenter (with other assignments on my troll board according to discerning bubble free TDH regular commenters) did not have time to count myslef. But I have learned how to play with the NAEP Data Explorer a bit thanks to BOB, so I knew to sample both Recent First, Oldest Frist, NYT Favorites, and Reader Favorites in the Kristof comment gallery.

    I would be willing to bet there were more liberals attacking Kristof for the false equivalence comparison of Ted Cruz to Don Quixote than for his comparison of FOX to MSNBC. But like BOB I am a very nice person but just too damn lazy to read and count them all.